Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

My Review of VICTORIA AND ABDUL

Victoria and Abdul, rated PG-13
** ½  

With the ending of season two of the excellent television series Victoria, if you want more to feed your Queen Victoria fix, you might want to check out this film. But it’s a very different Queen Victoria that you encounter in this film than the young Victoria portrayed by Jenna Coleman in the television series.
The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears (The Queen, The Grifters). Oscar nominee Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) wrote the screenplay based on the book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu. The film received two Oscar nominations – Daniel Phillips and Loulia Sheppard for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling and Consolata Boyle for Best Achievement in Costume Design. The film tells about the unlikely friendship between the aging Queen Victoria and the 24-year-old Muslim from India, Abdul Karim, played by Ali Fazal. The film and book are based on diaries kept both by Queen Victoria and Karim.
As the film opens, Queen Victoria, played for the second time by Judi Dench (seven-time Oscar nominee and winner for Shakespeare in Love), is going through the motions. She is depressed, lonely, surly and has little patience for others. She is awoken and dressed by her staff. Her scheduled days are spent by attending endless event after event, and we see her dozing off during them. It has been thirty years since the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. She seems to have little reason to live and is disappointed by her nine children, especially son Bertie, the next in line for the throne, played by two-time Emmy winner Eddie Izzard (Eddie Izzard: Dressed to Kill).
In 1887, Abdul Karim, a prison clerk, chosen because he was tall, and Mohammed Buksh, played by Adeel Akhtar (The Night Manager), chosen because the originally chosen tall Indian was injured, make the 5,000-mile journey to England to present the Queen, who is also the Empress of India, with a gift to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, and 29th year of British rule in India. While Abdul is excited about the trip, Mohammed is not. He resents everything about the empire which overthrew his own government, and he just longs to return home.
As they arrive at Windsor Castle to present the gift to the Queen, they receive very specific instructions on how to approach the Queen, including not to make eye contact with Victoria. But Abdul does just that. This begins an unlikely friendship between the two, which lasts the remaining fifteen years of Victoria’s life.
Victoria first appoints Abdul to be her personal servant, though Mohammed remains a common servant. Adbul is a Muslim who tells Victoria about his world and culture. Throughout the film, we don’t always know if Abdul is being completely truthful with Victoria about his life or not. Soon, the lonely Victoria, the head of the Church of England, asks Abdul to become her spiritual teacher, or Munshi. We see him begin to teach her about the Koran, and to write in Hindi, all to the disgust of the Queen’s court, household and administration who decide that Abdul, whom they refer to as “the Hindu”, must go.
The solid supporting cast is led by Izzard as Bertie, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Phipps, the head royal housekeeper, Golden Globe nominee Michael Gambon (Path to War and Harry Potter films) as the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, Paul Higgins as Doctor Reid and Tim Pigott-Smith as Sir Henry Ponsonby.
The movie is beautifully filmed, from the Taj Mahal to Windsor Castle, with impressive costumes. Judi Dench, as always, is fantastic in her role as Queen Victoria.
Content concerns include some adult language, including a few abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names. Some will also be concerned about how very positively and one dimensionally the Islam religion is portrayed in this film, and the inference that Queen Victoria converted to Islam near the end of her life.
Themes in the film include loneliness, friendship, racism, jealousy, and religion.
Victoria and Abdul will appeal to those wanting to know more about this little- known relationship between Victoria and Abdul over the last fifteen years of her life. The film is said to be “based on true events, mostly”, which leads one to wonder just how much of it is true.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

MOVIE REVIEW ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-childrenMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, rated PG-13
***

This film, directed by two-time Oscar nominee Tim Burton, is his first since 2014’s Big Eyes. It is based on the popular 2011 young adult novel of the same name by author Ransom Riggs. Riggs has released three books in the series. The screenplay is written by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service).

The film is about a teenage boy, Jake Portman, who is played by Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Ender’s Game). He lives in Florida, and doesn’t have a close relationship with his parents, played by Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens, but is very close to his grandfather Abraham, played by Oscar nominee (for 1963’s Billy Budd), Terence Stamp.

Jake has long heard his Grandpa’s stories about a house with “special children” just before he joined the British army for World War II. He has shown Jake mysterious old photographs, but doesn’t really want to talk too much about them. When Grandpa mysteriously dies, Jake’s father takes him to an island off the coast of Wales, the site of Grandpa’s stories, so that Jake can put those silly stories to rest and move on with his life. The house used in the film is an actual house, and can be found near Antwerp, Belgium.

The house that Grandpa told Jake about was hit by German bombs on September 3, 1943. When Jake and his Dad arrive, they find only the bombed out shell of the building remaining. However, when Jake sneaks back to the home on his own, he is able to enter a portal, or a loop, that takes him back to 1943. It’s there he finds the incredible place that his Grandpa told him about. It is run by Miss Peregrine, played by Golden Globe nominee (for Penny Dreadful), Eva Green, who worked with Burton on his 2012 film Dark Shadows. Burton has described Miss Peregrine as “a scary Mary Poppins”. She has the ability to turn into a falcon and to manipulate time via time loops. This allows her to keep the house and children safe. No one ages, and they are always in the same day of the same year.

There are also monsters, called Hollows that hunt down the peculiar children in the house for their eyes. The leader of the Hollows is the scary Barron, who is well-played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Miss Peregrine’s house has an interesting and odd collection of children, including Emma, played by Ella Purnell, whose peculiarity is air, and who needs to wear weighted boots to keep from flying away; and Enoch, played by Finlay MacMillan, who can bring things to life. Jake falls for Emma, who ironically also had a relationship with Jake’s Grandpa before the house was bombed some seventy years ago.

One of our best actresses, Dame Judi Dench, seven-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner, plays Miss Avocet. Unfortunately, she has a very small role, and her vast talents are largely wasted in this film.

The film is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril, which will be too scary for young children. Director Tim Burton effectively uses special effects to show the peculiarities of the children, and a late in the film clash with the Hollows had the most Burtonesque look. There was also one completely unnecessary abuse of God’s name included in the film.