Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Why I Would Recommend You Don’t Go See the Movie “The Shack”

the-shackKnowing that I enjoy going to the movies, I’ve already had many friends ask me if I was planning to see the upcoming film adaptation of William P. Young’s best-selling 2007 novel The Shack. When I tell them that I’m not going due to serious theological issues in the book, they usually respond that they don’t know or care too much about theological issues, they just loved the book.

Several years ago, when it seemed like everyone I talked to was reading the book (the book has sold an incredible 22 million copies to date), I decided to read it myself. I wanted to see why it was resonating with so many people, even some of my friends who didn’t regularly attend church. And while the book can speak to those who have experienced a tragedy or lost a loved one, I had serious concerns about the way the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) were portrayed.

To help you be discerning as you consider whether or not to watch the film or read the book (as interest in the book has been rekindled with the release of the film), I offer the below perspectives from three respected Christians teachers.

  1. Tim Keller. In this article Tim Keller writes “But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”
  2. Tim Challies. In this article (which also links to his lengthy review of the book), Tim Challies writes “The Shack presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material. In its visual portrayal of God it diminishes, it obfuscates, it blasphemes, it lies. Even though I would watch the film to help others interpret it and to bring correction to error, I would still be subjecting myself to a false, blasphemous portrayal of God. I cannot allow myself to watch it even for that purpose. I cannot and will not watch or review it.”
  3. Randy Alcorn. Randy Alcorn writes “Unfortunately, increasingly few people these days are well grounded in the Word and have both the knowledge and the discernment to filter out the bad while embracing the good. That means that some people, perhaps many, will fail to recognize the book’s theological weaknesses, and therefore be vulnerable to embracing them, even if unconsciously. Sadly, I personally know some who have been led down a path of universalism through their understanding of the book and what they have heard the author say, either publicly or privately.”

I know these comments won’t be popular with many. Please seriously consider them when making your decision about whether you will see this film. And if you disagree with what is written here, please let me know and why.  Also, if you need good materials that address the topics in the movie such as “Where was God when I lost my loved one?” I would be glad to give you some recommendations.

Blessings!


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My Review of the Movie ‘Paterson’

patersonPaterson, rated R
*** ½

Paterson is low-key, well-acted film that follows bus driver and poet Paterson and his creative wife Laura through a week of their lives.
The film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, who wrote a version of the film twenty years ago. The film follows Paterson (Adam Driver, who was excellent as Father Francisco Garrpe in the recent Silence), a bus driver and poet, his creative wife Laura (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) and their English Bulldog Marvin, through one week of their life in the rather depressed city of Paterson, New Jersey.  Driver actually went to bus driving school to prepare for this role, and got his license one week before filming began.
Paterson, who was named after the town he lives in, follows pretty much the same routine each day. He wakes up without an alarm at about 6:15am, picks up his folded clothes from a chair near the bed, eats Cheerios for breakfast and walks to the bus station. He doesn’t have a smartphone, thinking it would be like a leash. He drives his bus through the heart of Paterson where he overhears the conversations of his passengers, enjoys lunch surprises made by Laura as he writes poetry in the park near a beautiful waterfall, its beauty contrasting with the rest of the town we see. He walks home and grabs the mail out of the tilted mailbox post in front of his and Laura’s small home. After dinner, he walks Marvin, and stops at a neighborhood bar (where we get to know the regulars), to have one beer before heading back home to bed. His life is not unlike ours, in which we go through our routines each day.
Although Paterson’s job is as a bus driver, and he is dutiful in that job, his passion is writing poetry. We often see him inspired to write down lines of poetry in his secret notebook, and the lines of his poetry creatively appear on the screen. His favorite poet was William Carlos Williams, also from Paterson. Laura is constantly asking him to make copies of his poems, which he promises to do.
In many ways, Paterson and Laura, who are very much in love, are also very different. While Paterson’s life is relatively routine and predictable, Laura is just the opposite. She is obsessed with black and white patterns – in her painting (clothes, home decorating), in the cupcakes she bakes, etc. Paterson supports her in everything she does and wants to do, which includes wanting to order an expensive guitar so that she could be a country music singer like Tammy Wynette or Patsy Cline.
The acting from Driver and Farahani is excellent. They have wonderful chemistry on film.  Paterson is an introvert and doesn’t really share his emotions with others, while Laura is just the opposite, full of life, energy and dreams.  They support each other in their passions – Paterson’s poetry and Laura’s painting, guitar playing and baking.
There is not a lot going on in this film. It’s definitely slow moving, and may feel overly long at nearly two hours. While it will not appeal to everyone, I really enjoyed it. None of the characters we meet (Paterson, Laura, those on the bus, or in the bar), give us any indication of God being in their lives, so there is a feeling that they do not really live with purpose.
There is a good use of humor sprinkled throughout the film and after Laura tells him of a dream about twins early in the film, Paterson sees twins around town the rest of the film. Still, I came away enjoying the week I spent with Paterson, Laura, Marvin and Paterson’s friends in the bar.    The juxtaposition of the mundane and ordinary with the beautiful and passionate was an ongoing theme in this movie.  My wife thought Marvin should win best actor in this film.  : )
The film is rated “R” for a relatively small amount of adult language. It also includes a few abuses of God’s name. However, this does not seem like an “R- rated” film. Without the sparse language mentioned above this film could easily be rated “PG”, like the recent film Hidden Figures.


