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‘Into the Woods’ is no ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’

December 19th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Despite its fairy-tale roots, and Christmas Day release date, “Into the Woods” is an inappropriate choice for youthful moviegoers.

Though initially pleasing, this ultimately problematic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s long-running 1987 stage musical reflects on its iconic source material in a way that might misguide impressionable viewers.

Meryl Streep stars in a scene from the movie "Into the Woods." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Peter Mountain, courtesy Disney)

Meryl Streep stars in a scene from the movie “Into the Woods.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Peter Mountain, courtesy Disney)

As scripted by Lapine, the action wittily interweaves a number of classic children’s stories with its main narrative tracing the quest of a village baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to undo the curse of barrenness placed on his family by a witch (Meryl Streep) whom his father (Simon Russell Beale) long ago wronged.

To break the spell, the childless couple must assemble a series of objects, each of which is connected to a familiar fable.

Thus they cross paths with damsels-in-distress Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and with their respective princely rescuers (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen); with pert Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) as she tangles with the wily Wolf (Johnny Depp); and with a peasant boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who, much to his short-tempered mother’s (Tracey Ullman) impending chagrin, has a giant beanstalk looming in his future.

All of this transpires whimsically enough at first under Rob Marshall’s direction. In particular, the central duo’s mutual devotion appears exemplary, and bears fruit not only in cooperation but in the pastry chef’s belated recognition of his spouse’s determination and resourcefulness.

But late plot developments lead into brooding reflections on the two-edged legacy of gaining worldly experience: Is it best to stay at home in a safe environment or to venture into the disorienting terra incognita symbolized by the woods, a confusing landscape where the norms of everyday life are set aside?

More disturbingly, the screenplay seems to suggest that those who have been intrepid enough to explore the unknown can jettison objective moral standards in favor of do-it-yourself ethics.

On the surface, this may involve only the rejection of prefabricated criteria, such as those that would inevitably pigeonhole the witch as evil and the more appealing characters as noble and blameless. But a far more sweeping interpretation can reasonably be given to lyrics like these: “You decide what’s right/You decide what’s good … .”

“Into the Woods” subverts the conventional idea of a straightforward happy ending, forcing audiences to ponder more convoluted meanings and eventualities. While youngsters would find themselves ill-equipped to engage with such subtleties, at least some older teens may possibly be equal to the task.

The film contains complex moral themes requiring mature discernment, a scene of adulterous kissing, some stylized violence and the mildly abusive treatment of minors. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III. adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.

 

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Contemporary ‘Annie’ is in foster care but she’s still a wide-eyed optimist

December 16th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

The you-know-what will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, in “Annie.” It’s an exuberant adaptation of the 1977 Broadway musical, which previously became a 1982 film, about the little orphan with big dreams.

Quvenzhane Wallis stars in a scene with Sandy the dog from the movie "Annie." 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/Barry Wetcher, Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Quvenzhane Wallis stars in a scene with Sandy the dog from the movie “Annie.” 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/Barry Wetcher, Sony Pictures Entertainment)

All the hummable songs, and a few new ones, are showcased in lavish production numbers, including the aforementioned “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.”

Purists may quibble at radical departures from the original story, based on the comic strip by Harold Gray, but no matter. “Annie” remains a fun and wholesome movie for all ages with positive messages about love, family and forgiveness.

Director Will Gluck, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aline Brosh McKenna, presents a thoroughly modern Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis). Gone is the 1930s Depression-era setting, the cameo by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even the star’s signature curly red hair.

Instead, we’re plunged into the hurly-burly of present-day Manhattan. Annie, no longer an orphan but a foster child, lives with four other girls in the home of Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).

As a temporary guardian, Miss Hannigan remains a wicked, drunken mess. But this time, she is at least offered a shot at redemption.

Annie is spunky and street-smart. Every week she sits outside the Domani (get it?) Restaurant, hoping for a glimpse of her real parents, who had their first date there.

“We all have families somewhere,” Annie reassures her friends, never losing hope in a miracle.

