Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, rated PG

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a delightful live action film from Disney that the entire family will enjoy. It is directed by three-time Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules) and Oscar winner Joe Johnson (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Johnson directed 32 days of reshoots written by Tom McCarthy when Hallström was unavailable, while Hallström oversaw the post-production. The screenplay is written by Ashleigh Powell, based on E.T.A Hoffmann’s 1816 short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Ballet by Marius Petipa. The film, which has a strong cast, had a budget of approximately $133 million.
Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy (Twilight films, Interstellar) is a teenage girl who has excellent mechanical skills; her mother has recently died. The film is set on Christmas Eve in Victorian London. Her grieving father, played by Matthew Macfadyen, gives her and her brother and sister gifts from their mother. Clara’s gift, a mechanical silver egg, can only be opened by a key, which she does not have.
Later that evening, the family goes to a Christmas Ball at Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer’s estate.  Drosselmeyer is played by Morgan Freeman, five-time Oscar nominee and winner for Million Dollar Baby. Drosselmeyer gives each of the children a gift. As Clara goes after hers, she is transported to a magical world. She sees the key to her egg, but a mouse steals it from her. As she chases the mouse, she meets a Nutcracker Guard named Captain Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight (Ready Player One). Phillips tells Clara that in that world, her mother was Queen Maria, making her a Princess.
After the mouse who has taken her key gets away, Phillip takes Clara to the palace, where she meets the leaders of three realms – the Land of Snowflakes, led by Shiver played by Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park), the Land of Flowers, led by Hawthorne, played by Eugenio Derbez (Overboard), and the Land of Sweets, led by Sugar Plum, played by Kiera Knightley, two-time Oscar nominee (Pride & Prejudice and The Imitation Game). She has also been looking for the same key that Clara has. Sugar Plum tells Clara about a fourth, dark and evil realm, governed by Mother Ginger, played by Helen Mirren, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for The Queen. Mother Ginger had stolen the key that Clara has been looking for. Clara must get the key from the evil Mother Ginger to save the land from disaster.
The film, which contains very little ballet – just one scene, and the closing credits, with American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland – is visually stunning and has a good plot twist. The makeup is outstanding. The production design is done by two-time Oscar nominee Guy Hendrix Dyas (Passengers, Inception), and the costume design is by eight-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Room With a View). The outstanding musical score is by eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard (Defiance, Michael Clayton), and incorporates much of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The film features strong acting performances particularly from Knightley, Foy and Fowora-Knight.
Themes include being self-reliant, working as a team, courage, sacrifice, forgiveness and family. Very young children may be frightened at times.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is an entertaining film that the entire family will enjoy.


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My Review of the Movie ~ Eye in the Sky

Eye in the SkyEye in the Sky, rated PG-13
*** ½

This war film, chock-full of ethical decisions, is directed by Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game), who also stars in the film as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh. The screenplay is written by Guy Hibbert.

The film features a strong cast led by the always excellent Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren (The Queen) as British Colonel Katherine Powell, Academy Award nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as undercover soldier Jama Farah, and the late Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films), as British Lieutenant General Frank Benson, in one of his last roles. Rickman died of pancreatic cancer at age 69 in January, 2016.

The film takes place in several locations. Powell is located at a military base in Sussex. She is in charge of a British operation tracking Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi, Kenya. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 on the Al-Shabaab terrorist list are being closely monitored by drones (the “eyes in the sky”) by British and U.S. military personnel, the latter of which are located on military base in Las Vegas. The terrorists are now inside a house in a populated area of Nairobi. Among those terrorists is British subject Susan Danford, now Ayesha AL-Hady, who Powell has tracked for six years and has never been so close to capturing. A radicalized U.S. citizen is also among the terrorists.

Lieutenant General Benson is at Whitehall with the Attorney General, British Foreign Secretary and others monitoring the situation. When Colonel Powell informs Benson that the terrorists are planning an attack that could kill up to 80, she states that the mission needs to change from one of capture (which Benson has approval for) to one of kill. It’s Benson’s job to secure approval for Lt. Colonel Walsh’s inexperienced drone pilots (Steve Watts portrayed by Aaron Paul and Carrie Gershon played by Phoebe Fox) to fire Hellfire missiles (lethal drone strikes) from Nevada. A fourth location is the American Geospatial Analysis Unit in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which uses facial recognition to confirm the identities of people in drone images.

Because the house is in a populated area, it is likely that others in the area would be killed by a drone strike. The film spends a good deal of time (too much time in my opinion, resulting in the lowering of my rating by a ½ star), focusing on one particular person. This leads to an ethical decision and the hesitancy amongst the necessary leaders and legal personnel that Benson needs to secure the approval from to move forward. We often hear them say that they must refer the decision up to the next in the chain of command, while Benson continually presses for a decision.

One of the questions facing the decision makers is whether Britain can go after one of its own citizens if that citizen is plotting an act of terrorism within the borders of a friendly country. There are military decisions that need to be made taking into account collateral damage estimates that have been provided by Colonel Powell, as well as the potential political fallout from the decision. And time is ticking away. If action isn’t taken quickly, the terrorists could get away – or worse.

The film is rated R for war violence and some adult language, including a few abuses of Jesus’ name.

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Movie Review ~ Trumbo

TrumboTrumbo, rated R

This movie tells the story of Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston, and this week nominated for Best Actor for the role by the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild), a very successful screenwriter in Hollywood. He joined the Communist party in 1943, when the United States and Soviet Union were allies. Being a member of the Communist party was not illegal. We don’t see any of his Communist activities or beliefs, except for a short scene in which he explains what a Communist is to his young daughter.

Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood Ten”, mostly screenwriters, who were accused of being Communists and refused to cooperate before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1947. They were charged with contempt of Congress and sent to prison, where Trumbo served for eleven months.

Hollywood studio chiefs then blacklisted the Hollywood Ten, making it impossible for them to get work. As a result, Trumbo wrote and re-wrote scripts (under fake names) of B-grade films for the King Brothers, played by John Goodman and Stephen Root. Trumbo ends up getting enough work that he brings in the rest of the Hollywood Ten to do this work, including Arlen Hird (a fictionalized character played well by Louis C.K.). Trumbo also writes two serious screenplays during this time (one under another writer’s name and one under a fake name) which would go on to win Oscars for Roman Holiday and The Brave One.

Trumbo is at the center of this film. He always looks tired, is a workaholic, smoking, drinking and popping pills while two-finger typing at his desk typewriter or working on scripts while soaking in the bathtub. He pretty much ignores his wife (Oscar nominee Diane Lane), son and young daughters, the oldest named Niki was played by Elle Fanning.

On the other side of the Hollywood political landscape are John Wayne (David James Elliott) as head of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren, four time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for The Queen. She has also received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in this film).

Michael Stuhlbarg portrays Edward G. Robinson. The film inaccurately shows him betraying his friends by naming them to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) later reach out to Trumbo for assistance on their projects, Spartacus and Exodus, respectfully. We see President Kennedy giving credibility to Spartacus at the same time that Hopper and her cohorts were trying to get people to boycott the film because of Trumbo’s involvement.

The film is directed by Jay Roach, who also directed the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers comedies. It is written by John McNamara.

I found the story interesting, having read about the Communist influence in Hollywood recently in the Bill O’Reilly/Martin Dugard book Killing Reagan. It was amazing to see how they seamlessly blended the old news footage with the current day actors.  The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, some sexual references, and one scene of male nudity (as Dalton is being checked into prison). It features a strong cast, and one of the best acting performances of the year with Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo. Like many films we’ve seen recently it was overly long at 124 minutes.