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Remember, ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ is an enjoyable whodunit

October 31st, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The cherished amnesia plot gets dusted off for the thriller “Before I Go to Sleep.” Writer-director Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of S.J. Watson’s novel adeptly executes a few turns. But it offers only one big twist.

Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth star in a scene from the movie "Before I Go To Sleep." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Laurie Sparham, Clarius Entertainment)

Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth star in a scene from the movie “Before I Go To Sleep.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Laurie Sparham, Clarius Entertainment)

As the result of a vicious assault 10 years ago, during which she sustained a head injury, Christine’s (Nicole Kidman) memory erases nightly when she goes to sleep. So she begins each day with a ritual, assisted by photos and written reminders of “Who are you, and where am I?”

By bedtime, she’s almost up to speed. In her dreams, she’s tormented by glimpses of the attack. And each morning, the cycle begins anew.

Christine’s situation renders her helpless and easily manipulated by others.

Aiding her is Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a psychologist. He has Christine create a daily video diary so she can build a long-term “memory,” carve out some independence and perhaps recall the identity of her assailant.

Eventually, bits of Christine’s past reveal themselves. She’d had an affair. So had her husband with her best friend Claire (Anne-Marie Duff). Yet now her spouse Ben (Colin Firth) seems so kindly and attentive.

If there’s a moral issue raised in this whodunit, which fans of the genre should enjoy, it might be the question of whether the illusion of a secure existence can effectively substitute for real family love.

The film contains occasional physical violence, an adultery theme, fleeting rear nudity as well as a few instances of profanity and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

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‘Nightcrawler’ depicts a creepy, unsettling character

October 30th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

The free-for-all world of local TV news reporting provides the backdrop for the strikingly creepy character study “Nightcrawler.”

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in a scene from the movie "Nightcrawler." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Chuck Zlotnick, Open Road Films)

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in a scene from the movie “Nightcrawler.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Chuck Zlotnick, Open Road Films)

Though it showcases a memorable, if unsettling, performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, writer-director Dan Gilroy’s drama also features a gritty urban atmosphere pervaded by an air of moral nihilism. It thus calls for thoughtful assessment by mature, well-grounded viewers.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a borderline-autistic Los Angeles loner scratching out a bare-bones existence through the nonviolent theft of items like scrap metal or an unattended racing bike.

Accidently exposed to the work of the breed of ambulance-chasing cameramen whose disdainful nickname gives the film its title, Bloom takes up the seamy craft — and discovers that he’s quite good at it. Mainly, that’s due to the fact that he displays a total disregard for any semblance of ethical standards. The more gruesome the images he can intrusively videotape at the site of a car wreck or on the scene of a violent crime, the better.

In fact, Bloom’s indifference to the suffering he captures brings him so much success that Nina (Rene Russo), the producer of the show to which he markets his sensationalist wares, becomes dependent on his output to maintain ratings and thereby keep her job. Since Bloom is attracted to the considerably older Nina, the power he wields over her leads to some queasy exchanges in the dialogue.

With his fortunes in the ascent, Bloom hires homeless drifter Rick (Riz Ahmed) to serve as his assistant and sidekick. But his proximity to Bloom eventually reveals to Rick just how dark the hidden depths of his employer’s obvious eccentricity are, an insight that leaves him not only repelled but alarmed.

Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is mesmerizingly off-kilter, utterly tone deaf to the social cues of those around him and delusionally pretentious. Addicted to the kind of bromides that might be overheard at a particularly woeful team-building retreat, he is nonetheless genuinely driven to succeed, and to do so at any cost.

Via Bloom’s disturbing antics, Gilroy adeptly satirizes both yellow journalism and the public hunger for tabloid images that fuels its excesses. But as Bloom’s initial moral sketchiness leads on to more sinister wrongdoing, distance and discernment are required to resist treating his descent as a giddy vicarious ride into amorality.

The film contains considerable, often gory violence, several uses of profanity, brief but coarse references to sexuality and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

 

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Up in the sky, it’s a sad ‘Birdman’ on a queasy journey

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Catholic News Service

Talky, pretentious and filled with existential angst when the characters aren’t preoccupied with spitting curses, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is visually dazzling.

Michael Keaton stars in a scene from the movie "Birdman." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Michael Keaton stars in a scene from the movie “Birdman.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Morally, though, it’s dead weight.

This black comedy reflects on the nature of fame, specifically, the warping power of movie fame gained by playing big-budget comic-book heroes. It occasionally circles this theme, but provides no resolution. Gloom, anxiety and complete self-absorption supplant responsible behavior, with no evident consequences.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who has achieved worldwide fame playing an action hero called Birdman in a series of films. This, of course, parallels Keaton’s own experience as the star of two Batman pictures released in the late 1980s and early ’90s. We are constantly reminded that Thomson’s turn as Birdman represented a soul-deadening artistic sellout.

