Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express, rated PG-13
***

Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining film with an all-star cast that will challenge viewers with moral issues around justice and vengeance. The film is directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, and is a remake of the 1974 film version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 mystery novel. The 1974 film received six Oscar nominations, and Ingrid Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The screenplay is by Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) and the film features an all-star cast (Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Coleman, Willem Defoe, and Judi Dench).  Dench and Cruz are Oscar winners, while Branagh, DeFoe, Preiffer and Depp are Oscar nominees.
Branagh also stars in the film as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot, who sports a large and distinctive mustache and has his own quirks around balance played for humor, is perhaps the most well-known detective in the world (well, at least according to him). The film is set in 1934. After an opening which is unconnected with the rest of the story, but serves to introduce us to Poirot’s detective skills and his quirky behavior, he realizes that he desperately needs a vacation. Unfortunately, he is needed in London for a case. Bouc (Tom Bateman), a friend and director of the famous Orient Express, books him on the luxury passenger train for what he promises will be three days of relaxation and time away from crime on a trip from Istanbul to Calais.
Early in the trip, the shady art and antiques dealer Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches Poirot and asks that Poirot serve as his bodyguard since Ratchett has been receiving threatening letters he assumes are from Italians to whom he sold fake oriental rugs. Poirot refuses, indicating that he detects, not protects, criminals. That night, an avalanche stops the train atop a dangerous trestle, leaving everyone stranded until they can be rescued.
The next morning Poirot finds out that one of the passengers has been murdered in their bed, having been brutally stabbed a dozen times. Poirot is asked by Bouc to investigate the case. He reluctantly agrees, and asks Bouc to be his assistant. After confirming that none of the passengers have left the train, Poirot considers all of them as well as the conductor, to be suspects in the murder.
As Poirot investigates the murder he finds that none of the characters are really as they seem, as they regularly lie to him. A kidnapping and murder, based on the actual Lindbergh baby case, plays a role in the film. Flashbacks are used extensively to tell the story.
The film’s music score is by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle, and the cinematography, featuring some beautiful outdoor scenes is by Haris Zambarloukos, who worked with Branagh on Cinderella.  I enjoyed the unique camera work, including several uses of the camera looking down on the actors or through beveled glass, and the costumes and set designs depicting the 1930’s.
Content concerns include the bloody body of the victim, racial slurs and the abuse of God’s name a few times. There is not any adult language to speak of, nor any sexual content, both of which were refreshing.
Themes in the film are racism, vengeance, justice, deception and conscience. The film includes some Christian content and references (Penelope Cruz plays a Spanish missionary, there is talk of sin and judgement, etc.)
Having not seen the 1974 edition (though I plan to), I can’t compare this version to the Oscar winning film. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and thought that Branagh was excellent as detective Hercule Poirot.

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My Review of MARSHALL

Marshall, rated PG-13
****

Marshall is a well-acted film inspired by true events. It primarily tells the story of a 1941 case that future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther, 42, Get on Up) tried for the NAACP. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Reginald Hudlin (Django Unchained) and written by the father/son screenwriting team of Michael and Jacob Koskoff.
Marshall is sent by the NAACP to Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell, played by Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). Brown is a chauffeur that has been accused of raping and attempting to kill his employer Eleanor Strubing, played by Oscar nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous). Because Marshall is from out of state, he asks Jewish insurance lawyer Sam Friedman, played by Josh Gad (Frozen), to take the case and have Marshall join the defense team. However, Judge Foster, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell (Babe), has a personal relationship with the father of prosecuting attorney Loren Willis, played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), and will not allow Marshall to speak in court, indicating that only lawyers licensed to practice law in Connecticut can argue in his courtroom. This unexpected turn of events results in Friedman, who has never tried a criminal case, having to do the work in the courtroom, with Marshall preparing him to argue before the all-white jury. Note: the real Friedman was an experienced criminal lawyer.
Marshall is not sure he believes Brown’s story, and tells him that he will not defend someone who is guilty. Brown has a checkered past to say the least, while the woman he is alleged to have attacked is a wealthy, respected, church going member of the community.
The film focuses a lot on the relationship between the black Marshall and the Jewish Friedman. I especially appreciated the scene in which Friedman quotes Scripture and realizes he’s acting as Aaron to Marshall’s Moses.
We see how Marshall’s important work as an attorney for the NAACP, which results in frequent absences from home, has an impact on Marshall’s wife Buster, played by Keesha Sharp.

