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‘How to Be Single’ includes how to ‘shop’ for a baby

February 12th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

There’s a disconcerting moral snag in “How to Be Single,” an otherwise appealing, if slightly raunchy, romantic comedy.

Rebel Wilson and Dakota Johnston star in a scene from the movie "How to Be Single." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Rebel Wilson and Dakota Johnston star in a scene from the movie “How to Be Single.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

This ethical stumbling block fatally impedes the positive trajectory of the film, which finds its characters testing their capacities to settle into monogamous relationships and genuine adulthood.

Director Christian Ditter’s adaptation of Liz Tuccillo’s 2007 novel typifies the genre’s addiction to the quirky. Thus, eccentric goings-on abound in this Brooklyn-set story, which registers as a less-racy, robustly heterosexual, aggressively schmaltzy version of the HBO cable TV series “Sex and the City.”

The women mostly just want to nest, building their lives around a relationship rather than their careers. But, of course, the men dodge long-term commitment, aided by all sorts of self-imposed rules designed to prevent emotional intimacy.

Alice (Dakota Johnson), a shy, wisecracking paralegal just out of college, is taking a break from a long relationship with boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) and moves in with her older sister, gynecologist Meg (Leslie Mann).

On her first day at her law firm, Alice pals up with Robin (Rebel Wilson), a bumptious hedonist (a variation on the stock character of the lovable lush) who revels in boozy, casual sexual encounters. Robin, who’s mostly just talk, merrily spouts a bodacious riff of earthy sexual references.

Alison Brie as desperate-to-marry Lucy has put her faith in technology: building an algorithm to help her find the right guy online. Still, that doesn’t stop her from carrying on an, old-fashioned, in-person flirtation with sympathetic bartender Tom (Anders Holm).

Most of the story is taken up with Alice’s adventures as, inspired by Robin’s lifestyle, she moves into her own apartment in a twinkly version of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. In order to be fully in love, the script leads us to believe, Alice must first find out who she really is and what she wants out of life.

All positive material in its way, though similar navel-gazing has been used to justify many a divorce or career of promiscuity. But it’s Meg’s story that throws up the most troubling obstacle.

Having delivered more than 3,000 babies but with no time to cultivate relationships, Meg opts for single motherhood through the use of a sperm donation at an agency she locates online. Although she’s portrayed as a responsible doctor, and serves as Alice’s moral anchor, Meg plans a pregnancy as if she’s shopping for furniture on eBay.

The success of her plan leaves Meg’s much-younger boyfriend, Ken (Jake Lacy), bewildered by her mood swings. Until, that is, they’re apart for a few weeks, and he spots her, now obviously expecting, shopping in an infant-supply store.

Meg personifies the widespread rebellion that has taken hold in society, against God’s loving plan for sexuality, marriage and child rearing. The ranks of this revolt are not filled with odious evildoers but with people whose confusion or frustration easily wins sympathy.

Driven by a laudable desire to nurture and a human longing for fulfillment, they pursue parenthood outside the context within which God has placed it. In doing so, they not only misuse the twin gifts of sexuality and procreation, they also offend against those whom they would foster.

Whenever life is transmitted outside the loving bonds of marital intimacy, those conceived in the sterile, inhuman surroundings of a laboratory have their dignity grievously wounded. That wound is only further aggravated if they are then raised in an environment that lacks the family structure God himself has designed for our welfare.

Thus, ironically enough, a story that’s supposedly about respect for the feelings of others runs aground on the essential issue of respect for the proper passing on of human life.

The film contains a sympathetic portrayal of morally unacceptable actions, fleeting rear male nudity, crude sexual humor, implied sexual activity and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

 

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‘Zoolander 2’ is the model of a crude, sacrilegious story

February 12th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Some four decades ago, Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd appeared on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” as the Festrunk brothers, two self-billed “wild and crazy guys.”

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Kyle Mooney star in a scene from the movie "Zoolander 2." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Kyle Mooney star in a scene from the movie “Zoolander 2.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Flamboyant in dress and as dim as a pair of 40-watt bulbs, these memorable characters successfully diverted viewers for a few minutes at a time.