With much of his money now drained away, Thomson is attempting to redefine himself as a serious actor. He has adapted, and is directing and starring in, a work by short-story writer Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” As the movie opens, the show is in previews on Broadway.

The preview performances mostly go wrong, launching a series of in-jokes for theater buffs. Things go from bad to worse when, after a rehearsal mishap, Thomson hires intense performer Mike (Edward Norton), who undermines him at every opportunity.

Riggan’s Birdman alter ego haunts him in voiceovers, taunting him about his earlier celebrity and deriding his effort to become a grounded actor. That Riggan’s movie powers derived entirely from special effects never appears in these discussions.

Riggan understands so little about Carver’s story that he ends the play with an on-stage gun suicide he wrote himself. This delights the uncaring, whooping audiences in need of spectacle, while guaranteeing he’ll get a hostile review from The New York Times.

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and his co-writers, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, fill most of the film with bitter speeches. Riggan’s daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone) gets to deliver one of the strongest of them: “You’re doing this because, like the rest of us, you’re scared you don’t matter! And guess what — you don’t matter! Get used to it!”

Riggan has his supportive girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) in the cast and sometimes receives terse counseling from producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis). But most of his best advice comes from his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), who consoles him with, “It’s what you always do. You mistake love for admiration.”

One’s reaction to the movie becomes, then, strictly a matter of taste. If you savor vinegar, as in, bucket after bucket of it, you’ll have little trouble enduring this. Otherwise, it’s a sad, bilious journey.

The film contains fleeting rear nudity, much sexual humor, including a crude sight gag, a same-sex kiss, frequent profanity and pervasive crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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‘John Wick’ is dim, violent and ludicrous

October 24th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service Starring as the eponymous antihero of the action thriller “John Wick,” Keanu Reeves stays true to his laconic form, up to a point. Wick is a man of few words and efficacious. But since his chief talent is for killing, he’s incapable of evoking sufficient compassion. The result is that Reeves seems as capable as ever, but much more inert emotionally.

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie "John Wick." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie “John Wick.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Pseudo-stylish and extremely violent, the movie itself plays like a long commercial for a fancy imported beer. A significant amount of casual, tongue-in-cheek humor is generated by the characters’ reactions to Wick’s lethal prowess, enough to lighten the proceedings a bit, though not nearly enough to wash away the blood or offset the high body count. A notoriously brutal and persistent hit man, John Wick has had the rare experience of being allowed to withdraw from the New York crime scene and lead a so-called normal life in suburban New Jersey. But following the death of his wife from unnamed natural causes, he’s drawn back in when a young thug steals his prized 1969 Ford Mustang and kills the puppy his spouse left him to help with the grieving process. The rash hoodlum turns out to be Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), son of Russian crime czar Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a former associate of Wick’s. Although he doesn’t put it in so many words, there’s little doubt Wick will exact revenge. Aghast at having woken such a potent foe, Viggo goes on the offensive and provides an endless supply of black-suited henchman to be dispatched. In a series of repetitive sequences, Wick eliminates everyone in his way, frequently by shooting them in the head at point-blank range or snapping their necks. His friend and fellow hit man, Marcus (Willem Dafoe), gets drawn into the mayhem, as does a female assassin called Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki). Making his directorial debut, longtime stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski doesn’t choreograph the action with any appreciable verve. The noir atmosphere he aims for is neither original nor convincingly rendered. Dressing everyone in three-piece suits and making use of dim lighting doesn’t cut it. The effort to present a criminal underworld governed by a strict code of behavior, and in which all the nefarious players lodge at the same chic Manhattan hotel, is faintly ludicrous and decidedly unglamorous. Wick knows how evil he is and, while not completely without remorse, never pretends to be civilized or morally redeemable. That doesn’t make him less culpable or his murderous behavior any easier to watch, however. It only renders the movie drearily inevitable. Likewise, asking, as numerous characters do, whether Wick has come out of retirement permanently and whether it’s even possible to ever extricate oneself from this milieu, is idle speculation. The only certainty is that Reeves’ latest screen venture is eminently avoidable. The film contains pervasive bloody violence involving guns, knives, martial-arts combat and the brutal treatment of a priest, possible euthanasia, animal cruelty, drug use, an irreverent depiction of a Catholic church, at least one instance of profanity as well as frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

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Audiences likely to get ‘Ouija’ bored

October 23rd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Like some who play the “game” from which it takes its title, the folks behind “Ouija” wants to have it both ways: It’s all about harmless fun, of course. But what if it’s not?

