Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Downton Abbey, rated PG

Downton Abbey, a well-made and acted big-screen version of the popular television series that includes some content concerns, takes place in 1927. The big news is that the King and Queen of England will be visiting Downton Abbey. King George V and Queen Mary will be spending a night at Downton during a royal tour of Yorkshire. While that is the main story, there are numerous subplots in the film.
The film is written by Oscar winner Julian Fellows (Gosford Park), and directed by three-time Emmy nominee Michael Engler (Downton Abbey, 30 Rock, Sex and the City). It features all that was loved in the television series – the beauty of the English countryside, the costumes, the abbey (Highclere Castle in real life), and most of all the characters; the nobility and the servants.
Mr. Thomas Barrow, played by Robert James-Collier, is now the butler, replacing Mr. Carson, played by four-time Emmy nominee Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), who is now retired.

***SPOILER ALERT*** Continue reading

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Movie Review ~ The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the VanThe Lady in the Van, rated PG-13
** ½

This British film, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is based on actual events that happened more than 40 years ago to Oscar nominated screenwriter Alan Bennett, who wrote the script adapted from his stage play, and is here portrayed by Alex Jennings (who portrayed Prince Charles in The Queen). Bennett and Hytner worked together on 2006’s The History Boys. In an interesting approach, Bennett portrays himself as two characters at odds with each other, both played by Jennings – one as a writer with pen in hand, and the other focused on the world outside of his window.

Two-time Oscar winner Dame Maggie Smith (much loved for her role as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey), stars as Miss Shepherd. The 81 year-old actress received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for this role. Smith has previously portrayed Miss Shepherd in a stage production in 1999 and in a BBC radio play in 2009.

As the film opens we see an event that takes place while Miss Shepherd is driving her van on a country road that will change the course of her life. She now lives in her van, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, eventually arriving in Bennett’s North London neighborhood. We see how the residents of the neighborhood react to Miss Shepherd as she parks her van in front of their homes.

Bennett is a gay man who lives alone but often has late-night male visitors (humorously assumed to be Communists by Miss Shepherd). He is kind to Miss Shepherd, and eventually they develop a relationship, but you can’t describe Miss Shepherd as a nice person. As we find out more about her (her actual name may be Mary or Margaret), we see some of the pain in her life. We see that she was once an accomplished pianist and also a nun (twice).

As Miss Shepherd lives in her van (maybe as a form of penance?), her bathroom habits (and the results thereof), and her body odor are recurring themes, played for laughs. Eventually, Bennett allows Miss Shepherd to pull her van into his driveway, where she will remain for an incredible fifteen years in the 1970’s and 1980’s until her death.

Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, appears in a small role as Underwood, a gentleman with nefarious motives who periodically visits Miss Shepherd’s van.

Maggie Smith is her usual amazing self in this film, though not likeable nor grateful for the many acts of kindness that are extended to her. Then again, she has led a difficult life and has been wounded by others along the way. She also tells some tall tales that add humor to the story.

Jennings is good in his role as the two Bennetts, but I have to admit while a unique approach, it started to irritate me as the film went on.

The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language. Miss Shepherd’s Roman Catholic faith is portrayed throughout the film.

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Movie Review ~ My Old Lady

My Old LadyMy Old Lady, PG-13

About ten days ago we were walking down the Champs-Élysées in Paris and saw that this film was showing in one of the theatres there. We had remembered seeing the trailer for the film, but the film had never come near us. Back at the apartment I found that the film had been released in the U.S. in September and was available on Amazon Instant Video.

Kevin Kline plays Mathias from New York. He travels to Paris to sell an apartment he has inherited from his father. To say that Mathias did not have a good relationship with his father would be an understatement. However, once he finds the valuable apartment in the Marais section of the city, he discovers that an elderly woman named Mathilde (Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey) living there with her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for The English Patient)

Mathias learns that he can’t sell the property, even though he has inherited it from his father due to something in France called a viager. Mathias will not get possession of the apartment until Mathilde, who is 92, dies. In addition to that, he owes her a monthly payment of 2,400 Euros per month! Mathias is basically broke and owes a lot of people money. He doesn’t have any friends. He was looking at the sale of the apartment as giving himself a fresh start in life. Instead, he sees this as one final shot from his father.

Since he has nowhere else to go, Mathilde allows him to stay in the apartment for the 2,400 monthly fee, which he gets by secretly selling furniture from the apartment and asking a potential buyer for an advance payment.

Mathias finds out that Mathilde has lived in the apartment for many years. The film reveals family secrets and quickly turns much more serious than we had expected as it addresses themes of alcoholism, marital affairs and suicide.

The film is the directorial debut of respected playwright Israel Horovitz. It features a strong cast who deliver excellent performances (especially Kline), and some beautiful scenes of Paris, especially along the Seine River. The soundtrack features the song “Peace Like a River” performed by Paul Simon.

The film deals with serious issues and the characters dealing with pain in their lives. Despite that, none of the characters turn to God to help them with their pain. Overall, the film is morally bankrupt and should be used to discuss ethical questions.

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Movie Review ~ The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, rated PG

In the sequel to the 2011 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel) is back as the owner of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, which Muriel (Maggie Smith) is now helping Sonny to manage. There are two primary storylines for the film:
• Sonny wants to expand his “empire” by purchasing a vacant building and turning it into the Second Best Exotic Hotel. He and Muriel travel to San Diego to seek funding for the project. Throughout the film he embarrassingly and increasingly irritates and caters to one guest that he is sure is there to check them out and make his recommendation on funding.
• Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) are preparing to get married, but Sonny almost completely ignores the preparations while putting all of his energy into getting funding for the expansion. He’s also extremely jealous of an attractive and talented male friend who is helping Sunaina prepare her wedding dance.
But the film is really about the many relationships between the characters staying at the hotel, most of whom return from the first film. Joining them are the attractive Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig). And the relationships are complicated indeed. Many of the characters, none of whom are married (to each other), are having sex. That’s the biggest problem I have with the film – an open acceptance of sexual immorality. And if some of the characters aren’t having sex yet, they are in relationships, or wanting to be in relationships before they are divorced from their current spouses.
A theme that runs through the film, and it makes sense due to the age of the characters, is that time is running out.
Though the film has a strong cast – led by Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, and also including Bill Nighy and Richard Gere – I found it to be quite slow, up until the fun closing wedding scene. John Madden is back as director and Ol Parker as screenwriter. I had looked forward to the film and wanted to like it, and the film wants you to like it. However, as discerning viewers, we have to reject the immorality that is celebrated here.