Her guardian angel arrives in an unlikely form: Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who in this version has morphed into Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx). The gruff billionaire owner of a cellphone company, Stacks has lofty ambitions of running for mayor. But first, his assistant, Grace (Rose Byrne), and wily campaign adviser, Guy (Bobby Cannavale), think Stacks needs to soften his image.

What better way than to become a foster parent?

With her dog, Sandy (this time, named after the hurricane), in tow, wide-eyed Annie moves into Stacks’ to-die-for high-rise apartment. The fun begins as she casts a spell on her new benefactor, and vice versa.

Filmed on location, “Annie” is a picturesque valentine to the Big Apple, which has never looked better. As their kids sing along, keen-eyed parents will spot a number of nods to the original source material, such as the name of the band in one key scene: The Leaping Lizards.

The film contains a couple of crass terms and fleeting mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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Good intentions ruined by smutty humor in ‘Top Five’

December 11th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

At its core, the romantic comedy “Top Five” is a well-intentioned look at the redeeming power of love.

Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson star in a scene from the movie "Top Five." 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/Paramount)

Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson star in a scene from the movie “Top Five.” 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/Paramount)

Unfortunately, the film comes wrapped in layers of smutty humor that suffocate its fundamentally honorable message.

Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in this vaguely autobiographical story about Andre Allen. A successful stand-up comic and recovering alcoholic, Andre has sold out to Hollywood by playing the ridiculous role of Hammy the Bear in a series of absurd action flicks.

It’s a part with which Andre is now so largely identified in the public mind that his effort to turn his career in a more serious direction by recreating the life of a Haitian revolutionary on screen seems doomed to box-office disaster.

With his forlorn film about to open, and on the eve of his publicity-driven marriage to reality-TV celebrity Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), Andre reluctantly agrees to be interviewed by down-to-earth New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Chelsea’s frank probing of Andre’s past eventually induces him to reassess his priorities.

Their initially hostile, but increasingly appreciative relationship also encourages Andre to confront his fear that he can only be funny in front of a live audience if his humor is fuelled by booze.

Discussion of the lowest point in Andre’s personal life cues a seamy flashback to his on-the-road encounter with two Houston call girls, a shot at carnal bliss jarringly interrupted by the arrival of Jazzy Dee (Cedric the Entertainer), the promoter who arranged for it in the first place. The fact that Jazzy Dee promptly takes Andre’s place on the mattress is meant to provoke laughs.

Chelsea, meanwhile, is grappling with the fact that her boyfriend, Brad (Anders Holm), seems to be having a gay affair with one of his pals. Andre questions her as to any clues she might have had about Brad’s proclivities, leading to another series of queasy glimpses into the past.

Even the movie’s central bond is not immune to sleaziness, as we discover when Andre and Chelsea duck into a restaurant restroom together for a semi-private grappling session.

The film contains graphic scenes of group sex and other deviant activities, upper female and rear nudity, a frivolous treatment of homosexuality, at least one use 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 — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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‘The Pyramid’ lacks a fourth side but includes a robot

December 8th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Cross “The Mummy” with “Alien” and you get “The Pyramida schlock horror film about scary things that go bump in the Egyptian night.

James Buckley, Christa-Marie Nicola, Ashley Hinshaw and Denis O'Hare star in a scene from the movie "The Pyramid." 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/Fox)

James Buckley, Christa-Marie Nicola, Ashley Hinshaw and Denis O’Hare star in a scene from the movie “The Pyramid.” 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/Fox)

Gregory Levasseur, in his directorial debut, adopts a documentary style (think herky-jerky camera movements) to tell the “true” story of an American archeological expedition in Cairo in 2013, set against the upheavals of the Arab Spring movement.

A father-daughter team of scientists, Holden (Denis O’Hare) and Nora (Ashley Hinshaw), have discovered a pyramid buried deep under the desert. This is no ordinary structure, of course, it has three sides instead of the usual four, indicating that it’s something special.

The duo oversees its excavation, looking for an entryway. Chronicling the process is Sunni (Christa Nicola), a plucky American journalist, and her wisecracking British cameraman, Fitzie (James Buckley).

