Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview



The Call of the Wild, rated PG

The Call of the Wild is a well-made, family friendly film (for ages 8 and above), is written by Oscar nominee Michael Green (Logan) and based on Jack London’s classic 1903 novel. The film is directed by three-time Oscar nominee Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods, Lilo & Stitch), and is the first live action film he has directed.  The film is narrated by Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness, Indiana Jones and Star Wars films), who also plays John Thornton.  The film is set during the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush.
Buck is a cross between a St. Bernard and a Scotch Shepherd, the same mixed breed as was in London’s book. He lives in a northern California community, where he is the spoiled pet on the farm of Judge Miller, played by three-time Golden Globe nominee Bradley Whitford (The West Wing). But Buck’s life changes when he is captured and taken to the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush, where sled dogs are needed. Continue reading

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Movie Review ~ Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens, rated PG-13
*** ½

This new Star Wars film is being released 38 years after the first one Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in 1977, and 10 years after the most recent one, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. It is the first of a third Star Wars trilogy. This film, and the following installments, are a direct continuation of the original trilogy. It is directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Super 8, new Star Trek films, Mission Impossible III). Three time Oscar nominee, and veteran Star Wars screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan shares writing credits with Abrams and Michael Arndt.

Like a James Bond film with its exotic locations, distinctive music, Bond girls, stunts, gadgets, cars and a great opening scene, Star Wars films, with the distinctive soundtrack music of John Williams, lightsabers, and characters we’ve known and loved since the first film in 1977, brings nostalgic feelings. It’s the most anticipated film that I can ever remember, shattering advance ticket sales records. The only thing I can compare it in the recent past was the excitement around the Harry Potter films.

Many people attended the film dressed in Star Wars costumes and carrying lightsabers. To add to the atmosphere, before our showing started there was a marriage proposal in the theatre. Not necessarily the way I would have chosen to pop the question, but hey, she did say “Yes”!

We saw the film in IMAX 3D, and purchased our tickets a month before the film opened. We got to the theatre 75 minutes before the film started and were well back in the line, with the first ones in line having gotten there two and a half hours before the movie was to start. It was quite a festive atmosphere.

The film had an estimated budget of $200 million, which will be made back plus some in the opening weekend just in the U.S. Thursday ($57 million) and Friday (approximately $125 million). And now opening weekend projections are record-breaking – in the neighborhood of more than $250 million! Incredibly, more than 10,000 of the 43,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada will show the film this weekend.

So with all that build-up, how was the actual movie? I’m glad you asked. It’s pretty doggone good, receiving a 95% critics rating, and 93% viewers rating, with a crazy 127,000 viewer ratings already posted on Rotten

The film is set 30 years after the events in Return of the Jedi and the defeat of the Galactic Empire. The galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has sent her best pilot, Poe Dameron, to find her brother, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who disappeared years ago. Poe is headed to see Lor San Tekka (portrayed by two-time Oscar nominee, 86 year-old Max von Sydow, who we saw in The Letters last weekend), who might have a map to Luke’s whereabouts.

We then see a First Order defector named Finn (John Boyega) crash land on a desert planet where he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret and much sought-after map. Together, they join forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence (map) concerning the whereabouts of Luke, the last of the Jedi Knights.  There was an enthusiastic reaction in our theatre when Solo and Chewie first showed up on screen.  We saw it on IMAX 3D, and there were some great 3D scenes that made the higher price worthwhile.

The film blends great special effects in the battle scenes with a stellar cast of veterans and stars of the new trilogy. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (General Leia), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Tim Rose (Ackbar), and Mike Quinn (Nien Nunb) are the only actors to reprise their roles from the original Star Wars trilogy, while Daniels, Baker and Mayhew are the only actors to reprise their roles from the prequel trilogy.

So as we look at this cultural phenomenon, what is a Christian to think of the spirituality that is included in Star Wars? On one end of the spectrum, Jackson Cuidon in his review of the film in Christianity Today, rather flippantly writes “I’m gonna go ahead and head any in-principle objections to The Force off at the pass in saying that there’s nothing objectionable about it. We just have to be, as a religion and a culture, more secure than to think that Space Magic constitutes a legitimate spiritual issue. It does not. Or, if it does, so do the spaceships—as the two are exactly as real as each other. It is 2015, so I imagine the vast majority of readers agree with this, but just so we’re all on the same page: The Force, not problematic. Sweet.”

Respected theologian Peter Jones would disagree with Cuidon. He writes “In spite of the fun elements we all enjoy, the message of the film is self-consciously pagan.”  Read his article Star Wars and the Ancient Religion.

