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‘The DUFF’ is a DUFT (derivative, unfortunate flick for teens)

February 24th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

In Hollywood’s worldview, high school is a battleground where teenagers, divided into cliques, fight for supremacy, a la 2004’s “Mean Girls.”

In that spirit meet “The DUFF,” a derivative comedy based on a demeaning premise: that certain students are branded the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.”

A DUFF, as explained in the eponymous novel by Kody Keplinger, serves two purposes for the cooler, prettier girls in school: Her unfortunate appearance highlights the beauty of her so-called friends, and she also provides an approachable gateway for guys seeking a date with her one of her chums.

DUFFs may be self-aware or not. In the case of down-to-earth Bianca (Mae Whitman), she’s devastated to learn the truth of the label put on her by her duo of gal pals, Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos).

A sympathetic teacher, Mr. Arthur (Ken Jeong), offers Bianca advice on turning the other cheek, as he himself was a DUFF many years ago.

But hell hath no fury like a teen girl scorned, and Bianca sets out to erase her designation and take down the meanest girl in her high school, the queen of the labelers, Madison (Bella Thorne).

Bianca enlists the help of her neighbor, Wesley (Robbie Amell), who just happens to be Madison’s ex-boyfriend. Captain of the football team and the most popular guy in school, Wesley asks, in exchange, for Bianca’s assistance in passing chemistry.

And so Wesley becomes Henry Higgins to Bianca’s Eliza Doolittle, and the ugly duckling is transformed into a swan, of sorts. Bianca hopes to score a date with her crush, guitar-playing Toby (Nick Eversman), but finds she also has eyes for Wesley.

This infuriates Madison. Determined to win Wesley back, she becomes a cyberbully, posting vicious videos of Bianca on the Internet.

The strife rages on, and director Ari Sandel juggles a surfeit of screeching and a torrent of tears. Unfortunately, along with lax underlying values, vulgar sex talk and expletives abound, obscuring some positive messages for young people about self-esteem and respecting the dignity of others.

The film contains a benign view of nonmarital sex, frequent sexual images and references, underage drinking and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘McFarland, USA’ goes the distance with family values

February 24th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Kevin Costner turns in a restrained yet compelling performance as the central figure in the fact-based sports drama “McFarland, USA.”

As for the story unfolding around him, faith- and family-friendly values, together with the absence of any genuinely problematic elements for parents, make director Niki Caro’s uplifting tale one that can be enthusiastically recommended for moviegoers of almost all ages.

Kevin Costner stars in a scene from the movie "McFarland." 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)

Kevin Costner stars in a scene from the movie “McFarland.” 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)

Costner plays Jim White, a high school science teacher and coach in 1980s California whose sharp temper places him on a downward career spiral. Jim, wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and daughters Julie (Morgan Saylor) and Jamie (Elsie Fisher) seem to have hit rock bottom when the best job he can find forces them to relocate to the impoverished, predominantly Latino fieldworkers’ community of the title.

As the Whites, whose name now takes on an ironic significance, struggle to adjust to McFarland’s Hispanic culture, Jim recognizes a widespread gift among his new students for long-distance running. Toughened by backbreaking agricultural work and constrained to cover extensive distances on foot, lads like Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) glide swiftly across the landscape without giving their speed a second thought.

Jim decides to draw on this pool of latent talent by organizing a cross-country team. Since this genre of racing is considered an elite sport for country club-types, Jim and his charges will have to compete against the privileged athletes who attend the Golden State’s private academies. But Jim is convinced that, with the requisite effort, his hearty proteges can prevail.

Caro’s saga of youthful underdogs pitted against the odds honors Jim and Cheryl’s strong marriage, along with the bonds uniting the other close-knit clans it portrays. The script also highlights the value of education and self-improvement.

Though religion mostly hovers in the background, a spontaneous, intense and identifiably Catholic prayer of thanksgiving marks one of the movie’s emotional high-water marks.

