Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of Get Out

get-outGet Out, rated R
***

Get Out is a creative, well-made film about race combined with satire, horror and comedy that will make you want to scream at the main character during the film, “Get Out”!
This film is written and directed by Jordan Peele (Comedy Central series Key & Peele), who has cited the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead film as an inspiration for making his feature film writing-directing debut because that film had an African American protagonist and dealt with serious racial issues inside the framework of a horror movie. He has also stated that he first got the idea for the film during 2008 Democratic primary discussions about whether an African American or a woman was more deserving of the presidency. He then went on to explain that he further conceived the movie as a twist on the 1975 movie The Stepford Wives, in which suburban husbands replace their rebellious wives with compliant robots.  This satire on interracial relationships cost just $4.5 million to make and is receiving an incredible 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com by film critics. The film is produced by Jason Blum who also produced Split, which recently was the number one film for three consecutive weeks.
Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario), stars as 26 year-old Chris, an African-American photographer who has been dating Rose, (Allison Williams, Girls television series) who is white, for five months. The couple is visiting Rose’s parents – neurosurgeon Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) and psychiatrist Missy Armitage (two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener) – at their beautiful but remote lake house estate, for the first time. Chris is nervous about their reaction to him being an African-American, but Rose assures him that it won’t be a problem as her parents are not racists. And initially it appears that she is right, as he initially begins to feel welcome.
But then Chris begins to get increasingly uncomfortable, beginning with Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). He notices that the other African-Americans in the home – groundskeeper Walter (Martin Henderson) and maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) – are acting strange.  Then Missy is intent on wanting to hypnotize Chris. Later, we see Chris attending an awkward party with the family’s friends, all white, along with one black man Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) who is also acting strangely. Chris then calls his best friend TSA Agent Rod (LilRel Howery) – who adds a good deal of humor to the film – to express his concerns. Does he have reason to be concerned or is he just paranoid?
Race plays a central role in this film at a time when race relations in our nation are unfortunately as poor as they have been for a long time. Rose’s parents would not consider themselves to be racists, but they use racial stereotypes, as they try to connect with Chris. All of their white friends at the party are also interested in Chris because of his race. Why?
This creative genre blending film (horror, comedy, satire) was very well done. As a white man, I felt uncomfortable watching it, which is probably what Peele would want me to feel. Michael Abel’s music score is very effective in building the suspense.
The film is rated “R” for violence, bloody images, and a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s name and sexual references.


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My Review of Silence

silenceSilence, rated R
***

Silence is a well-acted film that deals with the subject of apostasy (denying the faith).
The film is directed by Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese (The Departed), and is based on a 1966 historical novel written by Shusaku Endo. Scorsese was given the book in 1988, and has been wanting to make a movie of it ever since. Jay Cocks co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese.
The film is set in 17th century Japan. Father Cristovao Ferreira (Oscar nominee Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List) from Portugal, has gone missing while working as a Jesuit missionary in Japan. He hasn’t been heard from for years. Rumors are that he has committed apostasy (denied the faith). His former students Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) fail to believe that their teacher and mentor has apostatized. They finally convince Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) to let them go to Japan to try to find Ferreira. They will be aided by a drunken Japanese guide named Kichijiro (Yoshi Oida). He is a complex character, not the simple “cut and dry” Judas to Rodrigues that he may appear.
As the priests arrive in Japan, they find a church that has gone underground or hidden, in the midst of persecution. Christianity has been outlawed in Japan, but there are those who remain faithful, despite the lack of priests. Those who are caught and suspected of being Christians are forced to trample on wooden figures of Jesus, called fumie. Those who refuse (and even some who do actually trample on the image of Jesus), are tortured to death. The film depicts Christians being tortured – boiling water poured on them, hung upside down in a pit, tied to stakes in the ocean, etc. That makes this film difficult to watch.
The film is well acted, particularly by Garfield, who deserved an Oscar nomination for his work here, but had already received a Best Actor nomination for Hacksaw Ridge, perhaps taking away his chances for a nomination here. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, particularly his depiction of the landscapes of Japan, is excellent, earning the film it’s only Oscar nomination. You can also feel the heat and the irritation of the insects of Japan, as the Japanese persecutors constantly fan themselves.
The film is extremely thought-provoking, as it deals with themes such as silence (of God particularly), faith, persecution, fear, apostasy, and doubt. You’ll be talking about the ending as you leave the theatre. But the theme of apostasy is the key one in the film. Jesus said “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).
The film, which had its premiere at the Vatican, is overly long at 2 hours and 41 minutes, and for the most part is pretty slow. The film cost $40 million to make, and will most likely have a limited audience, but was well done and is thought-provoking.


