Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of FRONT RUNNER

Front Runner, rated R
***

Front Runner is based on the true story of how Gary Hart’s promising 1988 presidential campaign came to a grinding halt. The film is directed and co-written by four-time Oscar nominee Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno). Reitman wrote the film with former New York Times Magazine reporter Matt Bai, who wrote the 2014 book All The Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, and two-time Emmy nominee Jay Carson (House of Cards). The film is shot on 35mm by cinematographer Eric Steelberg (Up in the Air). The film is bolstered by a strong cast.
Gary Hart, played by Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman (Les Miserable, The Greatest Showman), was a 46-year-old, two-term senator from Colorado who had made a strong run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, before losing out to Walter Mondale. He is seen as the idealistic face of the future for the party. Hart’s wife Lee is played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), and his daughter Andrea is played by Kaitlyn Dever (Last Man Standing). The film is set in the early stages of the 1988 presidential campaign. Hart is polling with a double-digit lead over the other contenders for the Democratic nomination for president to run against then Vice President George H.W. Bush in the 1988 election to replace Ronald Reagan. Continue reading

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My Review of Patriots Day

patriots-dayPatriots Day, rated R
***

Patriots Day is the emotional, powerful and ultimately inspirational depiction of the events surrounding the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 and the heroic efforts to find the bombers.

It is the third film that Mark Wahlberg has worked on with director Peter Berg, 2013’s Lone Survivor and 2016’s Deepwater Horizon being the first two, all of which are based on true stories. The film’s title is taken from the Massachusetts state holiday that commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. It is celebrated on the third Monday in April, and the Boston Marathon is held that day. Peter Berg wrote the script with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer.  This is the first of possibly three movies about this historical event, the second being 2017’s Stronger starring Jake Gyllenhaal, based on Jeff Bauman’s book of the same title, and Boston Strong, currently in development.

Most will be familiar with the tragic events that the film is based on in which two Muslim brothers set off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing four and wounding 264 others. Berg begins the film with a twenty minute sequence that introduces us to the many characters who will play major roles in the drama over the next few days; it can be a bit of a challenge to keep them all straight.  The film follows authority figures, ordinary citizens and the terrorists from the night before the violent attacks to the resulting manhunt.

The film features a strong cast. The lead role is Boston police sergeant Tommy Saunders (a composite of real officers), played by two-time Oscar nominee and Boston native Wahlberg (The Fighter, The Departed).  Because Saunders has been disciplined, he finds himself at the center of the bombing when makeshift explosives go off at the finish line of the marathon. Golden Globe nominee (True Detective) Michelle Monaghan portrays Tommy’s wife Carol. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) in a relatively small role portrays nearby Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. Golden Globe winner (Roseanne) John Goodman portrays Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Golden Globe winner (Taking Chance) Kevin Bacon portrays Special FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) and brother Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) play the bombers well, with Tamerlan’s American wife being played by Melissa Benoist (Supergirl).

After the bombing, we see the investigation and week-long manhunt take place, which kept the entire city of Boston paralyzed with fear. This includes the attempted getaway of the brothers, including a carjacking and the abduction of Northeastern student Dun Meng, portrayed by Jimmy O. Yang. Actual footage is effectively used throughout, adding realism to the film.

The film is rated “R” for the intense bomb sequence, the following horror, including gruesome visual images of the injuries, and a significant amount of adult language.

This well-made film shows how the city of Boston – first responders, police, FBI agents, emergency room doctors and nurses, etc. – all came together in response to this tragedy. It was both chilling and inspiring. The acting was solid with the focus on the story. When the public confidence in law enforcement is low, this film shows those in such roles in a positive light. The cinematography and visual effects are done very well, complimented by Trent Reznor’s musical score. The film ends with a brief look at some of the real-life survivors of the tragedy.


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My Movie Review ~ The Accountant

the-accountantThe Accountant, rated R
***

This film is directed by Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun). The screenplay is by Bill Dubuque (The Judge). It features a strong cast, including two Oscar winners, Ben Affleck (Argo and Good Will Hunting), and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), and two Oscar nominees Anna Kendrick (Up in The Air), and John Lithgow (Terms of Endearment and The World According to Garp).

