Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledorerated PG-13
***

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, is the third film (out of a planned five), in the Fantastic Beasts series, a prequel to the Harry Potter series, taking place decades earlier, and based on characters created by J.K. Rowling. The film was entertaining, with creative production design, music by James Newton Howard, good special effects, some magic, and of course the beasts. However, the biggest of Dumbledore’s secrets (that he is gay) will not please some filmgoers. In addition, there were perhaps too many characters and subplots to keep track of.
The film was directed by Emmy nominee David Yates (The Girl in the Café). Yates has directed all three of the Fantastic Beasts films and also directed the last four of the Harry Potter films. The film was written by J.K. Rowling and Oscar nominee Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys). Kloves was the screenwriter for all but one of the Harry Potter films. The film cost approximately $200 million.
The film opens with magical zoologist Newt Scamander, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl), witnessing a mother qilin (pronounced chillin), a rare deer-like animal, giving birth. The qilin are valuable for reasons we will find out later in the film. Immediately, there are those who try to steal the qilin baby.
Then we see Albus Dumbledore, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law (Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley), meeting Gellert Grinderwald played by Mads Mikkelsen in a restaurant. Mikkelsen replaces Johnny Depp as the Grinderwald character. They refer back to a romantic relationship they had years ago. Grinderwald has plans to take over the magical world and wage war on the Muggles (non-wizards), and tells Dumbledore, “With or without you, I’ll burn down their world”. Continue reading


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My Review of FATHER STU

Father Stu – rated R
** ½

Father Stu is an at times inspiring faith-based film that is based on a true story. The film features an excellent cast, but moves along slowly at times, is extremely sad and contains pervasive strong adult language. As a result, it may be hard to find an audience for the film. Those normally interested in a faith-based film, may find the pervasive adult language too much to overcome. As a result, it’s hard to recommend the film, which was written and directed by Rosalind Ross, Mel Gibson’s real-life partner.
Two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, The Fighter), delivers a possible Oscar worthy performance as Stu Long. Stu is the son of Bill, played by two-time Oscar winner Mel Gibson (Braveheart), and Kathleen, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook). Bill lives away from the family in California, working a blue-collar job, and is an alcoholic. A younger son of Bill and Kathleen died when he was only six.
Stu is an amateur boxer, who eventually has to quit boxing after jaw surgery. He then decides to go to Hollywood to try to become an actor.  He secures a job in a grocery store at the meat counter to pay the bills until he gets his big break. It is while working there that he sees the beautiful Carmen, played by Teresa Ruiz. He is able to find out that she is active in a local Roman Catholic Church, so he pursues her there. Initially, Carmen wants nothing to do with Stu, but he will do anything for her, and agrees to be baptized. Continue reading


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MOVIE REVIEW of CODA

CODA, rated PG-13
****

CODA is a delightful film about a fishing family in Gloucester, Massachusetts in which only the daughter is not deaf. The film, a remake of a 2014 French film, and directed by Sian Heder, recently won three Oscars, including Best Motion Picture. Heder won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Troy Kotsur won for Best Supporting Actor. In many, if not most years, I would not agree with the Best Film selection. This year however, I am in hearty agreement. I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The film’s title comes from an acronym that stands for Child Of Deaf Adults.
The close-knit Rossi family is comprised of father Frank, played by Oscar winner Troy Kotsur (CODA), mother Jackie, played by Oscar winner Marlee Martin (Children of a Lesser God), brother Leo, played by Daniel Durant, and the music loving Ruby, played by Emilia Jones. Frank, Leo and Ruby support the family by fishing, beginning their days at 3am. The family particularly depends on Ruby as the only speaking member of the family, as she has spent her whole life interpreting for them. Much of the film utilizes subtitles, depicting the dialogue of the three deaf members of the family.
Jones as Ruby is the heart of this film. She is a bit of an outsider at school. She is shy and is made fun of – first for the way she spoke when she first entered school and now for the way she smells like fish, as she leaves the fishing boat and rides her bike directly to high school. Continue reading