Ted Baehr of MOVIEGUIDE writes “The movie has a couple mystical moments where characters establish an emotional connection to the Force or through it. In regard to the infamous Force, the movie also promotes modern monism, a New Age theology claiming that there’s a universal, but impersonal, energy or “Force” that is part of everything and surrounds everyone. This is typical Star Wars mythology. However, in The Force Awakens, it’s suggested a couple times that there must be a “balance” not only in the Force but also between the “good side” and the “dark side” of the Force. This is Non-Christian Eastern monism and moral dualism.”

Thus, Christians, and especially Christian parents and grandparents, should teach their children and other people about the logical contradictions and irrational mysticism of the Star Wars movies, including The Force Awakens. They should also note how such New Age thinking differs from the ethical monotheism and redemption of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the enlightenment and divine fellowship or communion that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus and from the power of the Holy Spirit.”

My bottom-line is this – The Force Awakens is a fun, well-made film with plenty of nostalgic touches that I thoroughly enjoyed, and would like to see again. However, it’s also a great opportunity as Peter Jones states to “Sharpen our presentation of the gospel message and help our children and grandchildren, and anyone else who might be interested, to understand the culture in which they live.”

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Movie Reviews ~ The Age of Adaline and True Story

The Age of AdalineThe Age of Adaline, rated PG-13
** ½

Blake Lively (Gossip Girl television series), stars as Adaline Bowman. She was happily married and had a young daughter, but her husband was tragically killed during the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then, in 1935 when San Francisco was having a rare snowfall, Adaline’s car slid off of the road and ended up at the bottom of a freezing river. Adaline’s body temperature dropped, and her heart stopped. When it looked like she would die, a lightning bolt brought her back to life. It also resulted in Adaline not being able to age. She would remain at a beautiful 29 years of age. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not really.

You see as everyone else was aging, including her daughter Flemming (played later in life by Ellen Burstyn), Adaline remained just as she was when the accident occurred. Soon people began asking questions. This resulted in Adaline moving often and changing her name as she did. It was actually a very lonely and sad life that she lived. She didn’t allow herself to get close to anyone as she knew any relationship would have to be a short one. One of those relationships was with a young William Jones (Anthony Ingruber) who had planned to propose to her.

Adaline meets Ellis (Michael Huisman (Game of Thrones television series), who serves on the board of the library/museum where Adaline is working. Ellis is persistent in asking her out. After refusing him several times Adaline finally agrees. After dating for a while, Adaline goes with Ellis to his parent’s home (played by Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker), to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. This is where the film gets particularly interesting, and features a strong performance from the 72 year old Ford, who will next reprise his role as Hans Solo in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

Summary – Morality? It includes a small amount of adult language and a few abuses of God’s name. None of the characters reflect any relationship with God and sex outside of marriage is portrayed. Good things – it showed the celebration of marriage and family and the man being the pursuer in a romantic relationship.  The film features Adaline’s beautiful wardrobe and scenes of the picturesque San Francisco as we follow her through the different time periods of her life. It was a lovely but not memorable film.

True StoryTrue Story, rated R
** ½

This film is directed by first time director Rupert Goold, who also co-wrote the script. It is based on Michael Finkel’s 2005 book True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa”.

We meet Michael Finkel () of the New York Times doing a major story on the slave trade in Africa in 2001. This is projected to be another New York Times Magazine cover story for Finkel, and will perhaps lead to him receiving the Pulitzer Prize. But it turns out that he plays with the facts, and rather than winning the Pulitzer, he is fired. He then returns to Montana where he lived with girlfriend (now wife) Jill (Felicity Jones).

We first meet Christian Longo (James Franco) in a Catholic Church in Mexico. Fast forward a bit and Finkel is contacted by a reporter from Oregon who tells him that Longo has been arrested for killing his wife and three young children and had taken on Finkel’s identity while in Mexico.

Finkel asks to meet with Longo. Longo makes a proposal to the disgraced writer – if he will keep the story to himself until after the trial and teach Longo how to write, he will give his story exclusively to Finkel. Sensing an opportunity to restore his reputation as a journalist, Finkel agrees and soon realizes that more than just an article, this story has book potential. He then negotiates a book deal with a $250,000 advance.

The movie explores the complicated relationship between Finkel and Longo. Themes of narcissism and lies permeate the story as they look to use each other for their own benefit.  What is the true story and who can we trust?

Hill and Franco give solid performances; especially take note of Franco’s eyes. Jones is mostly under-utilized, but offers up perhaps the film’s most powerful (and fictionalized) scene when she visits Longo in prison. (In reality Jill and Longo exchanged letters and spoke on the phone but never met in person).

The film is rated “R” due to the murder theme, some adult language and brief nudity (via a picture of a dead body).