Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of Passengers

passengersPassengers, rated PG-13
** ½  

Though mildly entertaining, and featuring some solid acting performances and visuals, Passengers doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had for this film. My recommendation is to save your money on seeing this film in the theatre, and wait for it to come out on video/streaming.

Passengers is directed by Oscar nominee (The Imitation Game) Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange). It features star power in Oscar winner (Silver Linings Playbook) Jennifer Lawrence as the writer Aurora Lane and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) as the mechanical engineer Jim Preston. The film had an estimated budget of $110 million. Of that, Lawrence reportedly was paid $20 million and Pratt $12 million. However, reports were that reshoots for the film were scheduled as late as October, just two months before release, to correct story elements that were not working.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The film tells us about the Starship Avalon, which is transporting 5,259 people (5,000 passengers and 259 crew members), on a 120-year voyage from an overcrowded Earth to a distant planet known as the Homestead Colony. As the ship goes through a severe meteor shower just 30 years into the voyage, the ship is jarred and Preston’s hibernation pod is opened. (Note: the hibernation pods reminded me of those featured in the television series Wayward Pines).  We see Jim awake, and slowly realize that something has gone terribly wrong. He is the only one on the ship who is awake, and he has awoken nearly 90 years too early. We can feel his utter loneliness and helplessness as he wanders around the ship and even outside of it for more than a year, at one point contemplating suicide, as he realizes he will not be alive when the ship reaches its destination. We see his appearance deteriorate. His only companion is Arthur, an android bartender, my favorite character in the film, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen).

Jim then notices the beautiful Aurora asleep in her pod. As he begins to find out more about her by watching her videos, he longs to spend time with her. He is so lonely that he contemplates waking her up. He knows exactly what that would mean to her, and he seriously battles with that moral dilemma. But then we see him give in to the loneliness, and make the decision to wake her up.

But Jim isn’t honest with Aurora about why she woke up. We see their relationship grow, inevitably leading to them having sex a few times. We also see them work together to address mechanical issues that arise on the ship. The only other human that wakes up is Gus Mancuso, Oscar nominee (What’s Love Got to Do With It) Lawrence Fishburne.

******************

The film included some good, though not great visuals, especially the exterior views of the ship as it continued on its 120 year journey to the Homestead Colony. We saw the film in 3D, and though I didn’t feel it added much to the experience (except the additional $3 to the ticket price), there was one very impressive scene with a swimming pool when gravity was suspended.

The acting in the film was good. Pratt did an excellent job of portraying loneliness and hopelessness. It shows what Genesis 2:18 states “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Lawrence, already a four-time Oscar nominee at age 26, brought her usual strong performance. The film includes some nudity (Pratt, when he is alone on the ship), and some sexual content. There is minimal adult language included, which was refreshing for a PG-13 film. The film in addition to the themes of loneliness, helplessness and disappointment, also shows self-sacrifice, courage and love.


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My Movie Reviews ~ ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Joy’

The Big ShortThe Big Short, rated R
****

This superb film is based on Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball) 2010 book and it is directed by Adam McKay, who usually directs comedies starring Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Anchorman 2, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, etc.). The story is adapted for the screen by McKay and his co-screenwriter Charles Randolph. They could get an Oscar nomination for the script, which includes a good amount of humor in this otherwise serious, stressful and angry film.

The strong cast includes four Oscar winners: Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Brad Pitt, and two Oscar nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

The film looks at the 2008 financial crisis which had a $5 trillion impact in the U.S. alone, through the lens of four unorthodox moneymen or Wall Street outsiders – or weirdos as they are referred to – who predicted the consequences of the fraudulent mortgage-lending practices of large banks on Wall Street and made millions as a result. It uses three storylines, starting with Christian Bale, who stars as the socially uncomfortable Michael Burry M.D. (who listens to rock and roll music and goes barefoot in his office) who was one of the first to forecast the collapse of the credit bubble due to excessive subprime lending.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a money manager who rose to fame after successfully betting against subprime mortgages. He wants to teach the banks and government a lesson. Marisa Tomei plays his wife Cynthia. Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) are two young investors who are mentored by Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt.

The soundtrack includes rocks songs by (Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses). The score is by Nicholas Britell. The characters have hairstyles and clothes that attempt to match the period.

The film aims to show viewers that major banks (aided by the media and government), engaged in fraudulent activity and were bailed out by the U.S. government at the expense of the average citizen – and that it could happen again. You won’t find likeable characters in the film or anyone to cheer for as you will in most films. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film, or how close it was to Lewis’ book, but the acting was superb and this is an overall excellent film, one of my favorites of the year.

The film earns it’s “R” rating for a significant amount of adult language, including several unfortunate abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names along with lots of f bombs, as well as nudity in a scene in a strip club.

The movie uses a lot of financial terminology that I wasn’t familiar with. To help us understand them, the film uses a few cameos (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain), to address the audience with explanations of the terms. The article “5 Things You Should Know Before You See The Big Short by Ethan Wolff-Mann may also be helpful in explaining the terms.