Flash forward and their would-be modern counterparts are Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, who reprise their roles as outrageous fashion models in “Zoolander 2.”

Unfortunately, what might be amusing as a brief sketch is stretched to a rather unfunny and often crude 102 minutes. Sex jokes and disrespectful references to religion abound.

Like its 2001 predecessor, the film is directed and co-written by Stiller. He also resumes his role as Derek Zoolander. As viewers of the original will remember, Derek once battled his blonde rival, Hansel McDonald (Wilson), for the title of world’s greatest male model, though the two wound up as friends.

Fifteen years have passed since the pals’ glory days, and both men have withdrawn from the fashion world. Derek is in seclusion, mourning the death of his wife, Matilda (Christine Taylor), and the removal of his son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), to an orphanage. Unsurprisingly, Daddy has been deemed an unfit parent.

Hansel, on the other hand, has been busy with his principal hobby: participating in orgies with enthusiasts of both sexes.

The duo is drawn back into the fashion world by fetching Interpol agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz). “Someone is killing the most beautiful people in the world,” she explains. The latest victim is Justin Bieber (playing himself), who’s been gunned down in Rome.

All the deceased have died with an unusual expression fixed on their faces: a signature pout made popular by Derek.

That clue leads the team to top fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kirsten Wiig). She’s in the Eternal City mounting her runway show. Her intentions are evil, of course, and at her side is the dastardly villain of the first go-round, newly sprung ex-con Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

The baddies are searching for the fountain of youth, and this is where “Zoolander 2” goes off the rails with a revisionist take on the Book of Genesis. According to this hip updating of the Creation story, there was a third person in the Garden of Eden: “Steve,” the first male model. He had the gift of eternal youth.

The search is on for Steve’s descendant, the “chosen one,” since whoever drinks his blood will obtain everlasting life. The unlikely scion to whom the trail leads has both an unglamorous demeanor and a weight problem. The script uses this latter fact as the cue for numerous fat jokes.

Derek, Hansel and Valentina are alerted to the conspiracy by rock star Sting, who impersonates a priest and offers them the information in a confessional. Within the same sacred enclosure, Derek goes on to quiz the singer about his legendary sex life.

None of this is remotely funny. And by the time Mugatu assembles the fashion industry’s movers and shakers in a mock religious ceremony involving images reminiscent of the Crucifixion, “Zoolander 2” has thoroughly outworn its tentative welcome.

The film contains sacrilegious humor, a frivolous treatment of religious themes and of human sexuality, some action violence and frequent crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Hail, Caesar!’ a valentine to Hollywood, if not the Legion of Decency

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Catholic News Service

The February release date of writers and directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedy “Hail, Caesar!” could hardly be more appropriate.

George Clooney stars in a scene from the movie "Hail, Caesar!"(CNS photo/Universal)

George Clooney stars in a scene from the movie “Hail, Caesar!”(CNS photo/Universal)

That’s because this loving sendup of golden-age Hollywood represents nothing short of a supersized valentine presented by the sibling collaborators to the Tinseltown of bygone days, specifically the early 1950s.

Indeed, the film’s rather perfunctory plot is merely an excuse to revel in the industry’s familiar yet, in cultural terms, strangely far-removed past.

So it hardly matters to the audience, nor is it meant to, when MGM stand-in Capitol Pictures’ major star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped. But it means a great deal to conscientious studio executive and behind-the-scenes fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who undertakes to retrieve Baird without creating unwanted headlines.

Like his daily roaming of the back lot, during which he’s trailed by his devoted secretary, C.C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand), Eddie’s discreet efforts to resolve Baird’s disappearance introduce us to a parade of recognizable figures.

They include Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a screen cowboy in the mold of Tom Mix; Esther Williams-like swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson); handsome Gene Kelly-style hoofer Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum); Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), a pretentious helmer of drawing-room dramas; and Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton), rival gossip columnists who also happen to be sisters.

The last two are, of course, meant to recall muck mavens Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Among the stories Eddie strives to keep Thora and Thessaly from uncovering are DeeAnna’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and Laurence’s closeted proclivities.

