Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of WIND RIVER

Wind River, rated R
** ½

Wind River is a well written, directed and acted murder mystery, but due to the subject matter and content issues, it is not necessarily one you will want to see.
This film, based on actual events involving the Wind River Indian Reservation, was written and directed by Oscar nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water). The movie was filmed on location in Park City, Utah over 40 days in blizzard conditions. The Wind River Indian Reservation, located in Wyoming, is the seventh-largest Indian reservation in the United States, and larger geographically than the state of Rhode Island.
Cory Lambert, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Town, Hurt Locker), is an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is known for his expertise as a hunter and tracker. On one of his hunting expeditions, Lambert comes across the frozen corpse of a young woman. Lambert knows who the girl is, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Natalie was the best friend of Cory’s own daughter, Emily, who was murdered three years earlier. That tragedy ended his marriage to Wilma (Julia Jones), with whom he shares a son, Casey (Teo Briones). Some reports show that up to 80 percent of marriages end in divorce when there is the death of a child.
Cory contacts Ben, the Tribal Police Chief, played by Oscar nominee Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves). Since a murder is involved, the FBI is called in. New FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson, Captain America: Civil War,
Avengers: Age of Ultron
), is called in from Las Vegas. She is not equipped for the blizzard conditions, which are well depicted by cinematographer Ben Richardson, and asks Cory to partner with her on the case.
Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water) portrays Martin, Natalie’s grief-stricken father. The film includes some powerful scenes between Cory and Martin, two fathers who have tragically lost teenage daughters who were themselves best friends. Cory wants justice for Martin and his wife, and in a way, for himself as well. He and Jane relentlessly pursue leads in an attempt to solve the murder.
The film contains a significant amount of adult language, include the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. In addition, the film includes a lot of violence, including a brutal rape scene. Read this article about why Christians should avoid watching rape scenes.  The film is difficult to watch as it depicts the overwhelming hopelessness at Wind River – poverty, crime, alcohol and drug abuse and a significant amount of violence.
Again, based on a true story, Wind River is a well-made film with a strong cast. However, the subject matter and content issues may make this film one you will want to stay away from.    We went to go see it because it was getting outstanding reviews from both critics and viewers alike – not sure why it received such glowing reviews.  The movie was paced to move very slowly and the characters didn’t draw you in.

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My Review of ALL SAINTS

All Saints, rated PG
***

All Saints is one of the best faith-based films I’ve seen. Based on a true story, it is an inspirational film that is well-directed, written and acted.
The film is directed by Steve Gomer and written by Steve Armour. It tells the story of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, located near Nashville. As a bonus, the movie is filmed at the actual All Saints Church and includes several actual church members portraying themselves.
Golden Globe nominee John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City) turns in a strong performance as the likeable Michael Spurlock. He is a former paper salesman, who is a newly ordained pastor. His first assignment is to shut down All Saints Church, which now has just a few members and a large mortgage. The contents and land will bring a lot of money to the diocese when sold to a big box store.
Gregory Alan Williams stars as Pastor Spurlock’s kind but firm supervisor Bishop Eldon Thompson. He tells him to just do his job of closing down the church and he and his family – wife Aimee (Cara Buono, Stranger Things) and son Atticus (Myles Moore) – can move on to their next assignment in a few months.
Pastor Spurlock is not exactly greeted with open arms by the few remaining church members, particularly cranky Vietnam war veteran Forrest (Barry Corbin, Northern Exposure), who has recently lost his wife. They know why he is there, the inevitable closing down and sale of their church.  In the meantime, Aimee decides to start a choir at the church.
A week before it is to be demolished, several Karen State refugees from war-torn Myanmar (formerly Burma) arrive at the church. Led by Ye Win (Nelson Lee), one of the few who speaks English, the refugees are Anglican believers and farmers.  Pastor Spurlock’s heart goes out to them, but the church is broke and can’t really help them. But one night he believes that God speaks to him about letting the refugees farm the land around the church. The crops would feed the refugees, support them financially and pay the church mortgage. Spurlock will have to convince Bishop Thompson and the church council, who have been counting on the proceeds from the sale of the church property. But is this really God’s will, or the former salesman’s? And if they were to go for it, just how will they do it? The church is strapped financially, and doesn’t have any equipment to plant, plow and water the fields.
John Corbett is excellent in the role of Pastor Spurlock. It was refreshing that he was not portrayed as the perfect man or pastor.  He has good chemistry with fellow Northern Exposure cast member Barry Corbin and Nelson Lee, the self-sacrificing leader of the refugees.
This is the rare faith-based film that is well-made – directing, writing and acting –  that it is based on a true story makes it all the better. It is a story of self-sacrifice, building community and loving your neighbor.  Highly recommended!