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My Review of Split

splitSplit, rated PG-13
***

Split features an outstanding performance from James McAvoy, and a triumphant return to form for director M. Night Shyamalan.
This low budget ($9 million) film has been the number one film in the country for the past three weeks and has already grossed over $102 million in the U.S. alone. It is directed by two-time Oscar nominee M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) in his follow-up to 2015’s The Visit, and stars James McAvoy as well….several different personalities. You see, he has 24 personalities, from 9 year-old Hedwig to a fashion designer named Barry. For the sake of this review, we’ll refer to him as Kevin. Betty Buckley stars as Dr. Karen Fletcher who works with Kevin on his dissociative identity disorder.
We see Kevin kidnap three teenage girls – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen, Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy – as they are leaving a birthday party with one of the girl’s father. Kevin takes them to an undisclosed location. We see the girls interacting with several of Kevin’s personalities as they try to figure out how to escape, and over time we see them have some of their clothing removed.
Claire and Marcia are good friends, while Casey is the outsider, invited to the party only because everyone else in their class had been invited.  The film shows many flashbacks of Casey hunting with her father and creepy Uncle John (Brad William Henke).
This horror film is dark, and could have easily been rated “R” for violence. Other content issues include a small amount of adult language and the above mentioned removal of some of the girl’s clothes.
McAvoy was outstanding in his performance of the multiple personality Kevin, oftentimes switching from one personality to another in front of the camera at close range.
Filmgoers will be talking about something that happens at the end of the film that connects this film to one of Shyamalan’s earlier films and sets up his next one.


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My Review of Fences

fencesFences, rated PG-13
****

It took 360 days into 2016, but I finally saw my hands-down top movie of the year!

Fences is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by the late August Wilson who is also credited with the screenplay. The play won a Tony Award in 1987 with James Earl Jones and Mary Alice in the lead roles, and had a 2010 revival on Broadway, starring two-time Oscar winner (Glory, Training Day) Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson and two-time Oscar nominee (The Help, Doubt) Viola Davis as his wife Rose. Washington directs the film version, his third overall, and first since 2007’s The Great Debaters. The film has received two Golden Globe nominations – for Best Performance by an Actor (Washington) and Actress (Davis).  Joining Washington and Davis from the 2010 Broadway revival of the play are Stephen Henderson as Troy’s longtime friend and co-worker Bono, Russell Hornsby as Lyons, Troy’s musician son from a previous marriage who Troy considers a freeloader, and Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), as Troy’s brother Gabriel. Gabriel was badly injured in World War II. He has a metal plate in his head and walks throughout the neighborhood with his trumpet waiting to blow it for Saint Peter to open the gates of Heaven. In addition, Jovan Adepo stars as Troy’s youngest son Cory, who is a good high school football player being recruited by a university.

The film is set in Pittsburgh, and Washington does a good job showing us what a working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood in the 1950’s looked like. My wife loved the reminders of living in a tight-knit neighborhood where all the kids played outside together.  Much of the film takes place on Friday nights after work in the small backyard of the Maxson home where Troy and Bono enjoy some gin. Troy was a one-time Negro League baseball player who had once hoped for a major league career but now hauls garbage for the city.  Troy often goes off on monologues about injustices that have been done to him, often using baseball as a metaphor. He also touches on the importance of hard work, diligence and self-reliance.

The title of the film refers to the fence that Troy is building around the backyard, and that Cory and Bono occasionally help him with. Bono states that fences can both keep things out, and also keep things in.

**SPOILER ALERT**

Troy is a proud and bitter man. He is a good provider for his family (although later we find out it was Gabriel’s settlement payment for his injuries that paid for Troy’s home). He is also an ex-convict, who spent 15 years in the penitentiary for killing a man. Troy compares his father to the devil, never learned to read, has dialogues with death, and overall is very opinionated. Like all of us, his life is one of contradictions. He wants to be a good man, but makes some painfully bad decisions, reminding me of Paul, writing in Romans 7:15, when he states “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”   We see Troy reaping what he sows, and feeling the weight of the consequences of his decisions and actions.

