Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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 LAST FLAG FLYING

Last Flag Flying, rated R
**

Last Flag Flying features a strong cast, an Oscar nominated director, and had great promise, but ultimately doesn’t deliver on that promise. It was extremely slow and has a significant amount of adult language. It was a HUGE missed opportunity for it to be a great film.  The film was directed by five-time Oscar nominee Richard Linklater (Boyhood). Linklater and Golden Globe nominee Darryl Ponicsan (Cinderella Liberty) wrote the screenplay based on Ponicsan’s novel, which was a sequel to his novel The Last Detail. The movie was filmed in and around the Pittsburgh area.
As the film begins, it is 2003.We see Larry “Doc” Shepherd, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) walk into Sal’s bar in Norfolk, Virginia,owned by Sal Nealon, played by Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (Trumbo). The depressing bar is past its better days, and only has one customer. Nealon is an alcoholic and has a vulgar mouth, some of his language being of a sexual nature.  Sal doesn’t recognize Doc initially. The two served as Marines together thirty years earlier in Vietnam, but hadn’t seen each other since. These days, Doc works for the Navy. The next morning, Doc asks if they can take a drive, and they end up at a church, clearly not a destination that Sal is happy about, or familiar with. However when they enter, Sal is surprised to see that the pastor is his old Vietnam buddy Richard Mueller, played by Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to Do with It?).
The three old friends enjoy reminiscing over a meal at the Mueller home, prepared by Richard’s wife Ruth, played by Deanna Reed-Foster (Chicago Fire). It’s then that Doc, who lost his wife Mary to breast cancer earlier in the year, tells them he had just been notified that his 21-year old son Larry Jr., also a Marine, was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq. He has sought them out so that they might travel with him to pick up his son’s body, which will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sal immediately agrees to Doc’s request, but Richard, while fine with connecting with Doc and Sal, declines. Being with his former buddies reminds him of a dark and painful period in his life when he was known as Mueller the Mauler. He now walks with a cane due to a badly injured knee from the war and admits to being a recovering alcoholic. But his wife Ruth wisely tells him that he needs to go with Doc and Sal to support Doc during his time of need. Reluctantly, he agrees to go, which we’re glad for, because he’s a good Christian foil in this film.

***SPOILER ALERT***
We see the three drive initially to Arlington, but then realize that Doc’s son’s body will arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware; so off they go. Doc is told by Colonel Wilits, played by Yul Vazquez (American Gangster), that his son died as a hero, and with honor while serving his country. As he mourns, Sal and Richard find out the truth from Lance Corporal Washington, played by J. Quinton Johnson, Doc’s son’s best friend who had escorted the body home. Doc’s son didn’t actually die in battle. Rather, he was shot and killed at a public market by an Iraqi insurgent when they went to buy soft drinks during their mission of moving supplies for Iraqi schools.
Sal decides that Doc needs to know the truth. As a result, Doc decides that his son will not be buried at Arlington in his Marine uniform. Instead, he will take him back home to be buried, and he will wear his graduation suit. Eventually the body is loaded first into a rented van and then onto a train, and we follow the three reunited friends and Washington on the trip back home. On the way back to New Hampshire, they make a stop in Boston to visit with the mother of a former Marine. While on the train, we see a few moments of what we have expected, the former marines humorously reminiscing about their time thirty years earlier, though some of this is done in a crude and vulgar manner.
*************************

Understandingly, Doc is somber and soft-spoken during most of the film. The script doesn’t allow Carell much flexibility. Cranston’s Sal is consistently vulgar, but we see that he truly cares for Doc and also the mother of the former Marine. Fishburne’s Richard, never seems comfortable with his former Marine friends, and is always on the verge of heading back home. However, he does an excellent job representing a Christian pastor, especially when tempted to enter into his old ways by Sal.    J. Quinton Johnson is a pleasant surprise in his portrayal of Washington.
The film wants you to see the three friends from long ago bond together, but I never felt that fully developed. There are some regrets and guilt from their time in Vietnam, and we are told that Doc served two years in prison, but that is not fully explained even though it’s an important event.
The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, including many abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names, and much of the language being of a sexual nature. The film ends with Bob Dylan’s excellent “Not Dark Yet” playing over the ending credits. Themes in the film are regret, shame, guilt, honesty, faith and friendship.  We really enjoyed the humor in this film.
The film, with its fine cast and director, had great potential, but overall is one of missed opportunities. This emotional film is extremely slow, and overly long at 125 minutes. It never developed the characters – you really wanted to feel like you were tagging along on this journey of old friends reminiscing and talking about difficult subjects such as war, death, heaven and faith.  Instead you couldn’t wait to get off the train.  The foul language will keep many people of faith away, and the boring plodding of the film will keep others from even renting it.


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My Review of Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3, rated PG
** ½

Despicable Me 3 is a fast-paced, fun summer film that the family can enjoy.
The gang (Gru, Minions, Lucy, etc.) from the previous two Despicable Me films, which have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide, returns for a third film. This fast-paced film, which clocks in at just about 90 minutes, is co-directed by Pierre Coffin (who also voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, and co-written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.
In the previous film, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) had made a happy with their three daughters – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).  Agnes is obsessed with finding a real unicorn in this film. But now they are fired by the Anti-Villain League’s new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) when they fail to capture the new arch villain Balthazer Bratt (South Park co-creator Trey Parker), who is trying to steal the world’s largest diamond.
Bratt is physically hilarious, but became annoying. He is a former 1980’s child star who is still stuck in that era (clothing, hair style, music), obsessed with the character that he played in the ’80s.
Gru, who is facing an identity crisis, finds that he has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), who is successful and cheerful and quite different from Gru, including the fact that he has a head full of hair. We see a sibling rivalry between them at first and then they team together to go after Bratt. Dru tells Gru that he wants to be a criminal like his brother was. Their mother, voiced by Julie Andrews, appears in a short scene early in the film.
The Minions, who are just silly but I find to be funny, provide some excellent comic relief that pretty much doesn’t have anything to do with the plot of the film. They do leave Dru and go looking for another villain to serve.
Pharrell Williams (“Happy”), contributes new songs for the film. They are blended with songs from the 80’s by artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.
I enjoyed this film and found it to be a lot of fun. I would say that it is family friendly, with some good messages about the importance of family, but we did not hear much laughing from the children in the theatre.


