Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of ELVIS

Elvis, rated PG-13

This film looks at the relationship between Elvis Presley and his long-time manager Colonel Tom Parker, told from Parker’s perspective. The movie condenses Elvis’ life into a 159-minute somewhat fictionalized biopic. The film is well-made and features solid performances by the two leads actors – Austin Butler as Elvis and two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), as Colonel Tom Parker. The film was directed by Oscar nominee Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!), and written by Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, and Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge!).
As the film opens, we see Presley as a boy being influenced by both Blues music and Gospel music. Parker calls himself a “snowman” because he likes to “snow” or con people. He works with carnivals, and manages the country music artist Hank Snow, played by David Wenham (Lord of the Rings trilogy).
We find out later that Parker was born in the Netherlands and was in the U.S. illegally. He meets Presley, a White man who sounds Black, at the Hayride, just as Presley’s first single “That’s All Right Mama” is taking over radio. His live show is filled with sexuality, as he blends Black Blues music and White rock and roll. When Presley’s popularity exceeds that of Snow, Parker dumps Snow and focuses all of his attention on Presley. Continue reading

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News of the World, rated PG-13
** ½

News of the World is a slow moving, though beautifully filmed western, which features solid acting performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. Though the film received four Oscar nominations (sound, production design, original score and cinematography), I found it to be too slow and predictable to recommend.
The film was directed by Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass (United 93), who worked with lead actor Hanks in Captain Phillips. The screenplay is by Oscar nominee Luke Davies (Lion), and is based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles.
The film is set in 1870, a few years after the Civil War. Captain Jefferson Kyle Tidd, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), is a veteran of three wars, including the Civil War. He is a decent, but lonely man. He speaks of a wife in San Antonio. He rides in a wagon from town to town in Texas dramatically reading from newspapers the latest news of the day to gatherings of people who are willing to pay a dime to hear it.
As he is in transit between towns, he comes across a wagon on its side. He sees a man who has been hung, and he notices a blonde-haired girl running away. Continue reading

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, rated PG

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood follows 2018’s excellent (and superior) documentary about Fred Rogers, also known as “Mr. Rogers”, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The new film, inspired by the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and Esquire magazine journalist Tom Junod, is well acted and has several positive messages, but is also slow and more melancholy than you might expect.
The film is directed by Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and written by Emmy nominee Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Transparent), and Emmy nominee Noah Harpster (Transparent). The film is based on the Esquire magazine article “Can You Say….’Hero’? by Tom Junod.
Lloyd Vogel (the fictitious name for the Tom Junod character), played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Matthew Rhys (The Americans), is a cynical Esquire magazine writer, who normally writes hard-hitting investigative articles. In 1998, Vogel is assigned by Ellen, his editor, played by Oscar winner Christine Lahti (Lieberman in Love), to write a 400-word piece on Fred Rogers, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), for the magazine’s issue on heroes. She states that writing the piece will help Vogel’s reputation for being too hard on his subjects. Continue reading

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My Review of TOY STORY 4

Toy Story 4, rated G

Nine years after the excellent Toy Story 3, the much-loved Toy Story series gets possibly its final chapter in this pleasing and heartfelt film, which is one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. I recommend the film for all ages, with the exception of very young children who could be frightened at times.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Josh Cooley (Inside Out) in his directorial debut. The screenplay is written by two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), and Stephany Folsom. There are many credits for the original story, including Oscar winner John Lasseter (Toy Story), in his last project with Pixar. The film had a budget of approximately $200 million.
The film opens 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep, voiced by Golden Globe nominee Annie Potts (Corvette Summer) became separated from the other toys. We then see Andy, voiced by John Morris, giving the rest of the toys to Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw. Woody, voiced by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) is dealing with the fact that he is no longer the top toy, as we see Bonnie playing more with the other toys. When Bonnie has her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to look after her. At school, we see Bonnie, with Woody’s help, create Forky, voiced by two-time Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep). Forky is made out of a spork, with popsicle stick feet, pipe cleaner arms. He feels that he is trash and thus belongs in a trash can. Fortunately, Woody, looking for purpose, continually rescues him from the trash.
We then see Bonnie and her family leave in an RV for a one-week vacation between the orientation and the start of kindergarten. Again, Woody has to rescue Forky, who jumps out of the RV. As they walk along the road, Woody tells Forky about the responsibility and loyalty of toys to their owners, and that each toy has a purpose.
While they try to catch up with Bonnie and her parents, Woody and Forky pass an antique shop, and Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp inside the window of the shop. They enter into the shop and encounter some ventriloquist dolls that will be frightening for young children. They also encounter Gabby Gabby, voiced by six-time Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), resulting in Forky being captured. As Woody goes to get help, he runs into Bo Peep at an amusement park. Later, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Emmy winner Tim Allen (Home Improvement), leaves the RV to go search for Woody.
Will Buzz be able to find Woody? Will Forky be rescued? What about Bo Peep? Continue reading

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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.

