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Fresh music should ‘Begin Again’ without stale plot

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

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Catholic News Service

Competent pop tunes are strung together by a hackneyed plot line in the romantic comedy “Begin Again.”

CeeLo Green and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie "Begin Again." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America

CeeLo Green and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie “Begin Again.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America

Despite all of the time writer-director John Carney’s script spends railing against cliches and stereotypes in the recording industry, the formulaic dialogue in this redemption story of a plucky singer and an alcoholic record executive sounds left over from an inspirational lecture.

“I think that music is about ears, not about eyes,” says Gretta (Keira Knightley) to Dan (Mark Ruffalo), the A&R (artists and repertoire) executive just fired from the label he’d help found.

Dan was once a genius at discovering new talent. Now he’s a bitter boozer and estranged from wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). British-born Gretta used to be the girlfriend and muse for recording star Dave (Adam Levine).

Gretta’s talent for lyric writing landed Dave a major label contract and all the wealth that went with it. But she’s astute enough to realize from a single demo recording for his latest album that Dave’s no longer singing for her, but in celebration of a new romance.

Gretta and Dan both end up in reduced circumstances in Greenwich Village. All it takes is a single hearing of her breathy singing voice in a basement dive, and Dan is inspired. He’s an unpleasant drunken slob at this point with a habit of running out on his bar tabs. Yet Gretta is still intrigued enough to drop her plan to return to Britain and enroll in college.

Without money and a recording studio at his disposal, Dan strikes on the idea of cobbling together Gretta’s demo album using moxie, drive and whatever “free” musicians he can corral.

All you need is love. Don’t sell out. Be your own person. Mismatched people can still find romance. It’s a stout formula with attractive lead actors. But, aside from the appealing music, this rendition of the recipe is fairly stale.

The film contains fleeting profanity and frequent rough 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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‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ a pleasant sequel for kids

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

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Catholic News Service

Anthropomorphic aircraft take to the skies again in “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” a lively follow-up to last summer’s “Planes.”

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is that rare sequel which surpasses the original in action, adventure, and 3-D animation. That last element is especially vivid and immersive. In fact, the looping aerial scenes may even make some viewers queasy.

Animated characters appear in the movie "Planes: Fire & Rescue."  The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.

Animated characters appear in the movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

The humanless universe that originated with Disney’s “Cars” film series is cleverly expanded, with new autos, boats and trains joining the fun.

Amid the many sight gags and puns, there’s a positive message about personal sacrifice on behalf of those in need, expressed by the fearless air-attack teams and smoke jumpers battling fires deep in the California forest.

Picking up where “Planes” left off, the sequel finds Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook), the humble cropduster-turned-racing-champion central to the first movie, an international celebrity. Life is good, until an accident reveals a deadly secret: Dusty’s gearbox is failing.

For a racer, this spells doom. Unless Dusty slows down, he may never fly again.

An opportunity to switch gears and careers arises in Piston Peak National Park. There an elite firefighting crew, led by veteran rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris), is dedicated to protecting the forest — and the tourists who frequent a new hotel, the Grand Fusel Lodge.

Assisting Dusty in his training regimen are Lil’ Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), a love-struck “super-scooper” aircraft (which carries water or flame retardant), and Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), a heavy-lift helicopter who serves as the park’s resident sage.

When a major fire burns out of control and threatens the hotel, Dusty is put to the ultimate test and witnesses true heroism in action.

Some of the nail-biting action scenes in “Planes: Fire & Rescue” may be a bit intense for the youngest viewers. Additionally, a few double entendres may raise concerns for parents. While these one-liners are likely to pass at well above kids’ heads, their slightly incongruous presence precludes endorsement for all.

Adults, on the other hand, will appreciate the cameo voices and inside jokes. As one depressed car says to a hotel bartender, “She left me for a hybrid. I didn’t even hear him coming.”

