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Family friendly ‘Monkey Kingdom’ includes ‘timely social commentary’

April 17th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Timely social commentary may seem an unlikely ingredient in a wildlife documentary. Yet it’s hard to miss the implicit human subtext underlying the enjoyable chronicle “Monkey Kingdom.”

This is a scene from the nature documentary "Monkey Kingdom." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences. All ages admitted. (CNS photo/Disney

This is a scene from the nature documentary “Monkey Kingdom.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted. (CNS photo/Disney

Those looking beyond this film’s placid surface will easily recognize the similarities between its simian heroine, a toque macaque named Maya, and an entire class of economically challenged workers in the world’s more developed economies.

Disadvantaged by her low rank within the rigid hierarchy of her species, sympathetic Maya is forced to struggle both for her own survival and for the welfare of her son, Kip. When the aggression of a rival tribe displaces Maya’s troupe from their bountiful home territory, however, the apparent misfortune turns out to have a silver lining.

Though the group’s resulting exile involves short-term dangers for Maya and Kip, it also presents them with unexpected opportunities. Because the forced move has suddenly thrown the prevailing social structure into flux, Maya has a shot at improving her standing and, therefore, her lifestyle.

She does so primarily through the rise of Kip’s dad, an outsider to her band whose fighting skills eventually gain him the respect of Maya’s male counterparts.

Co-directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill make the most of their movie’s picturesque setting. Dubbed “Castle Rock” by the filmmakers, Maya’s jungle dwelling stands amid the ruins of an abandoned city in Sri Lanka. Tall domes and weathered statues of the Buddha in the surrounding landscape moodily evoke ancient glories gone to seed.

Such dramatic scenery, together with pleasant narration by Tina Fey, helps compensate for the low-speed pace of events. So, too, does the fact that “Monkey Kingdom” provides a rare cinematic refuge for families.

The occasional intrusion of Darwinian conflict, though it exacts only a single fatality, might be unsettling for the very smallest viewers. But this is otherwise a completely comfortable option for parents.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.

 

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‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2′

April 17th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The stout bromides of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” only serve to make its thin plot and deliberate artlessness more glaring.

Kevin James stars in a scene from the movie "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2." Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Sony)

Kevin James stars in a scene from the movie “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Sony)

Kevin James, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Bakay, returns as the earnest, perpetually suspicious, hypoglycemic security guard first seen in the 2009 original. As before, Blart is a presented as a comically awkward figure, one who’s far more graceful on a Segway than on his own feet.

As the sequel opens, Blart is newly divorced from his second wife and quite sad. He receives a sudden jolt of happiness, however, when he’s invited to a security officers’ conference in Las Vegas. He sets off at once for the fabled oasis, his teenage daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez), in tow.

Once there, both of them get mixed up in a criminal scheme: Gang leader Vincent (Neal McDonough) is plotting to steal valuable artworks from Sin City’s casinos.

Under the direction of Andy Fickman, the humor in the ensuing scenes is supposed to derive from sight gags and from Blart’s frequent intonation of such inspirational mantras as “Integrity is a bewitching gumbo.”

But none of this comes off; the movie is leaden and bereft of laughs. Blart’s fellow watchmen appear only as cruel caricatures of the socially inept.

Blart’s supposedly stirring words as he delivers the convention’s keynote speech are as unobjectionable as most of the content surrounding them. Yet they land on the ear as mawkish cliches.

“If you believe the purpose of life is to help yourself, then your life has no purpose,” he intones. “Help someone today!”

The film contains frequent slapstick violence and mishaps. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.

 

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It’s hard out there for aging rock star ‘Danny Collins’

April 17th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

A flat, vaguely fact-based blend of comedy and drama, “Danny Collins” has nothing new to say about the corrosive effects of fame and vast wealth.

Al Pacino stars in a scene from the movie "Danny Collins." 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/Bleecker Street)

Al Pacino stars in a scene from the movie “Danny Collins.” 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/Bleecker Street)

As for the saccharine dialogue through which writer-director Dan Fogelman tries to convey his film’s tired message, it’s likely to set viewers’ teeth on edge.

Aging rock stars have it tough, it appears. Take, for example, Danny (Al Pacino), a Neil Diamond-esque singer whose fame peaked in the early 1970s.

Danny has been through three marriages, and is currently paired up with cheating girlfriend Sophie (Katarina Cas). He has a palatial mansion, a private jet and a steady flow of antic energy fueled by a combination of booze and cocaine. Though he still makes lucrative tours that satisfy his senior-citizen fan base, Danny hasn’t recorded an original song for 30 years.