Douglas Smith, Olivia Cooke and Ana Coto star in a scene from the movie "Ouija." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned.  Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

Douglas Smith, Olivia Cooke and Ana Coto star in a scene from the movie “Ouija.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

A half-baked cautionary tale that nonetheless serves as extended product placement for the Hasbro version of the device, director and co-writer Stiles White’s muddled chiller is an amateurish effort that delivers few jolts and little entertainment. Its ambiguous portrayal of a spiritually dangerous pastime, moreover, makes the film totally unsuitable for impressionable viewers.

When seemingly happy teen Debbie (Shelley Hennig) mysteriously hangs herself, her best pal Laine (Olivia Cooke) and her boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) are left with a host of troubling questions. So they ill-advisedly try to communicate with Debbie using an Ouija board the deceased girl had recently unearthed in her attic.

As the audience already knows, and as some who haven’t even seen the movie can easily guess, a malevolent spirit summoned up by this item was the cause of Debbie’s untimely demise. Thus, by consulting it, Laine, Pete and those rounding out the seance — Laine’s younger sister, Sarah (Ana Coto), her school chum Isabelle (Bianca Santos) and her sweetheart, Trevor (Daren Kagasoff) — have all landed themselves in the supernatural soup.

Extricating themselves involves finding out about the unwholesome family who once lived in Debbie’s house, making more than one visit to an asylum for the insane and crawling around in a dark basement. While White and his script collaborator Juliet Snowden are thus busily lurching from one genre standby to the next, characters are rapidly being felled, one of them, at least, in a manner that’s quite nasty to watch.

The ultimate impact on moviegoers? Well, there is another way to spell “board.”

The film contains occult themes, brief but harsh violence, a suicide, a couple of crude terms and some mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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Sex addition hinders her business, but what about the box office?

October 21st, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Dramas about any form of addiction customarily exist in a tight moral universe. There are clearly limned ideas of right and wrong. Always, misdeeds bring harsh consequences.

“Addicted” keeps to that structure only briefly.

William Levy and Sharon Leal star in a scene from the movie "Addicted." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

William Levy and Sharon Leal star in a scene from the movie “Addicted.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Since the film is based on the first in a series of erotic novels by Kristina Laferne Roberts, who goes by the pen name Zane, and the craving at issue is thus for sex, gaudy, elaborately choreographed bedroom activity soon takes over. From there on, the proceedings might be said to occupy that nether-nether land between soft-core pornography and a big-screen soap opera on the scale of Tyler Perry’s “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.”

So, no moral lessons here except for the brief interjections of a therapist, Dr. Spencer (Tasha Smith). She’s treating Zoe (Sharon Leal), a married mother of two who unspools sad stories about how she can never get a man to satisfy her, and is descending into sex addiction.

Director Bille Woodruff and screenwriters Christina Welsh and Ernie Barbarash emphasize considerable undulating in expensive negligees, unusually long shower times and gratuitous peeks at male backsides.

Despite a stable marriage to architect Jason (Boris Kodjoe) and the positive influence of her mother, Nina (Maria Howell), who helps run their Atlanta household, visual artists’ manager Zoe can’t shake the feeling she’s been missing out. Her husband has been her only man ever since high school.

First, there are secretive visits to online pornography, then a fling with sensuous painter Quinton (William Levy), who tells her, “I just love to watch the way your lips move.” That ratchets up to acrobatic, drug-fueled casual sex at clubs with Corey (Tyson Beckford). Zoe’s time with her family plummets, and her obsession damages opportunities to expand her business.

There must be a cause to all this, right? Something perhaps from childhood? And who will finally intervene?

Well, it’s not a movie intended to leave anyone thinking, “What have we learned?”

The film contains strong sexual content — including graphically portrayed adultery, aberrant behavior and upper female and rear nudity — frequent rough language and much sexual banter. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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‘The Book of Life’ animates the Day of the Dead

October 20th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Who knew the Day of the Dead could be so much fun? The Mexican method of observing All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, is the backdrop for “The Book of Life,” an entertaining and visually stunning 3-D animated film.

Traditionally on this feast day, families visit cemeteries to place gifts by the gravesides of their departed loved ones in a spirit of remembrance. Although the practice is Aztec in origin, its intentions correspond with Catholic teaching, which encourages prayer for the souls of the deceased.

