Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick, rated PG-13

The long-delayed (due to the pandemic) Top Gun: Maverick, is an exciting action-packed sequel to the 1986 film Top Gun. The film, whose release was delayed five times, and has plenty of nostalgia from the first film, was directed by Joseph Kosinski (Only the Brave) and written by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig, and Justin Marks. Only Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer return in their roles from the 1986 Top Gun film.
As the film opens, Maverick, played by three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise (Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, Born on the Fourth of July), is a test pilot pushing himself and an experimental aircraft to Mach 10. This is against the wishes and order of the program’s Rear Admiral in charge played by four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris (The Truman Show, Pollock, The Hours, Apollo 13), who is ready to shut the program down.
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Mission: Impossible – Fallout, rated PG-13

Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth film based on the television series that ran from 1966 – 1973, is an exciting, non-stop action film, one of the best films of the year. The film is directed by Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects). McQuarrie, who also wrote the screenplay, directed 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.  The film had a budget of $178 million, and made that back with an opening weekend worldwide gross of in excess of $205 million.
This film picks up the storyline from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It is set two years after Ethan Hunt, played by three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July), had captured anarchist Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation). Remaining members of Lane’s organization called the Syndicate have since formed into a group calling themselves the Apostles. They have a belief that suffering leads to peace. They have been working with a mysterious John Lark inside of Impossible Missions Force (IMF) to obtain three plutonium cores to create three bombs. Hunt has to get the plutonium back, but Lane, who Hunt left alive rather than killing, is working with the Apostles, even though he is in custody.
Ethan is sent to Berlin to find Lark before he buys the plutonium by his boss Alan Hunley, played by Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler). Ethan meets Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg, and Luther Stickell, played by Golden Globe winner Ving Rhames (Don King: Only in America) in Berlin, but the mission to buy the plutonium fails when Ethan chooses to save Luther’s life. The plutonium is taken by the Apostles.
CIA Director Erica Sloan, played by Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do With It) Hunley’s boss, insists on sending one of her agents, August Walker, played by Henry Cavill (Superman films) along with Ethan to Paris to insure the mission is successfully completed. We don’t know who to trust. It appears that Baldwin and Sloan, as well as Ethan and Walker, are working against each other.
Ethan and Walker make a thrilling HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump through a thunderstorm into Paris. Cruise trained for an entire year to perform that stunt. In Paris they attend a fundraiser party where Lark is set to buy the plutonium from the Apostles, with an arms dealer known as the White Widow, played by Emmy nominee Vanessa Kirby (The Crown), acting as a broker.
Will Ethan and his team, including Ilsa Faust, played by Golden Globe nominee Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) along with Walker be able to get the plutonium and keep the Apostles from using it to create incredible suffering? And are Ethan and Walker really on the same team?
The film has a number of exciting car chases, incredible stunts and double-crosses. It takes place in Berlin, Paris, London and Kashmir and features stunning shots from those locations, courtesy of cinematography by Rob Hardy (Annihilation). The film features a strong cast, with many members returning from previous films in the series, along with a few new additions (Bassett, Cavill).
Content issues include some adult language, including the abuse of Jesus’ name, and a significant amount of violence.
Mission Impossible: Fallout is a thrilling, non-stop action film with great visuals and stunts. It’s overly long at nearly two and a half hours, but that is my only complaint about this excellent film.

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American Made, rated R

“Doing it for the good guys”, Tom Cruise shines as Barry Seal in a film based on true events that has some significant content issues for discerning viewers.
This film, based perhaps loosely on true events from 1978 to 1986, is a “truth is stranger than fiction” story, containing elements of true crime, comedy and thriller. Three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise portrays Barry Seal, a one-time star pilot, in fact the youngest airline pilot in TWA history. But when we meet Seal, he is bored with the routine life of an airline pilot, even with his Cuban cigar smuggling business on the side.
Seal’s incredible story begins when he is approached by CIA agent Schafer, (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). He uses his knowledge of Seal’s smuggling as leverage to get him to fly covert missions for the government over Latin America countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Columbia to take spy photos from a fast, twin-engine plane. Soon, we see him engaged with the dangerous Medellin cartel, making buckets of money smuggling drugs into the U.S. Later we see him carrying Russian AK-47’s to the Contra rebels in Nicaraguan for the U.S. government.
Barry lives with wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) and their three children on 2,000 acres the CIA provides them in Mena, Arkansas, complete with its own airport. That property will become a military training ground for some of the Contras he brings back with him. Soon, Barry and Lucy have more money than they know what to do with. In fact, they run out of places to hide it. Lucy may not know all of the details of Barry’s drug smuggling work, but we see her fully enjoying the fruits of it.
The film includes a series of videotaped confessions Seal made from motels in the mid-1980’s. In addition, there is news footage of Presidents Carter and Reagan along with Oliver Stone and others included.
Seal is not a very likeable character. He makes a lot of money and his greed comes through. He apparently will do just about anything for money. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a very good moral compass, though he does love his wife and children. Actually, the film does not portray any characters that viewers will care about.
This is a role that is seemingly made for Cruise, as he flashes his signature smile and is almost always seen with his aviator sunglasses. He also does his own stunts and flies a plane.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) reunites with Tom Cruise, who he worked with on 2014’s excellent Edge of Tomorrow. Liman’s father Arthur was the Chief Counsel for the Senate investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal and questioned Colonel Oliver North during the public hearings.
The screenplay is by Gary Spinelli. Cesar Charlone handles the cinematography, using a bouncing, shaky camera style. We see some excellent scenes of planes flying over jungles and the ocean. The film’s soundtrack includes a number of top 40 songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s, including songs by George Harrison, Linda Ronstadt and Charlie Rich. We also see items of a bygone era such as pay phones and pagers. The film had an estimated budget of $80 million.
The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, sexuality (between Seal and wife Lucy), and some nudity, which is played for laughs. It is Cruise’s first “R-rated” film since 2008’s Tropic Thunder. It features some excellent stunts and action from beginning to end.
The film is well-made and entertaining, though most likely a highly fictionalized and perhaps controversial version of actual events. The film implicates both Republicans and Democrats along the way. Unfortunately, the film also contains significant adult language and sexuality, and that may be enough to keep some discerning viewers away from this one.