The film contains an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a single mild oath, a couple of crass terms and occasional ethnic slurs. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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Don’t even stick your toe in vile ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2′

February 20th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Heeding neither logic nor taste, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is as glaringly stupid as it is vile.

Jason D. Jones and Rob Corddry star in a scene from the movie "Hot Tub Time Machine 2." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Jason D. Jones and Rob Corddry star in a scene from the movie “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Paramount)

The inane proceedings of director Steve Pink’s follow-up to his 2010 original find crass business tycoon Lou (Rob Corddry), his schlubby, resentful son Jacob (Clark Duke) and his best pal Nick (Craig Robinson) attempting to transport themselves into the past once again using the device of the title. Their mission is an urgent one, given that Lou has been shot in by an unknown assailant and the wound is about to prove fatal.

By turning the clock back, they hope to identify the would-be assassin and forestall the attack. Instead of revisiting bygone events, however, the trio inadvertently ends up 10 years into the future. There, they cross paths with Adam (Adam Scott), the offspring of a character from the first outing.

They also encounter some theoretically humorous cultural developments. Prominent among these is a television game show on which audience members can vote to compel contestants to engage, via virtual reality, in a variety of dares, including unwanted sex acts.

Since this gives Lou the chance to nominate Nick for a simulated homosexual encounter, adolescent homophobes will, no doubt, be left in stitches.

Screenwriter Josh Heald incorporates a few by-the-numbers life lessons, as when Jacob discovers that his hated dad isn’t so awful after all. But these momentary, inept bids for seriousness feel just as clumsy as every other aspect of his slapdash script.

The film contains occasional gory violence, strong sexual content, including an aberrant situation, graphic nonmarital sexual activity and full nudity, drug use, a few instances of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

 

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‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ — No, no, no, no, no, no, no

February 12th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Lifestyles of the Rich and Perverse” might be a more fitting title for the unusually explicit bedroom drama
“Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Jamie Dornan stars in a scene from the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey." 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/Universal Pictures and Focus Features)

Jamie Dornan stars in a scene from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey.” 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/Universal Pictures and Focus Features)

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of the first volume in a trilogy of novels by E.L. James, which features a modern-day Marquis de Sade as its male protagonist, has a pornographically narrow focus and a potentially dangerous message.

James, whose real name is Erika Mitchell, has apparently captured the imaginations of bored housewives everywhere by tracing the unlikely romance between socially awkward college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and intimidating business tycoon Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).

The popularity and notoriety of James’ fiction is such that moviegoers know from the outset that the stumbling block tripping these two up, as they attempt to tango, will be Christian’s fondness for whips and chains. Thus the duo’s first interaction, which comes about when Ana agrees to fill in for her ailing roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford), a journalism major, by interviewing Christian for the campus newspaper, is loaded down with dramatic irony.

All Ana knows is that Christian has been tapped to deliver the commencement address at her pending graduation. But we’re on to this dungeon-loving Bruce Wayne’s real identity. So his sly double entendres are ever so much fun.

In between the zingers, Ana and Christian fall for each other. Yet, as Ana tries to bond with her aloof new beau, she’s perplexed by his total lack of hearts-and-flowers romanticism. Until, that is, she discovers that he’s an obsessive sadist with an elaborately equipped “playroom” full of pain-inducing gadgets and restraints.

Christian enlightens Ana about all this shortly after relieving her of her virginity in a more conventional interaction. When she first shamefacedly admits to her still-unravished status, he demands wonderingly: “Where have you been?” And the next morning, sure enough, best pal Kate remarks on Ana’s glow.

Though it’s framed in the familiar context of a good girl’s crusade to redeem a naughty boy, Ana’s eventual cooperation with Christian’s perversion, arrived at after much hesitation and the negotiation of a written contract, no less, risks conveying the idea that all women are potentially willing victims of physical abuse and humiliation. We’re also left to wonder what role Christian’s helicopter and fancy penthouse pad play in rendering Ana so tractable.

