Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rated PG-13
***

Captain Jack Sparrow and the gang return in a pleasing fifth episode in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Six years after 2011’s On Stranger Tides, one of my favorite film series returns. Truth be told, Johnny Depp had me in from the very beginning as he cruised into shore, doing his best drunken Keith Richards’ impersonation in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, a role for which he received a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is the twelfth highest grossing franchise ever, with more than $1 billion in sales in the U.S. alone and about $3.75 billion in ticket sales worldwide. Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, and leads an outstanding cast in this film directed by the Norwegian directing team of Joaquim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. The film was written by Jeffrey Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).  The budget of the film has been estimated to be in excess of $350 million and is projected to gross about $80 million in the U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday.  The music is handled well by Geoff Zanelli.
Brenton Thwaites portrays Henry, the grown son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit films) and Elizabeth Swann (two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley), who briefly return after missing episode four in the series.  Henry partners with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoderlario, The Maze Runner), an orphan astronomer who is accused of being a witch. Henry has been seeking the Trident of Poseidon, a magical object that supposedly holds power over the seas, so that he can free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.  While looking for Captain Jack Sparrow to get his help in finding the trident, Henry ends up in the Devil’s Triangle, where he encounters the zombified Spanish Captain Salazar, portrayed by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Salazar has a history with Captain Jack and is seeking revenge.
Henry eventually finds the down on his luck Captain Jack and his magical compass; Jack agrees to help him find the trident, thinking it will lead to a great treasure.  Carina has a book that she received from her father that has clues as to the location of the trident.
Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) again portrays Captain Hector Barbossa. Paul McCartney portrays Captain Jack’s Uncle Jack in a brief scene. Uncle Jack is heard singing “Maggie Mae”, which was included on the Beatles final album, 1970’s Let It Be.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. All of the main characters deliver and it is a good story. The film does include some intense (and scary for young children) violence. The dialogue was sometimes hard to hear, especially the drunken Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney throws everything but the kitchen sink into this film, and it was almost too much. The film features some excellent messages about the importance of fathers, and has the theme of sacrificial love.
DON’T FORGET TO WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS FOR A SPECIAL SCENE!


Leave a comment

My Review of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, rated PG-13
*** ½

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is visually stunning, funny, surprisingly emotional, and has some great messages about the importance of family. Oh yeah, it has some good action scenes and music as well.  Overall, it’s a lot of fun.
I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed the first movie in this Marvel series. If you enjoyed that film you will enjoy this one as well. It is directed by James Gunn, who also directed the first film in 2014. Gunn shares the writing credits with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who also wrote the first film. We saw the film in IMAX 3-D so the film was visually spectacular thanks to cinematographer Henry Braham. The IMAX sound system was helpful as the film includes a lot of 1970’s music from Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Sam Cooke, George Harrison and others.
Filmed in the Atlanta, Georgia area, the film had a budget of about $200 million, and is projected to open this weekend at more than $140 million in the U.S. alone. A third film has already been announced.
The film takes place three months after the end of the first film. As the opening credits roll, Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, Fate of the Furious) is dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” from the Awesome Mix Part 2, seemingly unaware of the space battle going on behind him. That battle has Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), and the other Guardians – Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper) – defending valuable batteries from a monster called the Abilisk for people known as the Sovereign, led by a golden woman Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, The Night Manager). Their payment is Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who the Guardians plan to turn in for a substantial bounty.
After the Guardians successfully complete their mission, Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries from the Sovereign. Ayesha hires the blue-skinned Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker), who had abducted Peter from Earth as a child and raised him, to pursue the Guardians and bring them back for punishment.
The Guardians escape, but their ship is badly damaged when they have a crash landing. There they meet Ego (Golden Globe nominee Kurt Russell) who tells Peter that he is his real father, and has been looking for him for years. In ancient Greek “Ego eimi” means “I am”, which is how God identified Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
***SPOILER ALERT ***
Ego identifies himself as a god with a “small g”, a celestial. He has his own planet, that he created over millions of years. Peter, Drax and Gamora decide to go with Ego to visit his planet. There they meet Ego’s assistant/companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Mantis can read the emotions of others and is even able to change them. She is able to help Ego sleep.
We see Yondu shunned by Stakar Ogord (three-time Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone), who appears in the film in two brief scenes. Stakar tells Yondu that he has betrayed his people. Then, Yondu’s men rebel against him when they complain that he has gone too easy on Peter. He is imprisoned along with Rocket while they try to get Baby Groot to rescue them. Meanwhile, Ayesha hires Yondu’s men to go after Peter, Drax and Gamora, to kill them. There is a lot going on. To tell you more would reveal spoilers.
************************
I really enjoyed the characters in this film, how they are developed and interact with each other. The film includes some excellent humor and a lot of fun. The music from the 1970’s is used well, as it was in the first film. Mostly, the film is about family – Peter dealing with two fathers – his biological father Ego, and Yondu, the one who raised him. Then there is the relationship between sisters Gamora and Nebula, and Nebula’s own father issues. And mostly, it shows the Guardians, though they had originally come together by accident, are their own type of family.
I felt that the first half of the film was superior to the second, primarily because the ending scene went on for way too long.  This is certainly not a children’s film, though I did see some young children in the theatre. It includes some adult language, some of which is of a sexual nature, and some of which abuses God’s name. There is a good deal of violence in the space battles as well, which is to be expected.
And, as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to sit all the way through the closing credits, as there are five scenes included throughout the lengthy credits.
The Guardians of the Galaxy will return in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duGqrYw4usE