Wife of eighteen years Rose is long-suffering. She is a person of faith and character, and we see her strength and wisdom throughout, especially the last part of the film.

Themes in the film include having and teaching a great work ethic, racism, secrets, lies, pride and guilt and the overall complex relationships Troy has with those around him.

The film features brilliant acting from Washington and Davis, the best I’ve seen this year. Both Washington and Davis should receive Oscar nominations for their roles here. They are joined by a strong supporting cast. I especially enjoyed Troy’s likeable friend and co-worker Bono played by Stephen Henderson who tries to warn him about things he is doing and tries to tell  him that the world is changing around him.

The film is rated “PG-13” for language (the “n-word” is used frequently) and adult themes.


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My Review of Sing

singSing, rated PG
***

This animated film with a budget of approximately $75 million is directed by Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet. It has been nominated for two Golden Globe awards (for Best Animated Motion Picture and also for Stevie Wonder’s song “Faith” for Best Original Song).

Buster Moon (Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyer’s Club), a koala bear, owns a once grand theatre that has fallen on hard times. He can’t pay the stage hands or the mortgage, and is constantly being hounded by the bank. To help generate interest in the theatre and hopefully keep it from closing, he decides to hold a singing competition (think of American Idol), which is questioned by his best friend sheep Eddie (Oscar nominee John C. Reilly). The plan is to offer a $1,000 prize to the winner. But his elderly one-eyed iguana assistant, and my favorite character, Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings) mistakenly lists the prize amount on fliers as $100,000, rather than $1,000. Needless to say, this prize amount generates a lot of interest.

We meet the contestants, all of whom have dreams, and like American Idol we hear their backstories. Finalists include Johnny the ape (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle), Rosito (Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line) a stay at home mom to 25 little piglets, Ash (Golden Globe nominee Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation) a teen punk-rock porcupine, Oscar nominee Seth MacFarlane plays Mike a shady white mouse and Meena (Tori Kelly) is a shy elephant. Throughout the film, you hear bits of more than 85 songs, ranging from the 1940’s to the present day. The film builds to an excellent finale.

I really enjoyed this film. The writing was sharp, and the animation, while not spectacular, was good. While the film will interest children and they will enjoy the animals, some of the backstories were a bit heavy. A theme in the film is to always pursue your dreams. The importance of support from family was another theme.

The film includes a small amount of bathroom humor and some mild sexually suggestive content, such as three female rabbits dancing to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, but overall is acceptable for all ages.


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My Review of Manchester by the Sea

manchester-by-the-seaManchester by the Sea, rated R
***

This film is written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Lonergan, and has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards. It stars Oscar nominee Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler. He is an angry and withdrawn loner living in a tiny basement apartment in Boston, where he works as a janitor and handyman. He is depressed, drinks too much and tends to get into fights with strangers in bars.

The film uses constant flashbacks to tell the story. We find out that he once led a content life with wife Randi (three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams) and three children. His entire family – father, brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and nephew lived in Manchester, Massachusetts on Cape Ann. Lee enjoyed spending time with his brother Joe and his son. But then something terrible happened, and it changed Lee and Randi forever. Joe supports Lee when it seems that nobody else does.  But then Joe, who suffers from congestive heart failure, dies as a result of a heart attack, and Lee’s life is shattered again.

Joe had a 16-year old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges from Moonrise Kingdom).  Patrick’s mother Elise (Gretchen Mol) is a drug addict, and hasn’t been a part of the family for some time. As a result, Joe’s wishes in his will are that his troubled brother would move back to Manchester to look after his son if anything should happen to him. This revelation adds shock to Lee’s grief over his brother’s death. Manchester is a hard place for him to return to.

Lee is ill-equipped to parent the popular and socially active Patrick, who plays in a rock band, is a member of a hockey team and has two girlfriends Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov, daughter of Mikhail) and Silvie (Kara Hayward who starred with Hedges in Moonrise Kingdom), neither of which know Patrick is seeing the other.  C.J. Wilson portrays Lee’s good friend George.

We see Lee and Patrick both dealing with the loss of a loved brother and father.  In many ways their relationship is more of an older and younger brother rather than an uncle and son. They argue often, and we see Lee make poor choices in being permissive with Patrick and his girlfriends. We see that Elise, Patrick’s mother has changed, as she is now engaged to Jeffrey (Matthew Broderick), a Christian. The scene with Mathew Broderick was one of the most awkward that you will see in a film.  Brilliantly acted!