Rounding out the team is Arab native Zahir (Amir K). He’s in charge of “Shorty,” a quirky robotic rover and very distant cousin of Pixar’s Wall-E.

Before long, an entrance is found. Prying open the door releases a shock wave of toxic gas. Of course, that ought to be enough to deter all from proceeding any further. But this is a chiller, so common sense is ignored.

Accordingly, Shorty is sent merrily rolling down the shaft, in search of clues. Ancient hieroglyphics on the walls translate as “danger” and “death,” but these admonitions, too, are disregarded.

When contact with Shorty is lost, Holden, Nora and Zahir jump at the chance to rescue the automaton, giddily followed by Sunni and Fitzie.

You can’t say they weren’t warned. Before long it’s apparent that something sinister is lurking underground. Labyrinthine tunnels and tight crawl spaces heighten claustrophobia and a sense of dread. To reveal more would, alas, spoil the (rather derivative) plot.

At one point, Fitzie declares, “This doesn’t look like the Egyptian stuff you see in the British Museum, eh, guys?”

That could qualify as the understatement of the year.

The film contains bloody violence and gory images, brief partial female nudity and some profane and crude 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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‘The Theory of Everything’ omits a lot

December 4th, 2014 Posted in Movies

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Catholic News Service Cosmology and metaphysics, both challenging enough as academic topics, don’t blend well into an autobiographical film. That’s the lesson of “The Theory of Everything.”

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne star in a scene from the movie "The Theory of Everything." 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/Focus Features

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne star in a scene from the movie “The Theory of Everything.” 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/Focus Features

With a script by Andrew McCarten, based on the memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” by Jane Hawking, ex-wife of famed physicist Stephen Hawking, director James Marsh’s drama is, for its first hour, an impressive period piece set in 1963 Cambridge University. After that, the story shows the hazards of having to tiptoe decorously around messy domestic complications when all those involved are still alive. Sensitive and deeply religious, poetry student Jane (Felicity Jones) and Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) meet at a campus dance. They are, in the romantic comedy style, perfectly mismatched. He’s working on his doctorate, and tells her that his cosmological specialty, the study of the origins of the universe, is “a kind of religion for intelligent thinkers.” Hawking adds that he has “a slight problem with the whole celestial dictator premise.” Love finds its way nevertheless. But just as both their romance and his academic career are blossoming, the blight of Stephen’s motor-neuron disease, an offshoot of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, takes hold. Doctors give him just two years to live. He stubbornly overcomes that prognosis, although at a steep price for Jane, who endures his physical deterioration and the stress of raising their two young children. Discussions of religious faith, or the presence of God in the workings of the universe, disappear altogether. She’s feeling trapped and unhappy when her mother, Beryl (Emily Watson), suggests she join a church choir. Jonathan (Charlie Cox), the choir director, is handsome, sensitive and helpful. So much so, that he becomes both au pair for the kids and a volunteer attendant serving Stephen’s needs, which include being taken to the toilet. So yes, we see where all this is headed or perhaps we infer it would be the better phrase. There’s the occasional gesture, sometimes a line or an exchange of glances, and meanwhile, Stephen keeps smiling through. One senses the input of platoons of lawyers in these portrayals. Jane and Stephen never really have a falling-out. They simply grow apart as his fame speeds up, along with the pace of his lecture tours. By the time of the 1988 publication of his immensely popular “A Brief History of Time,” Stephen has taken up with his nurse Elaine (Maxine Peake), an earthy type who recognizes he’s still a sexual being and happily delivers his monthly Penthouse magazine. Hawking himself, of late, has embraced atheism. Any sense of a spiritual journey, whether positive or negative, is not to be found in this movie. Instead, this depiction of them only allows Hawking and Jane to be completely human and occasionally flawed. The film contains fleeting references to marital infidelity and pornography and some sexual banter. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

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‘Horrible Bosses 2’ as morally offensive as first version

December 2nd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service In the 2011 original to which “Horrible Bosses 2” serves as a follow-up, a trio of bunglers set out to murder the workplace superiors who were making their lives miserable. While the sequel finds the same characters intent on the lesser offense of kidnapping, a base and frivolous treatment of human sexuality, together with an excess of foul language, makes this second go-round as unacceptable as the first.