The film contains a few perilous situations and some mildly suggestive humor. 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.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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It’s dawn again on the Planet of the Apes

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

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Catholic News Service

Those super-sentient simians are back in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Though it’s not a film for kids, this latest addition to a franchise based on the work of French science-fiction author Pierre Boulle (1912-1994) has enough going for it to please

Caesar, voiced by Andy Serkis, appears in the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/Fox)

Caesar, voiced by Andy Serkis, appears in the movie “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Fox)

most adults. Grown-ups also will find the themes underlying director Matt Reeves’ 3-D follow-up to the 2011 reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” congruent with Christian values.

A decade after a pandemic called Simian Flu wiped out most of the human race, a band of survivors, led by a former law enforcement official named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), occupies the ruins of San Francisco. With their fuel supply running dangerously low, they send out an expedition aimed at restoring a damaged hydroelectric plant to the north of the city.

En route, however, the mission’s team members, including widowed architect Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his teen son, Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and his nurse girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), encounter, and clash with, a community of genetically evolved apes living in nearby Muir Woods.

As a potential war looms, the primates’ wise chief, Caesar (Andy Serkis), works with Malcolm to prevent bloodshed.

If this peaceable duo represents the best of their respective species, each is shown to be motivated by concern for his family, the other end of the spectrum is embodied by Caesar’s aggressive deputy Koba (Toby Kebbell) and Malcolm’s irascible colleague, Carver (Kirk Acevedo). Koba was a victim of torturous lab experimentation, while Carver holds the apes responsible for the ravages of Simian Flu.

Via these positive and negative role models, Reeves blends pleas for tolerance and trust in with the considerable, though largely bloodless, combat action. While thoroughly honorable, the script’s messages are delivered somewhat heavy-handedly. Still, Serkis’ striking performance, together with top-notch special effects, elevates Reeves’ sequel above run-of-the-mill entertainment.

The film contains frequent stylized violence, at least one use each of profanity and rough language as well as several crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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Nonsensical ‘Tammy’ hits the road with salty grandmother

July 3rd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Tammy” makes a stab at adding pathos to the well-worn genre of road-trip-with-salty-granny.

It doesn’t quite come off, since the childlike title character, played by Melissa McCarthy, starts out as blithely stupid, with earthbound self-esteem, and ends up just the same. Not only does she fail to become any more self-aware as the story proceeds, she also lurches through an escalating series of bad choices, including robbery and destruction of property.

Pearl, the grandmother played by Susan Sarandon, is no dispenser of elderly wisdom. She’s an alcoholic, diabetic oxycontin addict interested only in her own carnal adventures. The journey through a dreary Midwest that Tammy undertakes in hopes of bringing clarity to her existence becomes only a burden, unrelieved by a nonsensical romance that appears to have been tossed in at the last minute.

McCarthy, who co-wrote the script with director Ben Falcone, evidently had a sympathetic character in mind. As the story begins, Tammy is fired from her fast-food job and finds that her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) has been having an affair with her co-worker, Missi (Toni Collette).

Sucker-punched by life, Tammy escapes to her mother’s house, conveniently located in the same block, and announces her plan to hit the road to set her life in order. Mother Deb (Allison Janney) isn’t interested, but Pearl takes the bait right away and offers her Cadillac and $6,700 in cash for a journey to Niagara Falls.

Tammy and Pearl never get there, instead spinning through Kentucky and Missouri. Pearl just wants to get drunk and carry on with Earl (Gary Cole), while Tammy strikes up a tentative friendship with Earl’s son, Bobby (Mark Duplass).

Their eventual “rescue” comes from Pearl’s wealthy and gay cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates). But that doesn’t prevent law enforcement from catching up with Tammy’s destruction of the Cadillac and a jet ski.

Tammy’s response to every crisis is to make non-sequitur wisecracks while generally letting Pearl have her way. McCarthy has ditched the gross-out routines she’s utilized in other movies, but as a character sketch, “Tammy” is a botched portrait that bogs down in a moral morass.

The film contains an implied bedroom encounter, some profanities and sexual banter and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

 

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‘E.T.’ is so 32 years ago in ‘Earth to Echo’

July 3rd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Originality is not the main selling point of the youthful sci-fi adventure “Earth to Echo.” In fact, its plot is a mash-up of familiar story elements.