This is a scene from the animated  movie "The Book of Life." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Fox)

This is a scene from the animated movie “The Book of Life.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Fox)

In popular culture, the Day of the Dead has often morphed into a Halloween-like party with multicolored skulls and imagery bordering on the diabolical. Fortunately, this is not the case in “The Book of Life.” Instead, director and co-writer (with Douglas Langdale) Jorge R. Gutierrez uses the observance to highlight the enduring bonds of family.

Yes, dancing skeletons abound, and there are mythological aspects to the plot that might call for discussion with impressionable youngsters. But this is, in essence, a harmless fairy tale.

At its core, “The Book of Life” is a love story, told to schoolchildren on a museum visit by one of the institution’s guides, Mary Beth (voice of Christina Applegate). She uses wooden dolls that spring to life to enact her yarn.

In the Mexican village of San Angel, best friends Manolo (voice of Diego Luna) and Joaquin (voice of Channing Tatum) have been in love with the same woman, Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana), since childhood.

Manolo is a reluctant bullfighter, forced into the ring to uphold his family’s proud tradition. A gentle, sensitive soul, Manolo would rather make beautiful music with his guitar and with Maria. (He woos her with a surprising playlist that includes covers of Elvis Presley and Rod Stewart.)

Joaquin, on the other hand, is a puffed-up macho soldier, struggling to live up to his own family line of fierce warriors.

Unbeknownst to Manolo, Joaquin has a secret weapon: a medal which makes him invincible. This charm was given to him by the god Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman), the ruler of the desolate Land of the Forgotten, a purgatory-like underworld populated by the spirits of those who have no one to pray for them.

Xibalba longs to escape his realm. So he makes a wager with his estranged wife, the goddess La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo), overseer of the heaven-like Land of the Remembered. The bet centers on Maria. If she chooses Joaquin as her mate, La Muerte will, reluctantly, swap positions with Xibalba.

Since Xibalba has stacked the deck in favor of Joaquin, things look bad for La Muerte and Manolo. But several twists and turns are in store as the action shifts back and forth among the three worlds.

Although “The Book of Life” is a fantasy and does not espouse a particular religion, it does include among hundreds of background characters a (presumably Catholic) priest and a trio of nuns. Their depiction is, however, perfectly respectful.

Parents should be advised that, while the tone is light and the action slapstick, there are several dark moments which may frighten younger viewers.

In the end, Catholic moviegoers will concur with the script’s lesson about honoring the dearly departed: “As long as we remember, they are always with us.”

The film contains nonscriptural religious themes, some mildly scary sequences, occasional bathroom humor and a few very mild oaths in Spanish. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘The Best of Me’ improbable romance is tear-gusher flick

October 20th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Catholic author Nicholas Sparks, master of gooey romance, returns to the big screen with “The Best of Me,” based on his best-selling 2011 novel.

All of Sparks’ hallmarks are here: a handsome cast, a picturesque setting, conflict and misunderstandings, innumerable shifts in chronology, and a veritable gusher of tears.

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan star in a scene from the movie "The Best of Me." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Relativity Media)

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan star in a scene from the movie “The Best of Me.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Relativity Media)

Predictability aside, director Michael Hoffman (“The Last Station”) has crafted an entertaining but morally flawed drama about destiny, posing a perennial question: If given a second chance, would you pursue a lost love?

That’s the dilemma facing former high school sweethearts Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan). The two are reunited after 20 years apart when they return to their small Louisiana hometown for the funeral of a mutual friend, Tuck (Gerald McRaney).

Sparks, no pun intended, still fly for this duo. “How do I fall back in love with you when I never stopped?” Amanda coos. Not so fast: She’s married to someone else, albeit unhappily, and there are unresolved issues from Dawson’s past.

That history is examined in flashbacks, as we follow the courtship of the young Dawson (Luke Bracey) and Amanda (Liana Liberato). They meet cute, but are from vastly different worlds. Amanda is from a refined Southern family. Dawson is poor, and subject to abuse by his drug-dealing father Tommy (Sean Bridgers).

After one beating too many, Dawson runs away, finding sanctuary with Tuck, who becomes his surrogate dad and guardian angel. Dawson’s love for Amanda grows, despite opposition from her family.

To reveal more about these star-crossed lovers over the next two decades would spoil the surprises of the improbable plot.

There are many shocking twists and turns on the road to reconciliation and redemption. There are also a number of ethical lapses at which J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters’ script winks, making this appropriate material for mature, discerning viewers only.

An extra box of tissues will come in handy for those grown-ups inclined to take this wild ride.

The film contains gunplay, domestic violence, drug use, benignly viewed adultery and nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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A study of psychological effects of combat ‘Fury’

By

Catholic News Service

Brutal realism in the depiction of combat and scripturally inspired spirituality hardly make an obvious pairing.

Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal star in a scene from the movie "Fury." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of A merica rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Columbia Pictures)

Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal star in a scene from the movie “Fury.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of A merica rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Columbia Pictures)

Yet, by bringing them together in “Fury,” writer-director David Ayer crafts a powerful, albeit disturbing, study of the psychological effects of combat.

In addition to a willingness to subject themselves to sometimes repellent images, those few grown-ups for whom the film makes suitable viewing also will require ethical subtlety to work their way through the script’s thicket of moral complexity.

Those not appropriately equipped to navigate this challenging terrain may find themselves as bewildered as Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), the young GI in whose company we primarily traverse it.

With the European phase of World War II reaching its final stages, and American troops rolling ever deeper into Germany, Norman finds himself assigned to replace a fallen crew member on the tank whose nickname serves as the movie’s title.

This comes as unwelcome news to the vehicle’s hard-bitten commander, Don Collier (Brad Pitt), all the more so after Norman protests that he has only been trained for a desk job, and that his current orders must be a mix-up.

Snafu or not, however, there’s no undoing the transfer. So Norman is forced to settle in to his new surroundings under the hostile gaze of a trio of unwilling comrades: Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal).

Boyd, a born-again Christian whose moniker is “Bible,” introduces the movie’s religious theme by asking hapless Norman if he is saved. When Norman, an Episcopalian, replies that he has been baptized, Boyd only scoffs.

Novice gunner Norman soon has a much bigger problem than this lack of ecumenical understanding. Totally unschooled for his military task, he has difficulty bringing himself to kill enemy soldiers.

Since Norman’s delicacy could end up costing lives, Collier resorts to a savage measure, attempting to force Norman to shoot a German prisoner in cold blood. Yet we soon see other aspects of Collier’s character that prove he has not given way entirely to such barbarism.

As Norman struggles to adapt to the kill-or-be-killed environment into which he’s been thrown, he gradually learns to follow Collier’s example, suspending some tenets of basic morality while keeping other facets of his humanity intact.

Mature moviegoers will need sound judgment to assess the terms of that bargain as well as a high tolerance for harsh visuals to endure the graphically portrayed circumstances which lead Norman to imitate Collier by adopting it.

A margin of compensation comes in the more serious treatment of faith to which Boyd’s biblical literacy eventually leads. But for some Christian viewers, at least, this blend of theologies will seem irredeemably out of place amid the much more prominent slaughter by which it’s surrounded.

The film contains pervasive wartime violence with much gore, an off-screen nonmarital bedroom encounter, numerous uses of profanity and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

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‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

By

Catholic News Service

Top prize for the most descriptive (and longest) film title of the year goes to “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Ed Oxenbould stars in a scene from the movie "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Disney)

Ed Oxenbould stars in a scene from the movie “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Disney)

This manic comedy, based on the 1972 children’s book by Judith Viorst, follows the exploits of the titular 12-year-old boy (Ed Oxenbould) as he experiences the seemingly worst day of his life. Murphy’s Law reigns supreme in Alexander’s universe: just about everything that can go wrong does.

But in a departure from the book, director Miguel Arteta (“Youth in Revolt”) and screenwriter Rob Lieber extend the mayhem to Alexander’s family members so they, too, can feel what it’s like for Alexander at the very bottom of the totem pole.

It’s the day before Alexander’s birthday, and his downward spiral starts with a minor annoyance: he gets gum stuck in his hair. It’s a portent of the calamities to come. He’s ridiculed by students at school, fails to impress the pretty girl in class, and nearly burns down the science lab.

Worst of all, Alexander gets no sympathy, or even much attention, at home. His mom, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), is preoccupied with her job at a publishing company. His stay-at-home dad, Ben (Steve Carell), is busy with 1-year-old Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas).

The older siblings are equally self-absorbed. Anthony (Dylan Minnette), the most popular kid in school, is getting ready for the prom. Emily (Kerris Dorsey) has the lead in the school production of “Peter Pan.”

So as his birthday dawns, Alexander makes a wish: that his family could know what it’s like to have a really awful day.

Needless to say, they all do. Anthony crashes the car. Trevor has a close encounter with indelible ink. Emily, fighting a cold, drinks too much cough syrup.

Even Dick Van Dyke, playing himself, turns up to spoil Kelly’s book launch.

If you can look beyond the relentless physical gags, a peeing baby and a vomiting teenager, there’s a small lesson here in how a family pulls together in the midst of adversity.

In the words of Alexander, “You’ve gotta have a bad day so you can love the good days even more.”

The film contains mild family discord, some bathroom humor and references to body parts. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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