Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, rated PG-13
*** ½

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and concluding film in the   Skywalker saga, bringing together the original films, the prequels, and the sequels. In order to achieve that, the film has to address various plot holes and threads from previous films and resolve questions. The result is an entertaining conclusion, and one of my favorite films of the year. The film is directed by two-time Emmy winner J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Westworld, Lost), who took over from Colin Trevorrow, who left after “creative differences”. The film was written by Abrams, Oscar winner Chris Terrio (Argo), Derek Connolly (Jurassic World films), and Trevorrow (Jurassic World films). The film had an estimated budget of $200 million. Continue reading


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My Review of THE POST

The Post, rated PG-13
*** ½

The Post is a well-acted and directed film based on true events and intended to deliver a message about the freedom of the press.  It is the first acting collaboration of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and the first major collaboration between Streep and acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who rushed the film into theatres just ten months after initially reading the script. The film received six Golden Globe nominations (Best film, director, screenplay, actor, actress and musical score). The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), and written by Liz Hannah and Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight). For the purposes of this review, I will assume that Hannah’s and Singer’s script is historically accurate, though Ted Baehr of MovieGuide.org in his review of the film calls it “very one-sided, false, superficial left-leaning”.
The film tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg (Mathew Rhys) and his theft of thousands of pages of classified and confidential documents about Vietnam. The papers were the result of a study commissioned by Robert McNamara, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood.
We are told that the U.S. government, spanning four presidential administrations, has been lying to the American people about our involvement in Vietnam. At first, the “Pentagon Papers” were given to Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, who published them before a temporary injunction stopped them from doing so. However, during the injunction, Ellsberg gives the papers to The Washington Post as well.
Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer) portrays Katharine Graham, who assumed the role of publisher of The Washington Post after her husband’s suicide. Sadly, Katharine Graham’s son shot himself to death just two days before the national release of this movie— and in a manner eerily reminiscent of his dad’s suicide more than 50 years ago.  Graham was the first woman to run a major daily newspaper in the U.S. and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.   Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) portrays the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee. This is Hank’s fifth collaboration with Spielberg.
In possession of the documents that the courts have ruled couldn’t be published, Graham and Bradlee have a decision to make. If they run a story using the information, they could go out of business, as the paper had just gone public and their financing could be pulled from them. Or worse yet, Graham and Bradlee could be arrested. Five- time Oscar winner John Williams (Fiddler on the Roof, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial), does the musical score.
Streep is superb as the under-appreciated female publisher. The film does a good job to show how little she was thought of and almost invisible at times. Hanks was also excellent as the paper’s editor, Ben Bradlee, who later oversaw the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s stories documenting the Watergate scandal. There is also a solid supporting cast, including three-time Golden Globe nominee Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) as Ben Bagdikian and Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story) as Tony Bradlee.  
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. In addition, there is some brief war violence at the beginning of the film. Of course, we need to also take into account that the actual “Pentagon Papers” were stolen by Ellsberg in the first place.  We have the moral dilemma of potentially putting people in harm’s way by revealing government and military secrets.
The Post is a well-acted and directed film based on true events that is intended to deliver a message for today. It was interesting to see the social connections and friendships between political figures and the press at that time.  We hear Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee state that the press must hold government officials accountable. In this time of “fake news”, Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, however, some viewers might also want to ask who will hold the press accountable.


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My Review of STAR WARS:  THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, rated PG-13
*** ½