An obvious, though unspoken, gay subtext is on full display, however, as Burt and some extras film a musical number that matches the naval costumes of “On the Town” with lyrics paralleling the sentiments of “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from “South Pacific.” The scene jokingly suggests that there may be an alternative after all.

Besides such exclusively adult fare, the movie’s satiric treatment of religion further restricts its suitable audience. Eddie is shown to be an absurdly scrupulous Catholic who measures the time since his last confession in hours rather than weeks or months. When abducted, moreover, Baird is playing the part of a Roman officer in the biblical epic of the title, a feature strongly resembling the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur.”

The sensitive subject matter of the fictional “Hail, Caesar!” requires that Eddie get clearance from the head of the National Legion of Decency, long-ago precursor of Catholic News Service’s Media Review Office. This leads to a meeting with an array of clergymen, the Legion’s priestly chief among them.

Besides squabbling between the lone rabbi and the representatives of Christianity over the divine status of “the Nazarene,” this powwow also sees the believers in Christ getting drawn into the logical quicksand that surrounds the mystical dogma of the Trinity, with muddled and supposedly humorous results.

In assessing such material, mature viewers will need to discern whether, in their judgment, faith itself is being ridiculed or merely the cheapening of sacred beliefs at the hands of crude moviemakers and misguided devotees. For those drawing the former conclusion, of course, “Hail, Caesar!” will qualify as offensive.

The film contains a complex treatment of religious themes, including some irreverent humor, comic references to homosexuality, as well as a couple of uses of profanity and of crass 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 PG- 13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ not to mention a morally offensive rating

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Catholic News Service

That rustling sound you hear is Jane Austen and her crinolines. They’re spinning in the grave they share over a transgression called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

Lily James and Bella Heathcote star in a scene from the movie "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." (CNS photo/Screen Gems)

Lily James and Bella Heathcote star in a scene from the movie “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” (CNS photo/Screen Gems)

As its title suggests, this comedy-drama is “Downton Abbey” meets “The Walking Dead.” The result is not pretty.

Why tamper with perfection, you might well ask. After all, Austen’’s 1813 novel of manners and relationships is considered one of the finest in English literature (and has been adapted more respectfully multiple times for film and television).

Why indeed, except perhaps to pander to a new generation of nonreaders and the current vogue for blood, guts, and anything to do with the undead. Given the context and that title no one expects Shakespeare, and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is an often enjoyable send-up of costume dramas.

Regrettably, however, the movie takes a jarring wrong turn with a disrespectful treatment of Christianity, placing what could have been an amusing, if occasionally gory, trifle well outside acceptable bounds for viewers of faith.

This detour also would have pained Austen, a clergyman’s daughter who may have poked fun at the foibles of some of her characters in the ministry, but whose underlying faith, the source of her sympathy with those very shortcomings, is evident across her works.

Outward appearances initially deceive. Working from the best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also introduced the world to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), writer-director Burr Steers faithfully re-creates the look and feel of Regency England, from grand country houses set in lush parkland to costumed ladies twirling at a fancy ball.

Additionally, the basic plot is retained. A country couple, the Bennets (Charles Dance and Sally Phillips), have five daughters. Their top priority is to marry each to someone with good prospects and a healthy bank balance.

The second daughter, Elizabeth (Lily James), is a keen observer and critic of the courting rituals that result, as several eligible suitors come to call, including Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth), Parson William Collins (Matt Smith) and George Wickham (Jack Huston).

Admirers of Austen’s novel will wonder why the ladies are sitting around cleaning pistols and sharpening swords, instead of knitting, and why they conceal daggers under their skirts.

“My daughters are trained for battle, not the kitchen,” Mr. Bennet proudly tells the suitors. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of singing, dancing and the art of war.”

So the picture veers off into an alternate universe. As this story goes, a deadly plague in the 1700s unleashed a “zombie apocalypse” with the dead rising and feasting on human flesh. Britain was overrun, and fortifications were built to contain the epidemic.

