Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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All the Money in the World, rated R

Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams shine in this tense film inspired by the kidnapping and demands for ransom of J. Paul Getty’s grandson. The film, which has been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, is directed by 80-year old four-time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator). It is written by David Scarpa, based on John Pearson’s 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. The film features a strong cast, but it is who is not in the film that is every bit as interesting as who is in the film.
Four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn), stars as Gail Harris. Williams has been nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance. Gail had been married to John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan, Broadchurch), the son of J. Paul Getty, played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners). Plummer has also been nominated for a Golden Globe award.
When John becomes desperate for a job, he reaches out to his father, who he really never knew, as his father focused on his business dealings, and is given a job in Rome, Italy. Unfortunately, John turns to drug and alcohol abuse and Gail decides to divorce him. In exchange for sole custody of the children, Gail agrees that she will not accept any money from the Getty family fortune.
In 1973, Gail’s son, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), who goes by Paul, is kidnapped by masked men and held for a ransom of $17 million. Gail has no money, and is forced to ask her former father-in-law to pay the ransom for his grandson. How J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world at the time, responds to the ransom demands shows that he cares less about the torture and possible murder of his grandson than he does for his money and possessions. You’ll dislike J. Paul Getty’s character, but you’ll have to admit that Plummer delivers a strong, and perhaps an Oscar worthy performance.
Mark Wahlberg portrays Fletcher Chase, J. Paul Getty’s security advisor and ex-CIA operative. Getty instructs Chase to work with the police to find Paul so that he will not have to pay the ransom. Chase and Gail work closely together to try to get Paul home safely.
Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People) plays Oswald Hinge, J. Paul Getty’s chief attorney.  Romain Duris portrays Cinquanta, one of the kidnappers that shows kindness to Paul.
What is fascinating is that Christopher Plummer was not even supposed to be in this film. Instead, Kevin Spacey played the role of J. Paul Getty, in the film that was already finished when sexual abuse charges were first brought against him on October 29. On November 8, Scott decided to replace Spacey with 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, and he began to re-shoot key scenes on November 20, just over a month before the film was released on Christmas Day. In just nine days, twenty-two scenes were re-filmed at a cost of $10 million.
The film includes a significant amount of adult language and some graphic violence. Themes in the film include wealth, greed, drug abuse and family dysfunction.This is an extremely well-acted and directed film about the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson and the surrounding family turmoil.
J. Paul Getty’s relentless, unfulfilled desire for money and possessions reminds me of two quotes:
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.” Blaise Pascal
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

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The Greatest Showman, rated PG
*** ½

The Greatest Showman is a very entertaining and well-made musical inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, featuring excellent new songs by the Oscar winning lyricists from La La Land. The film, which has received three Golden Globe nominations, is directed by Michael Gracey in his directorial debut, and is written by Emmy winner Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City) and Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters). The musical score is by Oscar nominee John Debney (The Passion of the Christ) and Joseph Trapanese. The film includes eleven new songs written by Oscar (La La Land) and Tony (Dear Evan Hansen) Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Cinematography is by Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina, Atonement).
Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) portrays the legendary 19th century promoter Phineas Taylor P.T. Barnum. Jackman read approximately three dozen books about Barnum to prepare for the role.
The film opens with the title song performed in a big song and dance production number. Jackman, with his Broadway experience, is excellent in his performance as Barnum.
We then see a flashback in which Barnum, a young and impoverished tailor’s son, played by Ellis Rubin, first meets the privileged but sweet Charity, played by Skylar Dunn. We see them fall in love, but Charity’s father tells P.T. to stay away from his daughter, who is then sent away to a boarding school. But we see them stay in touch through letters. The film moves forward a dozen or so years, with Jackman portraying Barnum, and four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), portraying his now wife Charity.
Barnum longs to make something of himself. He and Charity have dreams that they sing about in “A Million Dreams”. As time goes on, the family grows with two daughters but they struggle financially. When things are really desperate, in 1841 Barnum comes up with an idea for a new kind of entertainment. He decides to open a museum/theatre in the heart of New York City. At first, he doesn’t have any success. Then his daughters suggest that he feature real people, not stuffed animals and displays, so he decides to look for people with special talents and also some with physical abnormalities (bearded lady, Siamese twins, dwarf, giant, etc.). This leads to what we now know as the circus. Although he now has success, Barnum and his circus face a significant amount of protests, some of them violent.
Barnum convinces the socialite playwright Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron (High School Musical) to become his business partner; together they sing “The Other Side”. But this is much to the chagrin of Phillip’s parents. They are even more displeased when Phillip falls in love with Anne Wheeler, played by Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming), a beautiful black trapeze artist in the show. Zendaya does all of her own trapeze stunts in the film. She and Phillip perform “Rewrite the Stars” about their love that has so many obstacles.
Barnum achieves great success with the circus, but he longs for greater social acceptance. He is never satisfied, though Charity loves and accepts him just as he is, and tells him that she has everything she needs in their life. To try to gain more acceptance in higher social circles, Barnum brings opera singer Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale”, to the United States for a very successful tour. He wants her to be known as the best singer in the world.  Lind is played by Golden Globe nominee Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen), but whose singing in the film is actually performed by Loren Allred.  She offers a powerful performance of “Never Enough”. But as Barnum becomes charmed with Jenny and fame, he abandons the circus, leaving it to Carlyle to run.
I’m not usually a fan of movie musicals. But I really enjoyed The Greatest Showman. It is a film that the entire family can enjoy this holiday season. You’re most likely going to want to check out the movie soundtrack after seeing this film. Jackman excels in his role as P.T. Barnum, as someone with great dreams and imagination. This has been a dream project for Jackman since 2009, and seems to be a role that he was born to play. Efron also delivers a strong performance as Phillip Carlyle. Tony nominee Lettie Lutz shines as the bearded lady, particularly as she performs the song “This is Me”. Williams, one of today’s best actresses, is strong in a smaller role. The film features excellent dance choreography by Ashley Wallen. I also appreciated the costumes and production design in this film. Themes include classism, friendship and treating others who are different from us with kindness and dignity.
Note: Ironically, on May 21, 2017, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, founded by P.T. Barnum closed down operations after 146 years. The circus had come under attack for exploitation and animal abuse, and was suffering from declining attendance.

