Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of THE MUSTANG

The Mustang, rated R

The Mustang is a well-made film about an angry and violent prisoner and his relationship with what was believed to be an unbreakable wild mustang. The film is directed by French actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre in her feature film directorial debut, and is based on her 2014 short film Rabbit.  She co-wrote the film with Mona Eastvold and Brock Norman Brock. Robert Redford was an executive producer for the film.
We are told that more than 100,000 wild horses roam across ten states in the U.S. A small percentage of the horses are taken to prisons in six states each year for training by inmates in an effort to get them ready for auction, in a program sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management.
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Roman Coleman. Roman is an angry, violent prisoner with a short fuse. He has a shaved head, is a physically powerful man, and one of few words. Roman tells the prison psychologist, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Connie Britton (Nashville, Dirty John), that he’s not good with people. After 12 years in a maximum-security prison in Nevada, Roman is transferred to the general population and assigned to outdoor maintenance, shoveling horse manure. As he is doing his work, he hears a mustang violently kicking the walls of a small stall and considered untrainable. He foolishly opens the stall door, only to be told by Myles, played by two-time Oscar nominee, 82-year-old Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Coming Home), who runs the program, that he could have been injured badly by the horse. Shortly, Myles brings Roman into the program and assigns him to the horse that Roman names Marquis ( but pronounces it as Marcus). Henry, played by Jason Mitchell (Detroit, Mudbound, Straight Outta Compton), is an inmate that has been in the program for a while, and considered to be the best horse trainer. He mentors Roman on how to work with the horses, but Roman’s anger gets the best of him again and he is soon back in solitary confinement. When Roman helps to get the horses brought into safety before a thunderstorm, he earns another chance in the program. Will Roman be able to break Marquis? The comparison between the two is obvious, a wild horse and a violent prisoner. Roman has just four weeks to get Marquis ready before the auction. Continue reading

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My Review of THE OLD MAN & THE GUN

The Old Man & The Gun, rated PG-13

The Old Man & The Gun is a well-acted film that is “mostly true” about the real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker. The film is directed and written by David Lowery and is based on David Grann’s 2003 article in the New Yorker titled “The Old Man and the Gun”. The film is set in 1981, and is shot by cinematographer Joe Anderson on Super 16 mm film. The musical score is by Daniel Hart.
Oscar winner Robert Redford (Ordinary People), now 82 years old, portrays 76-year-old Forrest Tucker, a man who has lived a life of crime from age 13 when he stole a bicycle until we meet him as a bank robber. Tucker is also known for escaping from jail or prison, having done it 16 times. Tucker is seen as a gentleman bank robber, dressing nicely and being very courteous as he and his “Over the Hill Gang” rob bank after bank without ever shooting their guns.  The Gang consisted of Teddy, played by four-time Emmy nominee Danny Glover (Freedom Song) and Waller, played by Oscar nominee Tom Waits (One From The Heart). In fact, we never even see the Gang or Tucker’s guns – just a flash of his suitcoat in the banks. Tucker was known to have robbed as many as 80 banks, taking in excess of $4 million in his career as a gentleman bank robber.
As the film begins, Tucker has robbed a small Texas bank. To elude the police who are pursuing him, he stops to assist Jewel, a widow played by six-time Oscar nominee and winner for Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek, whose truck has broken down along the side of the road. The two strike up a friendship in a diner, with Forrest initially telling Jewel that he is a travelling salesman.
Oscar winner Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) plays Dallas Police detective John Hunt, who has just turned 40, seems depressed, and doesn’t seem to like his job very much. But Hunt is revived when he starts putting together that a string of bank robberies is related, and he takes the lead on the case.
Themes include crime and deception. Content concerns include some adult language and a small amount of violence. In addition, this is one of those films in which the filmmaker wants you to cheer for those that are committing the crimes, as opposed to the police who are pursuing them.
It’s interesting that Tucker only seems to be happy when he’s robbing banks. On the other hand, Hunt, comes alive only when he’s pursuing Tucker, not before or after.
The film is getting some extra attention as Robert Redford has indicated that this will be his last film as an actor. The film deviates from the real story of Tucker on several points, as is summarized in this article.
The Old Man & The Gun is a well-acted film as Redford, Spacek and Affleck deliver excellent performances. Redford has good chemistry with both Spacek as a love interest and Affleck as his pursuer.

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My Review of the Movie ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Pete's DragonPete’s Dragon, rated PG
*** ½

The 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon was an animated musical and received two Oscar nominations for the music. This new film is directed by David Lowery who also co-wrote the film with Toby Halbrooks and is based on a short story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field.  Lowery and Halbrooks worked together on 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. The music is by Daniel Hart, who also did the music for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and was a good addition to the film. Included were a few folk-type songs, some with an early Bob Dylan feel to them.
The new film has a budget of approximately $65 million and is set in the town of Millhaven in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s.