Young women like the Bennet girls were dispatched to China to learn martial arts and swordplay, transforming them into more fetching counterparts to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

As the war advances, Elizabeth, now called “Lizzie,” meets an unlikely suitor, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley). She’s repelled by his apparent arrogance but impressed by his prowess in beheading and garroting zombies.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” ultimately collapses in on its own silliness, but not before several disturbing references to the Christian faith. The worst finds zombies attending a service inside “St. Lazarus Church,” where they consume an unorthodox to say the least version of the “blood of Christ,” hoping for a cure.

The muddled proceedings leave it unclear whether evil zombies or irreverent filmmakers ought to be blamed for this ghoulish, quasi-sacrilegious parody of the Eucharist. Either way, moviegoers would do better to stay home and brush up on their Austen.

The film contains an exploitative use of the sacred, bloody violence and some sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Choice’ is benign but fails to spark

February 8th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ever since “The Notebook” in 2004, film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’ novels have descended into benign, prepackaged comfort food.

Teresa Palmer and Ben Walker star in a scene from the movie "The Choice." (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Teresa Palmer and Ben Walker star in a scene from the movie “The Choice.” (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

So it is with “The Choice.” In keeping with the Catholic writer’s work overall, the movie tells an agreeably picturesque love story, with likable characters who briefly consider the morality of at least some of their actions. Yet, as directed by Ross Katz from Bryan Sipe’s screenplay, the picture is so intractably bland, straining not to offend, that its plot points lack all emotional tug.

The film retains Sparks’ traditional setting in coastal North Carolina, affording an opportunity for montages of moonlit beaches. There’s also a light wash about religious faith, or at least cosmic forces that control the universe.

Thus, veterinarian Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in the power of love. Hospital intern Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) chooses to believe in something bigger than herself — without, however, giving the entity in question a specific name.

Travis’ widowed father, and fellow vet, Shep (Tom Wilkinson), who’s so kindly that he’ll give a little girl a new lizard rather than tell her that her pet has died, is a more-or-less conventional churchgoer.

Like the geography, the theme will be familiar to Sparks’ fans: “Now pay attention, because I’m about to tell you the secret of life,” Travis announces at the opening. This is followed by, “Every decision you make leads to another choice.”

In reality, there are just two choices. The first is Travis and Gabby’s decision, after a series of miscues, to fall in love, even though both are in longstanding, albeit dull, relationships. That takes up the entire first hour, and is followed by marriage, two children, general bliss and many sunsets. (The couple’s option for sex before vows apparently requires no deliberation.)

The second decision is an ethical one: whether to continue extraordinary means of life support following a car crash on a stormy night. In a better-written drama, this would be the meat. Here, it’s just an excuse to pile on more cheese.

The substance of the decision isn’t shown. There’s not even much of a discussion. Either way, however, there’s no danger that Catholic moral norms concerning medical treatment will be flouted — or that viewers’ sympathy will be elicited in support of their violation.

What we’re really doing is biding our time in the hospital until we can return to the seaside.

The film contains brief semi-graphic premarital sexual activity with partial nudity, at least one mild profanity and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Finest Hours’ depicts daring rescue mission on a grand scale

February 2nd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

The remarkable true story of the most daring small boat rescue mission in Coast Guard history comes to the big screen in “The Finest Hours.”

Casey Affleck and Michael Raymond-James star in a scene from the movie "The Finest Hours." (CNS photo/Disney)

Casey Affleck and Michael Raymond-James star in a scene from the movie “The Finest Hours.” (CNS photo/Disney)

In February 1952, a powerful Nor’easter struck the Massachusetts coast, pummeling shoreline towns and wreaking havoc on ships caught in its deadly path. Among these were two oil tankers bound for Boston, the S.S. Mercer and the S.S. Pendleton.

Beset by 60-foot waves and hurricane-force winds, both vessels broke apart. The Mercer, its bow intact, radioed for assistance and was the focus of a major rescue operation.

The Pendleton was not so lucky. The bow and its radio sunk, stranding 36 sailors in the stern, bobbing like a cork in the mighty sea. With no SOS, who would come to their aid?

By chance, the Pendleton pops up on radar at the Coast Guard station in Chatham, headed by Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). Despite extreme conditions, he orders Boatswains Mate 1st Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to muster three men and set out in a wooden 36-foot lifeboat, certainly no match for the storm conditions.

