Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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News of the World, rated PG-13
** ½

News of the World is a slow moving, though beautifully filmed western, which features solid acting performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. Though the film received four Oscar nominations (sound, production design, original score and cinematography), I found it to be too slow and predictable to recommend.
The film was directed by Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass (United 93), who worked with lead actor Hanks in Captain Phillips. The screenplay is by Oscar nominee Luke Davies (Lion), and is based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles.
The film is set in 1870, a few years after the Civil War. Captain Jefferson Kyle Tidd, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), is a veteran of three wars, including the Civil War. He is a decent, but lonely man. He speaks of a wife in San Antonio. He rides in a wagon from town to town in Texas dramatically reading from newspapers the latest news of the day to gatherings of people who are willing to pay a dime to hear it.
As he is in transit between towns, he comes across a wagon on its side. He sees a man who has been hung, and he notices a blonde-haired girl running away. Continue reading

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My Review of American Gospel: Christ Crucified

American Gospel: Christ Crucified (unrated)

American Gospel: Christ Crucified follows writer and director Brandon Kimber’s 2018 American Gospel: Christ Alone film. Here is my review of that film. Whereas the first film compared and contrasted biblical Christianity with what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel”, the second film looks at biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity.
Like the first film, the second film features interviews (most recorded specifically for the film), as well as video clips of proponents of both biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity. The film effectively uses graphics of scripture passages in particular, to illustrate the issues being discussed. The film touches on a number of topics, with a key one being the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Those who support this doctrine point to scripture texts to show that this is a biblical doctrine. Those that oppose the substitutionary atonement of Jesus refer to the doctrine as a form of “cosmic child abuse”. Continue reading


My Review of NOMADLAND

Nomadland, rated R 
** ½

This film recently won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture Drama and Chloé Zhao (The Rider), won for Best Director-Motion Picture. The film features an outstanding performance by two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo). The film also features some wonderful cinematography, with multiple landscape scenes of the American West by Joshua James Richards (The Rider), and a memorable musical score by Ludovico Einaudi.
The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. Many of the characters in the film are non-actors who live on the road. Some of those who are in the book show up in the film as well, playing themselves.
We learn that the USG sheetrock plant in Empire, Nevada went out of business in early 2011, after 88 years. At the time, USG employed about 100 of the 300 residents of Empire. In a scene late in the film, Fern returns to Empire, walking through her former home and the abandoned plant. Within seven months of the plant closing, the town had lost its zip code. Both Fern (Frances McDormand, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her performance), and her husband, who died of cancer, had worked at the plant. Fern has now lost her home. The film begins and ends during the holidays, with Fern singing “What Child is This?” and wishing people a happy new year. Fern takes off in her van to work a temporary position at an Amazon plant. While there, Fern is living in her van, which she will do during the entire film. She prefers to refer to herself as “houseless”, rather than “homeless”. At Amazon, Fern meets the likeable ponytailed Linda May (who plays herself), who tells her of a community of older van-dwellers led by Bob Wells (who plays himself). Fern then heads to the Arizona community. Continue reading

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Fisherman’s Friends, rated PG-13

This delightful 2019 film, available on Netflix, is based on the true story of a group of English fishermen who love to sing together. Scotty Smith mentioned the film in a recent sermon, and my wife and I decided to watch it later that evening – and we were glad that we did.
The film is set in Port Isaac, Cornwall (which is changed to Portwenn in the popular television series Doc Martin, which is filmed there). We visited Port Isaac in July 2019 on a family vacation and really enjoyed the scenery captured so well in this film by cinematographer Simon Tindall. The film was directed by Chris Foggin, and was written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft.
The film begins with four music industry executives from London throwing a stag weekend for a colleague in Port Isaac. While there, the men see a group of ten men singing sea shanty songs, which they find humorous. As a gag, the boss Troy (Noel Clarke) tells Danny (Daniel Mays) a snobby music manager, to sign the men to a recording contract. Then, the others leave in their car for London laughing, leaving Port Isaac, and the unsuspecting Danny behind. Continue reading

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My Review of UNHINGED

Unhinged, rated R

Unhinged is an intense, but disappointing B-grade thriller, that doesn’t allow its Oscar winning lead actor to do much more than grunt. The film, directed by Derrick Borte, with the script written by Carl Ellsworth, also includes a significant amount of violence and adult language.
The film begins with a bloated Russell Crowe, Oscar winner for Best Actor in Gladiator and also nominated for A Beautiful Mind and The Insider), portraying “The Man”, sitting in his pickup truck in the rain outside of a home with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. He is sweating and gulping down prescription meds like they were candy, something he does throughout the film. We see him take off his wedding ring. We assume that his ex-wife, and possibly others, are inside the house. Eventually, he gets out of the car, kills all inside and sets the house on fire.
The next morning, we see Rachel, a hairdresser played by Caren Pistorius, being awakened by a phone call from her best friend and attorney Andy, played by Emmy nominee Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), who is helping her through a divorce. She is the mother of a young son, Kyle, played by Gabriel Bateman (Child’s Play). Rachel’s brother Fred, played by Austin P. McKenzie, and his girlfriend Mary, played by Juliene Joyner, also are temporarily living in her home. By oversleeping, Rachel misses an appointment with an important client, who then fires her. She also makes Kyle late for school – we assume not for the first time – which will earn him a detention. Continue reading

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My Review of HAMILTON

Hamilton, rated PG-13

Hamilton, showing exclusively on the Disney+ network (which paid $75 million for the worldwide rights to the film), is a live taping of the award-winning stage production (11 Tony Awards, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama). The musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of our Founding Fathers, was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was inspired by Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton.
My wife and I saw the musical a few years ago in Chicago. The film version adds to that experience with excellent cinematography and sound quality. The film provides close ups that you couldn’t experience in the theatre, unless you had (very expensive) seats close to the stage.
Two things I highly recommend before watching the film are:

  1. Become familiar with Alexander Hamilton’s incredible life story. You can do that by reading my review of Chernow’s book here.
  2. Listen to the Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical. The story is told almost entirely in song. Miranda uses a variety of musical styles, mostly rap, and the lyrics come very fast. It will help you to enjoy the film if you are somewhat familiar with the songs.

