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‘Black or White’ addresses racial issues in many hues

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

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Catholic News Service

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

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in a scene from the movie "Black or White." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Relativity)

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in a scene from the movie “Black or White.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Relativity)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Adult forecast for ‘Project Almanac’

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

By

Catholic News Service

Teens should avoid taking on “Project Almanac.”

Sam Lerner, Jonny Weston, Allen Evangelista and Virginia Gardner star in a scene from the movie "Project Almanac." 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/Paramount)

Sam Lerner, Jonny Weston, Allen Evangelista and Virginia Gardner star in a scene from the movie “Project Almanac.” 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/Paramount)

Though obviously aimed at adolescents, this sci-fi fantasy showcases behavior and dialogue that responsible parents would not want their youngsters either to absorb or imitate.

The well-worn theme of time travel gets trotted out once again as MIT-bound high school senior, and science prodigy, David (Jonny Weston) stumbles across the top-secret mechanism his deceased father was developing for the government at the time of his death in a car accident a decade back.

Together with Jesse (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the girl of his dreams, his sister Christina (Virginia Gardiner) and his two best pals, Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), David overcomes a series of obstacles to get the device in working order.

As long as David and company stick to short-term chronology-hopping and relatively small-scale wish fulfillment, their magical gadget seems like a windfall. But pushing the boundaries reveals the disastrously negative impact their reality-altering visits to the past can have on the present.

Director Dean Israelite’s uneven film works well enough while its generic ensemble of characters is puzzling over the nuts and bolts of Dad’s mysterious apparatus. Once they master its secrets, though, the complications become increasingly confusing, and the plotting ever choppier, while the movie’s tone shrills to an annoying crescendo.

The result for viewers might be described as the temporal equivalent of seasickness.

Among the contingencies explored in writers Andrew Deutschmann and Jason Pagan’s screenplay is a possible physical relationship between two characters that would not only predate any thought of marriage but also might anticipate either or both of the participants’ legal majority.

Along the same lines, the whole gang celebrates the success of one of their excursions by merrily downing a round of beers. Yet age 21 is clearly a long way off for any of them.

Throw in the fact that each shock or surprise the youthful pioneers encounter seems to be met with a familiar but unwelcome exclamation that likewise begins with an “s,” and it becomes apparent that this “Almanac” is not a suitable resource for the young.

The film contains a nonmarital and possibly underage sexual situation with a scene of sensual intimacy, teen drinking, some sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, at least one instance of the F-word as well as pervasive crude and occasional 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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‘Mortdecai’ a flat, tone-deaf and feeble comedy

January 26th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

The action comedy “Mortdecai” tries to evoke the genius of British novelist P.G. Wodehouse while also conjuring up the sort of movies parodied by the “Austin Powers” series.

Gywneth Paltrow and Johnny Depp star in a scene from the movie "Mortdecai." 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/Lionsgate)

Gywneth Paltrow and Johnny Depp star in a scene from the movie “Mortdecai.” 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/Lionsgate)

But in place of the effervescent satiric champagne the film clearly attempts to supply, viewers get a gulp of flat ginger ale instead.

Director David Koepp’s tone-deaf screen version of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel “Don’t Point That Thing at Me” centers on eccentric and somewhat shady English art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp). While modeled, to some degree at least, on Wodehouse’s immortal upper-class dimwit Bertie Wooster, Mortdecai comes across as an annoyingly mannered ninny whose grating company grows less tolerable with every passing minute.

At the behest of highly placed government spy Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor), with whom he shares a long-standing friendship more than a little tinged with rivalry, Mortdecai gets drawn into a murder investigation that eventually has him tracking a lost masterpiece by Spanish painter Francisco Goya.

Since the hunt also finds Mortdecai fending off such threatening villains as international terrorist Emil (Jonny Pasvolsky) and Russian mobster Romanov (Ulrich Thomsen), it’s just as well that the easily flustered aristocrat can count on the back-up of his burly and resourceful bodyguard, Jock (Paul Bettany). He’s also aided by his devoted but not uncritical wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow).

In a running joke characteristic of the movie’s feeble humor, Johanna spends much of the picture alienated from her spouse due to her intense dislike of his newly acquired moustache. Wodehouse could and, if memory serves, did make facial hair a source of amusing dispute between Wooster and his perennially correct manservant, Reginald Jeeves. In screenwriter Eric Aronson’s hands, by contrast, such inflated trivialities quickly wither.