Duty and honor prevail, as Seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) volunteer for duty.

Fellow officers try to dissuade Webber, calling the rescue a suicide mission. Webber’s newly minted fiancee, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is frantic with worry, compounded by the fact that she is terrified of the water (then why marry a sailor, one wonders?).

“In the Coast Guard they say, ‘You gotta go out,’” Webber reminds his crew. “They don’t say, ‘You gotta come back in.’”

As the lifeboat sets out, a David in search of a Goliath, disaster strikes with the first wave. The craft nearly capsizes, and the onboard compass is lost.

With no navigation aid, Webber must pilot in the blind, relying on faith, instinct and luck to find the wreck.

Meanwhile, aboard the Pendleton, engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) takes command of the crisis situation. The stern section is slowly sinking, so the survivors must improvise a way to buy precious time while they steer the stern toward land.

“The Finest Hours” is old-fashioned moviemaking on a grand scale. Director Craig Gillespie, working from the 2009 novel by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, strikes the right balance between striking renderings of Mother Nature’s fury, and quieter moments, conveying fear and dread among the rescuers and the rescued.

Happily, Gillespie makes time to show the close-knit community joining in prayer, and an individual fingering a rosary.

As for all that water, bring along your sea legs. The storm sequences are intense and immersive, and could have you reaching for the sick bag.

The film contains extreme storm-based action and scenes of peril, and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ might make the wrong impressions

February 1st, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Though it boosts family values and the importance of teamwork, the animated adventure “Kung Fu Panda 3” also incorporates non-scriptural philosophical ideas that might confuse the impressionable youngsters at whom it’s primarily aimed.

Po, voiced by Jack Black, and  Li, voiced by Bryan Cranston, appear in the animated movie "Kung Fu Panda 3." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.

Po, voiced by Jack Black, and Li, voiced by Bryan Cranston, appear in the animated movie “Kung Fu Panda 3.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

At least some of these concepts could have been spotted lurking in the background of the movie’s two predecessors, released in 2008 and 2011. With this latest installment, however, they come obtrusively to the fore.

The story into which they’re incorporated finds the hero of the earlier chapters, ungainly but good-hearted panda Po (voice of Jack Black), fully established as the most unlikely of martial arts masters. Yet, though he may have fulfilled his destiny by taking on the role of the prophesied Dragon Warrior, Po still has more to learn.

That point is driven home when his undersized mentor, Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), leaves Po in charge of training the Furious Five, the band of fellow black belts who have aided him in the past. His attempt to instruct this quintet — voiced by Angelina Jolie Pitt, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu — swiftly degenerates into a humbling disaster.

A more promising development comes about when Po is joyfully reunited with his biological father, Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston). Though their fortunate crossing of paths answers the questions about his identity that had preoccupied Po in the last outing, this newfound relationship does nothing to diminish Po’s affection for or loyalty toward his kindly adoptive father, dumpling vendor Mr. Ping.

The main portion of the film is devoted to Po’s face-off with hulking, power-hungry villain Kai. A sort of Viking on steroids, Kai was originally an ally of Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim), the tortoise who invented kung fu. But his misuse of the life force known as Ch’i has turned Kai into an evil aggressor armed with supernatural powers.

It’s at this point that the visually pleasing film begins to become problematic for viewers formed by a Judeo-Christian worldview. Is Ch’I, which is shown to endow those who wield it with the ability to alter physical reality, easily overlooked as an ingredient of this franchise’s self-contained mythology, a notion no more threatening than the “Force” of the Star Wars movies?

Some may choose to take it that way. But parents will note other aspects of screenwriters’ Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger’s story that are equally or perhaps more difficult to reconcile with an outlook based on revealed truth.

These include a personified universe that communicates with the characters as well as an accessible “spirit realm.” The latter is at once an alternate universe to which the living can travel and a form of afterlife to which the good and the wicked are consigned indiscriminately.

The script also promotes a version of self-improvement that diverges significantly from the biblical model of moral advancement. In place of the need to conform to external and unchanging ethical principles, the dialogue offers an inward looking scheme of betterment based exclusively on being true to oneself.

