Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of GLASS

Glass, rated PG-13
** ½

Glass is a psychological thriller and the finale of a trilogy from two-time Oscar nominee director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The film brings together super hero characters introduced in his 2000 film Unbreakable and his 2016 film Split, the latter a surprise success after a few very disappointing films.
In Unbreakable, we met comic book expert Elijah Price/Mr. Glass played by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction). Elijah was born with a birth defect which left his bones very brittle and susceptible to breaks. As a result, as a child, he was mockingly called Mr. Glass by his peers. David Dunn, played by Golden Globe winner Bruce Willis (Moonlighting), is a security guard at a football stadium in Philadelphia with a troubled marriage and young son. He is the sole survivor of a terrible train crash. In fact, he didn’t even have a scratch on him. Elijah tells Dunn that he has been searching for him, someone who is special, indestructible. The film ends with Price, known as Mr. Glass, admitting to being behind several tragedies, including the train crash. He is put into an institution while Dunn begins to serve the public as a hooded vigilante.
In Split, we met mentally ill Kevin Wendell Crumb, played by Golden Globe nominee James McAvoy (Atonement), a man with 24 different personalities and sole survivor Casey, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who was forced to discover her strengths while being held captive. The film ends with a surprise connection to Unbreakable, setting up the new film. Continue reading

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My Review of BEN IS BACK

Ben is Back, rated R
** ½ 

Ben is Back is an intense and emotional film about the love of a mother for her drug addicted son. The film is directed and written by Oscar nominee Peter Hedges (About a Boy), and features a strong cast.
The film opens with Holly, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), and three of her children pulling into their driveway near Younkers, New York on Christmas Eve. They are returning from a rehearsal for Christmas Eve Mass.  As she pulls in, Holly has to slam on the brakes when she sees her 19-year-old son Ben, played by Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Boy Erased), son of the film’s director/writer, standing nervously in the yard. Ben, an opioid addict, and has been sober for 77 days. Ben says that he is home for Christmas, courtesy of a pass from his sponsor, though we don’t know if that is true or not. Ben’s return is sudden and unexpected, catching the family off guard. This may be Holly’s Christmas miracle, and her two young children are thrilled, but Ben’s teenage sister Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), thinks accepting Ben back will be a mistake, having seen the damage Ben’s addiction has done to the family in the past. But Holly tells her that this time it will be different. Continue reading


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My Review of THE UPSIDE

The Upside, rated PG-13
*** ½

The Upside is an enjoyable film based on a true story about the friendship between two men, one in a wheelchair and the other his caregiver. The film is directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, The Illusionist). The screenplay is written by Jon Hartmere based on the 2011 French film Les Intouchables directed by Eric Toldedano and Olivier Nakache. The film features a strong cast, including an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee and was shot in Philadelphia.The film is set in New York City. Dell, played by Kevin Hart (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), is an African American, street smart, ex-con. He has been kicked out of his apartment after failing to provide for his ex-girlfriend Latrice, played by Aja Naomi King (The Birth of a Nation), and their teenage son. He has all but given up hope in finding a job. Continue reading


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My Review of BEAUTIFUL BOY

Beautiful Boy, rated R
*** ½

Beautiful Boy, showing now on Amazon Prime, is a well-written and acted film based on the real-life heartbreaking relationship between a father and his teenage son, who is battling drug addiction. The film is directed by Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown), who wrote the screenplay with Oscar nominee and recovering addict, Luke Davies (Lion), based on the books Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by Nic Sheff. Because of this, we experience the story from both of their perspectives.
David Sheff, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The Office) is a writer who lives in San Francisco. The film opens with him meeting with Dr. Brown, played by Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People), trying to find out more about meth addiction. The film then flashes back a year, a technique used often in the film to tell the backstory of David and now 18-year-old Nic Sheff, played by Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird), who received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.  Nic had been a happy and high performing high school student who enjoyed to read and draw. But now he is dealing with a dark hole, fed by his addiction to drugs and alcohol. We see in flashbacks that he and his father had shared a marijuana cigarette in the past, and that Nic’s drug addiction, which started with marijuana, has now progressed to include LSD, heroin and meth.
David is divorced from Vicki, played by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, The Office). He now lives with second wife Karen, played by Golden Globe winner Maura Tierney (The Affair, The Office), and they have two adorable young children Jasper, played by Christian Convery, and Daisy, played by Oakley Bull.
David and Karen convince Nic to enter into an inpatient rehab program. The head of the rehab facility gives David hope, but is not honest about the success rate of curing meth addicts. This begins Nic’s ongoing battle to beat meth addiction, a battle that completely consumes his caring but controlling father, who for the most part is not present for Karen and their two young children. David desperately wants to help his son beat his addiction, wonders what he could have done differently, and at times both he and Nic’s mother Vicki, in frustration, blame each other for his troubles.
Themes include family, and specifically the relationship between a father and son, drug and alcohol addiction, recovery and relapse, trying to save someone, hope, pain and disappointment. Content concerns include a large amount of adult language, realistic depiction of addiction and the impact on an individual and their family, and one scene of sexuality (no nudity).
The cinematography is by Ruben Impens (The Broken Circle Breakdown). The title of the film comes from John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”. David Scheff had interviewed Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980, just months before Lennon was murdered. Music is an important aspect in the film, not only in the music that Nic and his father liked, but also in the musical score.
The film features some excellent acting performances, led by Chalamet and Carell. Tierney is strong in the difficult role of Nic’s stepmother, and Ryan is solid in a smaller role as Nic’s mother. Nic’s addict girlfriend Lauren is played by Kaitlyn Dever (Last Man Standing, Justified), and his rehab sponsor Spencer is played by Andre Royo (Empire).
Beautiful Boy is a heart-breaking and emotional film that features some excellent acting performances. The film also includes some content concerns and is certainly not an easy film to watch, but I believe is an important film depicting the impact of addiction on an individual and their family.