The film contains considerable bloodless violence, a brief premarital bedroom scene, frequent sexual and some scatological humor, including a vulgar anatomical sight gag, at least one use of profanity and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

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‘Strange Magic’ a mix of Shakespeare, ‘American Idol’ and George Lucas

January 23rd, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

The course of true love never did run smooth, as Shakespeare observed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

But its progress has never been more confusing than in “Strange Magic,” an animated riff on the Bard’s classic comedy to which an overlay of the Leafmen and bugs from the 2013 feature “Epic” has been added.

Dawn, voice of Meredith Anne Bull, and Marianne, voice of Evan Rachel Wood, star in a scene from the movie "Strange Magic." 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/Lucasfilm)

Dawn, voice of Meredith Anne Bull, and Marianne, voice of Evan Rachel Wood, star in a scene from the movie “Strange Magic.” 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/Lucasfilm)

The resulting muddle is made even more untidy when the characters break into pop tunes from across the decades, outbursts that do nothing either to reveal inner emotions or advance the plot.

The story is by George Lucas, who has had considerably more success with space aliens than earthbound romances. As for director and co-writer Gary Rydstrom, together with his script collaborators David Berenbaum and Irene Mecchi, he gets completely lost in this not-so-enchanted forest.

Their fantasy landscape includes two realms: the Fairy Kingdom (most have butterfly wings here) and the gnome-heavy Dark Forest. Princess Marianne (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) of the former dominion wants to marry her vain and hunky suitor, Roland (voice of Sam Palladio), until she sees him kissing another gal. This unsettling sight turns her, for a time, into a surly warrior. But Roland wants her back.

So Roland persuades an elf named Sunny (voiced by Elijah Kelley), who’s smitten with Marianne’s flirtatious sister, Dawn (voice of Meredith Anne Bull), to go into the Dark Forest, ruled over by the Bog King (voice of Alan Cumming), and obtain a dose of love potion from the Sugar Plum Fairy (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth).

The embittered Bog King wants to prevent anyone falling in love, so he’s imprisoned the Sugar Plum Fairy and has his minions stripping the land of primrose petals, the key ingredient in her amorous brew.

There’s nothing like a few shots of elixir to smooth over plot deficiencies. But Rydstrom insists that everyone get the chance for impassioned “American Idol”-type solos. Though some impressive dance numbers are tossed in as well, seldom have so many visually pleasing images been yoked to such a leaden presentation.

The film contains some intense action sequences. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I , general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘The Boy Next Door’ reaches a new ‘J-Low’

January 23rd, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

As a vehicle for its star, Jennifer Lopez, “The Boy Next Door” is basically a garbage truck.

Although it succeeds in parading her flesh, and that of her male counterpart, “Step Up”-series veteran Ryan Guzman, director Rob Cohen’s trashy thriller is eye-rollingly inept on every other score.

Ryan Guzman and Jennifer Lopez star in a scene from the movie "The Boy Next Door." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Universal)

Ryan Guzman and Jennifer Lopez star in a scene from the movie “The Boy Next Door.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Universal)

Lopez plays high school English teacher Claire Peterson. While separated from her unfaithful husband Garrett (John Corbett), Claire finds her lonely world steamed up by the arrival of a new neighbor, hunky teen Noah Sandborn (Guzman).

Showing Claire no mercy from the start, Noah not only works on her car engine wearing a James Dean-style T-shirt, he also changes with the curtains open. Well, after all, just how much can a strait-laced but mildly voyeuristic gal be expected to stand?

So, after a pause only long enough to allow Noah to mention the reassuring fact that he’s 19 and therefore of age, it’s off to bed with both of them.

Gosh darn the luck, though, Noah turns out to be an obsessive maniac who can’t tell the difference between a middle-aged educator’s summertime indiscretion and true love. Sound like a gender-switching variation on the premise of the 1987 hit “Fatal Attraction?” It is.

Unfortunately for Claire, her ill-chosen paramour has managed to befriend her bullied son, Kevin (Ian Nelson), thus putting the whole family in danger. And, to make things worse, despite being so well-stricken in years, Noah is also on track to join Claire’s class as a transfer student once school starts up again, thereby putting her career in jeopardy as well.

As irresolute Claire dithers, merry prankster Noah gets right to the point, bedecking her classroom with an endless series of photos showing the two of them in flagrante. The sight of Claire’s frantic efforts to clear away this incriminating evidence while her increasingly impatient charges wait outside is as laughable as many other moments in the pulpy proceedings.