This reaches its most extreme expression in “Try,” the song that accompanies the closing credits. Though they include the admonition, “Just do what is right,” the lyrics go on to declare, “When you believe in what you’ve got, you’re perfect/Just be who you are.”

That message can form the basis for a useful discussion with teens, one that might balance Catholic belief in the fundamental goodness of human nature, despite the wounds of original sin, against the vocation to model ourselves on the soaring perfection shown us in the person of Jesus. As for younger kids, however, while they’re the demographic most likely to appreciate the movie on its face, their elders may do well to steer them in another direction.

The film contains mythological themes alien to a Christian worldview, cartoon violence and at least one mildly scatological joke. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

 

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‘Fifty Shades of Black’ a torturous waste of time

February 1st, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Witless and aggressively foulmouthed, the supposedly comic “Fifty Shades of Black” ultimately registers as torturous.

Though obviously intended as a rollicking spoof of its “Grey” counterpart, which sought to take sadomasochism mainstream, the movie develops instead into an infernal endurance test of tedium, a device as mortifying as any whip or chain.

The general idea as scripted, loosely, by Marlon Wayansis that all that kinky stuff chronicled in E.L. James’ novel and the 2015 film is a purely Caucasian eccentricity, not engaged in by African-Americans.

Accordingly, director Michael Tiddes’ shoddy flick swaps out the dungeon doings for reams of dirty talk by nearly every character who’s got more than a millisecond of screen time. Kali Hawk joins in the fetid frivolity, largely made up of unfunny sexual set pieces, as Hannah, an intern.

Far from an effective sendup of what we called the “pornographically narrow focus” and “potentially dangerous message” of the original, this would-be satire itself amounts to little more than a smirking survey of body parts and biological functions.

“Fifty Shades” represents an assault on the fundamentals of comedy and is a soul-eroding waste of time.

The film contains strong sexual content, including full nudity and lewd banter, occasional drug use and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O. morally offensive.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

 

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‘Room’ contains big issues and packs an emotional wallop

January 26th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

“The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” These words from poet John Milton’s 17th-century epic “Paradise Lost” capture at least one theme of the poignant, multifaceted drama “Room.”

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson star in a scene from the movie "Room." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/courtesy A24)

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson star in a scene from the movie “Room.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/courtesy A24)

As a tale of confinement and isolation with far-reaching and universal implications, director Lenny Abrahamson’s somber but ultimately hopeful parable might also be said to recall Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe,” published a little over 50 years after Milton’s classic work.

In lieu of the shipwrecked sailor Crusoe, screenwriter Emma Donoghue’s script, adapted from her 2010 novel, gives us two characters caught in a more modern form of exile: a 5-year-old named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his unnamed mother, known to him, and to us, simply as Ma (Brie Larson).

Two years before Jack was born, Ma was kidnapped by a sexual predator they both refer to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who has kept her locked in a backyard shed equipped with an elaborate security system ever since. Born and raised within this confined space, Jack, whom Ma loves deeply, despite the circumstances of his conception, is confused by tales of an outside world he has only experienced through television.

When an opportunity for escape presents itself, however, Jack must rally his courage to seize the moment.

Donoghue and Abrahamson successfully render everyday life as an alien environment for their youthful, bewildered protagonist, who also narrates. Additionally, their film subtly examines human adaptability, the power of imagination and the ironies underlying what appears, on the surface, to be an all-too-straightforward situation.

Viewers of faith will particularly appreciate the movie’s biblical overtones. Besides the fact that the villain’s moniker has traditionally been used as a nickname for Satan, they’ll notice the implicit parallel drawn between Jack’s never-barbered hair and the unshorn, strength-conveying locks of Samson as described in the Book of Judges.

The ruse by which Jack and Ma hope to obtain their freedom, moreover, involves a form of death, burial and resurrection. But if ordinary reality is, in one sense, the heaven to which they both aspire, a point reinforced by Ma’s quiet rendition of the traditional folk song “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” it also represents the fallen world into which they are in danger of passing should they abandon the safe parameters of the titular space.