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis star in a scene from the movie "Horrible Bosses 2." 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/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis star in a scene from the movie “Horrible Bosses 2.” 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/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Hoping to free themselves permanently from having to take orders at the office, friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) have become aspiring entrepreneurs. Their plan is to market an innovative showerhead Dale has invented. A morning television segment devoted to the gadget draws the attention of high-powered father-and-son executives Bert (Christoph Waltz) and Rex (Chris Pine) Hanson. Though Hanson senior offers the trio an apparently sweet deal, they soon discover they’ve been double crossed. Facing bankruptcy as a result, the pals strike on the plan of abducting Rex and using the ransom money to stave off ruin. On the advice of Dean Jones (Jamie Foxx), the same shady ex-con who offered them guidance during the first film, they decide to drug Rex before snatching him to make sure he doesn’t put up any resistance. Their sedative of choice? Laughing gas, the opiate with which another recurring character, sex-addicted dentist Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), once tried to make adamantly faithful husband Dale, formerly her hygienist, pliable for seduction. Characteristically, the constantly bickering buddies make a mess of things and decide to call a halt to the whole enterprise. But Rex, it turns out, has other ideas. Director and co-writer (with John Morris) Sean Anders plays on the morally respectable theme of basically decent people making comically inept criminals. But the reintroduction of compulsively bed-hopping Julia, the amigos break into her office to steal the nitrous oxide, leads to visuals and dialogue demeaning to human dignity and marital faithfulness. Add to that the constant volleys of vulgarity in the script, and the appropriate viewership for “Horrible Bosses 2” shrinks to nil. The film contains distant but graphic images of casual and aberrant sex, much sexual humor, mature themes, including adultery and homosexuality, frequent uses of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. 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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Wolf saves ‘Penguins of Madagascar’

December 2nd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The holiday season turns out to be the time for the “Penguins of Madagascar” to come to the fore and into their own.

Agent Classified, the leader of the North Wind, is featured in a scene from the movie "Penguins of Madagascar."  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/DreamWorks Animation)

Agent Classified, the leader of the North Wind, is featured in a scene from the movie “Penguins of Madagascar.” 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/DreamWorks Animation)

These supporting characters from previous movies in the franchise that began with 2005’s “Madagascar” take center stage in a spirited animated adventure calculated to please kids and leave parents’ minds at ease.

Comic possibilities drive the freewheeling plot of directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith’s family-friendly lark, with enjoyable silly results. But solid values are also present from the start.

Thus the film’s opening scene finds a trio of friends — take-charge Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath), analytical Kowalski (voiced by Chris Miller) and blundering Rico (voice of Conrad Vernon) — bucking the conformity and indifference of their peers to save an endangered egg.

The object of their concern, which can be read as at least implicitly pro-life, soon emerges from his shell in the endearing form of Private (voice of Christopher Knights), an eager-to-please fledgling whom the pals immediately adopt as their younger brother.

Having designating themselves a do-it-yourself family, the now-complete quartet familiar from earlier outings also decides they have what it takes to be avian spies. As it turns out, they’ll need all the undercover skills they can muster since they’re being targeted by a villainous octopus named Dave (voice of John Malkovich), whose alter ego, assumed at will, is a mad scientist known as Dr. Octavius Brine.

Dave thirsts for revenge on the penguins because their irresistible cuteness in human eyes has enabled them to replace him, time and again, as the most popular resident of this zoo or that aquarium. To wreak his revenge, Dave has developed a serum that will turn the whole species into disfigured mutants whose freakish appearance will repel the very people who used to cherish them.