On Danny’s birthday, his manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer), presents him with a life-altering gift: a framed 40-year-old letter from John Lennon that went astray when initially dispatched. The note offered young Danny advice about surviving celebrity.

“Being rich and famous doesn’t corrupt you,” the former Beatle advised. “Only you can corrupt yourself.” (The real-life Lennon penned similar sentiments to youthful musician and vocalist Steve Tilston in a 1971 missive that met an analogous fate to that of its screen counterpart.)

Bereft at his failure to live up to the model of a true artist, Danny, now in full-blown identity crisis mode, adopts the letter as his totem. He dumps Sophie, along with his cocaine, and sets out on a time-honored Hollywood-style odyssey of self-discovery and redemption.

This is where Fogelman starts hitting potholes. Danny temporarily forsakes Los Angeles for leafy Woodcliff Hills, New Jersey, where he checks into the local Hilton. He flirts with hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening), who becomes his age-appropriate moral compass, and attempts to reconnect with his estranged adult son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

Afflicted with leukemia, Tom is also struggling in his construction job and with his daughter Hope’s (Giselle Eisenberg) hyperactivity. On the upside, he’s blessed with an understanding wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner).

Initially, Danny’s wealth helps heal all wounds, as he gets Hope into a special school for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and pays for Tom’s health care. Augmenting his repertoire by writing and performing a new, heartfelt ballad, though, turns out to be considerably more challenging.

Sincere and affecting performances can’t disguise this picture’s inability to scratch together some inventiveness or to convey realistic human emotion.

The film contains brief upper female nudity, a scene of drug use, a few instances of profanity as well as fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

 

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In ‘Woman in Gold’ a plaintiff and plunder art film

By

Catholic News Service

The so-called “last prisoners of World War II” await justice and release in “Woman in Gold.”

The elegant lady of the title and three other captives profiled in director Simon Curtis’ film aren’t, in fact, human beings but exquisite paintings by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) that were stolen from their rightful owners by the Nazis. The fascinating story of the struggle for their restitution provides the basis for Curtis’ intriguing dramatization.

Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren and Daniel Bruhl star in a scene from the movie "Woman in Gold." 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/Weinstein)

Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren and Daniel Bruhl star in a scene from the movie “Woman in Gold.” 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/Weinstein)

In 1998, Vienna-bred Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) is living quietly in Los Angeles. The death of her sister, however, prompts Maria to resurrect long-buried issues from her past.

Maria’s well-to-do Jewish family had commissioned several paintings from Klimt, including his 1907 masterpiece, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” This study of Maria’s aunt, the first of two Klimt would create, was a product of the artist’s “golden phase,” during which he employed not only paint, but silver and gold leaf as well.

Together with other possessions, the portrait was confiscated by Hitler’s minions as part of their persecution of Austria’s Jews. In flashbacks, we watch as the young Maria (Tatiana Maslany) and her husband, Fritz (Max Irons), manage to escape to America, leaving family and friends behind to face humiliation, torture, and, ultimately, death in concentration camps.

Flash forward, and Maria decides it’s time for a reunion with the image of her aunt and for equity to be served. Trouble is the paintings she seeks to reclaim are hanging in a Vienna museum, and the Austrian government insists they were legally obtained.

Undeterred, Maria enlists the aid of a local attorney, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). Randy is young and green, but shares Maria’s Austrian roots. In fact, his grandfather was the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).

The odds are stacked against this very odd couple, who travel to Vienna to meet with the authorities. There they find an ally in Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Bruhl), a nosy investigative reporter.

Given that it offers a valuable history lesson about wartime atrocities, man’s inhumanity to man and the nature of justice, “Woman in Gold” can be recommended for mature teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains scenes of wartime violence and a few instances each of profane and crude language. 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.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Furious 7’ careens from fast cars to God’s Eye

April 3rd, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

True to form, exotic settings, stale dictums and always-murky moral values characterize “Furious 7,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” series.

In this go-round, cross-necklaced Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), still the putatively Catholic paterfamilias, sets out to avenge the death of his old friend, Han (Sung Kang), killed off in a previous episode.

Vin Diesel and Kurt Russell star in a scene from the movie "Furious 7." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

Vin Diesel and Kurt Russell star in a scene from the movie “Furious 7.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

He also reunites with his amnesia-stricken longtime love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), whose memory is gradually returning, as well as his rough-and-ready colleagues Brian (Paul Walker), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson).

Musclebound federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), by contrast, doesn’t rejoin the proceedings until the final showdown.