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My Review of ESCAPE ROOM

Escape Room, rated PG-13
** ½

Have you ever participated in the team building activity ‘Escape Room’? I have done it twice, once with family members, and once with a work team. When I did Escape Room with my Atlanta team, I enjoyed seeing each member of the team demonstrate their leadership skills, resulting in us solving the mystery before the one-hour time period elapsed. This intense thriller is based on that activity, but with some real life and death consequences. The film is directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) and the screenplay is written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik. In this era of mammoth movie budgets (The budget for Aquaman was $160 million), this film’s budget was just $9 million.
The film follows six strangers in Chicago who receive an invitation to participate in an Escape Room experience. They don’t know who the mysterious invitation is from, but they are told that if they solve the puzzle and get out of the room, they will win $10,000. The six strangers are Zoey, played by Taylor Russell (Lost in Space), Ben, played by Logan Miller (Love, Simon), Amanda, played by Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood, Daredevil), Mike played by Tyler Labine (New Amsterdam), Jason, played by Jay Ellis (Insecure), and Danny, played by Nik Dodani (Murphy Brown). As the film progresses, we see a brief glimpse into their backstory, which reveals a common connection. What we don’t know is why they specifically were chosen to play the game, or who invited them to play. Whoever it is, knows things about the history of each of the participants. We quickly see that this is not going to be your usual Escape Room experience.
This is an exciting thriller that builds in suspense and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Each of the rooms are different, and have challenges for the group. The musical score from two-time Emmy nominee Brian Tyler (Sleepy Hollow, Last Call), and John Carey (Crazy Rich Asians) helps create the tension and suspense (though you will never listen to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” ever the same again).  Content concerns include adult language, several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, violence and extremely intense situations. Themes include helping others through sacrifice and teamwork vs. looking out for oneself (survival of the fittest).
The cast was solid, and the film started strongly as the six strangers worked well together. As time goes on, the true character of each of the strangers becomes clear. The film could have ended stronger and it definitely set things up for Escape Room 2.   
Escape Room is an exciting thriller with some good plot twists, but has some significant content concerns and the ending wasn’t as good as the first two thirds of the film.


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My Review of LEAVE NO TRACE

Leave No Trace, rated PG
*** ½

Leave No Trace is a well-acted, written and directed PG rated film about an Iraq War veteran and his daughter. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone). The screenplay is written by Granik and two-time Oscar nominee Anne Rosellini (Winter’s Bone) based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock. The film has the rare distinction of having a 100% rating from critics on the movie review site RottenTomatoes.com.
Will, played by Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and his teenage (13 or 14-year-old) daughter Tom, played by Thomasin McKenzie, are homeless and live in a heavily wooded government owned park outside of Portland, Oregon. They live primitively, sharing a tent, collecting rain water to drink and growing their own vegetables. Will’s wife has apparently died, though we are not told anything about her, just that Tom misses her. In fact, we are not told any of Will and Tom’s backstory (how did they become homeless and for how long?) Will is a veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He gets meds for the PTSD from the Veteran’s hospital, but sells the meds to others who live in the park, using the money to purchase groceries.  Will has raised Tom to be a kind, polite and thoughtful girl who is self-sufficient. Continue reading


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My Review of MARY POPPINS RETURNS

Mary Poppins Returns, rated PG
****

Mary Poppins Returns is a delightful live-action/animated film free of any content issues that the entire family can enjoy. It’s one of my favorite films of the year (and my wife’s favorite!) The film is released 54 years after 1964’s Mary Poppins, which won five Oscars. The new film is directed by Oscar nominated Rob Marshall (Chicago). The film is written by Marshall, two-time Oscar nominee David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland), and two-time Emmy winner John DeLuca (Tony Bennett: An American Classic), based upon Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers. The film’s cast includes two Oscar winners – Colin Firth and Meryl Streep – and three Oscar nominees – Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The all-new music is by five-time Oscar nominee Marc Shaiman (Sleepless in Seattle, Patch Adams, The First Wives Club, The American President, Hairspray) and three-time Emmy nominee Scott Wittman (Smash, The 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Hairspray). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha). Marshall chose to use hand drawn animation in the film to go along with the live action sequences.  The film has received four Golden Globe nominations – best performance by an actress, best performance by an actor, best picture and best original score.  The film had an estimated budget of $130 million. Continue reading