The fact that the aberrant consequences of her consent are mostly toned down only aggravates the damage this armchair flirtation with the darker aspects of human nature has the ability to inflict.

While responsible viewers might sympathize with Christian’s troubled background, both in childhood and beyond, as well as with his passing acknowledgement of the harmful nature of his proclivities, the intent to stir audiences by teasing a supposed taboo is unmistakable.

Additionally, for those grounded in faith, Ana and Christian’s relationship presents a disturbing case study in the resolute frustration of God’s twin purposes in endowing human beings with the gift of sexuality: Not only is fruitfulness intentionally forestalled in the interest of uncommitted pleasure, spiritual union is displaced for the sake of a disordered exchange of possession and surrender.

The film contains excessive sexual content, including graphic deviant behavior and nonmarital sexual activity with much nudity, a benign view of casual sex and contraception, several uses of rough language and at least one crude term. 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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‘Whiplash’ is ‘Mommie Dearest’ of music ed

February 10th, 2015 Posted in Movies

By

Catholic News Service

“Whiplash” is to music education what “Mommie Dearest” is to parenting.

Screen dramas set in the notoriously exacting milieu of the jazz world are exceedingly rare. The morally troubling and illogical “Whiplash” may make them even scarcer.

Miles Teller stars in a scene from the movie "Whiplash." 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/courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Miles Teller stars in a scene from the movie “Whiplash.” 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/courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Writer-director Damien Chazelle sets out to portray a familiar story about a hard-driving teacher, a willing student and the tough-minded sacrifices necessary for professional success.

Instead, he produces a bizarre amoral fiction in which both emotional and physical abuse appear to be their own reward.

Chazelle depicts human behavior as a sanity- and rationality-free caricature. Miles Teller plays Andrew, an ambitious drummer at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory in New York. In an undeniably mesmerizing turn, J.K. Simmons is Fletcher, Andrew’s cruel instructor who’s always clad in black.

Since the drummer controls the tempo in jazz, and Andrew wants to play in the school’s elite ensemble, there’s no room for error. Impatient when he’s not being vicious, Fletcher is the demonic embodiment of rampaging perfectionism.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job,” he sneers at Andrew.

Fletcher frequently repeats the story of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who supposedly stepped up his game after Jo Jones, the drummer for Count Basie, hurled a cymbal at his head when his timing was off. (In truth, Jones probably lobbed the cymbal at Parker’s feet).

Andrew’s rage for musical immortality is so consuming that he gives up a budding romance with girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). At a family gathering, he announces, “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.”

Thus we’re treated to the depressing spectacle of a kid deliberately surrendering his soul.

It’s not unexpected when Fletcher resorts to insults, humiliates all the band members, throws drums against the wall or learns that one of his previous star pupils committed suicide. It’s when he starts slapping Andrew to keep tempo and begins sadistically breaking down his pupil’s psyche that the proceedings really cross the line.

The film contains misguided values, degrading behavior, pervasive profanities and crass language as well as occasional ethnic and sexual slurs. 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.

 

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Here comes unintentionally hilarious ‘Jupiter Ascending’

February 6th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service Heavenly bodies, human and alien, collide in spectacular fashion in “Jupiter Ascending,” a 3-D science-fiction romp through the cosmos. Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, creators of The “Matrix” trilogy, the film is an action-packed, mythology-laden mash-up of several classic fantasy films, most notably “The Wizard of Oz.”

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis star in a scene from the movie "Jupiter Ascending." 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/Warner Bros.)

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis star in a scene from the movie “Jupiter Ascending.” 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/Warner Bros.)