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My Review of UNCHARTED

Uncharted, rated PG-13
***

Uncharted, based on a Play Station game, opens with a breathtaking scene featuring Nathan Drake, played by Tom Holland (Spider-Man films), foreshadowing what is to come. The film is fun and exciting, though it contains quite a bit of adult language and violence.
The film is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), and written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum (Iron Man), Matt Holloway (Iron Man), Jon Hanley Rosenberg and Mark D. Walker.  The film had a budget of approximately $120 million.
After the exciting opening, the film goes back to show us that Nathan and his older brother Sam were obsessed with finding the lost gold (estimated to be worth $5 billion), hidden by explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s men 500 years ago on his trip around the world. When they are caught trying to steal a valuable map which Sam believes gives clues to the hidden treasure, Sam escapes from the Catholic orphanage to avoid juvenile detention. In the coming years, Nathan will only receive postcards from his brother.
The film then moves ahead and we find Nathan working as a bartender and stealing jewelry from his customers. Victor “Sully” Sullivan, played by two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, The Departed), meets him in the bar and tells him that he got close to Magellan’s treasure with Nathan’s brother Sam. Sully needs Nathan to help him steal a gold cross which is going to be auctioned off. Sully needs two of the keys to lead them to Magellan’s treasure. Continue reading


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My Review of DEATH ON THE NILE

Death on the Nile, rated PG-13
** ½

Death on the Nile is a disappointing film that takes far too long to get to the murder mystery. The film is directed by eight-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (Belfast, Henry V, My Week with Marilyn), who also stars in the film as the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot. The screenplay, with many changes from the original Agatha Christie novel, was written by Oscar nominee Michael Green (Logan).  Branagh and Green had previously collaborated on Christie’s 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express.

After an unnecessary opening scene from World War I in 1914 designed to provide Poirot’s backstory, we see him in 1937 in a London nightclub where he sees blues singer Salome Otterbourne, played by Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), performing on stage. Continue reading


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My Review of King Richard

King Richard, rated PG-13 
***

King Richard is based on the true story of Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. Two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness, Ali), does an excellent job portraying the at times stubborn, not necessarily likeable, and hard to understand Williams. The film was directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Joe Bell), and written by Zach Baylin.
Richard Williams is married to Oracene “Brandy”, played by two-time Emmy nominee Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country, When They See Us). They live with their five daughters in Compton, though there is reference that Richard has other children from prior relationships. Both parents work hard to provide for their family. Richard works at night as a security guard and Brandy works during the day as a nurse. As parents they put their daughters’ future success first, be it in sports or otherwise. They make sure the girls do their homework and get excellent grades and the family is involved in the Kingdom Hall as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Continue reading


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My Review of BELFAST

Belfast, rated PG-13
***

Belfast is a well-made film about a family living happily in a mixed (Protestant and Catholic) working class neighborhood in Belfast, Ireland during the late 1960’s. When a violent Protestant mob attempts to drive the Catholics out of the neighborhood, it threatens the family’s peaceful existence.
The film was written and directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Henry V, Hamlet and Swan Song), and depicts a coming-of-age story based on his own life in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. His childhood coincided with the beginning of a violent period known as the Troubles, which lasted for decades.
The film is beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Haris Zambarlouskos, and features an excellent cast. The film captures the working-class neighborhood where children could once safely play in the streets. At the center of the film is family struggling financially, due in part to Pa having to pay significant back taxes, and trying to decide whether they should leave the country amidst the conflict.

At the center of the film is the likeable nine-year-old Buddy, played by Jude Hill. Buddy lives with his older brother Will, played by Lewis McAskie. We see Buddy playing in the street, watching television, going to the movies and church, and having a crush on a pretty Catholic girl in his class that he plans to marry one day. Buddy’s parents Ma and Pa are played by Caitriona Balfe (Outlander), and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey). Pa works in England as a carpenter, and only comes home every few weekends, while Ma raises Buddy and Will, and tries to make ends meet. Buddy’s grandparents are wonderfully played by Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love).
Hanging over the film is the big question the family is facing. Do they remain in this increasingly dangerous neighborhood where they’ve lived their entire lives, where extended family lives, where everyone knows everyone, or do they move somewhere safer, like England, Sydney or Vancouver, where nobody knows them, and start all over?
The musical soundtrack by Belfast native Van Morrison is a treat, and features several of his songs. The film does include some adult language and violence.
Belfast is a well-made film based on a true story.