We enter into the grief of Lee and Patrick as they try to move forward; Lee is forced to confront his demons. It is also a film about family, the ties that bind us to our hometown, and about forgiveness. The film also includes some humor, but overall it was emotionally exhausting.

The film is rated R for excessive adult language, including numerous abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, sexuality, violence and adult themes.  It included frequent use of the F-Bomb as a noun, verb, adjective, etc.   It features strong acting performances and makes good use of beautiful music and lovely scenery. Casey Affleck may win the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Lee.  Michelle Williams turns in a strong performance in a small role as Randi, and is worthy of a fourth Oscar nomination. In addition, Lucas Hedges is very good as Patrick.

My 3-star rating for the film is based on the strong acting performances. It won’t be a film for everyone. It is emotionally draining, has excessive adult language and some sexuality.


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My Review of the Movie MOANA

moanaMoana, rated PG
***

It is rare that I’ll see a film after it’s been in the theatres for a few weeks. Usually I’ll see a film its opening weekend; Moana is an exception. I really had no interest in seeing the film when it first came out, even after seeing the previews. However, due to word of mouth from family and friends, strong positive reviews from critics and viewers, and a lack of other good options, I decided to check out the film that has now topped the box office all three weeks since its release, with an accumulated total of more than $145 million in ticket sales.

This animated film from Disney is funny, visually stunning, features excellent animation, has catchy songs (from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as co-writers Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i), good writing, and overall positive messages. There are also a few concerns which I’ll address later.

The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Ron Clements and Oscar nominee John Musker, with co-directors being Oscar winner Don Hall and Oscar winner Chris Williams. The screenplay is by Jared Bush, who also wrote Zootopia, one of my favorite films of the year. The film had a budget of approximately $150 million.        

We first meet the young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the only daughter of Chief Tu (Temuera Morrison), as a toddler, living with her family on a peaceful Polynesian island about 2,000 years ago. (“Moana” is the Polynesian word for ocean or sea. It is also a common Polynesian word for the color blue.). As she hears stories being told by her Gramma Tala (Rachel House), Moana is immediately captivated, while we see other toddlers cry.

The film begins with “in the beginning”, but it’s not the “In the beginning” that we would know from Genesis 1. In this beginning the earth was all water until Te Fiti, a beautiful island rose up. At the heart of the island was a stone that was believed to give the ability to create life. However, one day a demigod name Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the stone. As he does so, Te Ka, a giant, evil lava monster (who could be scary for young viewers), confronts Maui and he loses the stone and his magical hook.  The hook allows him to transform himself into a large hawk, as well as other animals.

Even at a young age Moana feels called to the ocean though her father prohibits it; she is never to go beyond the reef. She later finds out more about her people’s background which explains why she’s so drawn to the sea. Her grandmother tells Moana, who is preparing to one day be the leader of her people, that unless someone can return the stone to the heart of Te Fiti, their island will be destroyed. We hear that the fishermen can no longer find fish around the island and we see diseased coconuts. Something must be done. Gramma tells Moana that the ocean has chosen Moana to be the one to save her people. So, Moana, along with a hilarious chicken, sets out beyond the reef to enlist the demigod Maui to save her people.

When Moana is shipwrecked on an island, it turns out to be the island where Maui is living. And he is very full of himself with tattoos covering his body that he talks to, and they respond back. (Although this is a computer animated film, Maui’s tattoos are actually hand-drawn animation). Maui thinks everyone should be grateful for and to him, for all he has done as a demigod. He evens signs an autograph for Moana on her oar. Although he initially refuses to go with Moana, and he certainly doesn’t want to face Te Ka again, he eventually reluctantly agrees.

Moana shows courage as she seeks to save her people and their island. As they begin their journey Maui several times tries to throw Moana into the ocean, only to have the ocean, which is a living character in this film, put her right back on the boat. On their way to the lava monster, they have to recover Maui’s magical hook from Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a crab living well under the ocean’s surface.

The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology. We hear of demigods, reincarnation and see Moana speaking to a spirit. The film is fun to watch and the songs are catchy. It will also give Christian parents an opportunity to compare this fictional story with the Biblical story of creation and the true savior.