Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of TOY STORY 4

Toy Story 4, rated G
****

Nine years after the excellent Toy Story 3, the much-loved Toy Story series gets possibly its final chapter in this pleasing and heartfelt film, which is one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. I recommend the film for all ages, with the exception of very young children who could be frightened at times.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Josh Cooley (Inside Out) in his directorial debut. The screenplay is written by two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), and Stephany Folsom. There are many credits for the original story, including Oscar winner John Lasseter (Toy Story), in his last project with Pixar. The film had a budget of approximately $200 million.
The film opens 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep, voiced by Golden Globe nominee Annie Potts (Corvette Summer) became separated from the other toys. We then see Andy, voiced by John Morris, giving the rest of the toys to Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw. Woody, voiced by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) is dealing with the fact that he is no longer the top toy, as we see Bonnie playing more with the other toys. When Bonnie has her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to look after her. At school, we see Bonnie, with Woody’s help, create Forky, voiced by two-time Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep). Forky is made out of a spork, with popsicle stick feet, pipe cleaner arms. He feels that he is trash and thus belongs in a trash can. Fortunately, Woody, looking for purpose, continually rescues him from the trash.
We then see Bonnie and her family leave in an RV for a one-week vacation between the orientation and the start of kindergarten. Again, Woody has to rescue Forky, who jumps out of the RV. As they walk along the road, Woody tells Forky about the responsibility and loyalty of toys to their owners, and that each toy has a purpose.
While they try to catch up with Bonnie and her parents, Woody and Forky pass an antique shop, and Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp inside the window of the shop. They enter into the shop and encounter some ventriloquist dolls that will be frightening for young children. They also encounter Gabby Gabby, voiced by six-time Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), resulting in Forky being captured. As Woody goes to get help, he runs into Bo Peep at an amusement park. Later, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Emmy winner Tim Allen (Home Improvement), leaves the RV to go search for Woody.
Will Buzz be able to find Woody? Will Forky be rescued? What about Bo Peep? Continue reading


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My Review of US

Us, rated R
**

Us, is the follow-up to Jordan Peele’s surprise 2017 hit Get Out. It is a horror film that has significant content issues, particularly an extreme amount of violence and adult language. The film is written, directed and produced by Oscar winner Peele (Get Out). While the messages in Get Out were obvious, what Peele is wanting to communicate with Us is more of a head scratcher. Some reviewers have pointed to Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining as an influence, and that viewers will get more out of the film after each repeated viewing, something I don’t plan to invest the time nor money in.
As the film opens, we read a few sentences on the screen about the miles and miles of tunnels underneath the surface of America, many of which have “no known purpose at all.” We are taken back to 1986, where we see an ad on television for the “Hands Across America” event. Young Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, is at a Santa Cruz amusement park along the beach with her parents. Her father has won her a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt which is much too big for the little girl. When her mother goes to the restroom, her father is to watch her, but he is consumed with playing a whack-a-mole game, so Adelaide wanders off along the boardwalk toward the beach.  Along the way she sees a homeless man holding up a sign reading “Jeremiah 11:11” (“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them”). That man and verse will show up later in the film.  Adelaide wanders into what appears to be an abandoned house of mirrors attraction named Shaman Vision Quest which has a sign on the outside indicating that you will find yourself inside. Adelaide soon wants to leave, but when she heads to the “Exit” sign, she just runs into a mirror. It is then she sees her exact double (a doppelgänger), who is even dressed just like her. She is terrified.
The film then moves to the present day. The Wilson family – Adelaide, played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther), daughter Zora, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and young son Jason, played by Evan Alex are heading for a vacation at their lake house, Adelaide’s childhood home, located not far from the Santa Cruz beach where the terrifying incident took place. When Gabe suggests that they meet friends Josh Tyler, played by Tim Heidecker, his wife Kitty, played by two-time Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), and their twin daughters at the Santa Cruz beach, Adelaide is visibly upset. On the beach, we see Jason, who Adelaide is especially protective of, wander off and head toward the same house of mirrors attraction (now named Merlin’s Enchanted Forest).
That night back at the lake home, Adelaide tells Gabe about her terrifying childhood experience for the first time. She tells him that she wants to go home. Then the power goes out and everything is dark. They notice that there are four people standing motionless at the end of their driveway. They won’t respond to Gabe, who initially is friendly. Eventually they charge the home and despite Gabe’s efforts, they enter. What the Wilson family sees is stunning – the people on the driveway are their doubles, just like the little girl was that Adelaide saw back in the house of mirrors in 1986. Although they look similar, these doubles have difficulty communicating, some grotesque features, wear red jump suits and even worse, hold large scissors as weapons. Only Adelaide’s double speaks, and then only in a labored manner. It’s clear that this is not a social visit.
Who are these people, who are known as the Tethered, and why do they want to harm the Wilson family?
Content concerns in the film include a significant amount of adult language, much of it during a rap song about the police by N.W.A. God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused several times. There is a significant amount of violence and blood in the film, which turns into a disappointing survival slasher film, after a promising beginning. Themes include caring for others, fear, and deception.
The film includes some humor, especially from Gabe, who comes across as a likeable dorky father. The musical score by Michael Abels (Get Out) is effective in building suspense. Cinematography is by Mike Gioulakis (It Follows).
As you would expect, the Wilson’s doppelgängers are played by the same actors/actresses that play the Wilsons. Of particular note is the outstanding performance of Nyong’o as Adelaide and Red.
After a promising beginning, Us turns into a common slasher survival film with significant content concerns. The film is getting excellent reviews from the critics, and I’m sure Peele had messages he wanted to convey, but they were lost on me. If you see the film and think differently about it, please let me know.