Brian Bradley, Ella Linnea Wahlstedt, Reese Hartwig and Teo Halm star in scene from movie “Earth to Echo.” Th 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/Patrick Wymore, Relativity Media)

Yet director Dave Green’s gentle film, which employs a found-footage approach to its narrative and conveys positive lessons about loyalty and trust, is not without its rewards. These are more reliably found, however, in its humorous moments than in its attempts to be touching.

Aimed at tweens, the movie’s script includes some jokes and vocabulary that may not please all parents. But they’re likely no worse than the kind of exchanges heard on a daily basis in the halls of your local middle school.

That’s where you might run across the real-life counterparts of the picture’s trio of main characters: vulnerable foster kid Alex (Teo Halm), extrovert Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) and tech nerd Munch (Reese Hartwig). Bound by their shared status as social outcasts, the three find solace in their mutual friendship.

But, as opening scenes explain, their bond is under threat. They’re about to be separated by the demolition of their suburban Nevada neighborhood, through which a highway is to be built.

Still, some mysterious cell phone activity they and others in the doomed community have recently been experiencing does offer the opportunity for one last exploit together. Since the source of the disruption seems to be located in the desert, the boys plan an overnight trip there to investigate. Their cover story involves spending the night playing video games at one another’s houses.

Reaching the wilderness, the nervous lads are stunned and thrilled to encounter the real cause of the ongoing communications glitch: a small stranded alien they dub Echo. Echo’s endearing, petlike personality quickly wins the pals over, and they commit themselves to helping him return home.

They’re eventually joined on this quest by Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), one of their most popular classmates and the seemingly unattainable lass for whom Alex carries a secret torch.

Yes, it’s “E.T.” meets “Stand by Me” with “Goonies” thrown in for good measure. But “Earth to Echo” is mildly diverting, with its wry observations on contemporary mores and a convincing subplot about Alex’s experience-based fear of desertion. While not appropriate for the youngest moviegoers, it may manage to charm its target audience without alienating, so to speak, their elders.

The film contains some teen sexual talk and a few crass terms. 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.

 

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Bronx detective confronts Satan in ‘Deliver Us From Evil’

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Catholic News Service

As exorcism movies go, “Deliver Us From Evil” is better than most.

Special ops NYPD officers Sarchie (Eric Bana), center,) and Butler (Joel McHale)) in ‘ “Deliver Us From Evil.” (CNS/Screen Gems)

Though sensational at times, director and co-writer Scott Derrickson’s screen version of Ralph Sarchie’s memoir “Beware the Night” (written with Lisa Collier Cool) does at least treat faith seriously. That’s hardly a surprise, however, given the sober tenor of Derrickson’s earlier take on the subject, 2005′s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

Even so, its dark subject matter and some intense and bloody interludes suggest a cautious approach toward Derrickson’s latest dance with the devil on the part of all but the most resilient screen patrons.

The film’s credibility and effectiveness derive in large part from the profile of its main character. A no-nonsense New York City police officer and lapsed Catholic, Sgt. Sarchie (Eric Bana) is the last person to attribute the depraved behavior he encounters every day to supernatural causes.

So it’s all the more remarkable when Sarchie’s investigation of a series of peculiar crimes taking place on his beat in the South Bronx eventually leads him to suspect that more than ordinary evil is at work in them. He’s helped to that conclusion by Father Joe Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a priest whose ties to the church are frayed, but whose spiritual outlook is orthodox enough.

Father Mendoza’s freelancer status and checkered past may not sit well with some Catholic moviegoers. Yet, as Derrickson’s script, written with Paul Harris Boardman, suggests, who better to battle Satan than someone with demons of his own that he’s managed to vanquish?

At any rate, Sarchie gradually comes to accept the fact that his main suspect, Iraq War veteran Mick Santino (Sean Harris), is indeed possessed. But not before the evil emanating from Santino has begun to affect Sarchie’s wife, Jen (Olivia Munn), and young daughter, Christina (Lulu Wilson). Later, Santino’s shadow will fall over Sarchie’s sardonic partner, Butler (Joel McHale), as well.

Whatever his earlier shortcomings, Father Mendoza certainly takes his priesthood seriously. He insists, for instance, that to be properly armed for his forthcoming struggle with the forces of darkness, Sarchie must humble himself before God, preferably by going to confession.