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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

jack-reacher-never-go-backJack Reacher: Never Go Back, rated PG-13

This film, the second in the Jack Reacher film series starring Tom Cruise as Reacher, is based on the eighteenth book in Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher series. In the books, Reacher has a 50 inch chest, is 6’5” and weighs 250 pounds. Cruise is just 5’7″ and weighs less than 200 pounds.

Child actually appears in the film as a TSA agent who overlooks the fact that Reacher doesn’t match the stolen ID he is using to board a plane. The film is directed by Oscar winner Edward Zwick (Shakespeare in Love). Zwick also co-writes the $68 million film with Marshall Herskovitz (as they re-wrote Richard Wenk’s script).


Reacher is a former Major in the Military Police. The film opens with a scene familiar to those who have seen the excellent trailer (see below), where Jack partners with the Military Police to take down a corrupt sheriff and his deputies. Afterwards as he travels by hitch-hiking around the country, he begins having occasional phone conversations with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Agent Maria Hill from The Avengers films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series). They joke about having dinner together the next time Jack is in Washington D.C. However, when Jack actually shows up he finds Colonel Morgan (Holt McCallany) in Susan’s office. Colonel Morgan tells him that Major Turner has been arrested for espionage. She might also be responsible for the murder of two of her own people in Afghanistan. In addition to that Jack is told that he has a now 15 year-old daughter that he doesn’t know about named Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). And on top of all that (talk about a bad day!), even though he is no longer a Major in the Military Police, as he mentions several times in the film, Colonel Morgan finds a loophole that allows them to hold Reacher in MP custody.

Jack suspects a conspiracy from the start and is able to break Susan out, with both of them now becoming targets of a military contractor called Para Source, and their assassin credited as “The Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger). Jack, intrigued at the idea that he may actually have a daughter, tracks Samantha down. Before long, Jack, Susan and Samantha are all targets of The Hunter, with things culminating in New Orleans.

Cruise, Smulders and Yarosh have good chemistry as they seek to evade The Hunter and get to the root of the conspiracy so that they can clear Major Turner’s name. I found myself caring about these characters and also wondering if Samantha was really Jack’s daughter as they begin to build a father-daughter bond. Turner is tough as nails, in many ways a female Reacher, and yet also shows a motherly-side towards Samantha.

The film has at times over the top violence that earns its “PG-13” rating, and certainly pushes the “R” rating boundary. There are no sexual content issues to be concerned about, which was refreshing, and the adult language is less than we would experience in a film of this genre, though God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused multiple times in this film as they are in almost every film in theatres these days.

Cruise was excellent in the role of Jack Reacher, and I hope we see more films with him as Reacher. Smolders, who did all of her own stunts in the film, spending eight weeks training in various martial arts to prepare for the role, was a good partner to Cruise as Major Turner.

I enjoyed the film, but would caution potential viewers of the at times brutal violence portrayed.

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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible;  Rogue NationMission Impossible: Rogue Nation, rated PG-13

The fifth film in the Mission Impossible series over nineteen years with Tom Cruise is also my top film of 2015 thus far. It is an exciting, well-made film right from the incredible opening scene, which will remind you of an opening sequence from a James Bond film. The film includes deception and betrayal, action scenes featuring car and motorcycle chases, a fight high above the stage of an opera, a scene underwater, beautiful scenery from London, Vienna, and Casablanca, a strong cast and a score featuring the familiar Mission Impossible music.

Cruise, who looks great and shows no sign of aging at 53, returns as Ethan Hunt. He and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team – Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell – continue to pursue the Syndicate, an international rogue organization. In the opening scene Tom Cruise as Ethan climbs on the outside of a flying airplane (an Airbus A400M) without the use of special effects or a stunt double. At times he was suspended on the aircraft 5000 feet in the air. Cruise who tends to do his own stunts was injured 6 times during the making of the movie.

But back in the United States, the IMF is shut down by CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Brandt then becomes a part of the CIA. Ethan is in London pursuing Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris. This will be the last IMF mission, as Hunley is now pursuing Ethan. Rebecca Ferguson plays a major role as the British Ilsa Faust. Throughout the film you don’t know whose side she’s on. She’s working for Lane, but seems to help Ethan at times. Can she be trusted?

The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects in 1995, and has worked with Cruise in last year’s excellent Edge of Tomorrow, 2012’s Jack Reacher and 2008’s Valkyrie. The previous film’s (Ghost Protocol) director Brad Bird turned this film down to direct the boring Tomorrowland (big mistake). In fact, each of the five Mission Impossible films have had different directors.

The film earns it’s PG-13 rating from the violence you would expect in a Mission Impossible film. There is no sexual content and minimal adult language. It’s the perfect summer film to enjoy. Highly recommended!