JoyJoy, rated PG-13
***

This film, loosely based on the life of Long Island mother Joy Mangano (who is listed as an Executive Producer), stars 25 year-old actress, three time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy. It is directed by five-time Academy Award nominee David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle), who co-wrote the story with Annie Mumolo. Lawrence joins two-time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, who worked with Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The film begins with a dedication, a claim that it has been inspired “by stories of daring women everywhere”.

When Joy was a child she was very creative, and loved to make things. Her beloved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) told her that she was going to have a great future. Indeed, as a teenager she created a fluorescent flea collar to keep pets safe. Joy would go on to become the valedictorian at her high school and was headed to college. That’s when life took a turn for the worse for Joy.

Her parents – Rudy (Robert DeNiro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen) – divorce, and Joy doesn’t go to college, instead staying home to care for her mother and do bookkeeping for her dad’s business. Joy gets married to Tony, who wants to be “the next Tom Jones”, played by Edgar Ramirez. They have two children but then divorce. They are better as friends than they were married, and Tom lives in Joy’s basement, while Terry pretty much stays in her room watching soap operas all day.

Joy works for an airline as a counter agent, and can’t quite make ends meet, as we see their phone service being turned off due to lack of payment. On top of that, Rudy is kicked out by his second wife and takes up residence in the basement, sharing the confined space with Tony, who he has despised since before he and Joy married. Joy also has a troubled relationships with half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, who also appeared in American Hustle). Talk about a depressing dysfunction junction!

After Rudy meets Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) on a dating site for widows and widowers (he is neither), she takes him and the rest of the family on her husband’s sailboat. When red wine is spilled on the wood deck due to the high waves, Joy tries to clean up the spill amid the broken glass, cutting her hands. This gives her an idea, and leads her back to being the creative little girl, eventually creating a self-wringing mop (Miracle Mop).

Tony uses a past relationship to put her in connection with Neil (Bradley Cooper), an executive producer at QVC, a home shopping TV channel, which is Joy’s big break. But financial trouble and family and business relationships get even more difficult from here on. We see Joy’s perseverance, despite Rudy and Trudy telling her to just pack it in and give up on her dreams.  So did going from rags to riches give her joy? No, we won’t spoil it for you!

The film is rated PG-13 for one word uttered by Rudy. It also includes several unfortunate misuses of God’s name.

My wife Tammy really disliked this film, calling it long, plodding and boring. She said it had about enough material for a 30-minute Lifetime movie. She thought good acting and a good real-life story couldn’t ‘clean up’ how poorly this story was portrayed on film. I disagree. The film (as well as Lawrence), has been nominated for Best Film by the Golden Globes in the “Musical or Comedy” category (it is neither). The film isn’t great (as attested to the current Rotten Tomatoes ratings – 58% critics, 61% viewers), but I thought Lawrence’s performance and the incredible true story of Joy Mangano was worth the price of admission. If you see the film, please let us know what you think.


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Movie Review ~ The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay – Part 2

Hunger Games The Mockingjay Part 2The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay – Part 2, rated PG-13
***

This is the final film based on the best-selling The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, with the second book unnecessarily being divided into two films which were filmed at the same time. And other than this film being too long at 137 minutes, I enjoyed it. It has an interesting story, with some twists, and some strong acting performances.

The series has boasted a strong cast, featuring performances by five actors or actresses who have been nominated for a total of fifteen Oscars – Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle), Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, The Hours, Far From Heaven, and Still Alice), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Doubt, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The Master), and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones). Seymour Hoffman won for Capote (2005), Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and Moore for Still Alice (2014).

This film is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed 2014’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One and 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The moving soundtrack features original music composed by James Newton Howard, who previously scored the first three films in the series. The script is written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of my favorite actresses and already a three time Oscar nominee at age 25, portrays Katniss, the Mockingjay. She is courageous and is the people’s leader/warrior in the battle against President Snow and the Capitol.

The film picks up where Part 1 leaves off, with Katniss recovering from an attack by the Capitol brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss’s fellow District 12 tribute and fiancé. Katniss’s aim is to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in order to bring peace to the war-torn Panem. She states “I’m going to kill Snow. He needs to see my eyes when I kill him.”

Members of Squad 451 are Gale (Liam Hemsworth), competing love interest for Katniss with Peeta, Finnick (Sam Claflin), Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and the soldier Boggs (Mahershala Ali). They are under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore), and Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his last screen performance, having died of a drug overdose in February, 2014 at age 46).

Squad 451 brings Peeta, who is struggling with memory loss and is emotionally unpredictable, on their way to President Snow’s mansion. Along the way they have to avoid a series of secret, frightening and deadly pods that surround the mansion. These scenes, especially the mutts, will be too scary for young viewers.

This film is based on a young adult novel, but it is not appropriate for young children. There is significant war violence and much killing, including of small children, in this film.