Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

My Review of The Big Sick

The Big Sick, rated R
***

The Big Sick is a well-written and acted true life love story that has both serious and funny moments, but also has some significant content issues.
This film is written by Kumail Nanjiani (HBO’s Silicon Valley), who plays himself, and Emily V. Gordon (his real-life wife), and is the true story of their meeting and early relationship. It is directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris).
The film is set in Chicago. Kamail is Pakistan-born stand-up comedian. He is also working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. He lives with ***SPOILER ALERT***
Azmat and Sharmeen insist on arranging a marriage to a Pakistani girl for Kamail. Because of this, Kamail can’t tell his parents about the white woman that he is falling for. Eventually, the pressure gets to be too much for Kamail and he breaks up with Emily, breaking her heart. Then, Emily develops a rare lung infection and is hospitalized.
In the hospital Kamail meets Emily’s parents, Terry (Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond) and Beth (Holly Hunter, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for The Piano) for the first time. I enjoyed watching their interactions as they dealt with Emily’s illness.
*******************
The film features some strong acting performances by all of the main characters. Of special note was Ray Romano’s performance in a serious role.
The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, including repeated f-bombs and abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. Some of the language is sexual in nature. That alone will keep many from considering this film. In addition, there is sex depicted outside of marriage (nothing graphic shown).
On the other hand, there are many positive aspects to this film. There is a good deal of humor, as well as sadness, in the film. The film also includes positive messages about marriage, family, forgiveness and reconciliation.


Leave a comment

My Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming, rated PG-13
*** ½  

Spider-Man Homecoming is an action-packed, humor-filled Marvel film with a new Spider-Man that is enjoyable.
After two films in which Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, Silence) played Spider-Man, we were introduced to the high-school age Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Tony Stark/Iron Man, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder, Chaplin), had recruited him to help stop Captain America. This film picks up eight months after the action in that film.
Peter Parker is a 15-year old high school student from Queens. In addition to fighting minor crime in his neighborhood, he’s dealing with the usual high school issues. His best friend is the likeable Ned (Jacob Batalon), and he has a crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), a senior who is the captain of the High School Academic Decathlon. Peter lives with his Aunt May, played by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny), from whom he hides his after-school Spider-Man activities. He tells her, and others, that he has an internship for Stark Industries.
The young Parker is a somewhat awkward superhero in training, and wears a suit that his mentor and father-figure Tony Stark has designed for him. He is in the process of figuring out his powers. He waits for a call from Happy Hogan, (Jon Lavreau, Chef), who plays Stark’s assistant, to take on the type of criminals that the Avengers do battle with.
The villain in the film is Adrian Toomes, played by Oscar nominated Michael Keaton (Birdman). Toomes is a disgruntled city contractor, who decides to sell stolen alien weapons on the black market. As a villain, he goes by the name of Vulture, and wears a costume with large wings. Peter encounters him and tells Tony Stark about him and is told not to get involved with the Vulture, but to concentrate on smaller crimes in his neighborhood. In other words, he is to be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. But Peter doesn’t follow that direction.
The film is directed by Jon Watts, who also writes the film with five others (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers). The film has an estimated budget of $175 million budget.
I enjoyed the humor in the film and thought Holland was excellent as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Downey Jr. was good in a small role and Keaton was good as the film’s villain.
The film has less violence than the usual Marvel film as it focuses just as much on Parker’s high school life as it does on him as a super hero. There is also a twist in the film that I didn’t see coming. In addition, the film includes some good music, both original score and other songs.
Unfortunately, the film includes some adult language that is completely unnecessary, in addition to some abuses of God’s name. Scenes that took place at the Washington Monument and on the Staten Island Ferry were excellent. I also enjoyed Spider-Man getting to know all of the features of the suit that Stark had made for him.
And of course, being a Marvel film, don’t forget to sit all the way through the ending credits.


Leave a comment

My Review of Baby Driver

Baby Driver, rated R 
***

Baby Driver is a creative, high energy and exciting summer film that has some content issues.
This film, which takes its name from the catchy 1970 Simon and Garfunkel song and is set in Atlanta, is directed and written by Edgar Wright (Ant-Man). It features a strong cast, including Oscar winners Kevin Spacey (American Beauty and The Usual Suspects) and Jamie Foxx (Ray). This is one of the highest rated major films of the year with an impressive 97 rating from critics on RottenTomatoes.com.
Baby is played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our StarsDivergent). He was in a bad car accident as a child, in which his parents were killed. He now lives with his foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), who is deaf. The car accident left Baby with continuous ringing in his ears. He almost always is listening to music to drown out the tinnitus. In fact, how director Wright uses music is an important part of this film, synchronizing the action of the film with the music.
We are told that Baby had stolen one of Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) Mercedes. Doc is a mastermind thief. He is having Baby pay off his debt by serving as his getaway driver on his jobs. And make no mistake about it – Baby can drive, and we see plenty of his driving through the streets of Atlanta in the film.
Baby has one more job to work for Doc before his debt is paid off. He plans to end his work with Doc at that time. He meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James, Cinderella) and they plan to start a new life together, away from crime.
For Baby’s last job Doc hires an ex-con, Bats (Jamie Foxx), who doesn’t trust Baby. Bats joins married couple Buddy (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) as part of the team.
I enjoyed the first half (four stars) of the film better. It was more creative. We get to see Baby’s relationship with Joe, dancing to music, etc. The latter half (two stars) descended into more pedestrian car chases and gun fights.
As far as content issues, the film contains a significant amount of adult language, including the abuse of God’s name, and strong violence (gunfights and car chases). Those concerns may keep many from this well-acted and directed film.


