Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of FOREVER MY GIRL

Forever My Girl, rated PG
** ½

Newly out on video, Forever My Girl, based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin, is a well-acted film that has several positive messages, but is a bit predictable. The film is directed and written by Bethany Ashton Wolf.
The film is set in St. Augustine, Louisiana, referred to by the locals as just “Saint”, not far from New Orleans. The film begins on the wedding day of Josie, played by Jessica Rothe (La La Land, Happy Death Day) and Liam Page, a pastor’s son and country music singer, played by Alex Roe (The Fifth Wave).

***SPOILER ALERT***
Josie is very excited about getting married to her high school sweetheart, but then every bride’s nightmare happens – she is left at the altar by Liam.
She hears nothing from Liam over the next eight years as Liam travels the world as a country music superstar, playing to huge arenas of adoring fans. We hear some of his music in the film. We see him drinking a lot, being rude to his manager, and having one-night stands with groupies.
Not only has Liam left Josie and St. Augustine behind, but he has had no contact with his father, Pastor Brian played by Emmy nominee John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C, The Good Wife), even when his father pursued him. It’s obvious that Liam has hurt in his life, but we don’t know what it is. It is only after Liam hears about the tragic death of his best friend from high school who was to have been one of his groomsmen, being killed by a drunk driver, that he returns to his home town for the funeral.
Josie eventually moved on and bought a nice little flower shop in town. Life is going fine for her and her seven-year old daughter Billy, played by the delightful Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man), until Liam unexpectedly shows up for the funeral. He badly hurt Josie, and to say he is greeted with a cool breeze by Josie, her brother and the entire community, is an understatement. But things get complicated when Liam realizes that Billy is actually his daughter.  Josie tells him that she didn’t find out that she was pregnant until after the date of their planned wedding.
This is when the film gets interesting. Can Josie forgive Liam for hurting her so badly, especially when he never explained why he stood her up at the altar? And how do things change between the two now that he knows that they have a daughter?
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The film has a solid supporting cast (Josie’s brother, Liam’s manager and his publicist), and country music star Travis Tritt, who appears in a cameo as Walt, a singer in a bar.
Content concerns involve sexual activity (nothing explicit is shown) and excessive drinking.
Themes include forgiveness, fatherhood, second chances, and the return of a prodigal son.
Forever My Girl is a well-acted PG-rated romance with significant Christian content and several positive themes, even if it is a bit predictable.

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My Review of 25 in 24

25 in 24
****

The film 25 in 24 documents a crazy dream. It was the dream of Christian band Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman. His dream was to play 25 concerts in 24 hours in his hometown of San Diego. The film is directed by Melody League and is beautifully filmed with many scenes of the San Diego area.
Foreman loves to play music. He is able to connect with people through his music. After Switchfoot concerts, he will meet fans outside the venue to play solo impromptu acoustic concerts.
As he released four Wonderlands EPs – Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness and Dawn a few years ago, he came up with a crazy dream. He would play 25, 3-song concerts in his hometown of San Diego in 24-hour period.  There was much to coordinate, and many variables (musicians, transportation, traffic, weather, etc.). Could he remember all of the lyrics to 75 songs playing for 24 consecutive hours? Could he pull off this ambitious project? He tells us that a beautiful dream is worth chasing, even if you fail.
At 10:00 am on October 24, Foreman started out in his van beginning the realization of his dream, an entire day of song. This film follows Foreman as he fulfills his dream, embracing community one song at a time.
I enjoyed watching Foreman and his fellow musicians (only the cellist played all 25 shows) playing in a variety of locations in San Diego – Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park (with Foreman’s mother Jan), Fidel’s Mexican Restaurant with a Mariachi Band, at Rady’s Children’s Hospital with a high school orchestra, singing “Your Love is Enough” at a wedding reception for the first dance for the bride and groom, on the roof of Ironsmith Coffee Shop, a blistering “Resurrect Me” in show 24, etc. Highlights for me were the concert on Mount Soledad, where they watched the sunrise afterwards, the show at Rady’s Children’s Hospital, and the final show on Swami’s beach, where Foreman went into the Pacific Ocean to surf immediately afterwards.
As the evening went on, people began following them from show to show. When it got late into the evening, the crowds became smaller and the shows more intimate. In the midst of it all, Foreman’s van breaks down.
As Foreman and the musicians finished show 25, it was a celebration of family, friendship and community. This was an event that made people come alive.
Foreman tells us that many times it’s the chase that we are looking for. He was chasing after wonder, looking for his Maker, one song at a time. He stated that journey is where life happens. Not in control but in the chaos.
The film is available online where movies are sold (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc.). Music fans – Switchfoot and Jon Foreman fans in particular – will appreciate this film.