Disney is known for sad scenes. The film opens with another one of them; we then see Pete head into the forest. Just before he is about to be killed by wolves he is rescued by a dragon. The dragon is a big green winged furry beast who can make himself invisible whenever he wants.  But he is also kind-hearted, and he and Pete show each other sacrificial love throughout the film.

For six years the two are inseparable, best friends. Pete, now 11, played by Oakes Fegley, names the magical dragon Elliot, after the lost puppy in a book that is important to him. We get to see the two of them playing together in the forest which is a joyful part of the film. Elliot isn’t perfect – he has a chipped tooth and doesn’t always have the most graceful of landings after he has been soaring through the air. And, he is known to sneeze and leave his snot all over whatever (or whoever) is nearby. This section of the film was my favorite. It brought to mind some of the best parts of Disney’s The Jungle Book from earlier this year. I enjoyed the way the film also really brings out the personality of Elliot, much like The BFG (my favorite film of the year) did with the Big Friendly Giant.

Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, Claire from Jurassic World) is a Forest Service Ranger. Her father Mr. Meacham (Oscar winner Robert Redford), taught her about the woods and tells stories about a dragon he once saw that lives in the forest. Grace doesn’t believe his silly stories, but her stepdaughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) does.

Pete sees Grace walking in the forest. Soon, he is spotted by Natalie. Pete and Elliot’s peaceful existence in the forest is disrupted by loggers, Gavin (Karl Urban, who recently played Bones in Star Trek Beyond), and his brother Jack (Wes Bentley). The loggers are portrayed as bad guys in the film as we see them taking down trees in the forest.

The film was sadder than expected, and it will pull on your heartstrings. The importance of family is a key theme in the film. Because of some of the mature themes in the film as well as some scary scenes with the dragon, this film may not be appropriate for the youngest viewers.  Otherwise, it would be appropriate for the entire family. Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year.   (Note:  my wife thought it was too sad and only gave it two stars for that reason.)

I didn’t see the 1977 film or read the book as a child, so I don’t know how close to the original story this film is. If you have seen the first film or read the book and also see this film, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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Movie Review ~ A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the WoodsA Walk in the Woods, rated R
** ½

This film is based on Bill Bryson’s book of the same name, and stars 79 year-old Robert Redford as Bryson. The film is directed by Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You).

Bryson has made a living out of traveling and then writing about it. After a particularly challenging television interview while plugging his books, and then attending the visitation of a friend with wife Catherine (Emma Thompson), he decides to take a walk near his home in New Hampshire to think things over. You can tell he’s unsettled. There he sees a sign pointing to the Appalachian Trail and gets the idea to leave his wife for six months and hike the trail.

Catherine thinks he’s crazy and tries to talk him out of it, saying he certainly can’t do it alone and it’s just too dangerous. After everyone he calls turns him down, out of the blue his old college buddy Stephen Katz, played by the 74 year-old and badly out of shape Nick Nolte, contacts him and offers to walk the trail with him. The two have not seen each other for years after having a falling out, but decide to make the trip together. Note: in real life Bill Bryson and his friend were each 44 years old when the trip took place.

While Bryson has achieved much success since the two parted ways, Katz has not. He’s struggled with alcoholism and trouble with the law. The two are definitely an “Odd Couple”, with Bryson stopping to discuss the various types of rocks he sees contrasted with the rugged Katz constantly using profanity, and his mind often on sex. But the two join forces to travel to Georgia in March, intending to walk the entire 2,180 mile trail through 14 states to Maine. What follows is often a very funny depiction of their trip and what they run into (beautiful scenery, bears, people and inclement weather).

One of the people they run into is Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) an annoying, obnoxious fellow hiker who talks endlessly and is a know it all. Bryson and Katz finally have something in common – working together to ditch Mary Ellen. Another person they encounter is hotel/restaurant owner Jeannie (Mary Steenburgen) who openly flirts with Bryson.

I really enjoyed the film and laughed out loud on several occasions. I enjoyed the acting performances of Redford and Nolte and the beautiful scenery we occasionally get to see.

The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language, mostly from Katz and often quite funny. However, my biggest concern with the film, and it is a big concern, was the way in which God’s and Jesus’ names were abused – each at least fifteen times – and I cringed each time.

As Christians watching films, we need to be discerning. John Piper has said “In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches that the first priority in praying is to ask that our heavenly Father’s name be hallowed.” Our culture certainly does not abide by that – in our personal conversation, and in our films and television programs. My lower rating of this film is due to how God’s and Jesus’ names are abused.

This was the second film Redford and Nolte starred in together, the first being 2012’s The Company You Keep. Interestingly, the original plan was to have Paul Newman play the Katz character in the film. But problems in getting the film made, Newman’s declining health and eventual death in 2008 prohibited that.