Dave’s nefarious activities have drawn the attention of The North Wind, a team of self-appointed secret agents who come to the rescue of animals in need. Led by a wolf known only, due to a punning miscommunication, as Classified (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), they intervene to save the penguins. But ego and pointless rivalry soon have the two groups working at cross purposes.

Even as it trots around the globe, and indulges, now and then, in genre-typical potty humor, “Penguins of Madagascar” instills lessons about the negative effects of harboring a grudge and yearning to return evil for evil. The script, penned by Michael Colton, John Aboud and Brandon Sawyer, also emphasizes the positive results of loyalty, teamwork and cooperation.

The film contains a handful of mild scatological jokes and insults. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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Latest ‘Hunger Games’ flick offers invigorating ride

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Catholic News Service

Positive values, including altruism, are highlighted in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.”

Together with the absence from the film of most problematic content, a good deal of stylized combat aside, those upright ethics make this sequel a worry-free choice for the parents of targeted teens.

Patina Miller, Liam Hemsworth, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Elden Henson star in a scene from the movie "'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1." Catholic News Service classification, A-II -- adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Liam Hemsworth, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Elden Henson star in  the movie “‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.” Catholic News Service classification, A-II — adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

The third installment of a four-part series based on best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins, the movie also offers satisfying and occasionally stirring action played out against the backdrop of the same disordered futuristic society in which its predecessors were set.

For those who are new to Panem, the dystopian North American nation that serves as that setting, here’s the (raw) deal: A cosseted urban elite, led by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), rules oppressively over a group of outlying districts populated by downtrodden workers. Each year, some of the children of the underclass are compelled to participate in the brutal survival tournament of the title, from which normally only one victor emerges alive.

Having been subjected to the games twice, first in a normal round, later as part of an all-star version, franchise heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a celebrity, not least because she managed to subvert the rules of the contest on both occasions. Her latest act of defiance, showcased at the end of the last film, coincided with, and helped spark, the outbreak of a rebellion against Snow’s regime.

The opening of this chapter finds Katniss holed up in a huge bunker that serves as the headquarters of the uprising. It leaders, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former tourney supervisor-turned-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are intent on using Katniss as the inspiring symbol of their movement.

Though Katniss is initially reluctant to take on that role, exposure to the ruthless devastation Snow’s forces have inflicted on the area where she used to live convinces her to play her part. But things become complicated when her sweetheart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), whom Snow is holding captive, becomes a tool in the president’s propaganda campaign aimed at stamping out the revolution.

As scripted by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, the romantic entanglements in director Francis Lawrence’s sci-fi adventure are so chaste that a single kiss between Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the lad who pines for her, takes on great significance. And Gale, it turns out, is not only well behaved, but heroically selfless in the pursuit of Katniss’ welfare.

For those willing to buy into the mythos behind it all, the progress of the revolt in which Katniss finds herself caught up makes for an invigorating ride. As for unimpressed holdouts, they can pass the time monitoring the dialogue, in vain, for any hint of profanity or other verbal trespasses.

The film contains some bloodless but potentially disturbing violence. 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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‘Beyond the Lights’ finds appealing singer and cop surrounded by vulgarity

November 14th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Thoughwell-intended, the romantic drama “Beyond the Lights” includes elements that make it problematic even for grown viewers.

In large part, that’s a result of the milieu in which the film is set: the vulgarity-soaked world of rap music.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star in a scene from the movie "Beyond the Lights." 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)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star in a scene from the movie “Beyond the Lights.” 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)

As a rising star within the genre, British born singer Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) seems to have everything going for her: clamoring fans, industry awards and an upcoming album that promises to be a blockbuster. Behind the scenes, however, Noni is so burnt-out and miserable that she attempts to commit suicide by jumping from the balcony of her luxurious Los Angeles hotel.

She’s prevented from doing so by the soothing intervention of Kaz (Nate Parker), the policeman assigned to protect her. He gives her back the will to live by assuring her that he can see the real person behind her public persona. In the wake of this dramatic first meeting, the cocooned diva and the solitary cop, who aspires to become a politician, take a somewhat unlikely shine to each other.

