Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Black Panther, rated PG-13

Black Panther, the latest film from Marvel, is a triumph and an exciting, well-acted and directed introduction to a new super hero. The film is directed by 31-year-old Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and written by Coogler and Emmy nominee Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story). Coogler uses cinematographer Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), production designer Emmy nominee Hannah Beachler (Beyonce: Lemonade), and composer Ludwig Goransson, all who worked with him on 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station. Two-time Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X) handled the costume design.
The film has an all-star cast, and an estimated budget of $200 million. This is the eighteenth film released by Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one is different from other Marvel films however, in that it is a pretty much self-contained world, though we did hear about the death of the King of Wakanda in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42) is the son of the king. After the death of his father, he returns to the mysterious land of Wakanda to take his place as king. Wakanda is a beautiful African nation that has never been colonized by White settlers that hides its riches and technology, powered by the rare and extremely valuable blue metal vibranium, from the rest of the world. Vibranium has many valuable uses.
T’Challa assumes the title Black Panther, with an impenetrable black battle suit, developed by his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, who also provides the vibranium-based weapons. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) leads Wakanda’s elite female warriors. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) plays Nakia, T’Challa’s former girlfriend that he still has feelings for.
For centuries Wakanda has kept its great wealth to itself and T’Challa wants to keep Wakanda isolated from the rest of the world. But Nakia sees how Wakanda can help other nations with their vast resources.
A challenger to T’Challa and the throne of Wakanda is Erik Killmonger, a soldier played by Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed).  Because of an event that occurred in his childhood, Killmonger has motivation to destroy T’Challa. Killmonger also wants to steal the technology of Wakanda and use it for evil purposes. Ulysses Klaue is a South African arms dealer, played by Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings) and is a partner in crime with Killmonger.
The all-star cast also includes Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got To Do With It), Golden Globe nominee Martin Freeman (Fargo, The Hobbit, Sherlock), Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (This is Us, Marshall) and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out).
Coogler used experts in African history and politics as consultants on the film to work on defining Wakanda, a nation where three out of every five people go barefoot. The fighting in the film is based on African martial arts. The powerful musical score is by Ludwig Goransson and features new original songs from Kendrick Lamar.
Themes in the film include loyalty and tradition, and transitioning from barriers to bridges.  The film is visually stunning, particularly the costumes and how the African nation of Wakanda is portrayed. Parts of the closing battle scene will also remind you of Star Wars.
Content concerns include a significant amount of intense superhero violence, as is expected with any Marvel film. There is also some adult language. The king’s power is said to come from the panther god, Bast by way of a glowing flower. We hear people pray to ancestors and to Bast.
Black Panther is an achievement not only as a very entertaining film with a good story, but also culturally. It features strong women in key roles. The Black Panther is Marvel’s first African American super hero and the cast, director and supporting crew is largely African American.
Reminder: as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to wait through all of the ending credits.

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My Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-oneRogue One: A Star Wars Story, rated PG-13

This is the first installment in the Star Wars: Anthology series. This film is set anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). It is directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), and is visually stunning. The script is written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. The music by Michael Giacchino is excellent, and it’s the first Star Wars film not to be scored by the now 84-year old John Williams. The film had an estimated budget of $200 million.

This film is perhaps the least “kid friendly” of the Star Wars films, being a war film at its core, featuring an outstanding battle in the final part of the film. On the other hand, the film includes some excellent humor, primarily provided by the sure to be a crowd favorite K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial enforcer droid, voiced by Alan Tudyk. Christians will also notice that the “Force” is emphasized more in this film, particularly by Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind, but still effective warrior-priest. Several times throughout the film he offers the prayer-like Jedi incantation “I am the Force, the Force is with me”.

Fans of Star Wars will enjoy the many homages to previous films and characters. For example, the planet on which Jyn Erso (Oscar nominee Felicity Jones) is retrieved from the Empire early in the film by the rebel alliance is called Wobani, an anagram for Obi-Wan. In addition, R2D2 and C3P0 have a brief cameo making Anthony Daniels the only actor to appear in all the Star Wars movies so far. And longtime Star Wars fans will be thrilled with a few powerful appearances from Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones.  We both thought we caught a glimpse of Chewbacca during the battle scene.

The film opens with Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), living in a remote area with his wife and young daughter Jyn. Galen was one of the Empire’s star (pun-intended) weapons designers, before retiring to a life of farming. Now, his former boss, Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) has come for him, needing his help to finish the project they had begun together, the Death Star, a weapon intended to be able to destroy an entire planet. SPOILER ALERT – The young Jyn loses her father and mother, and is largely on her own, though we briefly see Saw Gerrera (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker) check in on her to see that she is safe.

We next see Jyn on Wobani, one of the Empire’s prison planets. She is unexpectedly freed by a team of Rebel Alliance agents led by Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). The Rebels have become aware of Jyn’s father’s involvement in the Death Star project and hope that Jyn will be able to help them locate him and secure the plans for the weapon. Jyn doesn’t believe that her father would willingly aid the Empire, but she has not seen him since she was a small girl.

The film shows us that there are different factions in the Rebel Alliance. Jyn eventually begins to embrace the Rebel’s cause and recruits a small band of misfits who feel the same as her. In addition to Andor, Imwe and K-2SO, there is Imwe’s best friend, the marksman Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Golden Globe nominee for The Night Of, Riz Ahmed).

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The story is relatively easy to follow, the visuals are stunning, we are introduced to some new characters and there are several references to previous Star Wars films. It is still basically a good vs. evil story. Parents need to be aware of the intense battle scenes and the prayer-like incantations by Chirrut Imwe.

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Movie Review ~ Southpaw

Southpaw, rated R

Jake Gyllenhaal follows up his excellent performance as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler with another superb performance as Billy Hope, the light heavyweight champion of the world. Billy is married to Maureen, or Mo, played by Rachel McAdams. They met when she was 12, both being orphans and foster children in the New York City system. They now live in a mansion in New York City with their 10-year old daughter Leila, who was played by Oona Laurence in a strong performance. He is surrounded by a posse of friends who are living a good life by being associated with the champ.

Mo is concerned with the increasing beatings that Billy is taking in his fights and pleads for him to take some time off, against the wishes of his manager Jordan Mains (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson). After speaking at a charity event, Billy is taunted by an up-and-coming boxer, Miguel “Magic” Escobar (Miguel Gomez). When Escobar makes comments about Mo, things escalate and Billy can’t control his anger, leading to a brawl which will change everything for him.

Forest Whitaker, one of our better actors, delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Titus “Tick” Wills, a former boxer. Tick now runs a boxing gym in Harlem, serving as a mentor to many boys. He develops a close relationship with Billy. Naomie Harris plays Angela Rivera, a Child Protective Services case worker.

This powerful film contains themes of family, responsibility, humility, loyalty, friendship, pain, anger, revenge and redemption. Though Tick drinks too much, we see that he has a relationship with God, at one difficult point telling Billy “God must have some kind of plan to teach me some kind of lesson. I just can’t figure out what it is.”

The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua and Kurt Sutter. Rapper Eminem was originally pegged to play the Billy Hope character. Eminem does provide some of the film’s music, notably the track “Phenomenal”.

In addition to the boxing violence that is expected, there is a significant amount of adult language included in both the dialogue and in some of the music featured in the film. The language will be enough to keep some away from this film and the fine acting performances from Gyllenhaal, Whitaker and Laurence.

James Horner provided the film’s score. This was his final work as he was killed in a plane crash on June 22.