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MY REVIEW OF LOVING

lovingLoving, rated PG-13
***

Loving is a well-acted portrayal of a true love story that changed U.S. history.
This film is directed and written by Jeff Nichols (Mud). The film has received Golden Globe nominations for Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Negga. The film received a standing ovation at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2016.
At the heart of this film is Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton, The Gift) and his girlfriend Mildred (Ruth Negga). The film begins in 1958 in the state of Virginia.  Richard is a hard-working auto mechanic and construction worker. The film opens with Mildred telling Richard that she is pregnant. He is happy with the news. They want to get married but can’t in Virginia as Richard is white and Mildred is black. Interracial marriage has been illegal in Virginia since 1924. So they go to Washington D.C. to get married, and then return back to their families and to the property Richard purchased for their future home in Caroline County, Virginia to begin their married life together.

***SPOILER ALERT***
But they are soon violently awoken in the middle of the night by the county sheriff and some of his deputies, and arrested for violating a law prohibiting interracial marriage. Their lawyer Frank Beazley (Bill Camp, The Night Of) enters a plea before the judge that in effect says that if they plead guilty they must leave the state for a period of 25 years.  They then move to Washington D.C. and begin their family, which grows to three children. But they long to return to Virginia.
Mildred watches a civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and eventually writes a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. This begins a legal battle that will last nearly 11 years.  Nick Kroll portrays ACLU attorney Bernie Cohen who helps the Lovings take their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia was decided June 12, 1967. It unanimously held that Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” which forbade marriage between people of different races, was unconstitutional. This decision therefore effectively voided all such laws in other states as well.
**********************

The acting performances by Edgerton and Negga are outstanding. Their love for each other under extremely trying circumstances comes through clearly. On the downside, the film moved extremely slowly. The film is rated PG-13 for a small amount of adult language and a few uses of the “n-word”.
Nichols was able to tell the story of the Loving family as accurately as possible by relying on Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary The Loving Story. The documentary captured many details of the couple’s private lives, and much of the dialogue in the film comes directly from the documentary. The Lovings story has also been portrayed in the 1996 TV movie Mr. and Mrs. Loving, which starred Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon.


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My Review of The Founder

the-founderThe Founder, rated PG-13
***

The Founder tells the true story of the founding of McDonald’s, but it is a less than positive portrayal of Ray Kroc as a man.
The low budget film (just $7 million) is directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), and written by Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler). Oscar winner (Birdman) Michael Keaton stars as Ray Kroc. The film begins in 1954. Kroc is a traveling milkshake-mixer salesman in the Midwest for Prince Castle. It’s a hard job and we see him repeatedly getting turned down for sales while he eats at drive-in restaurants.
He then receives a call from his secretary that will change his life. A restaurant in San Bernardino, California wants to buy an unheard of eight of his large mixers. He drives across the country to the restaurant owned by the likeable brothers Maurice “Mac” (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald. There he sees something he’s never seen before – a fast-food restaurant, selling just hamburgers, fries and drinks.

***SPOILER ALERT***
The brothers are honest businessmen, and though not rich, are satisfied with the success they are having. Kroc however, sees much more potential. His vision is to take the restaurant that the brothers developed to the rest of the country. Although they are initially hesitant, they eventually agree to partner with him, a decision that they will soon come to regret.
Laura Dern stars as Kroc’s wife Ethel. She tries to be supportive of Ray, as she lives a lonely life by herself at their home in Arlington Heights, Illinois, as he is on the road most of the time. Ray will divorce her for Joan (Linda Cardellini), a younger woman, the wife of a restaurant owner who would become one of his franchise owners.
********************

Themes in the film are betrayal, trust, regret, greed, deception and theft. The film is rated PG-13 for a small amount of adult language and the abuse of God’s name.
Keaton is outstanding in his portrayal of Kroc. I’ve read about the story of McDonald’s in John Maxwell’s book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership as he discusses “The Law of the Lid”. The Law of the Lid is that “Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness”. Maxwell writes “Leadership ability – or more specifically the lack of leadership ability – was the lid on the McDonald’s brother’s effectiveness”.  The film clearly shows that Kroc had vision and leadership, which resulted in McDonald’s being what it is today. The McDonald brothers may not have had the leadership ability that Kroc had, but they had much more character, and I would prefer to have that.