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My Review of American Underdog

American Underdog, rated PG
*** ½

American Underdog tells the incredible story of Kurt Warner, from backup quarterback at Northern Iowa University to the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl. The film is directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin (I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe, Mom’s Night Out). The screenplay is written by David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights) and Michael Silver and is based on Warner’s 2000 book All Things Possible.
The film shows how Warner, played by Zachary Levi (Shazam!), begged Coach Allen, played by Adam Baldwin, his Northern Iowa University coach, to give him a chance. Despite doing well when he got his chance, he was not drafted in the National Football League (NFL). Later, he was signed to the Green Bay Packers, but was quickly released.
While at Northern Illinois University, Warner meets Brenda, played by Oscar winner Anna Paquin (The Piano), a divorced mom of two, at a country music bar. Brenda, a Christian, has trust issues, as her husband had cheated on her when she was pregnant with their second child. Brenda’s son Zach, played by Hayden Zaller, is disabled and nearly blind, because of an accident.
The film takes time to show how Kurt’s relationship builds with Brenda, her children and her parents. The love story between Kurt and Brenda and her children is a major element of the film, while his faith in Christ is not emphasized.
Not hearing from any NFL teams, and needing to make money to support Brenda and the children, Kurt takes a job stocking shelves at the local Hy-Vee. He is then approached by the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers Coach Jim Foster, played by Bruce McGill (Lincoln, Waiting Game). After leading the Barnstormers to the Arena Bowl, Warner was signed by the St. Louis Rams of the NFL. The film shows how Rams head coach Dick Vermeil, played by Dennis Quaid (The Rookie, I Can Only Imagine) believed in him, even if offensive coordinator Mike Martz, played by Chance Kelly, didn’t.
This is a well-made film that blends some scenes of Warner’s real-life football highlights with football scenes filmed for the movie. Warner was my all-time favorite football player, and it was a joy to watch this inspirational film based on his life story that everyone can enjoy.


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My Review of West Side Story

West Side Story, rated PG-13
*** ½

Sixty years after the original 1961 film, which won 10 Oscars, three-time Oscar winning Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), gives us a new version of the musical West Side Story. I never saw the original film, but recognized several songs (“America”, “Tonight”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”), from my parents playing the soundtrack when I was young. The film, which was delayed a year due to COVID-19, is set in the late 1950’s, and shows two rival gangs – the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks – battling for control of the streets in a decaying section of New York City.
The film was written by two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich), based on the book and 1957 musical by two-time Oscar nominee Arthur Laurents (The Turning Point). The music was composed by Oscar nominee Leonard Bernstein (On the Waterfront), and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who died on November 26. Continue reading


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My Review of The Beatles: Get Back

The Beatles: Get Back
****

In January, 1969, the Beatles went into the studio to record a new album, the follow-up to their classic The Beatles (White Album) and single “Hey Jude”. Cameras and microphones were allowed to follow their progress, which originally was to result in a television special followed by a live concert (location to be determined), their first live performance since stopping touring in August, 1966.
In 1970, the film Let It Be was released, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. I remember the film, which I saw with my Dad, as depressing, as it appeared to show the Beatles as they were breaking up, as it was indeed released right after the band broke up.
We now know that there was more than 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio that had never been seen or heard. Three-time Oscar winning director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), reviewed the unused material, beautifully digitally restored the video and synced up the audio to produce a three-part docuseries that debuted on November 25, exclusively available on Disney+, that runs nearly 8 hours.
I have been a Beatles fan since watching them on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960’s at my grandparent’s home. I remember listening to a bootleg recording of these sessions at a friend’s home, as the Let It Be album was delayed (that’s another story), not being released until 1970, which was after the band’s last recorded album Abbey Road was released. Continue reading