Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Movie Review ~ Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek BeyondStar Trek Beyond, rated PG-13
*** ½

This is the 13th feature film based on the late-1960’s Gene Roddenberry television series that my brother used to love to watch, on the 50th anniversary of the start of that series. After two reboot films directed by J.J. Abrams, this film is directed by Justin Lin, who has directed four Fast and Furious films.  Abrams is listed as a producer on this film. The film is co-written by Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty) and Doug Jung. The film had an estimated budget of $185 million and is projected to make about $60 million in the U.S. on its opening weekend.

The film, which film takes place two and a half years after 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, opens and closes like the original television program with a voiceover by Captain Kirk, played well by Chris Pine.  The USS Enterprise is in the third year of a five-year 23rd century mission. Kirk is feeling bored and ready for a change, so he applies for a Vice Admiral position at a large space station known as Starbase Yorktown.

Mr. Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, is also looking to make changes when he hears about the death of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy, who died in 2015). Although they want to tell each other about their plans, they don’t do so. The film also addresses a relationship Spock has with Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana.

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Movie Review ~ 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane10 Cloverfield Lane, rated PG-13
*** ½

Though not specifically a sequel to the 2008 film Cloverfield (both of which are produced by J.J. Abrams), Abrams does call this new film a “spiritual successor” and “blood relative” to that one, while director Dan Trachtenberg, in his feature directorial debut, has said that 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t take place in the same universe as Cloverfield. The original title for the film was The Cellar.

The script was written by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken and Oscar nominated (for Whiplash) Damien Chazelle. Bear McCreary’s music score effectively adds to the tense mood of the film.

As the film begins, we see Michelle, well portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Nurse Mary Phinney in PBS’s new Mercy Street), having had an argument with her boyfriend (voiced by Bradley Cooper). She leaves New Orleans and begins driving to the country. We hear reports on the radio of mysterious power outages on the coast.

**SPOILER ALERT**

After Michelle is in a violent car accident, she wakes up in a small room clothed only in her underwear, with an IV in her arm, her knee in a brace and chained to the wall. She soon meets her captor Howard (John Goodman in a superb performance). Howard insists however that he means her no harm. Instead, she should be thankful that he has saved her life. He tells her that he saw her accident just as there was an explosion in the sky due to some kind of attack. It could be the Russians, Koreans or Martians, he doesn’t know. It’s like something you read in the Bible, he states. Is it really the end of the world?

He tells her that they are in a bunker he has built below the ground for just such an occasion, as the air outside is not safe to breath. They will have to remain there for perhaps a year or two before it will be safe to venture outside. Not to worry, Howard has been planning for this and he has everything they need (clean air, food, water, etc.) to survive.

Michelle soon finds that she and Howard are not alone. It appears that a young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr. in a good performance) is also being held captive by Howard. But Emmett, a neighbor of Howard’s, tells Michelle that is not the case. Just before Howard sealed the doors to the bunker, Emmett pleads to join Howard, as he had helped Howard build the bunker for just such an occasion.

So is Howard telling the truth, or is he a deranged captor? Soon, the three start to settle in, as we see them playing board games, watching movies and listening to music on Howard’s jukebox.

Throughout the film we hear noises above, outside of the bunker, inferring that there is life outside. We see Michelle and Emmett begin to collaborate together to escape the bunker. This is a great psychological thriller that takes an unexpected turn the final thirty minutes.

The film contains excellent performances by the three main characters, with the film being seen through Michelle’s eyes. In fact, we see very few other people in the entire film. It is rated PG-13 for the terror of being held captive, fear, frightening images, some violence, and a few expletives and misuses of God’s name. It is certainly not a movie for children to attend.


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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 Tomatoes.com.

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.”