Director James Wan and screenwriter Chris Morgan dispense with the subplots explaining how the crew of underground car racers was reassembled. Instead, they provide scenes of the happy family lives some, Brian, especially, must leave behind to fight the forces of evil.

“This time,” Dom explains, “it ain’t just about being fast.”

By that, he means there’s far less road driving. Instead, the speedsters’ cars drop out of planes and fly off cliffs. One even crashes through the windows of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper. The laws of physics, as per usual, are ignored in order to display breathtaking special effects accompanied, of course, by fistfights and shootouts.

Dom and gang are aided by amiable, mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). He wants to get his hands on a cutting-edge tracking program called God’s Eye, which allows its owner to access every surveillance camera on the planet.

To operate it, he’ll need the help of Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a glamorous hacker who is also the only person around who knows how to make the software work.

The plot is bogged down by a lengthy, elegiac ending designed to be a tribute to Walker, who died during filming. Naturally, though, fans of the star or of the franchise won’t mind a bit.

The film contains a vengeance theme, nearly nonstop gun and physical violence, a few uses of profanity and fleeting 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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‘Get Hard’ a cruel sentence to 100 minutes of tasteless humor

March 30th, 2015 Posted in Movies

By

Catholic News Service

In lieu of a movie ticket for the shoddy prison-themed comedy “Get Hard,” potential viewers should treat themselves to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Like Mr. Monopoly joyfully springing the coop of his birdcage, they’ll be escaping a 100-minute confinement within a dank, moldy cell of tasteless humor.

Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell star in a scene from the movie "Get Hard." 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.)

Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell star in a scene from the movie “Get Hard.” 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.)

The sophomoric level at which director Etan Cohen’s proceedings are pitched can be gauged from the opening scenes which feature, if that’s the word, repeated visuals of a nude Will Ferrell viewed from behind.

As Ferrell goes through his character’s morning exercise routine au naturel, we’re meant to giggle at the awkward sight of his untanned and untoned body.

Ferrell plays financially successful but socially clueless Los Angeles fund manager James, the many deluxe accoutrements of whose lifestyle, it seems, do not include a last name.

A complete moniker aside, James would seem to have it all: a cushy job at which he excels, a lavish home that’s soon to be replaced by a still more pretentious estate and a fetching live-in fiance, Alissa (Alison Brie). To make matters even better for James, Alissa just happens to be his admiring boss Martin’s (Craig T. Nelson) daughter.

Such bliss is not destined to last, however, as James suddenly finds himself framed for embezzlement and sentenced to 10 years hard time at San Quentin. Consumed with fear of what life will be like on the inside, James desperately offers to pay Darnell (Kevin Hart), the small-business man who runs the carwash service he uses, to train him in the skills he’ll need to survive the experience.

Despite James’ blatantly racist assumption that, simply because he’s black, Darnell must have spent time behind bars, his new mentor is in fact a squeaky clean family man. But Darnell does need the money James is willing to shell out. So their arrangement goes forward in what purports to be a laugh riot of fish-out-of-water antics.

Jay Martel and Ian Roberts’ script wrong-headedly tries to turn James’ fear of being raped into a laughing matter. Their screenplay proves equally misguided in its unsuccessful aspirations to comment on contemporary economic and racial divides. The result will leave audiences longing for early parole.

The film contains strong sexual content, including full nudity and the preliminaries of a perverse act, a frivolous treatment of homosexuality and rape, a couple of uses 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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Weekend TV: ‘Killing Jesus’ mutes theology to portray faith-based philosopher

March 27th, 2015 Posted in Movies

By

Catholic News Service

Unsettling problems beset the lavish dramatization “Killing Jesus,” which premieres on the National Geographic cable channel Palm Sunday, March 29, 8-11 p.m. Based on Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly’s 2013 best-seller, this sometimes gory recreation of events surrounding the Passion tries to be historically accurate while remaining theologically noncommittal.

Haaz Sleiman, center, stars in a scene from "Killing Jesus," which premieres on the National Geographic cable channel Palm Sunday, March 29, 8-11 p.m. EDT. (CNS photo/Kent Eanes, courtesy National Geographic Channels)

Haaz Sleiman, center, stars in a scene from “Killing Jesus,” which premieres on the National Geographic cable channel Palm Sunday, March 29, 8-11 p.m. EDT. (CNS photo/Kent Eanes, courtesy National Geographic Channels)

The result will likely strike believers as incomplete and unsatisfying. Haaz Sleiman’s Jesus, after all, is wholly unconscious of any divine identity augmenting his ordinary human nature, and is even slow to accept his role as the promised Messiah.