Instead of Dorothy Gale, we have Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who leaves her drab Chicago home for a grand galactic adventure, guided by a hunky alien, Caine (Channing Tatum), a human-wolf hybrid with pointy ears. Jupiter finds herself not in Oz but on distant worlds controlled by the royal House of Abrasax. Following the death of the matriarch, three children vie for control of the entire universe. The ruthless elder son, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), conspires against his sister, Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and playboy brother Titus (Douglas Booth). In this profoundly non-biblical account, Earth was seeded by the Abrasax eons ago. It now serves as a source of raw material for a magical elixir which keeps the aliens eternally young. In other words, humans are being harvested for food, a la “Soylent Green.” “Life is an act of consumption,” cackles Balem. So where does our heroine fit in? Jupiter, although born of human parents, is somehow the heir to the entire shebang, thanks to some reincarnation mumbo-jumbo. We discover this early on when Caine’s buddy, an astute beekeeper aptly named Stinger (Sean Bean), sees thousands of bees swarm around the young woman. “Bees are genetically disposed to recognize royalty,” Stinger notes. “Bees never lie.” And how. So Jupiter is swept away by Caine and becomes a pawn in the Abrasax power struggle. This damsel in distress has two goals: Save Earth, and return home to her family in Kansas, er, Chicago. If this all sounds confusing, and more than a little silly, it is, and much of the film is unintentionally hilarious. The Wachowskis may have strong opinions about industrial might, the abuse of power, and the plight of the individual, but these all get lost in the ether. The film contains intense but bloodless sci-fi action, partial rear nudity, some innuendo, a benign view towards egg donation, and occasional crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

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‘Seventh Son’ a Saturday-matinee throwback

February 6th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

A throwback to Saturday matinee serials and mid-20th-century action-adventure films, “Seventh Son” aims to captivate moviegoers with an accessible tale leavened by fantasy and anchored by imperfect heroes who battle the forces of evil.

Jeff Bridges and Ben Barnes star in a scene from the movie "Seventh Son." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. 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)

Jeff Bridges and Ben Barnes star in a scene from the movie “Seventh Son.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. 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)

Based on “The Last Apprentice,” Joseph Delaney’s series of young-adult novels, the picture is set in an unspecified place and time, though the overall look is medieval and Eurasian. Combining elements from folk legend, martial-arts flicks, romances and supernatural thrillers, “Seventh Son” represents a half-baked eclecticism, an unoriginal world in which mortals wielding steel swords are pitted against sorcerers able to morph into ferocious creatures, both familiar (bears and leopards) and exotic (dragons and monsters).

It resembles a milder cousin of the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” minus the Byzantine plot saturated in politics and perversity. It might also function as a light repast for viewers lamenting the end of the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Ring” franchises.

While not in the same league as those movies, “Seventh Son” does have an old-fashioned air of derring-do and chivalry. There’s a low probability it will give offense. And it features quality 3-D visuals and stirring, 21st-century special effects that further the story and showcase the natural beauty of the British Columbia scenery.

Russian director Sergei Bodrov is adept at orchestrating thrilling sequences in which live and computer-generated action neatly mesh. The battle scenes are easy to follow and executed with restraint. This facility does not carry over to the Bodrov’s handling of his lead actor, however.

Jeff Bridges’ idiosyncratic turn as Master Gregory, a superannuated yet sneakily agile warrior, is a major distraction. Owing to a peculiar speech pattern, he sounds as if he’s impaired by an ill-fitting dental prosthesis or mouthful of pebbles. Factoring in Bridge’s laid-back aura, it feels as though Bridges’ celebrated character, the Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” has been teleported into this action-fantasy milieu. (Both characters have a fondness for alcohol.) Still, “Seventh Son” is not the type of film that’s easily ruined by a performance.

Gregory is the sole remaining member of the Falcon Knights, an order of men, each the seventh son of the seventh son, dedicated to stamping out a demonic cadre of supernatural assassins led by Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). At the outset, Gregory is seen imprisoning Malkin in a remote cavern. Eventually she escapes thanks to a lunar phenomenon called the Blood Moon. Returning to the mountaintop aerie from which she commands witches, warlocks, monsters and other creatures of the dark, she plans her revenge.

