Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Avengers: Endgame, rated PG-13
****

Avengers: Endgame, a highly anticipated film, brings to an end the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) storyline that began with 2008’s Iron Man, and has continued now through 22 films and all of those mid and post-credits scenes that we have sat and waited for. The three-hour film will satisfy MCU fans, as it looks back on the previous films and characters, but it does contain some content concerns that you will want to be aware of.
The film is directed by brothers and Emmy winners Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Arrested Development) and written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers). While the film had an estimated budget of approximately $400 million, it made a record-setting $350 million in the U.S. opening weekend, and an incredible $1.2 billion worldwide.
2018’s Avengers: Infinity War ended somberly with the formidable villain Thanos, voiced by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk), finally possessing all of the six Infinity Stones that he had been seeking. Thanos, who says he is Inevitable, then used the power he gained from the stones to snap his fingers and wipe out half of all existence, including superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and many more.
Avengers: Endgame opens with a family picnic scene in which the family of Clint Barton/Hawkeye, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Town, The Hurt Locker), suddenly disappears due to the snap. The film then moves forward about three weeks after “the snap”. Continue reading


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My Review of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Avengers: Infinity War, rated PG-13
***

Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that has been ten years in the making. This is a big movie in every way, being released on the franchise’s tenth anniversary of the first film, 2008’s Iron Man. The nineteenth film from the Marvel Universe comes with a budget of approximately $300 million, is about 160 minutes long, includes about 64 main characters, and has multiple plotlines. Although the film is well made and entertaining, with a good deal of humor, there is almost too much going on here. We lose some character development to the almost constant action violence battle scenes.
The film is co-directed by Emmy winners Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Arrested Development, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  The film is co-written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
The villain in the film is the formidable Thanos from the planet Titan, played by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk). Thanos is the step-father of Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar), one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos towers over his enemies. He believes that the universe is suffering from over-population. His goal is to destroy half of life in the universe. To do this, he needs to obtain six powerful Infinity Stones, and place them in his large glove. With each stone he gets, he will become more powerful.  If Thanos gets all the stones he will be unstoppable. Thanos is assisted by Ebony Maw, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The film is about the Avengers trying to keep Thanos from obtaining those stones.
The film includes the Marvel superheroes we’ve been introduced to over the past ten years, as well as some new characters; from Iron Man, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Trophic Thunder, Chaplin) to Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42).
The film includes some excellent humor – for example from Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (12 Strong), continuing to call Rocket Raccoon, voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), a rabbit, and a great exchange between Thor and Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt (Jurassic World).
Content issues include a small amount of adult language and like all Marvel films, several intense battles scenes. Themes in the film include the abuse of power, self-sacrifice, perseverance, teamwork, courage, love and friendship.
Avengers: Infinity Wars is a well-made entertaining and intense film that also includes some well-placed humor. The ending may disappoint some viewers, who will have to wait for the next Avengers film, shot at the same time, which will be out in 2019. And with all Marvel films, don’t forget to stay in your seats all the way through the ending credits for a final scene.


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My Review of ONLY THE BRAVE

Only the Brave, rated PG-13
***

Only the Brave is a well-acted and directed film based on true events.
This film is based on Sean Flynn’s 2013 GQ Magazine story “No Exit: The Granite Mountain Yarnell Fire Investigation”. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who is rumored to be directing Tom Cruise’s upcoming Top Gun: Maverick. The screenplay is written by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down), and the Oscar nominated writer Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle), and it features a strong cast. The movie was filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The film is about an Arizona firefighting crew from Prescott, Arizona. They are led by superintendent Eric Marsh, played by Oscar nominated Josh Brolin (Milk). Marsh is married to Amanda, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). We see marital tension in their relationship from the very beginning, primarily due to Eric’s demanding job, but we also see they deeply care for each other.
As the film opens, we see Eric interviewing new members for his crew. Among them are Brendan McDonough, played by Miles Teller (Whiplash). Brendan has made a mess of his life thus far (we see him taking drugs, getting in trouble with the law and getting kicked out of his Mom’s house). When he finds out that he is responsible for an ex-girlfriend getting pregnant, he decides to become responsible and interviews to be a member of Marsh’s crew. On the surface, there is no way that Marsh would take him, but he does. We later find out that the two have more in common than we would have believed, as much of the story focuses on the personal lives of Eric and Brendan.
Eric is trying to get his firefighters certified, which would make them the country’s first municipal Hotshot squad. Note: Hotshots are an elite group of forest firefighters who are specially trained and certified to go into areas already on fire. Without the certification, Eric’s crew is part of a second wave of firefighters behind the Hotshots.
Jeff Bridges, seven-time Oscar nominee and winner for Crazy Heart, delivers an excellent performance as Wildland Division Chief for the city of Prescott Duane Steinbrink. Bridges may get another Oscar nomination for his performance here. Golden Globe nominee Andie MacDowell portrays Steinbrink’s wife Marvel in a small role.