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My Review of OVERBOARD

Overboard, rated PG-13
** ½

Overboard, is a surprisingly entertaining gender-reversed remake of the 1987 film which starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. The film was directed by three-time Emmy winner Rob Greenberg (Frazier), and written by Greenberg and Bob Fisher (Wedding Crashers), adapted from Leslie Dixon’s original story.
Anna Faris (Mom) plays Kate, a single mother of three young girls living in Elk Cove, a small Oregon coastal town. She delivers pizzas and cleans carpets to try and make ends meet while also studying for a nursing exam. She is assigned to clean the carpets on a huge yacht owned by Leonardo Montenegro, played by Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not IncludedHow to Be a Latin Lover). Montenegro is a playboy billionaire and heir of the third richest man in the world. Leonardo is obnoxious and has never worked a day in his life. He denies Kate her pay, insults her looks, and pushes her and the $3,000 carpet cleaning equipment she was using overboard.  On top of having to repay the cost of the carpet cleaning equipment, Kate receives an eviction notice from her home.
Later we see Leonardo himself go overboard and wash up on the beach with amnesia. He has no knowledge of his identity. When Theresa, Kate’s boss at the pizza shop ~ played by Golden Globe nominee Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) ~ hears about this, she tells Kate she has a plan to get back at Leonardo by making him work for her while she studies for her exams. Kate talks to the girls about their plan and they reluctantly agree. We then see Kate go to the hospital where she pretends to be Leonardo’s wife of 15 years. Leonardo is stunned to see that he is poor, sterile and works construction, where his soft hands earn him the nickname of “Lady Hands”. Quickly, Kate has “Leo” learning how to cook the family’s meals. He is told to sleep on a cot in the shed. He is told that he’s a recovering alcoholic, so no more alcohol or sex for now. Most of the above can be picked up from the film’s trailer. But what happens after Leo gets settled in the home is what makes this film worth seeing.
A side plot has Leonardo’s father Papi, played by Fernando Lujan near death. With Leonardo apparently dead, his sister Magdalena played by Cecilia Suárez tries to gain control of the family business.
Some of the dialogue is in Spanish, with sub-titles.  Content concerns include brief rear male nudity (played for laughs) and Leonardo’s partying with young women in bikinis.  There is some adult language and several abuses of God’s name.
Themes include deception, positive messages about family, hard work, friendship and responsibility.
Overboard is not a great film, but it was surprisingly entertaining and included some good messages about family, particularly the importance of a father.


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10 (+ a bonus!) Family-Friendly Films That I Recommend

My wife and I love to go to the movies and usually see at least one a week – thanks to MoviePass!  Unfortunately, most films have some content issues. To assist parents here are 10 family-friendly films (plus one) from the past few years, along with my original reviews, that I can recommend to you.  Just click on the name in the list below to be taken to my review.

Paddington 2

Peter Rabbit

Ferdinand

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Wonder

All Saints

Hidden Figures

Queen of Katwe

The BFG

 The Jungle Book

And here’s a bonus family-friendly film for you to consider:  Zootopia

These are 11 family-friendly films for you to consider. What other family-friendly films would you add to the list?


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My Review of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Avengers: Infinity War, rated PG-13
***

Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that has been ten years in the making. This is a big movie in every way, being released on the franchise’s tenth anniversary of the first film, 2008’s Iron Man. The nineteenth film from the Marvel Universe comes with a budget of approximately $300 million, is about 160 minutes long, includes about 64 main characters, and has multiple plotlines. Although the film is well made and entertaining, with a good deal of humor, there is almost too much going on here. We lose some character development to the almost constant action violence battle scenes.
The film is co-directed by Emmy winners Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Arrested Development, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  The film is co-written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
The villain in the film is the formidable Thanos from the planet Titan, played by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk). Thanos is the step-father of Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar), one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos towers over his enemies. He believes that the universe is suffering from over-population. His goal is to destroy half of life in the universe. To do this, he needs to obtain six powerful Infinity Stones, and place them in his large glove. With each stone he gets, he will become more powerful.  If Thanos gets all the stones he will be unstoppable. Thanos is assisted by Ebony Maw, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The film is about the Avengers trying to keep Thanos from obtaining those stones.
The film includes the Marvel superheroes we’ve been introduced to over the past ten years, as well as some new characters; from Iron Man, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Trophic Thunder, Chaplin) to Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42).
The film includes some excellent humor – for example from Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (12 Strong), continuing to call Rocket Raccoon, voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), a rabbit, and a great exchange between Thor and Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt (Jurassic World).
Content issues include a small amount of adult language and like all Marvel films, several intense battles scenes. Themes in the film include the abuse of power, self-sacrifice, perseverance, teamwork, courage, love and friendship.
Avengers: Infinity Wars is a well-made entertaining and intense film that also includes some well-placed humor. The ending may disappoint some viewers, who will have to wait for the next Avengers film, shot at the same time, which will be out in 2019. And with all Marvel films, don’t forget to stay in your seats all the way through the ending credits for a final scene.


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My Review of THE MIRACLE SEASON

The Miracle Season, rated PG
***

The Miracle Season is an emotional and inspirational film based on the true story of the Iowa City West Girls Volleyball team’s 2011. The film has a surprisingly strong cast, is directed by Emmy nominee Sean McNamara (That’s So Raven, Hoovey, Soul Surfer) and written by David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights), and Elissa Matsueda (Spare Parts).
Erin Moriarty (Captain Fantastic) stars as Kelly Fliehler. The film opens with a voiceover from Kelly talking about her relationship with best friend Caroline Found, played by Danika Yarosh (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), who goes by “Line”. We see them in flashbacks as young girls and then teens. They play on the Iowa City West Girls’ Volleyball team.  Caroline is the team’s captain and setter and has a personality that is extremely upbeat. The team won the Iowa state championship in 2010 and with Caroline being a senior, they are aiming at a repeat in 2011.