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MY REVIEW OF The Glass Castle 

The Glass Castle, rated PG-13
*** 

The Glass Castle is a well-acted film based on a popular book that tells the story of a daughter’s life-long relationship with her troubled father.
This film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), who also writes the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, and is based on Jeannette Walls’ best-selling 2005 book The Glass Castle: A Memoir. Told from Jeannette’s perspective, this is the true story about her family on the run from the government and bill collectors, and often hiding in small towns and living in poverty.  The book has had a profound impact on readers, with in excess of 6,000 user reviews on Amazon, and as I write this, it is the sixth best-selling book on the Amazon Non-Fiction chart. I recently heard of someone who re-read the book twice in one day before seeing the film.  As I went into the movie, I wondered why a book and film about family dysfunction had resonated so much with people.
The film stars Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) as the adult Jeannette Walls.  Younger versions of Jeannette are portrayed by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. Jeannette’s siblings are portrayed by Lori (Sara Snook), Brian (Josh Caras) and Maureen (Bridgette Lundy-Paine). Two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson powerfully portrays Jeannette’s alcoholic father Rex, and two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts stars as Jeannette’s mother Rose Mary. The film’s title refers to the dream house that Rex was always promising to build for his family, with hopes for a better life.   
The film is told from Jeannette’s perspective, and focuses on her relationship with her father. As the film begins, we see her as a successful New York gossip columnist who is engaged to David (Max Greenfield), a successful financial advisor. The film moves back and forth between her childhood memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and her life in New York in 1989. We see her shame and resentment for how she was raised. Much of the blame is given to her father, but her mother was no innocent party to the dysfunction.    Everyone in the film seems to be wounded and broken.
Rex has strong opinions on racism, hypocrisy, capitalism, etc. We see how his alcoholism hurts his children. Rose Mary is a free-spirit, who is consumed with her painting. Rex and Rose Mary care deeply about independence and freedom, and are not very good parents, though in their own way they do love their children. Some pleasant times are depicted. However, they don’t provide the children a formal education, at times the children go days without food, and perhaps their biggest sin is exposing their children to Rex’s mother, their horrid grandmother Erma, played Robin Bartlett.
Harrelson delivers a powerful performance as Rex. He is depicted at times as brilliant, and other times as delusional, deceptive and mean, breaking his promises to his children, in particular Jeannette. He is always searching for the demon out there, but too late realizes that the demon is actually within himself.  Larson is outstanding as the older Jeannette, who as an adult is trying to distance herself from her parents and her upbringing, making a new life in New York City.  Anderson delivers a powerful performance as the young Jeannette, who loves her father, but is disappointed when he can’t overcome his alcoholism and the devastating impact it has on their family.
This is a well-acted film, but not an easy one to watch. If you are looking for a “feel good” film, this is not the one for you. Themes in the film include love, family dysfunction, sexual and other forms of abuse, alcoholism and broken promises. The film includes some violence, adult language, some swear words, abuses of God’s name, and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown. The film may resonate with those who have also experienced dysfunctional family relationships, in particular women with their fathers, and is a story of children able to “rise above their raising”.


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My Review of LOGAN LUCKY 

Logan Lucky, rated PG-13
**

Logan Lucky is an off-beat heist comedy that is slow and has too few memorable moments.
This film is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) who also directed the Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen films. The writing is credited to Rebecca Blunt, who is actually suspected to be Soderbergh’s wife Julie Asner, who is from West Virginia, a location central to this story, as is a certain John Denver song.
The film is about the Logan family from West Virginia – brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike, Foxcatcher), and Clyde (Adam Driver, Star Wars, Silence, Paterson) as well as their sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough, the eldest grandchild of Elvis Presley). The family is known for their bad luck, and some feel that they are cursed. Jimmy was a football star and homecoming king in high school, but a leg injury changed that. Now he walks with a limp and is divorced with a young daughter; Clyde lost his arm in the war in Iraq. He has a prosthetic hand and wrist, and now tends bar where Jimmy is a regular.
Jimmy works a construction job beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. The speedway has a sinkhole problem and he is part of a team of ex-coal miners brought in to fix it. He needs the job to pay alimony to his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and provide child support for his daughter Sadie (Farrah MacKenzie). Sadie is preparing for a Little Miss West Virginia beauty pageant, and Jimmy has promised her that he will be there for her pageant.
But when management sees Jimmy limping, they fire him because he didn’t disclose the injury on his employment application. Jimmy then comes up with a plan to change the family’s luck. He and Clyde used to pull small heist jobs years ago. From his work at the speedway, Jimmy has knowledge of a series of underground tubes that run from the speedway’s concession stands to a central bank vault. He sets up a plan to rob the speedway. But he and Clyde need the help of safe cracker and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, James Bond) and Joe’s two brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid). But there’s just one small problem: Joe is in prison.
Adam Driver and Channing Tatum are effective in their roles as the Logan brothers, and have good chemistry. Daniel Craig was excellent playing the blue-collar criminal Joe Bang.  Other notables in small roles include Dwight Yoakum as the incompetent prison warden Burns, two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as FBI Special Agent Sarah Grayson, Seth MacFarlane (Ted) as Max Chilblain and Katherine Waterston as Sylvia Harrison, who knew Jimmy from high school.
The film pokes fun of the hillbilly culture of West Virginia. But we didn’t find the film very funny, and didn’t hear many “laugh out louds” in the theatre. There were some parts of the film – particularly the carrying out of Jimmy’s plan – that were creative, featuring excellent writing. But those parts were a relatively small part of the film, and for the most part, the film dragged.
The film included some adult language and abuse of God’s name. The product placements in this movie were as prevalent and prolific as a NASCAR driver’s uniform.   A positive aspect of the film was the positive relationship Jimmy had with daughter Sadie.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPzvKH8AVf0 