This skillful interplay of apparently contrary ideas, a redemption and liberation that is also, at some level, the surrender of the main characters’ shared Eden, sets “Room” far above ordinary movie fare. So, too, does the emotional wallop it delivers, thanks in no small measure to Larson’s outstanding performance as well as the deep appeal Tremblay evokes.

Given its moral significance, which also includes an essentially pro-life message affirming Jack’s inherent worth, despite the criminal and tragic nature of his parentage, the picture is probably acceptable for at least some mature adolescents, the elements listed below notwithstanding.

The film contains brief abusive violence, mature themes including serial rape and suicide, an overheard but unseen sexual encounter, a couple of profanities and several rough terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

 

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‘The 5th Wave’ joins ‘coming-of-age during an alien invasion’ movie genre

January 22nd, 2016 Posted in Movies, Uncategorized

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Catholic News Service

The zombie apocalypse theme has become a staple of pop culture.

The latest movie variant, “The 5th Wave,” adds an alien invasion and adolescent tribulations to the mix. Neither element succeeds in boosting the novelty factor one iota.

Alex Roe and Chloe Grace Moretz star in a scene from the movie "The 5th Wave." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.  (CNS photo/Columbia)

Alex Roe and Chloe Grace Moretz star in a scene from the movie “The 5th Wave.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Columbia)

Nevertheless, while this adaptation of Rick Yancey’s 2013 book isn’t distinguished by an abundance of originality, and is too harrowing for children and possibly some teens, its attempt to espouse a positive moral outlook can at least be applauded.

It would be easier to offer praise if the film’s upright values were less clumsily incorporated into the dialogue and if its premise didn’t feel undercooked and therefore like a random assemblage of multiple motifs.

In particular, trying to mesh individual coming-of-age concerns with the decimation of the entire human race has a trivializing effect if not depicted just so.

A necessary ingredient in this crowded genre, sci-fi scenarios centered on imperiled youth, is a bold hero or heroine. Ohio teenager Cassie Sullivan, played convincingly with three parts glamour and one part grit by Chloe Grace Moretz, most definitely fits that bill.

A crucifix plays a significant role in the opening scene during which we see Cassie running through the woods wielding an automatic rifle and then scrounging for provisions in a convenience store that has been ransacked following some cataclysmic event. In voiceover, Cassie describes what has transpired since the day a gigantic spaceship descended and menacingly hovered over the planet.

As part of their slow, methodical attack on Earth, the Others, as the unseen aliens are called, have already wiped out millions by unleashing an electromagnetic pulse, earthquakes and floods as well as an avian flu epidemic.

Having survived these catastrophes, Cassie, her father, Oliver (Ron Livingston), and younger brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur), flee to a refugee camp. The arrival of Army forces briefly boosts their sense of security until Cassie and Sam become separated. Having vowed to protect her sibling, Cassie goes in search of Sam and risks being killed by the parasitic aliens who, in addition to felling people via drones, have adopted human form.

The first third of the movie taps into weighty existential anxieties and the story has a certain emotional plausibility. The prevalence of firearms and gunplay, especially involving children, is disconcerting. Yet it’s a realistic sign of the paranoia and panic that would likely arise in such circumstances.

Cassie’s determination not to fall prey to despair is admirable. Unfortunately, when she’s aided by two young men — a stranger named Evan Walker (Alex Roe) and, later, her high school crush, Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) – “The 5th Wave” tries to take on the romantic preoccupations of young adults and becomes increasingly unstable as a result.

Director J Blakeson creditably handles the action sequences and special effects. In dealing with the more intimate scenes, he has the advantage of working with the estimable Moretz as well as the seasoned Liev Schreiber, who plays Army Col. Vosch.

All in all, it’s not quite convincing enough, however. And so the way in which the stage is set for a sequel, and perhaps a third film to match Yancey’s planned book trilogy, feels premature and even presumptuous.

The film contains much violence, including some intense gunplay, potentially frightening images, a scene of underage drinking, an ambiguous sexual encounter, occasional profanity and adult banter as well as a few instances each of rough, crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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