Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans, rated PG-13

The Fabelmans is a well-made and acted film that is a fictionalized version of Steven Spielberg’s life story through his time in college, as he grew up in New Jersey, Arizona and California. The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List) and written by him and two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich).
The film, which features an excellent cast who deliver strong performances, focuses on Sammy’s love of filming, the dynamics of his family, and the antisemitism he encounters at a high school in California.
In 1952, Sammy’s parents Burt, a scientist, played by Emmy nominee Paul Dano (Escape at Dannemora, Love & Mercy), and Mitzi, a pianist, played by four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn, Manchester by the Sea), take six-year-old Sammy, played by Mateo Zoryan, to his first film The Greatest Show on Earth. Sammy is obsessed by a train crash that is depicted in the film. He asks for a train set for Christmas so that he can recreate and film the crash with his father’s movie camera, thus beginning his love of filmmaking. Continue reading

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My Review of Jurassic World: Dominion

Jurassic World: Dominion, rated PG-13

The film Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg, was released 29 years ago in 1993. Jurassic World: Dominion is the sixth film in the series. The film brings back some characters from the first film. Despite multiple plotlines and locations – very little of which had to do with dinosaurs – and being overly long, I still enjoyed the film.
The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and written by Trevorrow, Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolloy, based on characters created by Michael Crichton. The film had a budget of approximately $185 million.
The film opens four years after a volcano destroyed the Jurassic Park Island where the dinosaurs were first cloned. The dinosaurs now live and hunt alongside humans all over the world. A large biotech corporation, Biosyn, has established a sanctuary for dinosaurs in an isolated valley in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. Continue reading

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My Review of West Side Story

West Side Story, rated PG-13
*** ½

Sixty years after the original 1961 film, which won 10 Oscars, three-time Oscar winning Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), gives us a new version of the musical West Side Story. I never saw the original film, but recognized several songs (“America”, “Tonight”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”), from my parents playing the soundtrack when I was young. The film, which was delayed a year due to COVID-19, is set in the late 1950’s, and shows two rival gangs – the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks – battling for control of the streets in a decaying section of New York City.
The film was written by two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich), based on the book and 1957 musical by two-time Oscar nominee Arthur Laurents (The Turning Point). The music was composed by Oscar nominee Leonard Bernstein (On the Waterfront), and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who died on November 26. Continue reading

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Ready Player One, rated PG-13
*** ½

Ready Player One, the latest film from Steven Spielberg, is an entertaining science fiction film based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline. It is filled with pop culture references (characters, music, etc.) from the 1970’s and 1980’s, action violence and some adult language.
The film is directed by the legendary three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan), and written by Zak Penn (The Avengers, X-Men), and Ernest Cline. The musical score, which is supplemented by pop hits from the 1970’s and 1980’s, was by two-time Oscar nominee Alan Silvestri (The Polar Express, Forrest Gump), due to scheduling conflicts that Spielberg’s longtime collaborator John Williams had. The film’s title is a phrase used from the days of classic video games.
The film is set in 2045 in Columbus, Ohio. Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan (Mud, X-Men: Apocalypse) lives with his aunt and her latest boyfriend, in a depressing area called “the Stacks”, old trailers piled high on top of each other. Life is difficult. To escape their miserable lives, Wade and most others enter the OASIS, a virtual universe. In the OASIS, you can do anything, go anywhere you please, and be whoever you want to be. In the OASIS, Wade takes on the avatar of Parzival. His best friend is H, or Aech in the OASIS, played by Emmy winner Lena Waithe (Master of None, Dear White People).
The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Dunkirk), was worshipped until his death some years back. His early partner in business was Ogden Morrow, played by Simon Pegg.
Before dying he created a competition within the game. If anyone finds a hidden “Easter egg,” they will receive a great fortune, about $500 million, and perhaps even more importantly, have complete control of the OASIS.  Players must find three keys that each give a hint to where the egg is. So far, no one has found even one key.

While trying to get the first key, Wade meets Samantha, played by Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), who uses the avatar Art3mis. Samantha is known for being a very good player. Wade is instantly attracted to Samantha. They both get the first key. Samantha reveals to Wade that she has a personal reason for trying to stop the greedy corporate villain, Nolan Sorrento of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), played by Golden Globe nominee Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) who is also trying to find the hidden egg.

T.J. Miller portrays i-R0k, a virtual mercenary hired by Sorrento to do his work for him. Wade, H, Samantha and two other friends, must work together to beat Sorrento and his army, to save the world.
Throughout the film, we follow the main characters as they jump from one challenge to the next. They receive clues from movies, music and video games that Halliday loved.
Themes include friendship, competition, self-sacrifice and living in a virtual world vs. living in the real world.  (This is reflected in our world by how many people have their faces in their phones vs. having face-to-face dialogue with their friends and family.)  Content concerns include some adult language, including a few abuses of God’s name, a brief scene of partial nudity and action violence.
I saw the film in IMAX, and it was visually stunning, with a good use of computer generated imagery (CGI).  (It should be stunning because they spent $175 million in production costs.)  Humor was effectively used throughout the film. Ready Player One is a visually stunning and entertaining film that unfortunately includes some adult language that adds nothing to the film.  This would be a good film for older children and adults to enjoy together.