***SPOILER ALERT ***
Caroline’s mother Ellyn, played by Jillian Fargey (Bates Motel) has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is in the hospital. The week before school is to start Caroline decides to take a moped – that her father Dr. Ernie Found, played by Oscar winner William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman) doesn’t know she has been riding – to the hospital to visit her mother. But Caroline is killed in an accident on the way to the hospital. We see her mother attend Caroline’s funeral, but shortly after the funeral she dies as well.
The film is primarily about how the Iowa City West Girls Volleyball team and Caroline’s father Ernie deal with these losses. We see Ernie’s faith shaken from the losses. The film focuses on the team’s 2011 season. The team is coached by Kathy Bresnahan, called “Bres”, played by Oscar winner Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets). After the tragedy, Kelly and her teammates don’t want to continue playing.  But Coach Bresnahan convinces Kelly that she needs to replace Caroline as the leader of the team, and that the team should play the season in honor of Caroline.
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The film uses a lot of music (Katy Perry, Britt Nicole, etc.) Themes include teamwork, tragedy, loss, grief, encouragement and faith. The Miracle Season is an inspirational well-made film based on a true story. It is better than many sports films I’ve seen. It features strong acting performances from Helen Hunt, William Hurt and Erin Moriarty.

Live Like Line: The Story of Caroline Found. In this fourteen-minute video Frank Deford tells the story of the 2011 Iowa City West Girls Volleyball team. Only watch after you see the film The Miracle Season.


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My Review of SGT. STUBBY:  AN AMERICAN HERO

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, rated PG
***

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is based on the true story of the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment in World War I, and the most decorated war dog in U.S. military history. I found the animated film both entertaining and interesting. However, with much of the film taking place during intense war action, I can’t say that this film is really family friendly and wonder if it will struggle finding an audience.
The film, which was endorsed by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, was directed by Richard Lanni and written by Lanni and Mike Stokey. While the animation in the film was average at best, the musical score by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle (Hamlet, Sense and Sensibility) was superb, subtly adding a great deal to the film.
As the film begins, it is the early months of America’s involvement in World War I. We see a hungry stray Boston terrier looking for food. As a military parade goes by, a 25-year-old private Robert Conroy, voiced by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson films, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), throws the hungry dog a cookie. The dog then follows Conroy and the rest of the men of the 102nd Infantry Regiment back to their training ground at Yale University. Conroy and the dog, whom he names Stubby due to his short tail, bond, and Conroy’s leadership allows the dog to stay and participate in the basic training exercises.  Stubby even learns how to salute. Conroy’s closest human friends are the German American Schroeder, voiced by Jim Pharr and Elmer, voiced by Jordan Beck.
When Conroy and his fellow troops are shipped out to the frontlines in France to assist the battle-weary French soldiers, Stubby somehow sneaks aboard the U.S.S. Minnesota. When he is discovered onboard, he becomes their official mascot and is even given his own dog tags.
In France the unit formed one of four infantry regiments in the 26th Division, which was nicknamed the “Yankee Division”, because it was made up of National Guard units from the New England states. The Yankee Division would take part in some of the most intense fighting of the Western Front in 1918, from February to November on the front lines, taking heavy casualties.
We see Stubby proving his worth, from scaring away rats, sniffing out the presence of the enemy, and in a powerful scene, warning French civilians of mustard gas that is coming into their village. For his actions in combat, Stubby was promoted to sergeant.
Oscar nominee Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac), voices the likable French soldier, and restaurant owner/chef, Gaston Baptiste. Although he is in good spirits, we see his weariness, the result of being in intense battles for years, and not having seen his family. Together, with Conroy and Stubby, the three form a bond, becoming the “Three Musketeers”.
Conroy’s sister Margaret, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The Kings Speech, The Wings of the Dove), narrates the film, giving the viewers updates on where Conroy and his fellow soldiers were, based on letters from the battlefield that she receives from her brother.  She was like a mother to him after they lost their parents.  Adults will find the history very interesting, but it will be over the heads of young viewers who will instead enjoy Stubby’s brave exploits.
The film shows the horrors of war (gun fighting, grenades, mustard gas, etc.), and also addresses issues such as German Americans fighting in the war, the deadly Spanish flu of 1918, and soldiers being wounded and killed.
I enjoyed Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, and learned a lot about World War I. While the animation was just average, the film features an excellent musical score as it tells the stranger than fiction story of the most decorated dog in U.S. military history, who participated in 17 battles over 18 months. However, due to the intense war scenes that are included in the film, I do not consider this film to be for youngest viewers, and wonder if it will struggle to find an audience.  Themes in this film include sacrifice, teamwork, loyalty and friendship.