That Sarchie, for all his initial scoffing, does so indicates that “Deliver Us From Evil” is not just out to evoke chills. It’s also, in the strictest sense, a conversion story as well as an exploration of the reality of superhuman malevolence. In the face of such iniquity, the movie suggests, only an active and trusting faith will suffice.

The film contains mature themes, occasional gory violence, about a dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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Long robots’ journey into night: ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

June 27th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

There may, no doubt, be circumstances that would justify a film having a running time close to three hours.

Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor star in a scene from the movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” 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/Andrew Cooper, Paramount Pictures)

Some lavish adaptation of a Dickens novel, perhaps, or a sweeping historical epic might be expected to sustain prolonged viewer interest. A set of outsize Hasbro toys come to life, on the other hand, not so much.

Still, that’s what audiences will find waiting for them in the interminable 3-D action sequel “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Such self-indulgence on the part of director Michael Bay is all the more regrettable because his fourth installment in this popular popcorn franchise is initially somewhat more engaging than its predecessors. The bond uniting small-time inventor, young widower and overprotective dad Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) with his teen daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), for example, gives us slightly more substantial human interest than was previously evident.

The rural setting of the Texas farm on which Cade and Tessa, routinely joined by Cade’s surfer sidekick, Lucas (T.J. Miller), live out a cash-strapped but mutually caring existence, moreover, makes for some pleasant visuals. Less welcome is the wayward relationship between Tessa and her clandestine boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor). As both Cade and the audience eventually discover, Pop has had better cause to worry than he knew.

Once the alien robots from whom the series takes its title show up, however, it does turn out to be a good thing that Irish-born Shane makes his living as a racecar driver. These mechanical beings are capable of changing shape at will, and do so most often by shifting into the guise of speedy vehicles. So it helps the humans who get mixed up with them — as Cade does by buying a long disused truck, to have some velocity of their own.

For those not fluently familiar with Transformers lore in all its manifestations, the briefest of explanations: the good, i.e. human-friendly, guys are called Autobots and are led by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen). Their adversaries, and ours, are known as Decepticons. The whole point of plunking down your dozen or so dollars at the box office is to watch these guys magically morph, and noisily duke it out.

Stacked up against the endless shape-shifting and cacophonous combat, neither Wahlberg’s strong presence nor an amusing turn by Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce, a Steve Jobs-like tech pioneer stands much of a chance. Also lost along the way are scattered religious references — do Transformers have souls? — and a more sustained theme about the dangers of overreacting to terrorism.

That tendency is embodied by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), a top-ranking CIA agent for whom the only good automaton is a dead one.

Besides sometimes ridiculous dialogue, Ehren Kruger’s script also includes a heavy dose of vulgarity. Together with the benignly treated behavior between Tessa and Shane mentioned above, such verbal lapses make this sci-fi slog an inappropriate one for those youthful viewers who might best be able to endure it.

As for their elders, the legal phrase “time served” may spring to mind well before the final credits roll.

The film contains relentless, though largely bloodless, violence, an implied premarital situation, at least one use each of profanity and rough language and numerous crude and crass terms. 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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These generic ‘Jersey Boys’ were filmed in L.A.

June 27th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, John Lloyd Young and Michael Lomenda star in a scene from the movie “Jersey Boys.” 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/Warner Bros.)

Catholic News Service

Success on the stage does not easily translate into success on screen, particularly for a musical. And yet if the tunes are enjoyable, all is not lost. That’s the case with “Jersey Boys,” a movie version of the Broadway show about The Four Seasons, a 1960s vocal group.

Faced with an adaptation that often feels lackluster and slapdash, one wonders if the filmmakers’ creative license was severely encumbered. But since the director is Clint Eastwood, who has considerable clout in Hollywood, that seems unlikely.

It’s more probable that Eastwood and his key collaborators, including screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote the musical, chose not to fiddle with material that continues to please theatergoers.

Choices still had to be made, however, and two important ones impact the movie negatively. First, “Jersey Boys” was filmed entirely in Los Angeles, primarily on the Warner Brothers back lot. As a result, it lacks visual authenticity.