When she kills Gregory’s apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington), he must find another protege, also a seventh son of a seventh son. In short order he locates Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) tending pigs on his family’s farm. Possessing special powers and guided by visions, young Tom is destined to learn from Gregory and vanquish Malkin and her minions.

Malkin sends her niece Alice (Alicia Vikander) to spy on Tom and they fall in love. Secrets are revealed, including one about Tom’s mother (Olivia Williams), and after some internecine intrigue and several violent clashes, the stage is set for a sequel.

Although couched in pagan symbols and magic, the movie’s worldview does not appear to be in direct conflict with Christianity. The idea that the division between good and evil is not clear-cut, championed by the younger generation who resist the knee-jerk hostility between mortals and supernatural beings, is more palatable than the notion that Malkin and her fallen followers behave maliciously primarily because they’ve been persecuted as outsiders.

Tom and Alice’s romance has a sensual dimension, they kiss a number of times, but greater emphasis is placed on their feelings and intellectual compatibility than on their physical attraction. While too scary for children, the material is not morally objectionable.

The film contains frequent strong yet blood-free fantasy violence, much frightening imagery involving monsters and demonic creatures, several uses of crass language, and one instance of toilet humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”

February 6th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

With the arrival of the genial sequel “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” self-proclaimed “nautical nonsense” is once again the order of the day.

As for the suitable audience for this fast-paced exercise in silliness, kindergarten-level potty humor and some mildly frightening plot elements aside, director Paul Tibbitt’s mix of animation and live action adds up to an appropriate outing for all.

Animated characters are seen from "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Animated characters are seen from “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Fans of the long-running Nickelodeon TV series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” on which Tibbitt has worked in various capacities, have had to wait quite a while for their hero’s second cinematic adventure. After all, his big-screen debut, “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” was released in 2004.

As SpongeBob (voice of Tom Kenny) returns to the cineplex, his seabed hometown, Bikini Bottom, is thrown into crisis when the secret formula for Krabby Patties, the signature delicacy of the restaurant at which SpongeBob works as a short-order cook, goes missing.

Not only does this spell potential ruin for SpongeBob’s employer, miserly Mr. Krabs (voice of Clancy Brown), it threatens to tear the whole community to shreds since the absence of their favorite foodstuff promptly reduces Bikini Bottom’s normally tranquil residents to a pack of marauding hooligans.

So, with society falling apart around him, SpongeBob joins forces with an unlikely ally, his boss’ long-standing rival Plankton, to retrieve the vital recipe. He’s also helped on his quest, with varying degrees of effectiveness, by his two best friends: dimwitted starfish Patrick and easily alarmed chipmunk Sandy.

Since Plankton was plotting to steal the list of ingredients at the time of their disappearance, he naturally falls under suspicion. But, in an exemplary display of fairness and truth-telling, SpongeBob, who knows Plankton is innocent of the crime, stands up for the unpopular curmudgeon. Yet doubts remain as to Plankton’s true loyalties.

This gives screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger the chance simultaneously to play with and to promote the commonplace screen message that teamwork is the key to success. Good-hearted SpongeBob preaches the gospel of cooperation unreservedly, but Plankton takes a lot of convincing.

Further obstacles are placed in SpongeBob’s way by luxuriously whiskered pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas), who also serves as the tale’s manipulative narrator. Sometimes inside the story, sometimes working to alter it from the outside to suit his own aims, Burger Beard provides the link between the cartoon world of Bikini Bottom and “real” life.

Religion enters the picture, in a passing way, via Sandy’s panicked avowal that Bikini Bottom’s citizens must appease “the gods” in order to reclaim their meal of choice. It would take considerable interpretive effort, however, to translate her irrational, aimless paganism into even a veiled critique of revelation-based faith.

The film contains occasional menace and a few mildly scatological jokes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘The Loft’ — Don’t go up there

February 2nd, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Mendacious and just plain bizarre, “The Loft” is a grotesque parody of the most fundamental aspects of human behavior.

