Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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.

***SPOILER WARNING***
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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My Review of THE LAST FULL MEASURE

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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My Review of I STILL BELIEVE

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


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My Review of THE WAY BACK

The Way Back, rated R
** ½

The Way Back is about a former star athlete returning to his high school to coach the basketball team. The film, featuring a strong performance from Ben Affleck, deals with serious themes and contains a significant amount of adult language. The film is directed by Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant), and written by Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace).
Jack Cunningham, played by two-time Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting, Argo), works on a construction site. He pours alcohol into his coffee mug on the site and stops at a bar on the way home each night. His sister Beth, played by Michaela Watkins, is concerned with his drinking as we see him being often helped home by the same old man who used to carry his father home drunk from the same bar.
Jack was once a star basketball player at Bishop Hayes, leading his team to the state championship and being named player of the year 1993-1995. But he turned down a college scholarship, and hasn’t touched a basketball since.
Out of the blue, Jack gets a call from Father Edward Devine, played by John Aylward, the head priest at his alma mater. The basketball coach has had a heart attack, and will not be returning. Father Devine asks Jack if he would take over as the coach of a team that is quite frankly not very good. In fact, the last time the team made the playoffs was 25 years ago, when Jack was playing. Jack’s immediate response is to turn the priest down, but Father Devine asks him to think about it, and let him know in the morning as the team has a game in a few days. On a painful night to watch, we see Jack drink a 12 pack of beer as he repeatedly rehearses his call to Father Devine, but then surprisingly he accepts the position. Continue reading


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My Review of EMMA.

EMMA., rated PG
** ½

EMMA., newly available on home video, is the latest film adaptation of the last novel published by Jane Austen during her lifetime. Set in England in the 1800’s, the film features beautiful costumes, beautiful scenery, good production design and solid acting, but the two-hour film moves slowly, and doesn’t get interesting until the final thirty minutes. The film is directed by Autumn de Wilde in his feature film debut, and the screenplay is written by Eleanor Catton. Emma Woodhouse is played by Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass, Split). She lives with her wealthy father, played by Golden Globe winner Bill Nighy (Gideon’s Daughter, Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean), on a giant estate in the English countryside. Her lifelong friend George Knightly, played by Johnny Flynn, lives across a field and comes by the estate frequently. George knows Emma well, and is one of the only people in her life that can honestly speak to the selfish, arrogant and at times rude young woman. Emma doesn’t have much that she has to do, so she has taken to matchmaking, specifically with Harriet Smith, an orphaned girl of unknown parentage, living at a local girl’s school, played by Mia Goth. Harriet has taken a liking to Mr. Martin, a widowed farmer, played by Connor Swindells. Emma believes that Harriet can do better, and Harriet trusts her, so Emma convinces Harriet to turn down Mr. Martin’s proposal and instead tries to match her up with the local vicar, the unlikeable Mr. Elton, played by Josh O’Connor (The Crown). Continue reading


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My Review of A HIDDEN LIFE

A Hidden Life, rated PG-13
****

A Hidden Life, now available on home video, is a powerful film based on true events about a humble and devout Austrian farmer who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler when called to serve for Germany in World War II. The film, which runs just under three hours and moves along slowly, is beautifully filmed, is thought-provoking, demonstrates the strong faith of the two lead characters, and is one of the best films I’ve seen in some time, though it was largely passed over during awards season. The film was written and directed by three-time Oscar nominee Terrence Mallick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line). The title of the film comes from a line in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch.
“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

The film is about Franz Jägerstätter, played by August Diehl (Inglorious Basterds), a Catholic Austrian farmer. Franz is married to Fani Jägerstätter played by Valerie Pachner. As the film begins, we see Franz serving in the German army, but he doesn’t see combat. During this time, he begins to believe that participation in the war would be a sin. He is allowed to return home, where he and Fani start a family that will grow to three young girls. We see them working hard on their farm, using scythes to cut wheat and bale hay, and raising livestock in the small Austrian village of St. Radegund, near the German border. Franz has a quiet but strong faith. He serves as a sexton at the local Catholic church, without pay. Franz’s mother Rosalia Jägerstätter, played by Karin Neuhäuser, and and Fani’s sister, Resie Schwaninger, played by Maria Simon, come to live with them.
When the war continues, there is fear that Franz will be called back to fight for the German army. His feelings about Hitler begin to spread when he refuses to return the Nazi salute of “Heil Hitler!” to those he passes by. As a result, he and his family begin to be ostracized by the members of the village. We feel the tension each time the bike bell rings with the rider carrying the summons to serve. Eventually, in 1943, Franz receives his notice. Continue reading


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My Review of CREATED EQUAL:  CLARENCE THOMAS IN HIS OWN WORDS
****

In this documentary, written and directed by Michael Pack, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas tells his life story, beginning with his birth in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, where his family spoke the creole language of Gullah. His mother would have four children by the time she was 20, and his father left the family early on. Later, after their home burned down, the family would move to Savannah, Georgia. Thomas speaks of the difference between rural poverty and urban poverty, indicating that the former was to be preferred. His mother, who worked as a maid, took Thomas and his brother to live with the boys’ grandparents, who lived in a nice area of Savannah.
Thomas’ grandfather was illiterate, but taught Thomas and his brother discipline and a good work ethic. Believing he was called to be a priest, Thomas enrolled at Conception Seminary College at age 16, where he was the only African American. He would leave he seminary after he heard a fellow student make an ugly comment about Martin Luther King Jr. after he was shot. When he returned to his grandparent’s home, his grandfather showed him the door, telling him he was no longer welcome there.
Thomas would enroll at the College of the Holy Cross, which was founded in 1843 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Worcester, Massachusetts.  It was there that he helped found the Black Student Union and got involved with a group of Black Marxists. He went on to Yale Law School, got married and had a son. The marriage lasted only thirteen years before ending in divorce. Thomas was noticeably uncomfortable discussing his first marriage in the film. He would later marry Virginia Lamp, who appears in the film, in 1997. Continue reading