Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of DOLITTLE

Dolittle, rated PG
***

Dolittle, based on the children’s books of Hugh Lofting, is an enjoyable film, starring Robert Downey Jr. in his first non-Iron Man role since 2014’s The Judge. The film is directed by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic), who wrote the screenplay with Dan Gregor (How I Met Your Mother), Doug Mand (How I Met Your Mother) and Thomas Shepherd. The film had an estimated budget of $175 million. The film’s release date has been delayed a few times, and it had 21 days of expensive reshoots after poor test screenings. The film is getting pummeled by the critics (getting a score of “16” on Rotten Tomatoes.com as I write this), but we enjoyed the film.
The film begins with an animated prologue that gives us the backstory of Dr. John Dolittle, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man films, Tropic Thunder, Chaplin), and his beloved wife Lily, played by Kasia Smutniak in live-action flashbacks. They presided over Dolittle Manor, a large sanctuary in the English countryside where they cared for – and communicated with – animals. But one day Lily, a master explorer, went out on a voyage at sea while Dolittle cared for the animals, and her ship wrecked in a storm and she died. After Lily’s death, Dolittle closed the doors of the sanctuary and fell into a deep depression.
Seven years later, Dolittle is living as a recluse in Dolittle Manor, avoiding all contact with humans while surrounded by a small band of loyal animal friends: Continue reading


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My Review of INSTANT FAMILY

Instant Family, rated PG-13
***

Instant Family is a pro-family movie inspired by a true story that has some content issues. The film is directed and co-written by Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2), and is based on his families’ story of adopting three children out of the foster care system. John Morris (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2) co-wrote the film with Anders. The film features a strong cast.
Pete, played by two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, The Departed), and his wife Ellie, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Rose Byrne (Damages), earn a good living by buying and flipping houses.  They don’t have any children, but enjoy their life, which includes playing golf and enjoying Meatball, their Bernese Mountain dog. After a comment by Ellie’s brother in law, Ellie and Pete both look at foster children on a website, and their hearts melt. They decide to look into fostering an older child in hopes of adopting them.
Pete and Ellie work with a pair of social workers, the straight-laced Sharon, played by Emmy nominee Tig Notaro (Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted) and the free spirit Karen, played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help). Sharon and Karen teach an eight-week foster care certification course that Pete and Ellie attend. Others in the class are an infertile Christian couple, a homosexual couple, and a single woman who wants to adopt an African American boy who might play in the NFL.
Pete and Ellie end up interested in the feisty 15-year-old Latino, Lizzy, played by Isabela Moner, only to find out that Lizzy has two younger siblings: a sensitive boy named Juan, played by Gustavo Quiroz, and a young temperamental girl named Lita, played by Julianna Gamiz. Lizzy has practically raised her younger siblings since they have a drug-addicted mother, who is now in jail. Eventually, Pete and Ellie decide that they need to foster all three.
At first, during the “honeymoon period”, things go well with the new family, but that doesn’t last long. Pete and Ellie decide that this is going to be much harder than they ever imagined, as they share and hear from others in their foster parent support group.
Three-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale (The Americans, Justified) plays the likeable Grandma Sandy, Pete’s mother.  Julie Hagerty (Airplane films), plays Jan, Ellie’s mother. Two-time Oscar nominee Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl), plays Mrs. Howard, a kind neighbor of Pete and Ellie’s in a small role.
Themes include family, love, adoption, and faith (there are a few prayer scenes in the film), and a Christian couple wanting to foster a child.
Content concerns unfortunately include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. The language was not necessary, and the film could have been much more family friendly if it had not been included. There are also some sexual references in the film.
Instant Family is an entertaining film, at times funny and at others touching and very serious.  It is inspired by a true story, is somewhat predictable, and has some content concerns, most notably a significant amount of adult language. The film may encourage some to consider serving as foster parents and possibly adopting, though as the film points out, the objective of the foster care system is the preservation of the family, not adoption.