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My Review of the Movie “Sully”

sullySully, rated PG-13

This film is directed by 86 year-old two-time Academy Award winning Director (for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby), Clint Eastwood. The screenplay is written by Todd Komarnicki based on the book Highest Duty by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

We are familiar with Sully’s story. On Thursday, January 15th, 2009, he safely landed his damaged plane, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 bound for Charlotte onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 souls aboard. This was referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson”.  Sully’s plane lost engine power about three minutes after takeoff when it hit a flock of Canadian Geese at an altitude of approximately 2800 feet and speed of 200 MPH.  Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles had a very short period of time to decide what to do.

But there is more to the story. While he was overwhelmingly looked at as a hero who saved the lives of all aboard, afterwards (the film portrays it as immediately afterwards, when in reality it took place much later), there was an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that threatened to destroy Sully’s reputation and career.

Two-time Oscar winner (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump), Tom Hanks portrays Sully. First Officer Jeff Skiles is portrayed by Aaron Eckhart. Both do an excellent job in their roles. Sully is portrayed as a family man. Laura Linney does a good job of portraying Sully’s wife Lorraine, and we hear several phone calls between the two.

The NTSB investigation team comes across as having an agenda to blame Sully for the emergency landing. They are portrayed as wanting to show that he made a mistake and could have in fact turned the plane around and landed it safely on one of the many runways available to him in/near New York City. The film portrays the whole story of the investigation and its significant impact on Sully. It also portrays Sully dealing with his newfound fame and the post-trauma stress that the crash had on him and his crew. On this anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, there are scenes that will remind viewers of the horrific attacks in New York City.

The film makes effective use of flashbacks, as we see the crash landing, which is realistically portrayed from multiple perspectives. We also see a few other scenes of Sully flying planes early in his flying career.

We saw the film on an IMAX screen, which made the plane’s crash and rescue scene truly amazing. Eastwood does an excellent job putting the viewer in the cockpit with Sully and Skiles.

The film is rated PG-13 for some brief adult language and the tense crash landing.  Overall, it’s hard to go wrong with this film about an American hero directed by one of our top directors and starring one of our top actors.

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Movie Review ~ A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the KingA Hologram for the King

In this screen version of Dave Eggers’ book directed and written by Tom Tykwer, Tom Hanks stars as Alan Clay. Alan was once a successful salesman, but things aren’t going so well these days. As a member of Schwinn’s Board of Directors, Alan made the decision to outsource American jobs to China, a decision that didn’t turn out well. He has recently gone through an ugly divorce, and is on his way to Saudi Arabia to try to sell holographic IT systems to the king for a massive new development in the middle of the desert that will include 1.5 million people by 2025. We see the project in various stages of construction with no working going on, but this is never explained to the viewer.

Alan is under heavy pressure from his boss to close the deal, who checks in with him several times a day. We get the idea that the deal is a must for Alan to keep his job. He also needs to make the deal to pay for his daughter’s college education.  Despite being divorce, Alan has a very good relationship with his daughter Kit, played by Tracey Fairaway. She encourages him in the job he is in Saudi Arabia to do, unlike his father who is a discourager.

Unfortunately for Alan, nothing goes right once he gets to Saudi Arabia. He is badly jet lagged, oversleeps every morning, (never setting an alarm – duh!), and repeatedly gets drunk (in a country where alcohol is illegal). Things don’t go much better for Alan and his team as they try to get an audience with the king to make their sales presentation.

Since he oversleeps each morning, Alan needs a driver to get him to the king’s development an hour away. Alexander Black, as Yousef, is a likable driver, who eventually bonds with Alan.  We enjoyed Yousef’s music he played in the car and the beautiful scenes of Saudi Arabia. Yousef, and Muslims in general, are portrayed sympathetically; not as terrorists or as folks that treat women as second-class citizens, but mostly just as ordinary people in this film – though there is a passing reference to public executions that take place in the city Alan is staying in. Muslims are often portrayed praying in this film.

Eventually we realize that Alan is depressed. He develops a medical condition that is meant as a metaphor for his depression. When he seeks medical attention, he runs into Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury), a rare female physician, and even rarer still is that she is in the presence of a man alone in a Muslim country as she treats Alan.

As the film goes on, we see Alan beginning to gain more confidence.  However, it largely takes place in a slow moving film that doesn’t have much of a plot. There is some humor sprinkled in, but watching the film, I felt I was living through the same depressing nightmare that defined Alan’s life. As a result, I cannot recommend this film to you; instead I’m recommending that you wait for Hanks’ upcoming film entitled Sulley, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Hanks’ performance is fine, but certainly nothing special. The best part of the film is the opening scene in which Hanks talk-sings “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads.

This is the second collaboration between Hanks and Tykwer, the first being 2012’s Cloud Atlas, a film we did not see. It seems a strange vehicle for Hanks, as it is based on a book that has gotten very mixed reader reviews on Amazon.

The film is rated R for some adult language and unnecessary female nudity.

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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.