Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of MOLLY’S GAME

Molly’s Game, rated R
***

Molly’s Game, based on the true story of Molly Bloom, is a very well-acted and written film but also has some content issues. The film is the directorial debut of Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Sorkin’s screenplay is based on the book Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom. The film features the kind of rapid-fire dialogue that Sorkin is known for (The West Wing), and has been nominated for two Golden Globe awards including best screenplay by Sorkin.
The film features a strong cast, led by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help), who portrays Molly Bloom. Chastain has received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Molly was an Olympic-caliber skier who was pushed hard, and raised to be a champion by her father Larry, played by two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), who excels in a small role. Molly has a strained relationship with her father. Samantha Isler (Captain Fantastic), does a good job portraying the teenage Molly.
When Molly has a bad accident at a national skiing competition, she is forced to give up her Olympic dreams. Before going to law school, she moves to Los Angeles and gets a job as a cocktail waitress. She then meets an arrogant real estate investor named Dean Keith, played by Jeremy Strong (The Big Short), and he hires her as his personal assistant. One of her responsibilities is coordinating a weekly underground high-stakes poker game at the Cobra Lounge attended by high ranking celebrities, sports figures, businessmen, etc., including “Player X”, portrayed by Michael Cera (Juno), a character that is widely believed to be based on actor Tobey Maguire. As we watch the games, we meet other poker players such as Harlan Eustice, played by Emmy nominee Bill Camp (The Night Of), “Bad Brad”, played by Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight), and Douglas Downey, played by Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires).

****SPOILER ALERT****
Poker plays a significant role in this film, and we see Molly learn all aspects of the game. And like all things Molly does, she learns the game well. But eventually, we see Molly split with Dean after he fires her, and start her own game with even higher stakes in Los Angeles. She becomes extremely successful, but Player X takes her games away from her. That doesn’t stop her as she focuses on New York City, where eventually some mobsters join the games. This gets the attention of the FBI, and we see her arrested in the middle of the night by armed FBI agents.
We then see Molly try to persuade New York lawyer Charlie Jaffey, played by Golden Globe winner Idris Elba (Luther), to represent her. The two have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. The film also includes Oscar winner Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) as the likeable Judge Foxman.
*********************

Sorkin uses a lot of voice overs and flashbacks (from Molly building her empire, after her arrest by the FBI and her time as a teen). The film features excellent cinematography during the poker games by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Chastain is confident as Molly, and always looks great in the outfits she wears, thanks to costume designs by Susan Lyall, though most of the outfits result in a large amount of cleavage being displayed. Chastain delivers an Oscar worthy performance.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names, and some violence.  At two hours and twenty minutes, the film is at least twenty minutes too long however.
Molly’s Game is a very well-acted, written and directed film, based on a true story. It was sad to see how she forfeited all relationships during this time of greed, power and avarice.  In the words of Thomas Merton, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

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My Review of The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife, rated PG-13
** ½

The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the amazing true story of a Polish couples’ courage and self-sacrifice during World War II.
This film was written by Angela Workman and based on Diane Ackerman’s 2007 bestselling book, The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, which itself was inspired by the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska. The film is directed by Niki Caro (McFarland, USA, Whale Rider).
The film takes place in Warsaw, Poland (though the film was actually shot in Prague), beginning in 1939. It covers seven years in the lives of Antonina Zabinski, portrayed by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (trying her best to use a Polish accent), her husband Jan, played by Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown), and their young son Ryszard. We see that they care deeply for the animals in the zoo that they own and run. In addition, Jan is involved in the Polish Underground and the Home Army.
German bombs are falling on Warsaw and the Warsaw Zoo while German troops occupy the city. We see the violence of war with people and animals dying. When the zoo is bombed, the surviving animals are seen wandering about the city. Jewish people are taken and held in an area that is known as the Warsaw Ghetto. The Zabinski’s see what is going on and decide to provide shelter to Antonina’s best friend Magda Gross, played by Efrat Dor.
Lutz Heck, played by Golden Globe nominee Daniel Brühl (Rush), is a former colleague and the head of the Berlin Zoo, but who is now an SS officer and Hitler’s leading zoologist. After the bombings, he offers to transport the most prized animals to Berlin for safekeeping. The Zabinskis approach Heck with a plan to turn the zoo grounds into a pig farm that would serve to provide food for the German army.  In reality, however, they have a plan to save as many Jews as possible and by doing so put their own lives constantly in danger.
The film’s focus is on Antonina, though it can be argued that Jan took the greater risks in this story of resistance against the Nazis. The film includes powerful themes of self-sacrifice, courage, fear and love. It also will challenge the viewer with moral dilemmas.
The film is rated PG-13 for war violence, scenes of sexual assault and sexuality, and surprisingly contains some brief gratuitous nudity. The film’s costumes, sets, and musical score all add to the film’s realism and tension. The acting performances, particularly by Chastain, Brühl and Heldenbergh are solid.
Although I can’t put my finger on it, this film is missing something. It moves along slowly, and despite the danger all around her, we don’t see Antonina feeling the fear that she had to be feeling.  Overall this is a great story that the film doesn’t quite measure up to.


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Movie Review ~ The Martian, rated PG-13

The MartianThe Martian, rated PG-13
****

This incredible film is based on Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, which is adapted by screenwriter Drew Goddard, who wrote many episodes of the television series Lost. It is directed by legendary director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Alien).

Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a member of a six-person mission to Mars led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). After a powerful wind storm hits, Watney is presumed dead and the crew has to leave him behind in order to survive. But amazingly Watney, the crew’s botanist, though badly injured, is still alive. Alone, he has to figure out how to communicate with earth and survive on Mars with minimal food and water supplies.

Watney begins a video journal where we see his humor comes through as we get to know him. We also see him using his skills as a botanist, and his ability to repair equipment as he has to depend on himself to survive. Note: while in the novel, Mark Watney has two Master’s degrees, one in botany and one in mechanical engineering, in the film, he has a PhD in botany and no engineering background is mentioned, though he is shown to have a knowledge of engineering and maintenance of the mission equipment.

Back on earth, NASA leaders, Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor from 12 Years a Slave) discuss how to handle the situation, assuming that Whatley will not be able to survive on Mars. They also discuss whether or not to notify the crew of the Ares 3, who are on their long journey home, and the impact of leaving one of their crew members alive on Mars will have on them, especially Commander Lewis.

The film is basically about Watney stranded on Mars, trying to survive, while NASA tries to get him back home. Damon delivers the performance of his career surrounded by a strong cast. The special effects are amazing, especially the landscape of Mars, which was created through a combination of location filming (in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red colored desert) and CGI (computer generated imagery). NASA was consulted while making the film in order to make the aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, as accurate as possible. The soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams, was powerful and effectively complements the film.

There is humor in the film (Damon’s dislike of the disco music that Lewis left, for example). There is mention of faith (one character asks another if he believes in God).   There is some adult language included and one non-sexual shot of nudity, used to show how much weight Watney has lost while stranded on Mars.

This film is well made, with strong performances, particularly by Damon, but also from the strong supporting cast (Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Daniels, Ejiofor, and Donald Glover). It is one of my favorite films of the year, second perhaps only to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation thus far.