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My Review of Get Out

get-outGet Out, rated R
***

Get Out is a creative, well-made film about race combined with satire, horror and comedy that will make you want to scream at the main character during the film, “Get Out”!
This film is written and directed by Jordan Peele (Comedy Central series Key & Peele), who has cited the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead film as an inspiration for making his feature film writing-directing debut because that film had an African American protagonist and dealt with serious racial issues inside the framework of a horror movie. He has also stated that he first got the idea for the film during 2008 Democratic primary discussions about whether an African American or a woman was more deserving of the presidency. He then went on to explain that he further conceived the movie as a twist on the 1975 movie The Stepford Wives, in which suburban husbands replace their rebellious wives with compliant robots.  This satire on interracial relationships cost just $4.5 million to make and is receiving an incredible 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com by film critics. The film is produced by Jason Blum who also produced Split, which recently was the number one film for three consecutive weeks.
Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario), stars as 26 year-old Chris, an African-American photographer who has been dating Rose, (Allison Williams, Girls television series) who is white, for five months. The couple is visiting Rose’s parents – neurosurgeon Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) and psychiatrist Missy Armitage (two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener) – at their beautiful but remote lake house estate, for the first time. Chris is nervous about their reaction to him being an African-American, but Rose assures him that it won’t be a problem as her parents are not racists. And initially it appears that she is right, as he initially begins to feel welcome.
But then Chris begins to get increasingly uncomfortable, beginning with Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). He notices that the other African-Americans in the home – groundskeeper Walter (Martin Henderson) and maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) – are acting strange.  Then Missy is intent on wanting to hypnotize Chris. Later, we see Chris attending an awkward party with the family’s friends, all white, along with one black man Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) who is also acting strangely. Chris then calls his best friend TSA Agent Rod (LilRel Howery) – who adds a good deal of humor to the film – to express his concerns. Does he have reason to be concerned or is he just paranoid?
Race plays a central role in this film at a time when race relations in our nation are unfortunately as poor as they have been for a long time. Rose’s parents would not consider themselves to be racists, but they use racial stereotypes, as they try to connect with Chris. All of their white friends at the party are also interested in Chris because of his race. Why?
This creative genre blending film (horror, comedy, satire) was very well done. As a white man, I felt uncomfortable watching it, which is probably what Peele would want me to feel. Michael Abel’s music score is very effective in building the suspense.
The film is rated “R” for violence, bloody images, and a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s name and sexual references.