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My Review of THE POST

The Post, rated PG-13
*** ½

The Post is a well-acted and directed film based on true events and intended to deliver a message about the freedom of the press.  It is the first acting collaboration of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and the first major collaboration between Streep and acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who rushed the film into theatres just ten months after initially reading the script. The film received six Golden Globe nominations (Best film, director, screenplay, actor, actress and musical score). The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), and written by Liz Hannah and Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight). For the purposes of this review, I will assume that Hannah’s and Singer’s script is historically accurate, though Ted Baehr of in his review of the film calls it “very one-sided, false, superficial left-leaning”.
The film tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg (Mathew Rhys) and his theft of thousands of pages of classified and confidential documents about Vietnam. The papers were the result of a study commissioned by Robert McNamara, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood.
We are told that the U.S. government, spanning four presidential administrations, has been lying to the American people about our involvement in Vietnam. At first, the “Pentagon Papers” were given to Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, who published them before a temporary injunction stopped them from doing so. However, during the injunction, Ellsberg gives the papers to The Washington Post as well.
Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer) portrays Katharine Graham, who assumed the role of publisher of The Washington Post after her husband’s suicide. Sadly, Katharine Graham’s son shot himself to death just two days before the national release of this movie— and in a manner eerily reminiscent of his dad’s suicide more than 50 years ago.  Graham was the first woman to run a major daily newspaper in the U.S. and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.   Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) portrays the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee. This is Hank’s fifth collaboration with Spielberg.
In possession of the documents that the courts have ruled couldn’t be published, Graham and Bradlee have a decision to make. If they run a story using the information, they could go out of business, as the paper had just gone public and their financing could be pulled from them. Or worse yet, Graham and Bradlee could be arrested. Five- time Oscar winner John Williams (Fiddler on the Roof, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial), does the musical score.
Streep is superb as the under-appreciated female publisher. The film does a good job to show how little she was thought of and almost invisible at times. Hanks was also excellent as the paper’s editor, Ben Bradlee, who later oversaw the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s stories documenting the Watergate scandal. There is also a solid supporting cast, including three-time Golden Globe nominee Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) as Ben Bagdikian and Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story) as Tony Bradlee.  
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. In addition, there is some brief war violence at the beginning of the film. Of course, we need to also take into account that the actual “Pentagon Papers” were stolen by Ellsberg in the first place.  We have the moral dilemma of potentially putting people in harm’s way by revealing government and military secrets.
The Post is a well-acted and directed film based on true events that is intended to deliver a message for today. It was interesting to see the social connections and friendships between political figures and the press at that time.  We hear Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee state that the press must hold government officials accountable. In this time of “fake news”, Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, however, some viewers might also want to ask who will hold the press accountable.


Everyone should see the Movie “The BFG”

The BFGThe BFG (Big Friendly Giant), rated PG

This film is based on the 1982 children’s book by Roald Dahl. Dahl, who also wrote “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach” which were also made into films, wrote “The BFG” in the last decade of his life and said it was the favorite of his books.

The new film (there was also a cartoon version of the book in 1989), is directed by three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was written by the late Melissa Mathison who was nominated for an Oscar (for 1982’s ET), and to whom the film is dedicated. John Williams does the music score, the twenty-fourth time he has done so for a Spielberg film.

Ruby Barnhill portrays the ten year-old orphan Sophie who doesn’t sleep well. One night about 3:00 am Sophie sees the lanky twenty-four foot giant played by Mark Rylance (Oscar winner for the 2015 Spielberg-directed Bridge of Spies), outside of the orphanage. The BFG is afraid that she will expose him to others, so he takes her to Giant Country where he lives.

Sophie is initially afraid of the BFG, but a friendship begins to grow with this gentle giant. She finds out BFG puts dreams into the heads of children and other “human beans”, and that he is regularly bullied by the nine much larger giants. You will love how he humorously mangles the English language.

Sophie gets an idea to travel to London to visit Queen Victoria, voiced by Penelope Wilton (of Downton Abbey) for assistance with the mean larger giants. And oh yes, BFG also has quite an issue with flatulence when he consumes a certain drink, which are referred to as “whiz poppers”.

The CGI (computer generated animation) in this film is just amazing, especially the facial expressions and the enormous ears of BFG. The film contains themes of loneliness, love, friendship and family. It might be a bit dark and scary for wee ones.  Mark Rylance as the BFG and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie have great chemistry and they are perfect in their roles. I highly recommend this film for “children” of all ages, my favorite movie of 2016 thus far.

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Movie Review ~ Bridge of Spies

Bridge of SpiesBridge of Spies, rated PG-13

This film, based on true events, is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tom Hanks. Enough said! It‘s one of the best films of the year.

The film begins in 1957 in Brooklyn during the Cold War. Rudolf Abel, a KGB intelligence officer superbly played by Mark Rylance, is arrested for espionage in the United States. To give the impression that he will get a fair hearing, Abel will need a competent lawyer. Thomas Watters Jr. (Alan Alda) approaches his employee James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks in one of the best performances in his career, about defending Abel. Donovan is an insurance attorney, who is good at his job. He was also involved in the Nuremberg trials years prior. Donovan’s wife Mary, played by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan, is very much against it because of the impact on their family, but Donovan agrees to it, saying that everyone is entitled to a good defense.

But Donovan’s boss and even the judge aren’t interested in a fair trial. They know he’s guilty and really don’t want Donovan to truly defend him. Just move things along quickly and, we assume, send Abel to the electric chair. But Donovan takes his job seriously and mounts a defense of Abel, showing genuine concern for his client. Several times throughout the film, when things aren’t looking so good for Abel, Donovan asks him “Are you worried?” Abel not showing any obvious signs of worry, asks him “Would it help?”

In addition to wanting to give his client a fair trial, Donovan also prophetically looks ahead to see that Abel could be valuable in the event the Soviet Union captured one of our men. As such, he argues for imprisonment, rather than the death penalty.

This is a well-directed, acted and written film, with strong performances in particular from Hanks and Rylance. I would not be surprised if they, along with Spielberg and script writers Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, all receive Oscar nominations for their work here.

As far as content concerns, the film includes a few completely unnecessary words, and a few instances of God’s name being misused. We also see some Cold War related violence.