Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

The Peanut Butter Falcon, rated PG-13
***

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a well-acted and heartwarming film, though it is somewhat marred by adult language. The film is co-directed and co-written by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.
Zac, played by Zack Gottsagen, is 22 years old and has Down Syndrome. He lives in a retirement home since his family abandoned him. He has never had any friends, and would like friends that he could call family. Zac repeatedly watches old wrestling videos from Salt Water Redneck, played by Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), and wants to attend the wrestler’s school advertised in the video. As a result, Zac repeatedly tries to escape forcing Eleanor, a compassionate worker who works at the facility, played by Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Gray), to label him as a flight risk. Continue reading

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My Review of BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

Blinded by the Light, rated PG-13
***

Blinded by the Light is an entertaining, emotional and heartwarming drama/comedy/musical, inspired by the life of British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of Bruce Springsteen’s music. It is based on Manzoor’s book Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll. Manzoor, who has seen Springsteen in concert more than 150 times, co-wrote the script with director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), and Paul Mayeda Berges (Bend It Like Beckham). The film’s title is from a Springsteen song that was included on his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., which Manfred Mann’s Earth Band took to number one in the U.S. in 1977.
The film is set in the town of Luton, north of London in 1987. Manzoor’s character in the film is Javed, well-played by Viveik Kalra. Javed is a 16-year-old Muslim whose parents came from Pakistan. We see Javed and his family experiencing racism. Luton is facing a tough economy and job losses. Javed spends his day writing in his diary – poetry, and lyrics for his best friend’s band – and wants a career as a writer, and to get out of Luton and away from his strict and controlling father Malik, played by Kulvinder Ghir (Bend It Like Beckham). Javed’s father works at an auto plant, before losing his job, and wants Javed to focus on his studies and to be a lawyer or accountant. He tells him to stay away from girls because he will find Javed a wife when the time comes.
Things change for Javed when his classmate Roops, a Sikh from Pakistan, played by Aaron Phagura, gives him two Bruce Springsteen cassettes (Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born in the U.S.A.) and tells him to guard them with his life.  He tells him that he can thank him later. We can see the light come on for Javed at listening to his first Springsteen songs, “Dancing in the Dark” and “The Promised Land”, perhaps ourselves remembering the first time we heard a song from “The Boss”. The latter song comes up several times throughout the film.  Springsteen’s lyrics, which are creatively projected visually, give Javed the inspiration he needs to follow his dreams. Soon, Javed even begins to dress like Springsteen.
Kalra is excellent as Javed, and the film also features a solid supporting cast. Eliza, played by Nell Williams, is Javed’s likeable politically active love interest. Golden Globe nominee Hayley Atwell (The Pillars of the Earth, Captain America), plays Ms. Clay, Javed’s junior college creative writing teacher and mentor who encourages him to follow his dream as a writer. Screen Actor Guild nominee Deen Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones), plays Javed’s best friend Matt, a member of a punk rock band. Javed’s mother Noor, is a hard-working seamstress, played by Meera Ganatra.
The film does a good job capturing hairstyles and clothing from the late 1980’s. Seventeen Springsteen songs are included in the film, including the previously unreleased “I’ll Stand By You Always”, which plays over the ending credits. Some of the songs are played out in entertaining big dance numbers, Bollywood style.
Unfortunately, the film goes out of its way to connect racism with Margaret Thatcher, not unlike Spike Lee when he tried to connect David Duke with President Trump in BlacKkKlansman.
Themes in the film include following your dreams, hard work, a tense father/son relationship, politics, and racism. Content concerns include a small amount of adult language and racist violence.
Blinded by the Light is an entertaining film that has both serious and light-hearted moments, and is based on the story of a British journalist who was inspired to follow his dreams as a writer after hearing the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. I enjoyed the film which had an excellent message at the end, but was marred by trying to connect the racism against the Pakistanis with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.