Continue reading

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My Review of 7500

7500, rated R

7500, now showing on Amazon Prime, is an intense thriller, told almost entirely from the cockpit of an Airbus A319 on a flight from Berlin to Paris. The film was directed by Oscar nominee Patrick Vollrath (Alles wird gut) in his feature film debut, who co-wrote the film with Senad Halilbasic. The low budget film, with little or no musical score, gets its title from the emergency code (7500) for a plane hijacking. Though there are few characters in the film, the cockpit door, locked during the flight, and the camera monitor that the pilots use to see outside the door, play key roles in the film.
As the film begins, we see the pilot Michael Lutzmann, played by Carlo Kitzlinger and the co-pilot Tobias Ellis, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50, (500) Days of Summer) in the cockpit going through their routine preparations for the flight. The plane has 85 passengers, in addition to the crew. One of the flight attendants is Gokce, played by Aylin Tezel. She is Ellis’ girlfriend, and the mother of his child. The film is told from the viewpoint of Ellis.
The pilots are told by air traffic control to expect some turbulence from weather as they takeoff. Turbulence foreshadows what is to soon come.

The pilots hear shouting in the passenger cabin, and from the camera monitor in the cockpit they see a group of Islamic terrorists try to storm the cockpit. The constant pounding on the cockpit door will go on for much of the film. Soon, a few of the terrorists are able to get into the cabin and kill the pilot. Ellis, though injured, is able to knock out one hijacker, and regain control of the cockpit and plane. He then has to make difficult decisions to protect the passengers and the plane as the hijackers take hostages and threaten to kill them if he doesn’t let them in the cockpit.

The film is rated R for language, violence and intensity. Themes include courage, leadership, terror and painful decision-making.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as the co-pilot Tobias Ellis. Omid Memar turns in a strong performance as the 18-year-old Vedat, one of the hijackers.
7500 is an edge of your seat thriller. It’s not a great movie, but at just 92 minutes, it is a fast-moving intense film that features a strong performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It is exclusively available to stream for free on Amazon Prime Video.

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The Last Full Measure, rated R

This film is inspired (some of the characters and plotline are fictionalized), by the true story of a Vietnam War hero, and the years long quest to get him the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor decoration for his actions, which saved as many as sixty lives, during what was known as “Operation Abilene”. The film, rated “R” for war violence and adult language, and featuring an all-star cast, was written and directed by Emmy winner Todd Robinson (The Legend of Billy the Kid). The film’s title is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln talks about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion.”
William Pitsenbarger, known as “Pits”, is played by Jeremy Irvine (War Horse). “Pits” was a U.S. Air Force pararescue medic. He flew more than 250 rescue missions during the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, his day off, he volunteered to board one of two Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters dispatched to extract a half-dozen or so wounded soldiers pinned down in a firefight near Cam My, a rural area of Vietnam located 35 miles east of Saigon. When his helicopter arrived over the battle during “Operation Abilene”, he was lowered through the trees to treat the men injured during the brutal attack on the ground. But rather than returning to the helicopter to leave the scene, he chose to stay, and was subsequently killed in the battle. Continue reading

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My Review of ARCTIC

Arctic, rated PG-13

With theatres closed and no new films to watch, my wife and I have taken the opportunity to watch some recent films that we had missed. One of those was Arctic, a film that focuses on a single character and includes minimal dialogue. The film is directed by Joe Penna in his feature film directorial debut, and written by Penna and Ryan Morrison. The film was shot in Iceland and had a budget of approximately $2 million.
Overgård, played by Mads Mikkleson (Hannibal), is stranded in the Arctic tundra after his Antonov An-2 plane crashed there. We don’t know the circumstances of the crash, nor how long he has been there. Living in his plane, Overgård has settled into a systematic daily routine – fishing for his food, creating and recreating (as the fierce winds cover it over) a large S.O.S. in the snow, and cranking a radio system to send a signal that would alert would-be rescuers. He stays on task with these activities by an alarm on his watch. Continue reading

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I Still Believe
** ½

I Still Believe, new on home video, is based on the true story of Contemporary Christian Music artist Jeremy Camp’s relationship with Melissa Henning. It is a story of sacrificial love, disappointment, suffering, loss and hope. The film was directed by the Erwin Brothers, Andrew and Jon (I Can Only Imagine, Mom’s Night Out, October Baby). The film was written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn (The Case for Christ).
The film opens at the Camp home in Lafayette, Indiana. Jeremy, played by K.J. Apa (Riverdale) is getting ready to leave for college, leaving behind his parents Tom, a pastor who drives a Pizza King car played by Oscar nominee Gary Sinese (Forrest Gump), and Terry, played by country music artist Shania Twain and his two younger brothers. They give him a beautiful new guitar just before he boards the bus for his California college.
On Jeremy’s first night on campus he attends a concert by Jean-Luc, played by Nathan Parsons (General Hospital). Jeremy sneaks backstage before the concert and introduces himself to the artist, and asks him for advice on how to “make it” in the music industry. This leads Jean-Luc to ask him to tune his guitar. That night, when bringing a guitar on stage, Jeremy sees Melissa Henning, played by Britt Robertson (TomorrowlandThe Space Between Us) in the audience. He seeks her out after the show. Continue reading