Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of GAME NIGHT

Game Night, rated R
***

Game Night is a very funny adult comedy with a good cast, but has some content issues. The film is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein who co-wrote Horrible Bosses and co-directed Vacation; it is written by Mark Perez.
Three-time Golden Globe nominee Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) plays Max. He is married to and very much in love with Annie, played by Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (Spotlight). Bateman and McAdams have great screen chemistry. As a married couple they are so close, they often know what the other is thinking and finish each other’s thoughts. Their one issue is that thus far they have not been able to start a family. They love games, are very competitive, and host a regular game night at their home with friends. Those friends don’t include the strange neighbor and policeman Gary, played by Jesse Plemons, who wants to be invited to the game nights.
On this particular night, the game players are Ryan, played by Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods, The Big Short), a friend of Annie’s. Ryan brings a different date to each game night. On this night, his date is Sarah, played by Emmy nominee Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe). Kevin, played by Lamorne Morris (New Girl) is married to Michelle, played by Kylie Bunbury. Brooks, Max’s brother who has always been more successful than him, is played by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights).
Brooks, always looking to one-up Max, invites the group to a special game night at his place. He promises that it will be the best game night they’ve ever had.

***SPOILER ALERT***
They won’t be playing a board game, but instead it will be a mystery night in which one of the players will be kidnapped and the rest will have to solve the crime.
As the players gather at the mansion he is renting, we see masked kidnappers take Brooks while the rest of the players look on enjoying their snacks, assuming it is all part of the game. But it turns out that these are real kidnappers who abduct him before the fake kidnappers can get there. It turns out that Brooks’ successful investing career wasn’t all that he made it out to be and now he is paying for it.  From there, we see one crazy development after another as Max and Annie work as a team to rescue Brooks.
*********************

The entertaining plot takes some interesting twists and turns and there are several laugh out loud moments. There are plenty of movie references and a car chase.
Content issues include a significant amount of adult language, some of it of a sexual nature, and many abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names. The film also contains a significant amount of violence.
Note of caution: The previews at our theater were pretty raunchy, so you might want to arrive 15 minutes late.
Game Night is a very funny well-acted film with a good cast. It contains some positive messages but also has some content concerns.  Themes include sibling rivalry, competition, marriage, children and sacrifice for others.


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MOVIE REVIEW ~ DR. STRANGE

dr-strangeDr. Strange, rated PG-13
****

Dr. Strange is the fourteenth film to be released by Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is directed and co-written (with C. Robert Cargill) by Scott Derrickson. The film is based on the Marvel Comics character created in 1963 by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. The film had a budget of approximately $165 million. It’s designed as the Doctor Strange franchise-launcher, with sequels to follow.

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as the rich, egotistical New York City neurosurgeon Stephen Strange. Due to distracted driving, he gets into a terrible car accident that ruins his hands, and as a result, his career as a surgeon. He becomes even more cruel and withdrawn, lashing out at ex-lover and co-worker Christine Palmer (Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams).

Strange seeks healing for his hands. He is given a tip about a secret sect in Nepal led by a sorcerer referred to as the Ancient One (Best Actress Oscar winner Tilda SwInton). (Note: in the comic which debuted in 1963, the Ancient One is played by an older Tibetan male). The Ancient One opens Strange up to worlds he never believed existed as she introduces him to the spirit world. Previously, he only believed in a material world. Some of what you see may remind you of Inception and the Matrix films. Strange is exposed to the Mirror Dimension, in which the magic doesn’t affect people in the real world and the laws of physics don’t apply. We see Strange learn how to bend time and space.

Working with The Ancient One and mentoring Strange are Wong (Benedict Wong) and Karl Mordo (Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor).  The villain in the story is played by Kaecilus (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One who steals pages out of an ancient book in the opening scene.

The film is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and the intense crash scene. As far as content concerns for Christians, Cumberbatch has stated the spiritualism of Doctor Strange is what appealed to him the most about the role. Ted Baehr of MovieGuide.org, a site that I’ve consulted for years, has issued the below warning about the film:

Doctor Strange is a dangerous introduction to demonic occult deception….The Bible clearly warns against the kind of occult practices and sorcery the hero in this movie learns to do in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 and Galatians 5:20. Also, in the movie, the hero’s New Age occult guru teaches that there may be no afterlife, that death is truly the end, and that this is a good thing”.

Although I respect Dr. Baehr’s warning, I felt that the film did include some Christian themes of humility and sacrificing yourself for the good of others; it is basically a good vs. evil story. The evil offered eternal life, just as the serpent offered to Adam and Eve in the garden.  I saw the film in IMAX 3-D, and felt that it was worth the additional cost. The 3-D brought out the film’s excellent CGI (computer generated imagery). It is a visually stunning film and I would recommend you seeing it in 3-D.

I thought Cumberbatch was superb as Doctor Strange, and the supporting cast of Ejiofor, Wong, Swinton and McAdams solid. The film also includes some excellent humor and interesting details, such as a man on a bus reading The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley. First published in 1954, it details his experiences when taking mescaline.

I enjoyed the film’s costumes and Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation. The musical score from Michael Giacchino also added to the enjoyment of the film.  I look forward to additional Dr. Strange films.

And with all Marvel films, don’t forget to wait after the movie. There are two end credits scenes.


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Movie Review ~ Spotlight

SpotlightSpotlight, rated R
****

This powerful film is directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by Josh Singer and McCarthy (who has an Oscar nomination for writing Up), and is about the Spotlight team from the Boston Globe. They are an investigative reporting arm of the Globe who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by priests in Boston. The film opens with a brief scene from 1976 where we see a priest being whisked away in a long black car. The film then fast forwards to 2001 when Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who is Jewish, becomes the new editor of the Globe in the predominantly Catholic city. He asks Water “Robby” Robinson” (Michael Keaton, in his follow-up to his Oscar nominated performance in 2014’s Birdman), the editor of the Spotlight team, to look into the archdiocese’s handling of child abuse cases.

Robinson’s excellent Spotlight team consists of Michael Rezendes (two-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo in another Oscar worthy performance), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They are fully committed to this story, to the point that they don’t really have any personal lives. But this story is not just about a few priests, or even 87 priests who have abused children, but an entire church organization/system led by Cardinal Law (Len Cariou). That’s why Baron pushes Globe Managing Deputy Editor Ben Bradley Jr. (John Slattery), Robinson and the Spotlight team – to pursue and prove Cardinal Law’s knowledge and cover-up of the abuse.

Along the way we meet a few of the abuse victims and their recollections which are at times graphic and always heartbreaking. We also meet attorneys on both sides of the issue Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) and Mitchell Garabedian (Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci) who are aware of what has been going on. Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) and Pete Conley (Paul Guilfoyle) are part of the church machine that strongly encourages Robinson to look the other way. We are told of the significant power the Catholic Church has in Boston including the close relationship the church has with the legal, law enforcement and media, highlighted by an uncomfortable “meet and greet” Cardinal Law has with Baron.

What makes this film significant is the story – the cover-up that the Globe successfully exposed in more than 600 stories. What makes the film great are the strong acting performances, led by Ruffalo. McCarthy’s direction and the excellent script from McCarthy and Singer keeps things moving and I found myself emotionally pulled into the story and injustice that had been allowed to go on. Along the way we see what the abuse and cover-up does to the Catholic faith of Rezendes and Pfeiffer.

The film ends with a list of the cities in the world in which significant abuse has been uncovered, including one 45 minutes from my home.

The film is rated “R” for adult language and the subject matter of sexual abuse of children. It is quite simply one of the best films of 2015.