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MY REVIEW OF The War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes, rated PG-13
***

Final Film in the “Caesar Trilogy” Raises Questions about the Message.

**SPOILER WARNING!**

In the final film in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy, “The Colonel”, played by two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson, raids the camp of the apes. During the raid, the wife and eldest son of Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), the leader of the apes, is killed. This leads Caesar, to seek revenge.  The movie follows Caesar, and a few of those closest to him, as they start on a long journey that will lead them to the human camp and the Colonel’s highly trained soldiers. Along the way they meet Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the lone survivor from a zoo, and a young mute girl, who they name Nova (Amiah Miller).
As David Sims states in his review of the film in The Atlantic, “In Dawn, the story’s darkness made more sense because there were heroes and villains on both sides of the human-ape divide; in War, we’re just watching the final death throes of our own species.” The Colonel (and the humans in general) are portrayed as the villains in this film, while the apes are insistently shown to be the ones with compassion. We see the Colonel using apes, they call donkeys, as slave labor to build a defensive wall in the camp. The group that the Colonel leads is Alpha and Omega, which according to the writer, is a reference to the bomb the mutants worshiped in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. (Jesus Christ also referred to Himself as The Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end.)  The Colonel wraps himself in a perverse distortion of both nationalist and religious symbolism.  We also see graffiti reading “APE-OCALYPSE NOW”, pointing out the similarities of the Colonel to Marlon Brando’s character Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.  
The film is directed by Matt Reeves, who also directed 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The film is written by Reeves with Mark Bomback and had a budget of approximately $150 million. Since its release, the film has already made in excess of $133 million in the U.S. alone. The CGI (computer generated imagery) used in the film is amazing. Kudos also go to cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and composer Michael Giacchino for the film’s soundtrack.
Steve Zahn is a welcome newcomer and provides some comedic relief as the likeable Bad Ape. Terry Notary returns as Rocket, a chimp who is now one of Caesar’s most trusted followers. Karin Konoval also returns as Maurice, an orangutan that is another of Caesar’s most faithful advisors.
The film contains a lot of references to the Bible. What they are intended to mean is another question for discerning viewers. For example, Caesar is the ape “savior”, and there are points in the film when there are clear comparisons of him with Jesus. Caesar frees the apes from being slaves, is flogged and hangs on a cross.  He guides the apes to a new “promised land” but dies before entering it, which certainly brings to mind Moses. The Colonel says that he sacrificed his son to save humankind. He wears a crucifix and there is one displayed in his office. We see him make a Catholic sign of the cross over his men in a ‘blessing’. Are the filmmakers mocking Christianity?
Andy Serkies is amazing as Caesar, who has clearly aged by the time we get to this film.  There is some talk of him receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the conflicted (revenge or mercy?) leader of the apes.
Themes in the film include war, hatred, family, self-sacrifice, bravery, revenge and mercy.  It is worth seeing for amazing CGI, great acting and cinematography; just be mindful of the worldview presented.
The film definitely went too long and moved along very slowly. It could have definitely been shortened 45 minutes from its 140- minute running time.