The film features a complicated plot with a number of flashbacks and surprises. Ben Affleck portrays Christian Wolff, who is a highly functioning autistic.  His parents break up after disagreeing how he is to be treated. Christian’s controlling military father (Robert C. Traveiler) is extremely hard on the young Christian (played by Seth Lee) and his brother Brax (played as an adult by Jon Bernthal). Christian’s father wants him to be able to defend himself, as he knows he will be picked on throughout his life.

We see a grown-up Christian working as a freelance accountant in an office at a strip mall in Plainfield, Illinois. He is a loner who has incredible abilities with math, and is uncomfortable socially.

Ray King (played by J.K. Simmons) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury Crime Enforcement Division, begins to investigate Christian. He blackmails Marybeth Medina, an analyst played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson to track down Christian.

Christian takes on a legitimate client Living Robotics, led by Lamar Black, played by John Lithgow. He is contacted by Black’s sister Rita Blackburn, (Jean Smart) to track down the $61 million discrepancy found by accountant Dana Cummins (Anna Kendrick), just before the company is to go public. This puts the lives of both Christian and Dana in danger.

The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of violence and adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. Ben Affleck delivers a strong performance as the violent autistic Christian, and the other cast members give solid performances. The multiple plotlines made this a film that you need to pay close attention to, but I thought there were too many plot holes.


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My Review of the Movie ~ The Meddler

The MeddlerThe Meddler, rated PG-13
**

Oscar winner (for Dead Man Walking), and four-time Oscar nominee Susan Sarandon portrays Marnie and Rose Byrne is her daughter Lori. The film is based on writer/director Lorene Scararia’s real-life experiences with her mother after Lorene’s father died.   Scararia has stated in interviews that the goal was to capture Marnie’s side of the story, and that empathy was a key theme in the film which is set in Los Angeles two years after Marnie’s husband Joe’s death. Joe left her enough money that she doesn’t have to work. Lori is a screenwriter that has relationship issues and is devastated by her break-up with an actor Jacob, played by Jason Ritter.

Marnie just can’t resist meddling in her daughter’s life.   As the film begins we see Marnie constantly calling, texting and dropping by unexpectedly to see Lori. At a time when Marnie really needs Lori, Lori is not very nice to her. But we must remember that each of us go through loss differently.  She needs to set boundaries with Marnie.  Lori loves her Mom, but needs her space as she works through the loss of her father. Both mom and daughter see the same therapist, Diane, played by Amy Landecker.

When Marnie is turned away by her daughter, she seeks to build relationships with others (Freddy, a young man played by Jerrod Carmichael, who works at the Apple Store who helps her and she in turn encourages to go to college; Lori’s best friend, Jillian, played by Cecily Strong, who is a young lesbian mom who desires for the wedding she didn’t have and who needs a babysitter; and a lonely old woman in the hospital). At times she shows her love by spending extraordinary amounts of money, out of place given that she hardly knows the people. Is she trying to buy their friendship?  She also strangely seems to care for these strangers more than her husband’s wonderful Italian family back east, who only want a headstone for Joe, or half of his ashes, neither of which Marnie responds to them about.

Marnie is pursued by two divorced men, Oscar nominee Michael McKean as Mark and Oscar winner (for his outstanding performance in Whiplash) J.K. Simmons as the likeable Zipper, a retired policeman, who also has relationship issues with a daughter. Ironically, even though Marnie craves her daughter’s attention, she is uncomfortable with male attention due to her difficulty dealing with her husband’s loss.

Sarandon is excellent in this role as the meddling mother and the grieving wife, as was J.K. Simmons as the low-key and comfortable-in-his-own-skin Zipper. Moral content issues in the film include the support of the lesbian wedding, sex outside of marriage and a strange comment from Lori about abortion. According to Scararia, in real-life, her mom (the Marnie character) was a person of faith, and that faith helped her through her loss. Unfortunately, the film shows none of Marnie’s faith.  And despite a cast that includes Sarandon and Simmons, the film was pretty slow, and in many ways depicted what John Piper would refer to as a wasted life.