Karl Urban, Eric Stonestreet and Wentworth Miller star in a scene from the movie "The Loft." 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

Karl Urban, Eric Stonestreet and Wentworth Miller star in a scene from the movie “The Loft.” 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

Director Erik Van Looy’s remake of his 2008 Dutch-language film “Loft” sets up unsympathetic characters who somehow manage to be even less than one-dimensional, then plunges these stick figures into a situation in which all are suspected of murder.

No, it’s not a satire, even when the cast spout such flat dialogue as “Check out all the babes, so hot!” It’s all, apparently, meant to be taken in earnest, even at its most inept.

Despite being blessed with beautiful, accomplished wives, professionally successful Vincent, Chris, Luke, Marty and Phillip (Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and Matthias Schoenaerts, respectively) all share access to a luxurious loft apartment, which they use exclusively as a venue for adultery.

Even before any crime takes place, interlocking and highly confusing motives prevent the members of this tawdry ensemble from being fully honest with each other.

Then the day comes when they find the handcuffed corpse of Sarah (Isabel Lucas), a real estate agent, lying on their flat’s capacious bed. For an added twist, the killer has written in blood on the headboard: “Fatum nos iunget” — grammatically debatable Latin for “Fate has joined us.”

The movie jumps between the discovery of the victim, flashbacks to how everyone got to this point, and particularly foul-mouthed interrogations by police detectives. Blithe tampering with a crime scene is the least of this drama’s moral deformities.

The film contains a benign view of adultery, a couple of semi-graphic adulterous encounters, brief rear nudity, drug use, vulgar sexual banter and pervasive crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

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‘Black or White’ addresses racial issues in many hues

January 30th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Large-scale issues of race and addiction are examined in in writer-director Mike Binder’s fact-based drama “Black or White.”

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in a scene from the movie "Black or White." 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)

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in a scene from the movie “Black or White.” 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)

Though its avoidance of stereotypes and easy answers is admirable, the film provides only modest entertainment for those grown-up viewers able to appreciate its moral shadings.

After a car accident suddenly leaves him a widower, prosperous white lawyer Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) struggles to continue raising his half-African-American granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell). Buttoned-up Elliott finds it difficult to compensate for the absence of his nurturing wife, with whom he had raised Eloise since the girl’s mother, their daughter, died in childbirth.

Additionally, Elliott’s newly developed reliance on alcohol, which he uses to excess to assuage his grief, raises fundamental questions about his fitness as a solo guardian.

In response, Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer), sues for custody. A successful entrepreneur in South Central Los Angeles, Rowena is also motivated by her concern that Eloise’s life in one of the city’s upscale suburbs has isolated the child from her black heritage.

Since Elliott blames Eloise’s dad, Reggie (Andre Holland), a narcotics-dependent ne’er-do-well, for seducing his underage daughter and contributing to her needless demise, family antagonisms fuel the legal conflict.

So, too, do racial tensions: Another of Rowena’s children, hotshot attorney Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), to whom his sister naturally entrusts her case, is determined to portray Elliott as a racist. Elliott’s colleagues, led by his protege, Rick Reynolds (Bill Burr), are equally resolved to play up Reggie’s criminal record. They also deplore the appointment of black Judge Cummins (Paula Newsome) to try the matter.

With personal strengths and weaknesses equally balanced among the characters on both sides, moviegoers’ sympathies are sufficiently divided to keep the proceedings interesting. And some valuable questions are implicitly raised along the way. Why, for instance, should Elliott’s abusive use of booze be legally sanctioned, in his favor, he does habitually avoid driving while drunk, whereas Reggie’s crack smoking inevitably lands him in prison?

Yet, though “Black or White” makes for an intelligent interlude, it fails to register a lasting impact. Perhaps that’s because its generally appealing characters are primarily deployed not as engaging individuals but as stand-ins for recognizable social groups and tendencies.

The film contains brief bloodless violence, a drug theme, incidental affirmation of a same-sex marriage, mature references, several uses of profanity, at least one rough term and frequent crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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