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My Review of Gifted

Gifted, rated PG-13
***

Gifted is a pleasing film about self-sacrifice and the importance of family.
This film is directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and written by Tom Flynn. It features a solid cast and some strong performances. Although set in Florida, it was actually filmed mostly on Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Frank Adler (played by Chris Evans of Captain America films), is a former university professor who now repairs boats in Florida. When his sister, a genius mathematician, took her life seven years ago Frank took the responsibility to raise her infant daughter Mary (Mckenna Grace). The two have a great relationship, living in a small home with their one-eyed cat Fred. In one touching scene, Mary asks Frank if there is a God and whether Jesus is God.
But Mary isn’t happy at all that Frank is making her go to public school (first grade) after home schooling her. Mary also has an excellent relationship with their neighbor Roberta (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer).
It doesn’t take Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) long to realize that, like her mother, Mary is extremely gifted in mathematics. The school principal offers Frank a scholarship for Mary to go to a school where Mary would be challenged, but Frank refuses, saying that he only wants Mary to have a normal life.
Then Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan, Sherlock) Frank’s manipulative mother, shows up from Boston. Frank and Evelyn are not particularly close and we hear about Evelyn’s contentious relationship with his sister. This all leads to a custody battle between the two over Mary.
I enjoyed this well-acted film. There were strong performances from Evans, Grace and Duncan; Spencer delivered her usual solid performance in a small role.
The film does include some adult language, including the abuse of God’s name. Frank and Bonnie have a relationship, and it is inferred that they have sex (nothing explicit is shown).


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My Review of Hidden Figures

hidden-figuresHidden Figures, rated PG
**** 

Hidden Figures is a true, inspirational film that you will love.  It is directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.  It tells the story of some key – and hidden – figures in NASA’s efforts to win the space race against the Russians in the early 1960’s. The film features three African-American women, known as “colored computers”, who work for NASA in the Computers Division at the Langley Research Center. The setting is the Mercury Project, the launch of astronaut John Glenn (portrayed by Glenn Powell), into orbit, and his safe return.

Oscar winner (The Help) Octavia Spencer has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan. Dorothy does the work of a group supervisor but is held back from receiving the title, pay and recognition of that position. She experiences racism from her supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man films), who doesn’t believe an African-American woman should be a supervisor.  Janelle Monae (Moonlight) portrays Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer who has to take her case to court to be allowed to take classes to pursue an advanced degree. She is striving to overcome all of the obstacles on her way to becoming the first female African-American Engineer at NASA. Oscar nominee (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson, an incredible mathematician. She is the only African-American woman working in the Space Task Group. We see her have to fight to have her ideas heard. She has to run across the NASA campus to use the colored ladies restroom and she can’t drink out of the same coffee pot that others in the Space Task Group do. Her performance may be Oscar worthy.

Two-time Oscar winner (Dances with Wolves) Kevin Costner delivers a solid performance as Al Harrison, the head of the Space Task Group.  Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) portrays Jim Johnson, who romantically pursues Katherine, and Golden Globe winner (The Big Bang Theory) Jim Parsons portrays Katherine’s supervisor Paul Stafford, who puts one obstacle after another in Katherine’s ability to do her job.

I really enjoyed the music in the film. The film has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch. Williams also served as one of the producers of the film.

There are many instances of faith being displayed in the film (a scene in church, prayer at the dinner table, etc.).  The romance between Jim Johnson and Katherine is lovely, and should be an example to the younger generation, along with the work ethic portrayed and the emphasis on education.  The film shows the racism and the pursuit of civil rights in the country in the early 1960’s. The film also includes some real-life footage of space launches, a speech from President Kennedy, etc.

The film tells the inspirational story of these three brilliant and driven African-American women who battled race and gender biases. It features excellent acting performances and is a refreshing PG-rated film that all can enjoy without worrying about content issues.

Highly recommended!