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My Review of THE LION KING

The Lion King, rated PG
** ½

The Lion King is a remake of the popular 1994 animated film, which is also a successful stage musical. The film, being referred to as “live action”, is entertaining and the computer-generated imagery (GGI) is incredible. However, the film comes across as a bit flat, without emotion or as much of the humor of the original. In addition, there are scenes that are dark and violent that will be scary for young children.
The film was directed by Emmy nominee Jon Favreau (Dinner for Five, The Jungle Book, Iron Man, Chef). The screenplay was written by Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can). The film had a budget of approximately $250 million, and had an opening weekend gross in the U.S. of $191 million.
This film basically follows the storyline of the original film. Simba is the King’s son and future king of Pride Rock. JD McCrary voices the young Simba, and Golden Globe winner Donald Glover (Atlanta), the older Simba. Simba wants to grow up too quickly, and as a result, doesn’t always do what his father Mufasa, voiced by Oscar nominee James Earl Jones (The Great White Hope), wants him to do, which inevitably gets him into trouble. Nala, voiced by Beyoncé, is Simba’s best friend.
Scar, voiced by Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), is the King’s jealous brother, who wants to be King. We see him mislead Simba on a few occasions because has a plan to make himself the tribe’s leader, which calls for collaborating with a pack of hyenas.
I enjoyed the film, but there was just something missing from making it a truly special film. For one, there was not as much humor in this version as there was in the original. The exception was Timon, voiced by two-time Emmy nominee Billy Eichner (Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street) and Pumbaa, voiced by Emmy nominee Seth Rogan (Da Ali G Show). The music, even the songs you loved from the original film, seemed to fall flat. And perhaps most of all, the film seemed to lack in emotion.
The musical score is by Hans Zimmer, ten-time Oscar nominee and winner for The Lion King, with songs by Elton John, Tim Rice and some new music as well.
Content concerns in the film include dark and violent scenes that will be too scary for young children. Themes include the relationship between a father and a son, sacrificing for others, deception, and guilt.
The Lion King is a beautiful and entertaining film, but falls short of being truly special. The CGI is incredible, as is the cinematography by six-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel (The Natural, The Passion of the Christ), and the film is probably worth seeing just for those reasons.


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My Review of SPIDER-MAN:  FAR FROM HOME

Spider-Man: Far from Home, rated PG-13
*** ½

Spider-Man: Far from Home is an entertaining sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film includes comedy, romance and some of the usual Marvel action/violence, along with some relatively light adult language.
The film is directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming), and written by Emmy nominee Chris McKenna (Community, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and Emmy nominee Erik Sommers (American Dad!, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). The film had a budget of approximately $160 million.
The film picks up after the end of Avengers: Endgame. Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) is mourning the loss of his mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man who died at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Peter’s aunt May, played by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) hosts a benefit for the those returning from “the Blip”, Thanos’ finger snap of destruction that eliminated half of the population. They have returned five years later, just as they were, but everyone else has aged five years.
Peter is hoping to just be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man by night, and a normal high school student in Queens by day along with his best friend Ned, played by Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers). Peter is excited about a trip with his science class to Europe, where he plans to tell M.J., played by Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Greatest Showman) his feelings for her. Peter doesn’t even pack his Spider-Man suit for the trip. Continue reading


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My Review of YESTERDAY

Yesterday, rated PG-13
***

Yesterday is an entertaining summer romantic comedy, but it does include some content issues. The film is directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and the screenplay is written by Oscar nominee Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and Funeral, Love Actually).
Jack, played by British actor Himesh Patel in his feature film debut, a former teacher, is a struggling musician when he’s not stocking shelves in a retail store.  He usually plays to very small audiences, and has just played his last concert, a disaster, in Suffolk, and is ready to give up on his career short of a miracle.  His manager when she’s not a high school teacher, longtime friend, roadie, and only fan is Ellie, played by Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella, Mama Mia! Here We Go Again), tells him that miracles can happen.
On his way home that night, there is a 12 second worldwide blackout. During the global blackout, Jack on his bike is hit by a bus. He is injured and wakes up in the hospital, with his face bruised and cut and his two front teeth missing. Ellie tells him that the accident is a message from God.
When Jack plays the Beatles song “Yesterday” to Ellie and a few of their friends after he gets out of the hospital, they have never heard it before, and are amazed that Jack wrote it. Jack insists that it was written by the Beatles. Jack soon realizes that since the blackout nobody has any recollection of the Beatles (or Coke, Harry Potter or cigarettes for that matter). We see him search the internet and find no reference to the band, or John, Paul, George or Ringo. He decides to take advantage of this, and he fills his bedroom walls with Post-It notes of every Beatles song that he can remember, and frantically tries to remember as many lyrics as possible. Then, he begins to play the Beatles’ songs, taking credit for writing them. Continue reading