Leave a comment

My Review of Gifted

Gifted, rated PG-13
***

Gifted is a pleasing film about self-sacrifice and the importance of family.
This film is directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and written by Tom Flynn. It features a solid cast and some strong performances. Although set in Florida, it was actually filmed mostly on Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Frank Adler (played by Chris Evans of Captain America films), is a former university professor who now repairs boats in Florida. When his sister, a genius mathematician, took her life seven years ago Frank took the responsibility to raise her infant daughter Mary (Mckenna Grace). The two have a great relationship, living in a small home with their one-eyed cat Fred. In one touching scene, Mary asks Frank if there is a God and whether Jesus is God.
But Mary isn’t happy at all that Frank is making her go to public school (first grade) after home schooling her. Mary also has an excellent relationship with their neighbor Roberta (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer).
It doesn’t take Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) long to realize that, like her mother, Mary is extremely gifted in mathematics. The school principal offers Frank a scholarship for Mary to go to a school where Mary would be challenged, but Frank refuses, saying that he only wants Mary to have a normal life.
Then Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan, Sherlock) Frank’s manipulative mother, shows up from Boston. Frank and Evelyn are not particularly close and we hear about Evelyn’s contentious relationship with his sister. This all leads to a custody battle between the two over Mary.
I enjoyed this well-acted film. There were strong performances from Evans, Grace and Duncan; Spencer delivered her usual solid performance in a small role.
The film does include some adult language, including the abuse of God’s name. Frank and Bonnie have a relationship, and it is inferred that they have sex (nothing explicit is shown).


Leave a comment

My Review of The Case for Christ

The Case for Christ, rated PG
***

The Case for Christ is a well-made film based on a true story. It would be an excellent film to watch this Easter weekend.
This film tells the true story of award winning Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel’s spiritual journey. Strobel, played by Mike Vogel (The Help), is a committed atheist. His wife Leslie, played by Erika Christensen (Parenthood), was raised in the church, but has since fallen away. One night in a Chicago restaurant, their young daughter Alison, played by Hayley Rosenwasser, nearly chokes to death. A nurse named Alfie Davis, played by L. Scott Caldwell (Mercy Street, Lost), is in the restaurant and comes to the child’s aid, saving her life. Alfie tells Leslie that she hadn’t planned to be at the restaurant, but Jesus had changed her plans that evening. Leslie becomes friends with Alfie, who invites her to her church (Willow Creek), and she eventually becomes a Christian, much to the displeasure of her husband.
Kenny London, played by Mike Pniewski (The Good Wife, Madam Secretary), is the religion editor at the Tribune. He is a Christian, and he challenges Lee to use his reporting skills to investigate Christianity. He tells him that the truth of Christianity rests or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. If Lee can disprove the resurrection, he can disprove Christianity. So Lee sets about using his investigative skills to disprove the resurrection and as a result, Christianity. He is convinced that Christianity can’t be supported by facts, and he sets out to prove just that. And Strobel is certainly no slouch. He earned his Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri and his Master of Studies in Law at Yale Law School.
As he begins to investigate the resurrection and his wife’s faith grows, we see him become frustrated, angry and drinking a lot. At the same time, we see Leslie pray for her husband’s salvation and her love for Lee, who is not very lovable, continues to grow.
The movie focuses much on the relationship between Lee and Leslie and how Leslie’s newfound faith rocks Lee. He decides the only way he can save his marriage, and to get his old wife back, is to get Jesus out of Leslie’s life. Along the way, in a parallel storyline, we see Lee’s investigative work on James Dixon’s alleged shooting of a police office.
The film boasts a solid cast. Lee has a complicated relationship with his father Walter, portrayed by Oscar nominee Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). Frankie Faison (The Good Wife), portrays Joe, his editor at the Tribune. Oscar winner (Network) Faye Dunaway portrays Dr. Roberta Waters, appearing in one scene. Ray, portrayed by fellow atheist Brett Rice (Foxcatcher), mentors Lee on investigating the claims of Christianity. Tom Nowicki portrays Dr. Alexander Metherell (The Blind Side, Flight), who Lee consults about the so-called “Swoon Theory” of the crucifixion.
The film is directed by Jon Gunn, and is written by Brian Bird (Captive), based on Strobel’s best-selling book The Case for Christ. Themes in the film include the search for truth, faith, love, friendship, faith and prayer.
Most faith-based films I’ve seen over the years have not been well done. Budgets are low and the writing and acting has often been sub-standard. This film is a pleasant exception. Although I would have preferred for the film to focus more on the evidence that Lee encountered in his investigation of the resurrection rather than on his relationship with Leslie, I can still give it a strong recommendation.