Leave a comment

My Review of Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3, rated PG
** ½

Despicable Me 3 is a fast-paced, fun summer film that the family can enjoy.
The gang (Gru, Minions, Lucy, etc.) from the previous two Despicable Me films, which have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide, returns for a third film. This fast-paced film, which clocks in at just about 90 minutes, is co-directed by Pierre Coffin (who also voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, and co-written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.
In the previous film, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) had made a happy with their three daughters – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).  Agnes is obsessed with finding a real unicorn in this film. But now they are fired by the Anti-Villain League’s new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) when they fail to capture the new arch villain Balthazer Bratt (South Park co-creator Trey Parker), who is trying to steal the world’s largest diamond.
Bratt is physically hilarious, but became annoying. He is a former 1980’s child star who is still stuck in that era (clothing, hair style, music), obsessed with the character that he played in the ’80s.
Gru, who is facing an identity crisis, finds that he has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), who is successful and cheerful and quite different from Gru, including the fact that he has a head full of hair. We see a sibling rivalry between them at first and then they team together to go after Bratt. Dru tells Gru that he wants to be a criminal like his brother was. Their mother, voiced by Julie Andrews, appears in a short scene early in the film.
The Minions, who are just silly but I find to be funny, provide some excellent comic relief that pretty much doesn’t have anything to do with the plot of the film. They do leave Dru and go looking for another villain to serve.
Pharrell Williams (“Happy”), contributes new songs for the film. They are blended with songs from the 80’s by artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.
I enjoyed this film and found it to be a lot of fun. I would say that it is family friendly, with some good messages about the importance of family, but we did not hear much laughing from the children in the theatre.


Leave a comment

My Review of the Movie MEGAN LEAVEY

Megan Leavey, rated PG-13
** ½

This film tells the true story of two war heroes: a young marine corporal and her military combat dog.
It is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) and written by Oscar nominee Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids), Pamela Gray and Tim Lovestedt. When we first meet Megan Leavey (Kate Mara, House of Cards, Captive) she is without purpose. Living at her Mom’s home, she sleeps in late, drinks a lot, and has a contentious relationship with her mother Jackie (Edie Falco, The Sopranos), and her boyfriend Jim (Will Patton). Jackie had an affair with Megan’s father Bob’s (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) best friend, which broke up their marriage. We also hear of Megan’s best friend who died of an overdose when she and Megan drank and took drugs, which may have contributed significantly to Megan’s lack of purpose.   
After Megan is fired from a job in 2001, she decides on a whim to enroll in the Marines. Soon, she is off to Boot Camp. After getting drunk one night with two other female recruits, she is disciplined by being assigned to clean up the K-9 Unit cages.  It is there she first encounters Rex, a ferocious German Shepherd.  As she watches the handlers working with their dogs she decides she would like to be assigned that work and expresses that to her commanding officer Gunny Martin (Oscar winner Common, Selma). When Rex bites his handler, breaking multiple bones in his hand, Megan gets her chance. Andrew Dean (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), is her K-9 trainer. We see Megan and Rex slowly begin to bond, and Megan finding purpose.
Megan is told that female dog handlers aren’t usually sent into combat situations, but she is soon sent to Iraq and into danger with Rex to sniff out and identify bombs, eventually serving together on more than 100 missions. Megan develops a relationship with a fellow dog handler, the likeable Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez). Matt makes it clear that he desires the relationship to become more than a friendship.
We see intense battle scenes in Iraq and Megan and Rex being injured.  As she returns from the war and ends her time in the Marines we see her struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though she is hailed as a war hero, we see her life going back to the way it was before she enrolled in the Marines, without purpose. Although it appears she has a good relationship with her father, the only one that she truly connects to is Rex. And she misses him badly.
The film contains a significant amount of adult language and God’s and Jesus’ names are abused several times. It contains some intense war violence and an implied sexual relationship, though nothing is seen.
Although Megan’ and Rex’s true story is an inspiring one, even as a dog lover I didn’t feel that the film measured up to their story. I believe I’m in the minority here as the film is receiving strong reviews from critics and viewers; that’s the reason I went to see it. The film moves along slowly and felt just a step above a paint by the numbers Hallmark movie to me and my wife.
Mara is good in her role, but Megan is not a very likeable character, who finds it hard to connect with anyone other than Rex. The supporting cast is solid, but there is little tension in the film except the conclusion which I’m not sharing here, as to not spoil it for you.  It’s definitely a renter.