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My Review of TOY STORY 4

Toy Story 4, rated G
****

Nine years after the excellent Toy Story 3, the much-loved Toy Story series gets possibly its final chapter in this pleasing and heartfelt film, which is one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. I recommend the film for all ages, with the exception of very young children who could be frightened at times.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Josh Cooley (Inside Out) in his directorial debut. The screenplay is written by two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), and Stephany Folsom. There are many credits for the original story, including Oscar winner John Lasseter (Toy Story), in his last project with Pixar. The film had a budget of approximately $200 million.
The film opens 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep, voiced by Golden Globe nominee Annie Potts (Corvette Summer) became separated from the other toys. We then see Andy, voiced by John Morris, giving the rest of the toys to Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw. Woody, voiced by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) is dealing with the fact that he is no longer the top toy, as we see Bonnie playing more with the other toys. When Bonnie has her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to look after her. At school, we see Bonnie, with Woody’s help, create Forky, voiced by two-time Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep). Forky is made out of a spork, with popsicle stick feet, pipe cleaner arms. He feels that he is trash and thus belongs in a trash can. Fortunately, Woody, looking for purpose, continually rescues him from the trash.
We then see Bonnie and her family leave in an RV for a one-week vacation between the orientation and the start of kindergarten. Again, Woody has to rescue Forky, who jumps out of the RV. As they walk along the road, Woody tells Forky about the responsibility and loyalty of toys to their owners, and that each toy has a purpose.
While they try to catch up with Bonnie and her parents, Woody and Forky pass an antique shop, and Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp inside the window of the shop. They enter into the shop and encounter some ventriloquist dolls that will be frightening for young children. They also encounter Gabby Gabby, voiced by six-time Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), resulting in Forky being captured. As Woody goes to get help, he runs into Bo Peep at an amusement park. Later, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Emmy winner Tim Allen (Home Improvement), leaves the RV to go search for Woody.
Will Buzz be able to find Woody? Will Forky be rescued? What about Bo Peep? Continue reading


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My Review of THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM

The Biggest Little Farm, rated PG
****

The Biggest Little Farm is a delightful documentary from John Chester about his wife Molly’s dream to own and operate an environmentally friendly, traditional farm. Back in 2010, the Chesters lived in a small apartment in Santa Monica, California. John was a cameraman, working on documentary films, and Molly was a chef and organic food blogger. Molly had long dreamed of living on a farm and cooking what they grew on the farm. The Chesters adopted a rescue dog (Todd), but he barked all day long, resulting in complaints from neighbors, and eventually the Chesters being evicted from their apartment.
This was their opportunity to leave the urban life and buy a farm, but they had no money. They shared their vision with others, and eventually got investors, though the film does not tell us who they were or how much they funded the effort. It was enough for the Chesters to purchase and develop Apricot Lane Farms, a 200-acre farm, located in Moorpark, California, about an hour from Los Angeles.
What they found when they started to develop the farm however was that the soil was lacking in nutrients, and not conducive to building a thriving farm. They decided to hire an expert in this area, the rather eccentric, but likeable, Alan York. York told them that they needed to bring life back into the soil, with worms, cover crops, compost, etc. Then they needed to diversify what they planted on the farm, and they did, eventually ending up with about 10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different crops. The Chesters did not have any farming experience, but hired two men, one who had worked on the farm through five owners. In addition, many came to the farm to help from around the world in response to Molly’s internet pleas. Unfortunately, York, their mentor, died from cancer about halfway through their journey.
The film takes us year by year over eight years with the Chesters and the farm. We eventually see the land transformed from the dry barren farm we see in the beginning to a lush green thriving sustainable farm. In addition to Todd, we see many animals – chickens, Emma the pig and her best friend Mr. Greasy the rooster, sheep, sheep dogs, owls, etc. added to the farm, along with some unwanted animals – coyotes, snakes, starlings, gophers, etc. Interestingly, many of those animals that they believed to be hurting them, actually ended up helping them. We also see how the land is refreshed through death. Life (we see newborn piglets and sheep), coming through death is a theme in the film. Other themes are pursuing your dreams and hard work. Content concerns are minimal. We do see a number of dead animals, primarily chickens, as a result of disease and the coyotes.
We also see the Chesters deal with drought, California winds, wildfires and an 18-inch rain that washed away much of the good soil from their neighbors, but not theirs, due to their cover crops. The Chesters started out wanting to bring harmony to their lives and be in harmony with nature, and ended up in what they refer to is a comfortable disharmony with nature.
Today, Apricot Lane Farms is a successful business, supplying produce to some of Los Angeles’ finest restaurants. Their eggs sell out as soon as they are put on sale.
The documentary is beautifully filmed. For example, I enjoyed seeing close up slow-motion scenes of hummingbirds. It also includes some helpful animated sequences. The film, which includes some humor, is directed and narrated by Emmy winner John Chester (Super Soul Shorts), who wrote the film with Mark Monroe.
The Biggest Little Farm is a beautifully filmed documentary about John and Molly Chester’s environmentally friendly farm in California, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year.