Leave a comment

My Review of A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom, rated PG-13
*** ½

A United Kingdom is an inspiriting story of love and courage.  This film, based on a true story, is directed by Amma Asante (Belle), and is written by Guy Hibbert, based on the book Colour Bar: A United Kingdom by Susan Williams. Prince Seretse Khama, played by David Oyelowo (Selma) and quickly becoming one of our top actors, is the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, the African nation and British protectorate that would later become Botswana. Because his father, Sekgoma Khama, died when Seretse was only 4 years old, he was raised by his uncle, Tshekedi Khama, played by Vusi Kunene. Acting as regent, Tshekedi sent him to Oxford to be educated to prepare him for being his country’s leader.
In 1947 Seretse meets Ruth Williams, a white London secretary, played by Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) at a dance. They bond over their common love of jazz music and quickly fall in love. Seretse then receives a letter from his uncle indicating that it is time to return to his home country to assume responsibility as king. Seretse proposes to Ruth and she accepts, much to the displeasure of Ruth’s father George, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, who says he will never speak to Ruth again if she marries Seretse, as well as Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi.  Soon, Ruth is estranged from her family and Seretse is estranged from his uncle, who now doesn’t feel that Seretse is fit to be the king.
Added to this is the interference of the British government, who were willing to sabotage the marriage to appease neighboring South Africa, who was introducing their policy of apartheid. Britain’s government, including Winston Churchill do not come across well in this film.
Themes in the film are love, courage, faithfulness, racism, betrayal, and estrangement from family. Oyelowo and Pike are excellent in their roles, and have good onscreen chemistry. Oyelowo delivers a few powerful speeches and Pike works hard to be acceptable to the people of Bechuanaland. The supporting cast is solid as well. Jack Davenport portrays British representative Alistair Canning so well you will really dislike him.  David cast his real-life wife, actress Jessica Oyelowo, as Lady Lilly Canning.  Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) portrays Canning’s second in command Rufus Lancaster. The film takes place in both Britain and Africa and is rated PG-13 for some language, including racial slurs.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

My Review of I Am Not Your Negro

i-am-not-your-negroI Am Not Your Negro, rated PG-13
***

This Oscar nominated documentary uses the words of James Baldwin to tell the story of the Negro in America. It is directed by Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson’s excellent narration is comprised entirely of words from novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin.  At the time of his death in 1987, Baldwin was working on a book entitled Remember This House, about the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, three men he knew personally. But when he died, he had completed only 30 pages of the book. In this film, director Peck envisions what the finished book would have looked like, as he looks at the Black experience in America, in part by looking at those three men.
Peck includes a lot of footage of Baldwin in this film (from The Dick Cavett Show, etc.), along with historical news footage, clips from classic movies and even recent footage from the Obama inauguration, from Ferguson, Missouri and of President Trump. We often see the film compare African Americans to Native Americans.
Baldwin says that the story of the Negro in America is not a pretty story, and it is also the story of America. I would disagree with him when he states that at the end of their lives Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were essentially the same.  My wife thought that Mr. Baldwin had a stereotypical view of white people, based upon movies, TV, advertising and the news.  On the other hand, he had some very thought-provoking comments.  I would also say that as a white man I couldn’t fully understand some of the points made in the film, which was attended by a large mixed-race audience, that broke into applause several times during the film and when the film ended.
Racism should never be tolerated by Christians. We are all made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27). The film made me wonder just how much racial issues have really changed in America. We are more politically correct today, but have hearts truly changed?
This would be a good film to watch and discuss with friends.