The Last Jedi is an action-packed and exciting film, and though a little long, is one of the top movies of the year. It brought in $220 million, the second-best opening weekend ever in North America behind The Force Awakens.  It is directed and written by Rian Johnson (Looper) and based on characters created by George Lucas. The excellent music was composed by John Williams, with this being his eighth Star Wars film. The film is overly long at 152 minutes, making it the longest Star Wars film. It begins immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, and is set thirty years after the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy. Episode IX is scheduled to be released on December 20, 2019, which will complete the sequel trilogy.
The Force Awakens ended with Rey (Daisey Ridley) handing over a lightsaber to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a scene filmed on the stunning Skellig Michael Island, off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. The Last Jedi opens with the Resistance, led by General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher in her final film), trying to survive and escape an attack by the First Order, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) under the command of their Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings). The damaged Resistance fleet is able to escape, but soon General Leia and her crew realize that the First Order has been able to track their ship. On top of that, they are quickly running out of fuel.
Rey goes to Ahch-To with Chewbacca and R2-D2 aboard the Millennium Falcon to meet with Luke Skywalker. She tries to convince him to teach her as a Jedi Master. Luke has no interest in that, indicating that he had come to the island to die. He has regrets about his failure to teach Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Silence, Paterson), Leia’s and Hans Solo’s son, and Darth Vader’s grandson, who has gone to the dark side. Luke shows Rey the Jedi religion holy books. He is unaware that Rey and Ren are communicating through visions, as Ren tries to lure Rey to the dark side. Luke eventually gives Rey a few lessons, teaching her about the Force. Rey has questions about her parents. Despite her pleadings, Luke refuses to come to the aid of the Resistance, so Rey leaves Ahch-To without Luke to confront Kylo Ren.
In another battle scene, we see that Kylo Ren hesitates to fire at the lead Resistance ship after sensing that his mother, General Leia, is on board. Leia is badly injured however, and as she recovers, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes over command.
Reformed storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) who has just awoken, and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) tell Captain Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) that they have a plan to dismantle the tracking device the First Order is using to track their ship. Poe tells Vice Admiral Holdo, but she has no interest in Poe’s plan. As a result, Finn and Rose head off on a secret mission to a Casino planet (which reminded me of Monte Carlo, along the French Riviera), to obtain the key element they need to destroy the tracking device.
I loved seeing some of the most beloved Star Wars characters in this film such as Chewbacca, R2-D2, Luke Skywalker, General Leia, C-3PO, as well as a surprise appearance by a much-loved character. I also enjoyed all of the animals included in the film. The scenes filmed on Ireland’s Skellig Michael Island were breath-taking.
Some Christians may be concerned about the role that the Force plays in the film. In this film, there is mention of the Jedi holy books, and Luke’s reference to the “Jedi religion”. However, as I watched the film I didn’t have the same concerns. This is a science fiction film after all, and the Force has been a major part of the Star Wars “good vs. evil” story for forty years now.
The film features a number of battle scenes, perhaps at the expense of character development. Johnson’s initial cut of the film exceeded three hours. He reduced it to two and a half hours, which I felt it could have been shortened even more, perhaps by shortening some of the battle scenes.
Overall, this is a well-acted and directed film, with good use of computer generated imagery (CGI), and humor. The characters, particularly those portrayed by Hamill, Ridley and Driver, turn in strong performances. I enjoyed the character portrayed by Benicio Del Toro and Kellie Marie Tran’s portrayal of Rose Tico.


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Everyone should see the Movie “The BFG”

The BFGThe BFG (Big Friendly Giant), rated PG
****

This film is based on the 1982 children’s book by Roald Dahl. Dahl, who also wrote “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach” which were also made into films, wrote “The BFG” in the last decade of his life and said it was the favorite of his books.

The new film (there was also a cartoon version of the book in 1989), is directed by three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was written by the late Melissa Mathison who was nominated for an Oscar (for 1982’s ET), and to whom the film is dedicated. John Williams does the music score, the twenty-fourth time he has done so for a Spielberg film.

Ruby Barnhill portrays the ten year-old orphan Sophie who doesn’t sleep well. One night about 3:00 am Sophie sees the lanky twenty-four foot giant played by Mark Rylance (Oscar winner for the 2015 Spielberg-directed Bridge of Spies), outside of the orphanage. The BFG is afraid that she will expose him to others, so he takes her to Giant Country where he lives.

Sophie is initially afraid of the BFG, but a friendship begins to grow with this gentle giant. She finds out BFG puts dreams into the heads of children and other “human beans”, and that he is regularly bullied by the nine much larger giants. You will love how he humorously mangles the English language.

Sophie gets an idea to travel to London to visit Queen Victoria, voiced by Penelope Wilton (of Downton Abbey) for assistance with the mean larger giants. And oh yes, BFG also has quite an issue with flatulence when he consumes a certain drink, which are referred to as “whiz poppers”.

The CGI (computer generated animation) in this film is just amazing, especially the facial expressions and the enormous ears of BFG. The film contains themes of loneliness, love, friendship and family. It might be a bit dark and scary for wee ones.  Mark Rylance as the BFG and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie have great chemistry and they are perfect in their roles. I highly recommend this film for “children” of all ages, my favorite movie of 2016 thus far.