Leave a comment

My Review of The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife, rated PG-13
** ½

The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the amazing true story of a Polish couples’ courage and self-sacrifice during World War II.
This film was written by Angela Workman and based on Diane Ackerman’s 2007 bestselling book, The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, which itself was inspired by the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska. The film is directed by Niki Caro (McFarland, USA, Whale Rider).
The film takes place in Warsaw, Poland (though the film was actually shot in Prague), beginning in 1939. It covers seven years in the lives of Antonina Zabinski, portrayed by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (trying her best to use a Polish accent), her husband Jan, played by Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown), and their young son Ryszard. We see that they care deeply for the animals in the zoo that they own and run. In addition, Jan is involved in the Polish Underground and the Home Army.
German bombs are falling on Warsaw and the Warsaw Zoo while German troops occupy the city. We see the violence of war with people and animals dying. When the zoo is bombed, the surviving animals are seen wandering about the city. Jewish people are taken and held in an area that is known as the Warsaw Ghetto. The Zabinski’s see what is going on and decide to provide shelter to Antonina’s best friend Magda Gross, played by Efrat Dor.
Lutz Heck, played by Golden Globe nominee Daniel Brühl (Rush), is a former colleague and the head of the Berlin Zoo, but who is now an SS officer and Hitler’s leading zoologist. After the bombings, he offers to transport the most prized animals to Berlin for safekeeping. The Zabinskis approach Heck with a plan to turn the zoo grounds into a pig farm that would serve to provide food for the German army.  In reality, however, they have a plan to save as many Jews as possible and by doing so put their own lives constantly in danger.
The film’s focus is on Antonina, though it can be argued that Jan took the greater risks in this story of resistance against the Nazis. The film includes powerful themes of self-sacrifice, courage, fear and love. It also will challenge the viewer with moral dilemmas.
The film is rated PG-13 for war violence, scenes of sexual assault and sexuality, and surprisingly contains some brief gratuitous nudity. The film’s costumes, sets, and musical score all add to the film’s realism and tension. The acting performances, particularly by Chastain, Brühl and Heldenbergh are solid.
Although I can’t put my finger on it, this film is missing something. It moves along slowly, and despite the danger all around her, we don’t see Antonina feeling the fear that she had to be feeling.  Overall this is a great story that the film doesn’t quite measure up to.


3 Comments

My Review of The Boss Baby

The Boss Baby, rated PG
** ½

The Boss Baby offers some humor and ultimately a good message about the importance of family that will appeal to both children and adults.
This animated comedy from DreamWorks is directed by Tom McGrath (Madagascar films), written by Michael McCullers (Austin Powers sequels, Mr. Peabody and Sherman) and is based on Marla Frazee’s 2010 children’s book. As the film opens, we see babies proceeding along a conveyer belt. Ultimately, a “tickle test” will determine whether they will go be delivered to a family or to positions in “management” with Baby Corp. Baby Corp is a competitor of Puppy Co. for the affections of families.
The Boss Baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) wears a suit, carries a briefcase and is delivered to the happy home of seven year old Tim (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi), his Dad (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel) and Mom (voiced by Lisa Kudrow). Tobey Maguire narrates the film as the older Tim.  Dad and Mom both work for Puppy Co.  Prior to the arrival of the Boss Baby, Tim was a happy seven year old with an active imagination, who loved to play with his parents. He was awakened every morning at 7:00 am by his Lord of the Rings wizard-inspired alarm clock. He had all of his parent’s attention and affection. Each night as he went to bed, he got hugs, stories read and was sung to sleep by his parents singing the Beatles classic 1968 song “Blackbird”. All that changes when his new baby brother shows up via a taxi cab. The Boss Baby immediately commands all of Dad and Mom’s attention and energy, much to the chagrin of Tim. Tim goes from receiving all of his parent’s attention to almost none of it.
But Tim is suspicious of the Boss Baby. Soon he finds out that the Boss Baby is not an ordinary baby. No, he can actually talk, and is on an undercover mission for Baby Corp, leading other babies in the effort. Tim seeks to expose him to his parents, so his life can go back to the way it was before the Boss Baby showed up. He eventually agrees to work with the Baby Boss to work against the Puppy Co. CEO (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and their anti-baby plot (they are developing a lovable new kind of puppy that will cut into the amount of family love available to babies). The Boss Baby agrees to leave the home after his mission is accomplished.
The film is mostly family friendly, with a bit of language, a good deal of “toilet humor” and several shots of baby bottoms, all played for humor. Adults may get some of the jokes that children will miss, such as the Boss Baby’s line, “Cookies are for closers”, which is a parody of Alec Baldwin’s famous line from Glengarry Glen Ross, “Coffee is for closers!”
Overall the film was better than I expected. It delivers a strong pro-family message and delivers some funny moments. In addition, the computer animation lives up to the high standards that we expect from DreamWorks.