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My Review of Manchester by the Sea

manchester-by-the-seaManchester by the Sea, rated R

This film is written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Lonergan, and has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards. It stars Oscar nominee Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler. He is an angry and withdrawn loner living in a tiny basement apartment in Boston, where he works as a janitor and handyman. He is depressed, drinks too much and tends to get into fights with strangers in bars.

The film uses constant flashbacks to tell the story. We find out that he once led a content life with wife Randi (three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams) and three children. His entire family – father, brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and nephew lived in Manchester, Massachusetts on Cape Ann. Lee enjoyed spending time with his brother Joe and his son. But then something terrible happened, and it changed Lee and Randi forever. Joe supports Lee when it seems that nobody else does.  But then Joe, who suffers from congestive heart failure, dies as a result of a heart attack, and Lee’s life is shattered again.

Joe had a 16-year old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges from Moonrise Kingdom).  Patrick’s mother Elise (Gretchen Mol) is a drug addict, and hasn’t been a part of the family for some time. As a result, Joe’s wishes in his will are that his troubled brother would move back to Manchester to look after his son if anything should happen to him. This revelation adds shock to Lee’s grief over his brother’s death. Manchester is a hard place for him to return to.

Lee is ill-equipped to parent the popular and socially active Patrick, who plays in a rock band, is a member of a hockey team and has two girlfriends Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov, daughter of Mikhail) and Silvie (Kara Hayward who starred with Hedges in Moonrise Kingdom), neither of which know Patrick is seeing the other.  C.J. Wilson portrays Lee’s good friend George.

We see Lee and Patrick both dealing with the loss of a loved brother and father.  In many ways their relationship is more of an older and younger brother rather than an uncle and son. They argue often, and we see Lee make poor choices in being permissive with Patrick and his girlfriends. We see that Elise, Patrick’s mother has changed, as she is now engaged to Jeffrey (Matthew Broderick), a Christian. The scene with Mathew Broderick was one of the most awkward that you will see in a film.  Brilliantly acted!

We enter into the grief of Lee and Patrick as they try to move forward; Lee is forced to confront his demons. It is also a film about family, the ties that bind us to our hometown, and about forgiveness. The film also includes some humor, but overall it was emotionally exhausting.

The film is rated R for excessive adult language, including numerous abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, sexuality, violence and adult themes.  It included frequent use of the F-Bomb as a noun, verb, adjective, etc.   It features strong acting performances and makes good use of beautiful music and lovely scenery. Casey Affleck may win the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Lee.  Michelle Williams turns in a strong performance in a small role as Randi, and is worthy of a fourth Oscar nomination. In addition, Lucas Hedges is very good as Patrick.

My 3-star rating for the film is based on the strong acting performances. It won’t be a film for everyone. It is emotionally draining, has excessive adult language and some sexuality.