Once he does so, after encouragement from his cousin, John the Baptist (Abhin Galeya), he pursues his mission with minimal supernatural fuss: The wonder-shy script includes only two potentially miraculous events, along with the empty tomb, but not, significantly, any sighting of the risen Jesus himself.

More a faith-based philosopher and social critic than a savior, this Jesus focuses on bettering the morals of his contemporaries and undermining the entrenched political and religious hierarchies that ride roughshod over the poor.

Naturally, those in power, most prominently Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Stephen Moyer), Tetrarch of Galilee Herod Antipas (Eoin Macken) and Caiaphas the High Priest (Rufus Sewell), don’t take kindly to such an agenda.

Like any number of doomed academic attempts to isolate the “historical Jesus” from “the Christ of faith,” this small-screen narrative finds itself neutralized by the impossibility of separating the real-life events of the Gospel from the otherworldly understanding with which those occurrences have, from the beginning, been inseparably intertwined.

What remains is a reasonably diverting swords-and-sandals saga marked by some frisky romantic misbehavior, Salome (Stephanie Leonidas) trips the light fantastic, and political intrigue.

 

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‘Home’ is passable holiday fare for kids

March 27th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Parents looking for acceptable Easter-break entertainment for the kids will probably be satisfied with the lightweight animated adventure “Home.”

Whether viewers young or old will remember anything about this merely passable picture by the time Pentecost rolls around, however, is another question.

Animated characters Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons, and Tip, voiced by Rihanna, appear in the movie "Home." 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)

Animated characters Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons, and Tip, voiced by Rihanna, appear in the movie “Home.” 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)

At the center of the movie’s unimpeachable, if uninspired, proceedings stands cuddly alien Oh (voice of Jim Parsons). Imagine a marshmallow dipped in purple dye and endowed with an air of innocent enthusiasm, and you have a pretty accurate portrait of this amiable space traveler.

Sprung from a race of intergalactic migrants called the Boov, Oh comes to Earth as part of a peaceful Boovian invasion during which the planet’s human inhabitants are exiled to Australia. The newcomers, meanwhile, gently but determinedly commandeer the remainder of the orb for themselves.

Led by a cowardly nitwit called Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin), the Boov, whose fractured version of English will provoke a few smiles, are consummate conformists. Yet Oh is a free spirit. Oh also craves the kind of relationships his fellow Boov characteristically avoid.

This makes him an unwelcome misfit in their ranks. So much so, that his presence is universally greeted with a groaning version of the disappointed exclamation that has stuck to him as his name.

Oh’s desire for companionship leads him to throw a housewarming party to which he inadvertently invites just about everyone in the universe, including the Boov’s fearsome archenemy, the Gorg. (Any moviegoer who has ever made a mess of things by accidentally hitting “reply all” will sympathize with Oh’s plight.)

Forced to go on the run, Oh crosses pathsand eventually joins forces with Tip (voice of Rihanna), a preteen who managed to evade compulsory relocation. As Oh works to forestall the worst consequences of his misstep and Tip tries to reunite with her displaced mom, Lucy (voice of Jennifer Lopez), director Tim Johnson’s screen version of Adam Rex’s novel “The True Meaning of Smekday” charts the ups-and-downs of their tentative friendship.

Along with the individuality and sociability embodied by Oh, screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember extol courageous risk-taking. They also point out the rewards of overcoming prejudice.

Though hardly a cinematic dwelling to which viewers will long to return, “Home” is diverting enough to serve as a temporary shelter for those in search of a family-friendly outing over a holiday weekend.

The film contains occasional scenes of peril and a bit of mild bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Do You Believe?’ storytelling serves evangelizing

March 27th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: ,

By

Catholic News Service

Despite its title, the competent ensemble drama “Do You Believe?” is not a film well calculated to invite the attention of the inquisitive, still less to convert the doubtful.

Instead, the primary effect of this latest offering from the folks behind last year’s “God’s Not Dead” will likely be to reinforce its readymade evangelical audience in the creed and values to which they already adhere.

Storytelling takes a back seat to and is put at the service of sermonizing as director Jonathan M. Gunn chronicles the lives of 12 characters, all of whom are touched by Chicago pastor Matthew’s (Ted McGinley) earnest preaching about the centrality of the Cross in the lives of Christians and the need to put faith into practice.

For their part, Matthew and his wife, Grace (Tracy Melchior), do so by taking in pregnant teen Maggie (Madison Pettis) who has been living on the streets. Their generosity toward Maggie helps the childless duo cope with the consequences of Grace’s infertility.