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My Review of Going in Style

Going in Style
**

New on video, Going in Style is a disappointing waste of talent that also has some content issues.
This film is a remake of a 1979 film that was directed by Martin Brest and starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. That film was about three elderly friends who decided to rob a bank because they were bored. The new film is directed by three-time Golden Globe nominee (Scrubs) Zach Braff and the screenplay is written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), based on the original story written by Edward Cannon.
The film stars two-time Oscar winner (Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules), Michael Caine, (who most recently starred as an uncredited air radio communicator in Dunkirk) as Joe, Oscar winner (Little Miss Sunshine) Alan Arkin as Al, and Oscar winner (Million Dollar Baby) Morgan Freeman as Willie. Joe has taken his daughter and granddaughter into his home. Al and Willie live across the street. Willie will soon need a kidney transplant and Al supplements his income by giving music lessons.
The three friends worked at Wechsler Steel Company, and are barely making ends meet with their social security and pension checks. They enjoy spending time together, watching television and spending time with friends at the Hudson Lodge. The friends also spend a lot of time in a diner (the same diner featured in the film Goodfellas), and have a good relationship with a favorite waitress Mitzi (Siobhan Fallon Hogan).
The film opens with Joe pleading for mercy with an unrelenting bank employee who tricked him into a bad mortgage and is threatening to foreclose on his home. While they are talking, masked gunmen rob the bank. When Joe gets home, he gets his foreclosure notice. He will be evicted from his home in 30 days.
On top of that, the three friends are told in a meeting that Wechsler Steel Company is closing down their U.S. operations, and will no longer honor their employee’s pensions. The same bank that is threatening to foreclose on Joe is involved with the pensions.
Joe, desperate to keep his home, floats the idea of the three friends robbing the bank. Initially, they are resistant, but they warm up to the idea. They agree that they will only steal an amount equal to the pensions that are being taken from them. They reach out to Jesus (John Ortiz) to teach them how to rob a bank.  A particularly funny scene takes place in a grocery store, and features a store manager played by Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson in a small but effective role.
Two-time Oscar nominee Ann Margret stars as Annie, a grocery store employee. She openly flirts with Al, who though finding Annie attractive, says he has no interest in a relationship.  Oscar nominee Matt Dillon portrays FBI Agent Hamer.
Unfortunately, the film contains some content issues with adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. It also features some sexual content, though nothing explicit is shown.  On the plus side, positive themes in the film include the importance of friends and family.
Overall, however, a talented cast is wasted in this film which, while having some positive aspects, isn’t all that funny, is extremely predictable and has some content concerns.  Don’t even waste your money renting it.


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My Review of Dunkirk

Dunkirk, rated PG-13
****

Christopher Nolan’s tense and inspirational World War II film Dunkirk is my top movie of 2017 thus far.
This film, with an estimated budget of $150 million and clocking in at just 106 minutes, is written and directed by acclaimed three-time Oscar nominee Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, Memento (which I re-watched this past week), The Dark Knight Batman trilogy, The Prestige). This is the tenth feature film he has directed, and his second shortest.
This time Nolan takes us to the beaches of Dunkirk, a small coastal town in France in May and June, 1940, for a decisive moment in World War II. The coast of England was nearly visible from Dunkirk, just 26 miles across the English Channel. More than 300,000 Allied troops (British, French and Belgium) were trapped on the beach by the Germans. The harbor was so shallow, that a water rescue with large British ships wasn’t possible. Nolan puts the viewer in the center of the battle from a British point of view.

This is a very “visual” film, as Nolan uses a minimum of dialogue. That’s probably not a bad thing, as the dialogue and accents are difficult to understand. Credit goes here to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who worked with Nolan on Interstellar. It appears that very little of the film was computer enhanced. We didn’t see the film in IMAX, but this is a film that you would probably want to see in IMAX, if possible.
The action takes center stage over character development. Nolan tells the story of what Winston Churchill called Operation Dynamo – an all-hands call to civilian sailors, asking that they steer any vessel they can across the English Channel to rescue as many of the stranded soldiers as possible – through three interlocking stories, timelines and perspectives – land, sea and air, complete with flashbacks and revisits. He introduces each story with title cards. “The Mole” (land) takes place over a week. The “mole” is actually an 8-foot-wide, half-mile-long breakwater wall, extended off the beaches of Dunkirk, France, that served as a makeshift dock for British leaders trying to evacuate the troops. Five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, portrays Commander Bolton, the highest ranking British naval officer on the beach. He is worried about getting his men home. We see Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) grab the stretcher of a wounded man, pretending to be medics in the hope of getting on a ship and saving themselves. They encounter Alex (Harry Styles from the band One Direction in his acting debut).  “The Sea” takes place in a single day and features Oscar winner (Bridge of Spies) Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, a civilian entering into the rescue effort with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his best friend George (Barry Keoghan). The third story, “The Air”, takes place in a single hour. Oscar nominee (The Revenant) Tom Hardy portrays Farrier and Jack Lowden portrays Collins. They are Royal Air Force Spitfire pilots engaged in a tense battle with German planes.
Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack (in his sixth collaboration with Nolan), plays an important role in the tense film, mixing music and sound effects (ticking clock sound using Nolan’s pocket watch). The film is intense from beginning to end. It is rated PG-13 for intense war scenes and some adult language, including the abuse of Jesus’ name.
Themes in this inspirational film include sacrifice, heroism, courage and fear.
A final note. Despite this being an excellent film, it’s a disappointment that the crucial National Day of Prayer for Dunkirk was completely left out of the film. Read about it here.