**SPOILER WARNING**

Duane is a father-figure to Marsh and is able to get Marsh an evaluation that could lead to his crew being certified. Although Marsh believes he has blown the evaluation when he treats the evaluator with a lack of respect, the crew is certified. They take as their name the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  After the brave crew saves an important local tree, they are welcomed back as heroes. The film culminates in the Yarnell Hill fire on June 30, 2013.
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Eric Marsh’s Buddhist faith is depicted briefly in the film and one of the Hotshots is shown reading the Bible a few times. The film is rated PG-13 for a significant amount of adult language, including the misuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. It also depicts intense scenes of dangerous forest fires, including scenes of the Hotshots in action, which are captured by cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Oscar winner for Life of Pi.  There were some children in the audience – my wife and I both thought that due to the language and serious subject matter that it would not be appropriate for kids under 10-12.
The film was released with wildfires currently in the news as more than 40 have died as a result of fires in Northern California. As a result, though this film is receiving excellent reviews from both critics and viewers, it performed poorly at the box office.
Although this film was slow-going early on, it included great scenes of hard work, sacrificial service, camaraderie and loyal friendship.  It is overall well-made and acted, and a fitting tribute to the heroism of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.


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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Hail, Caesar!

Hail, CaesarHail, Caesar! Rated PG-13
**

This comedy from the Coen Brothers (four-time Oscar winners Ethan and Joel) is a tribute/spoof of 1950’s Hollywood. The brothers write, produce, direct and jointly edit this film under their Roderick Jaynes pseudonym. There are all kinds of inside jokes and references to real people and places here, including Eddie Mannix.

Oscar nominee (for Milk), Josh Brolin, plays Mannix, which is the name of a real person who did a similar job for MGM. Our Mannix is Head of Physical Production for Capitol Pictures. The film follows him through a day in his life in 1951 as he solves problems throughout the day and repeatedly goes to confession (dealing with his guilt about not stopping smoking, as he had promised his wife). He is being courted by Lockheed Aviation, who has made a lucrative offer and are pressing him for a decision. His studio is making a number of films, the biggest is the epic Ben Hur-like Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, starring Baird Whitlock (Two-time Oscar winner George Clooney in his fourth Coen Brothers film). Whitlock goes missing, kidnapped by a group of Communist screenwriters who call themselves “The Future” and take him to a luxurious oceanfront home in Malibu, demanding a ransom of $100,000.

Mannix also deals with star DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) out of wedlock pregnancy, corporate’s orders to move singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (played by the likeable Alen Ehrenreich) to a romantic leading man, much to the chagrin of director Laurence Laurentz (Two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes), and two persistent gossip columnists, both played by Oscar winner (for Michael Clayton) Tilda Swinton. (Note: Swinton also portrayed the White Witch in the three Chronicles of Narnia films).

The film is rated PG-13, and includes minimal language issues that you can hear on network television, including one misuse of Jesus’ name. It also includes a good deal of faith related content played for comic purposes (from the filming of Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, to Mannix’s frequent trips to the confessional, to Mannix’s humorous meeting with leaders of varied faith communities to assure that the film doesn’t offend any of them). Sexual content is more subtle and inferred (Moran’s Esther Williams aquatic number and Channing Tatum’s “No Dames” all-guys dance number).

The film has a strong cast (I haven’t mentioned Frances McDormand (Oscar winner for the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Wife of Joel Coen, this is her eighth collaboration with the Coen brothers, as well as two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill in small roles), and has much (probably too much), going on as we follow Mannix through his day. The film is narrated by an uncredited Michael Gambon, known for his role as Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.

I enjoyed the sets, hairstyles and costumes of 1950s Hollywood that are recreated here by production designer Jess Gonchor and costume designer Mary Zophres. Unfortunately, though I have seen several of their films, I don’t always get the Coen Brothers’ humor, though some in our theatre certainly did. Instead, despite the strong cast, I thought the film was just slow and boring, not really funny at all. Let me know if you feel otherwise.


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Movie Review ~ Sicario

SicarioSicario, rated R
***

In this film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, Emily Blunt stars as Kate, an FBI agent working in Arizona. She and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), are heading to a house in Chandler to rescue kidnap victims. However, what they find is much more than they expected. They find dozens of dead bodies, bagged in plastic behind the drywall. On top of that, a deadly explosion kills two of her team members. It’s the work of a powerful drug cartel from Mexico led by Manuel Diaz.

Kate is asked and agrees to work with a group led by Matt (Josh Brolin). Is he FBI? CIA? We don’t know. He says he’s a Department of Defense advisor, but Kate isn’t convinced. But soon enough Kate is aboard a private jet that she is told is going to Texas, but lands in Mexico. Also on the jet is the mysterious Alejandro, from Colombia, played by Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro, who delivers another Oscar-worthy performance.

This leads to a powerful and tense opening scene in which they work with Mexican authorities to extract a high level cartel member and take him back over to the United States. All of this is so that they can get to Diaz.

We see nude corpses hanging in Juarez, Mexico and can feel the danger, expecting gunfight to break out at any time. Kate, who plays by the rules and is trying to figure out just what is going on, is bothered by what she is seeing, but she’s not in charge.

The title of the film – Sicario – means “hitman” in Spanish. This film earns it’s “R” rating for strong violence and a significant amount of adult language, including the inappropriate use of God’s and Jesus’ names. There is also the corpses showing full frontal nudity, and some sexual content, which is abruptly interrupted.

The acting performances are excellent and the film is well-made. You really get a feel for how dangerous the U.S./Mexican border is, as well as the city of Juarez, Mexico, which experienced about 3,000 murders in 2010.