Similarly, older couple J.D. (Lee Majors) and Teri (Cybill Shepherd), grief-stricken at the loss of their only child to a drunk driver, find solace by sheltering homeless mom Samantha (Mira Sorvino) and her irrepressibly sunny daughter, Lily (Makenzie Moss).

All this is pleasant enough. So too is the hope-restoring romance between despondent war vet Carlos (Joseph Julian Soria) and depressed waif Lacy (Alexa PenaVega), a bond initiated when the pair meet on a bridge from which both are planning to jump.

But there are also less comfortable plot lines woven into Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon’s script. One involves emergency medic Bobby’s (Liam Matthews) fraught legal battle to vindicate his right to proselytize patients on the job.

You don’t have to be a militant secularist like nasty lawyer Andrea (Andrea Logan White), who threatens to take Bobby for all he has after he converts a dying atheist, to wonder if Bobby hasn’t crossed the legitimate line between church and state by evangelizing on the Windy City dime.

As for the fate in store for Joe (Brian Bosworth), an ex-con turned church janitor afflicted with terminal cancer, suffice it to say that the outcome of his strand of the tale strains credibility, resting as it does on a deus-ex-EKG machine turn of events of truly biblical proportions.

The film contains some action violence and mature references, including to abortion. 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 Gunman’ leaves trail of mayhem, misguided values

March 23rd, 2015 Posted in Movies

By

Catholic News Service

The plodding thriller “The Gunman” leaves a trail of messy mayhem and misguided values as its action shuttles between Africa and Europe.

Consequently, mature moviegoers will need a thick skin to withstand its violent visuals as well as considerable discernment to strain out its flawed understanding of marriage.

Javier Bardem, Sean Penn and Jasmine Trinca star in a scene from the movie "The Gunman." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Open Road Films)

Javier Bardem, Sean Penn and Jasmine Trinca star in a scene from the movie “The Gunman.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Open Road Films)

There’s also a basic hurdle of believability for viewers to clear, given that Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), the firearm-toting character of the title, transforms himself in short order, at least as measured by elapsed running time, from paid assassin to peaceable aid worker. We’re tipped off to Jim’s potential for better things early on, though, by being shown his passion for his do-gooder girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca).

Jim’s attraction to his altruistic true love, whose work for a nongovernmental organization has brought her to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he’s posing as a security guard for employees of a nongovernmental organization, is admirable enough. Their taken-for-granted decision to live together, not so much.

Jim’s real profession creates romantic complications when the time comes to eliminate a troublesome Congo cabinet minister. The officia’’s meddling has threatened the profits of the behind-the-scenes corporate types who pay Jim and his confederates to kill. So Jim’s boss, Cox (Mark Rylance), organizes a hit.

It’s up to Jim’s colleague Felix (Javier Bardem) to decide which member of their squad will be selected for the high-profile job, and it’s no accident that he settles on Jim. Given the headline-grabbing nature of the rub-out, the chosen gunman will have to go into prolonged hiding in its wake. And, since Felix is carrying a torch for Annie, having Jim out of the way in the murder’s aftermath will suit his romantic purposes perfectly.

Flash-forward the better part of a decade and Jim is back in Africa drilling wells for the poor when his laudable labor is interrupted by a near-fatal attempt at long-delayed retribution. Evading his would-be killers, Jim hightails it first to London, where he tracks down Cox, and then to Barcelona, where he reconnects not only with Felix but, in an all-too-cozy manner, with Annie, who’s now Felix’s wife.

The script for director Pierre Morel’s often-gory adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel “The Prone Gunman,” -on which Penn collaborated with Don MacPherson and Pete Travis, implicitly justifies the adulterous resumption of Jim and Annie’s relationship.

Felix is an underhanded villain, Annie married him for all the wrong reasons, and we can tell just by watching Jim and Annie neck that they’re meant for each other. So it’s not really cheating; it’s the triumph of Cupid. Right.

As the plot description above hints, the screenplay also takes a fashionably anti-capitalist stance by suggesting that all the problems of the developing world result from the machinations of multinational conglomerates. If only the sometimes murky plot of “The Gunman” were as simplistic as its worldview, the work of keeping up with the proceedings might not seem so unrewarding.

The film contains strong, frequently bloody violence, a distorted view of marital fidelity, a semi-graphic scene of adultery, cohabitation, brief rear nudity in a nonsexual context, adult references, including to contraception, a couple of uses of profanity as well as pervasive rough and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

 

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