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My Movie Reviews ~ ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Joy’

The Big ShortThe Big Short, rated R
****

This superb film is based on Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball) 2010 book and it is directed by Adam McKay, who usually directs comedies starring Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Anchorman 2, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, etc.). The story is adapted for the screen by McKay and his co-screenwriter Charles Randolph. They could get an Oscar nomination for the script, which includes a good amount of humor in this otherwise serious, stressful and angry film.

The strong cast includes four Oscar winners: Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Brad Pitt, and two Oscar nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

The film looks at the 2008 financial crisis which had a $5 trillion impact in the U.S. alone, through the lens of four unorthodox moneymen or Wall Street outsiders – or weirdos as they are referred to – who predicted the consequences of the fraudulent mortgage-lending practices of large banks on Wall Street and made millions as a result. It uses three storylines, starting with Christian Bale, who stars as the socially uncomfortable Michael Burry M.D. (who listens to rock and roll music and goes barefoot in his office) who was one of the first to forecast the collapse of the credit bubble due to excessive subprime lending.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a money manager who rose to fame after successfully betting against subprime mortgages. He wants to teach the banks and government a lesson. Marisa Tomei plays his wife Cynthia. Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) are two young investors who are mentored by Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt.

The soundtrack includes rocks songs by (Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses). The score is by Nicholas Britell. The characters have hairstyles and clothes that attempt to match the period.

The film aims to show viewers that major banks (aided by the media and government), engaged in fraudulent activity and were bailed out by the U.S. government at the expense of the average citizen – and that it could happen again. You won’t find likeable characters in the film or anyone to cheer for as you will in most films. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film, or how close it was to Lewis’ book, but the acting was superb and this is an overall excellent film, one of my favorites of the year.

The film earns it’s “R” rating for a significant amount of adult language, including several unfortunate abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names along with lots of f bombs, as well as nudity in a scene in a strip club.

The movie uses a lot of financial terminology that I wasn’t familiar with. To help us understand them, the film uses a few cameos (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain), to address the audience with explanations of the terms. The article “5 Things You Should Know Before You See The Big Short by Ethan Wolff-Mann may also be helpful in explaining the terms.

JoyJoy, rated PG-13
***

This film, loosely based on the life of Long Island mother Joy Mangano (who is listed as an Executive Producer), stars 25 year-old actress, three time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy. It is directed by five-time Academy Award nominee David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle), who co-wrote the story with Annie Mumolo. Lawrence joins two-time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, who worked with Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The film begins with a dedication, a claim that it has been inspired “by stories of daring women everywhere”.

When Joy was a child she was very creative, and loved to make things. Her beloved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) told her that she was going to have a great future. Indeed, as a teenager she created a fluorescent flea collar to keep pets safe. Joy would go on to become the valedictorian at her high school and was headed to college. That’s when life took a turn for the worse for Joy.

Her parents – Rudy (Robert DeNiro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen) – divorce, and Joy doesn’t go to college, instead staying home to care for her mother and do bookkeeping for her dad’s business. Joy gets married to Tony, who wants to be “the next Tom Jones”, played by Edgar Ramirez. They have two children but then divorce. They are better as friends than they were married, and Tom lives in Joy’s basement, while Terry pretty much stays in her room watching soap operas all day.

Joy works for an airline as a counter agent, and can’t quite make ends meet, as we see their phone service being turned off due to lack of payment. On top of that, Rudy is kicked out by his second wife and takes up residence in the basement, sharing the confined space with Tony, who he has despised since before he and Joy married. Joy also has a troubled relationships with half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, who also appeared in American Hustle). Talk about a depressing dysfunction junction!

After Rudy meets Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) on a dating site for widows and widowers (he is neither), she takes him and the rest of the family on her husband’s sailboat. When red wine is spilled on the wood deck due to the high waves, Joy tries to clean up the spill amid the broken glass, cutting her hands. This gives her an idea, and leads her back to being the creative little girl, eventually creating a self-wringing mop (Miracle Mop).

Tony uses a past relationship to put her in connection with Neil (Bradley Cooper), an executive producer at QVC, a home shopping TV channel, which is Joy’s big break. But financial trouble and family and business relationships get even more difficult from here on. We see Joy’s perseverance, despite Rudy and Trudy telling her to just pack it in and give up on her dreams.  So did going from rags to riches give her joy? No, we won’t spoil it for you!

The film is rated PG-13 for one word uttered by Rudy. It also includes several unfortunate misuses of God’s name.

My wife Tammy really disliked this film, calling it long, plodding and boring. She said it had about enough material for a 30-minute Lifetime movie. She thought good acting and a good real-life story couldn’t ‘clean up’ how poorly this story was portrayed on film. I disagree. The film (as well as Lawrence), has been nominated for Best Film by the Golden Globes in the “Musical or Comedy” category (it is neither). The film isn’t great (as attested to the current Rotten Tomatoes ratings – 58% critics, 61% viewers), but I thought Lawrence’s performance and the incredible true story of Joy Mangano was worth the price of admission. If you see the film, please let us know what you think.