Failing to convey the look and atmosphere of 1950s-1970s New Jersey is especially problematic when the story is so rooted in time and place. Every nightclub interior, residence and diner looks the same. The costumes also appear recycled. Undistinguished lighting and cinematography accentuate the film’s generic quality.

Second, having the actors peer into the camera and talk to the audience doesn’t work. Direct address is a device more commonly used in the theater. Here it interrupts the flow and detracts from the fly-on-the-wall intimacy movies can afford. Voice-overs, while not ideal, are a better option.

Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is the first character to address viewers when, at the outset, he introduces us to his vocally gifted pal Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young). It’s 1951 in Belleville, N.J., just outside of Newark.

Frankie works in a barbershop and Tommy is a go-fer for mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). He’s always hustling something, Frankie’s talent most of all, and, while dabbling in crime, the two play in a series of bands along with bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda).

After songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins them, the group starts to gain traction, but it’s a long struggle. Eventually they break through with “Sherry,” which is followed by two more chart-topping hits: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.”

During the second half of the film, personal and professional trials centering on Frankie’s family and Tommy’s mismanagement are more pronounced than the triumphs. Without greater psychological insight and detail, it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in this quintessential showbiz story. The lack of memorable acting is also an impediment.

Music is the bright spot. Valli’s falsetto tenor is distinctive, to say the least. Young won a Tony and plenty of other hardware for replicating it in the original Broadway cast. He may lack movie star charisma but he has the vocal chops; his soulful rendition of the 1975 smash “Who Loves You” is a high point.

The toe-tapping song arrangements are true to the period and accentuate the sentimental charms of the group’s sound. The movie soundtrack may not inspire millions of downloads, but their music is already fixed in the pop culture canon.

Because of some tonal dissonance — many scenes in the first half are so lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek they approach parody — and the far-from-uplifting final reel, “Jersey Boys” doesn’t come off as a fawning homage. The theme that loyalty is the paramount virtue in Jersey neighborhoods, however, fails to strike a resonant chord when marital fidelity appears to be the sole exception.

Although Eastwood is a true jazz aficionado and no stranger to making movies about musicians (see 1988′s “Bird” about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker), there’s scant evidence he brought his own musical sensibility to “Jersey Boys.” Maybe it would be a better movie if he had riffed on the material. At the very least, he should have tried harder to tailor it to the screen.

Most of the humor derives from stereotypes and cliches, none of which is sharp enough to offend Italian-Americans and/or Garden State residents. The brief appearance of a Catholic nun who swigs wine and burps is gratuitous. Yet it’s the amount of bad language that ultimately disqualifies “Jersey Boys” as suitable for minors.

The film contains a few nongraphic encounters, some profanity, frequent rough, crude and crass language, occasional sexual banter and mature references, including to crime and infidelity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

 

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Refresher course: ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’

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Catholic News Service

Making eexcellent use of 3-D technology, the 2010 animated adventure “How to Train Your Dragon” earned two Oscar nominations and a large payoff at the box office.

Although it may seem like an eternity to eager young fans, four years is not an overly long time to wait for a sequel given the painstaking nature of the animation process, even when fully computerized.

Astrid rides her faithful dragon in a scene from the movie “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Catholic News Service classification, A-I — general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/DreamWorks Animation)

The team behind “How to Train Your Dragon 2” — which is adapted, like its predecessor, from a series of children’s books by Cressida Cowell — used the interval to create more outstanding visuals. Time spent on the script is less in evidence.

The follow-up is pleasing to the eye, mildly amusing and occasionally poignant. But saddled with promoting an ecologically correct agenda, the dialogue often sounds clumsy.

To recap the original film, after rescuing a wounded dragon whom he dubbed Toothless, Viking teen Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) proved to his fellow residents on the Island of Berk that dragons are not to be feared. Now his community lives in harmony with their former adversaries.

Thus at the outset of the sequel, riders are seen racing the happily domesticated creatures in a game that involves sheep and resembles Quidditch from the “Harry Potter” films.

Twenty-year-old Hiccup does not participate, to the dismay of his father Stoick the Vast (voice of Gerard Butler) who is anxious for his son to succeed him as Berk’s chief. Instead, Hiccup and Toothless are out exploring the world.