The film is rated PG-13 for adult themes (rape), some adult language, including the “n-word”, and several abuses of God’s name. There is also some sexuality included, though nothing explicit is shown.
Marshall is a well-acted film about a small part of Thurgood Marshall’s life.  (Chadwick Boseman should receive an Academy Award!)  The film portrays that Marshall, who would go on to become the first Black Supreme Court justice, was friends with poet Langston Hughes and author Zora Neale Hurston.
Near the end of the film Marshall is sent to Mississippi to defend a 14-year-old boy accused of killing a policeman. At the train station he’s greeted by Z. Alexander Looby (Benjamin Crump), and the boy’s parents, played by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s parents. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012.


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My Review of Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast, rated PG
***

Despite some well-publicized content concerns, Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast is a treat overall.
Following the success of their recent animation to live action remakes of some of their classic films – Alice in Wonderland (2010), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), Disney returns with a new version of Beauty and the Beast. The 1991 animated version received five Oscar nominations, winning two. The new film is directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. It had an estimated budget of $160 million, but is expected to earn that back and more, with a projected worldwide opening this weekend of $215-245 million. The film features an outstanding cast and is visually stunning.
The film is set in the town of Villeneuve in France. Belle, played by Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films) is a happy, independent, book-loving inventor who loves her father Maurice, played by Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda). Throughout the film Belle is pursued constantly by Gaston (Luke Evans, The Girl on the Train), who wants to marry her, but Belle has no interest in him. The one who does have interest in Gaston is the homosexual character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in Disney’s Frozen.  The song “Gaston” has new lyrics that were written by the late Howard Ashman, but did not make it into the 1991 film as they were not considered appropriate for a children’s film.
As Maurice leaves on a trip, he promises to bring Belle back a rose. The rose he tries to bring her is growing on the land of the Beast, played by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey). Maurice is then captured and put in a jail cell in the castle of the Beast. If you are familiar with the story, the Beast must find someone to love him before the final petal of a red rose kept under glass falls off. If he doesn’t, he is doomed to remain a beast forever, and the members of his household will remain clocks, cups, etc. forever.
As I mentioned, the film features a strong cast. In addition to Watson and Kline, Ewan McGregor portrays the candlestick Lumiere, two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen plays the mantle clock Cogsworth, two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility and Howard’s End) plays the teapot Mrs. Potts, and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza.
Alan Menken, who wrote the music for the 1991 film, returns to do the music for this film, which includes new recordings of his original songs such as “Be Our Guest”, along with new songs written by Menken and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (The Lion King, Aladdin, and Evita).  I loved the music and the costumes in the film. The computer generated imagery (CGI) – the castle, wolves, the face of the Beast, etc. were all well done.    My wife thought that the “Be Our Guest” scene was almost over done – maybe they were trying to have it be like a scene from Fantasia?
We attended the film on opening night; the theatre was filled with very small children. However, unlike the animated version, this is not a children’s film. It is dark and the scenes with wolves may well be too frightening for small children.
Leading up to the film there was controversy when the director made news in speaking about the film’s “exclusively gay moment”, which takes place near the end of the film. However, we saw LaFou’s homosexuality played out throughout the film, along with other things thrown in to make this film, as Condon has stated, as diverse as possible. He stated that “By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural…” Chances are, small children will not even notice what Condon and Disney have put in this film, but discerning Christians will and they will find it in conflict with the Scripture (Romans 1:26-27). It’s not enough, in my opinion, to keep you from seeing the film, but it did impact our enjoyment and our overall rating of the film.  On the flip side, sacrificial love is portrayed well.