Their budding relationship is opposed by Noni’s success-at-all-costs showbiz mom, Macy (Minnie Driver), and by callous singer Kid Culprit, played by real-life rapper Richard Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly, who is both Noni’s collaborator and her lover.

A sadly realistic atmosphere of degraded sensuality pervades the musical performances in writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s movie, though the story arc eventually finds Noni rebelling against this aspect of her career.

Additionally, the script takes going to bed before strolling down the aisle for granted. Thus Noni and Kaz have a somewhat bizarre encounter on a private plane within days of meeting each other. They later skip town and drop out of sight for an interlude of living together that the narrative unabashedly romanticizes.

Yet their story does have its appealing aspects, including the positive mutual support that generally marks their interaction. Kaz encourages Noni’s ambition to write her own songs and perform more serious material in the mold of jazz icon Nina Simone. Noni, in turn, helps Kaz to recognize that he can’t live his life according to the dictates of his good-hearted but controlling dad, David (Danny Glover).

The film contains brief semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, temporary cohabitation, partial nudity, much strongly suggestive behavior, at least one use of the F-word and considerable 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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‘St. Vincent’ an endearing, if unusual, look at sanctity

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Catholic News Service

An unlikely baby sitter also serves as an unusual image of sanctity in the fundamentally endearing drama “St. Vincent.”

While writer-director Ted Melfi’s feature debut has a broadly appealing message, aspects of its main character’s dodgy lifestyle narrow the scope of its appropriate audience. The film’s approach to moral questions, moreover, requires mature reflection.

Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher star in a scene from the movie "St. Vincent." 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 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, The Weinstein Company)

Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher star in a scene from the movie “St. Vincent.” 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 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, The Weinstein Company)

Bill Murray is pitch-perfect as Vincent, a hard-drinking, curmudgeonly loner shambling his way through life, cutting ethical corners at every opportunity.

When Vincent acquires a new next-door neighbor in the person of recently divorced single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), the two take an instant dislike to each other. But, with no one else available to mind her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school, hardworking hospital lab technician Maggie is forced to turn to Vincent to do the job.

Since Vincent is an inveterate gambler in serious debt to, among others, loan shark Zucko (Terrence Howard), he agrees to the arrangement.

Vincent and Oliver bond over adventures at the race track, stints in Vincent’s favorite dive bar, where Oliver drinks soda, of course, as well as during visits to Vincent’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell). Sandy lives in a luxurious nursing home whose costly rates clearly eat up most of Vincent’s scant income.

Former boxer Vincent also teaches Oliver, whose small stature and lack of self-defense skills lead to his being bullied, how to stand up for himself. Increasingly, Oliver learns to look past his gruff caregiver’s obvious flaws and see the hidden goodness within him.

Catholic viewers will especially appreciate the thoroughly positive portrayal of Oliver’s funny, patient and wise parochial school teacher, Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd). The film’s title derives from a project Brother Geraghty assigns his students: to research someone in their lives who displays saintly qualities.

The script makes a valid point by reminding us that even saints aren’t perfect during their lives here on earth. Yet its unabashed celebration of Vincent’s positive qualities, and the pass it gives to his self-destructive habits and small-scale misdeeds, have to be scrutinized within the context of the Gospel imperative commanding us to eliminate sin from our lives entirely.

This is especially true of Vincent’s objectively adulterous relationship with Russian-born prostitute Daka (Naomi Watts). With Daka pregnant by an unknown father, her link with Vincent eventually evolves into a glumly chaste friendship, and he provides shelter both for her and the baby. But, while one can sympathize with the plight that led to their original connection, its sordid and exploitative nature can’t be overlooked.

Just how much is excusable in a person who is, at heart, unusually nurturing and generous? Moviegoers well grounded in their faith will know how to apply the holistic vision of Scripture to that issue, taking as their starting point, perhaps, St. Peter’s comforting assertion that “love covers a multitude of sins.”

The film contains brief semi-graphic adultery, a benign view of petty theft, a prostitution theme, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one instance of the F-word and much 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 PG-13.

 

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