Joined by Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), they encounter a dragon trapper named Eret, Son of Eret (voice of Kit Harington) who is helping the malevolent Drago Bludvist (voice of Djimon Hounsou) assemble a dragon army.

The movie kicks into gear during a thrilling sequence in which Hiccup, soaring high above the clouds astride Toothless, sees a masked figure atop its own magnificent mount. This mysterious individual, who turns out to be someone very close to Hiccup, takes him to a secret sanctuary where an array of colorful dragons, many injured or endangered, are protected by a gigantic, ice-breathing alpha dragon.

In due course, Hiccup and his peers must defend both the sanctuary and Berk against the dragons controlled by Drago.

Overseen by writer-director Dean DeBlois, the animation of the various dragon species is worth the price of admission. The wobbly screenplay, which insists, none too subtly, that respect for all creatures is a moral imperative, needs shoring up.

Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill are among the actors asked to deliver lines such as: “We will change the world for all dragons and make it a safer place.” “Dragons are kind, amazing creatures that can bring people together.” And, finally, “You have the heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon.”

As these quotes suggest, the movie comes close to elevating dragons above mankind. We are warmongering brutes, whereas they are innately gentle creatures, incapable of evil.

There’s justification for such a view, including the assumption that dragons, like actual animals, do not possess reason or genuine free will and are not tainted by original sin. And it’s no surprise the movie has an ecological message when it seems as if every family-oriented Hollywood movie must do so in order to get made. Still, the theme is taken so far and is expressed in such bald terms that viewers may find it unsettling.

Conversely, when Hiccup is anointed chief at the end, a medicine woman marks his forehead with a dark, cruciform sign that Catholics can interpret as both a nod to Ash Wednesday and as an instructive reminder of the pagan origins of many more ancillary Christian rituals.

While a “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy is planned, no doubt there will be a wait-and-see period before the third installment gets the final go-ahead. Without compromising their commitment to first-rate animation, the filmmakers would be wise to spend that time honing their script.

Small children may be spooked by some of the imagery, but the episodes in which the dragons behave ferociously are relatively short-lived.

The film contains several scenes with mildly scary fantasy action, one instance of potty language and a single demeaning epithet. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG. Some material may not be suitable for children.

 

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Avoid the loathsome movie at ‘22 Jump Street’

June 12th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Chaotic, foul-mouthed and ultimately loathsome, “22 Jump Street” tries to have it both ways with the subject of homosexuality, alternately snickering at it and defending it.

Male bonding between schlubby undercover cop Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and his partner, dimwitted muscular Jenko (Channing Tatum), is shown with a romantic subtext. But when a skinhead bad guy discovers the two of them in the library stacks and uses a hateful term, Jenko suddenly becomes hugely self-aware and shouts out a lecture on hate speech.

This sequel to 2012′s “21 Jump Street, like its predecessor, a spoof of the Fox series first broadcast in 1987, has a couple of expertly staged action sequences strung together by obscenities.

Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller signal their intentions early on with droll advice from Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman): “Do the same thing as last time. Everyone’s happy.”

In this installment, Schmidt and Jenko graduate from posing as high school students to infiltrating the fictional Metropolitan City State College where they pretend to be brothers. Their target is a drug dealer who has introduced “Why Phy” to the campus. This imaginary, cocaine-like substance gives young people an instant boost in concentration and energy, but ultimately leads to paranoia and death.

A tiresome parade of crotch-level gags ensues as the two pledge a fraternity; Jenko becomes a star on the football team, and takes gay sexual punning to a new level with quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell), Schmidt romances Maya (Amber Stevens), who turns out to be the daughter of their perpetually angry commander, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube); and various students insult them while seeing through their charade.

As in the first movie, the covert program operates in an abandoned church once used by Korean-Americans, only this time, Dickson refers to a large statue of Christ he previously dubbed “Korean Jesus” as “Vietnamese Jesus.” This ugly combination of religious flippancy and mild racism fortunately doesn’t go any further.

The film contains frequent gun and physical violence, much sexual humor, a drug theme, inadvertent narcotics use, a few instances of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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