The film contains some harsh violence with brief but extreme gore, strong sexual content, including graphic adultery and other immoral acts, a couple of profanities and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

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‘Still Alice’ avoids depicting Alzheimer’s realities

January 22nd, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

The real depredations of Alzheimer’s disease and its toll on the families of the afflicted are not on display in the flawed drama “Still Alice.”

“Iris,” the 2001 film that starred Judi Dench as British novelist Iris Murdoch, was particularly frank about the effects of the illness, both mental and physical. It also highlighted the special tragedy when someone who has built a career as a communicator falls prey to the affliction.

Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore star in a scene from the movie "Still Alice." 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/Sony)

Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore star in a scene from the movie “Still Alice.” 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/Sony)

“Still Alice,” which stars Julianne Moore as Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howland, should, by contrast, carry the label “Sanitized for your protection.” Everyone involved is highly attractive, articulate, compassionate and virtually devoid of any flaws that would mark them as human.

What’s left is a sensitive and appealing performance by Moore as Alice’s mind fades from early onset Alzheimer’s; her character has just turned 50. As for the rest of the story, adapted by directors and co-writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel, it has plot holes large enough to accommodate a Mack truck.

Quite sensibly, for instance, Alice’s three children undergo genetic testing. Daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) tests positive. That turn in the drama leads nowhere.

Another daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), seems to be making bad choices both in her romantic life and as a budding stage actress. What happens next? We’re not told.

Husband John (Alec Baldwin) bears every crisis with a preternatural calm, even when he’s planning to pull up stakes from New York and move to a job at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Surely he must have strong emotions about his wife’s illness. But, if so, they’re never shown.

Having always been defined by her intellect and adept use of language, Alice is sometimes reduced to making speeches about her frustration. “Sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them, and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.”

She learns to get by using her cellphone as a reminder of tasks, and the online game “Words With Friends” to shore up her vocabulary.

Alice has also made a video giving her future self instructions on how to take her own life. Her eventual attempt to do so goes awry. Yet any moral or even dramatic ramifications from this line of conduct are ignored in the movie’s final, and perhaps most glaring, default.

The film contains mature themes, including suicide, a few references to body functions and fleeting 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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‘American Sniper’ takes aim at celebrity warrior

January 21st, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

For those seeking an insight into an individual veteran’s perspective on the Iraq War, director Clint Eastwood’s sober drama “American Sniper,” which stars Bradley Cooper as real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, will likely hit home.

Yet moviegoers in search of a bigger-picture moral assessment of that conflict, or of armed clashes in general, may come away disappointed.

Kyle Gallner and Bradley Cooper star in a scene from the movie "American Sniper." 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.)

Kyle Gallner and Bradley Cooper star in a scene from the movie “American Sniper.” 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.)

Drawing on Kyle’s 2012 memoir (written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice), Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall trace the expert sharpshooter’s rise to celebrity status among his comrades. They also track his emergence as a prime target for enemy insurgents who eventually put a price on the Texas native’s head.

Determined to safeguard his fellow fighters, who dub him “the Legend,” Kyle insists on returning to combat through four grueling tours of duty. But his exposure to the moral and emotional pressures of urban warfare predictably exacts a psychological toll and places a strain on his relationship with his loving wife, Taya (Sienna Miller).

Scenes set during Kyle’s childhood show his forceful dad instilling the belief that people can be divided into three basic categories: predatory wolves, vulnerable sheep and protective sheepdogs. From the adult Kyle’s point of view, it’s enough to know that there are villains on the loose in Iraq, and innocent victims potentially at their mercy, for his chivalrous course of conduct as an aspiring member of the third grouping to become apparent.

While Eastwood successfully conveys Kyle’s personal heroism, his film avoids engaging the larger issue of whether the geopolitical cause to which Kyle repeatedly and resolutely lent his skills was an ethically valid one. In purely cinematic terms, moreover, the picture alternates between effectively displaying the consequences of Kyle’s scaring battlefield experiences and weakly relying on dialogue that can only hint at these same wounding repercussions.

Taken on its own terms and considered as a whole, however, Eastwood’s movie reliably escorts viewers through both the agonizing instantaneous dilemmas and the longer-term complexities that confronted the courageous warrior on whom its action centers.

The film contains stylized violence with some gore, a scene of torture, a premarital situation, some sexual humor and references, several uses of profanity and constant 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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Don’t go through ‘The Wedding Ringer’

January 16th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Moviegoers should avoid putting themselves through “The Wedding Ringer.” What could have been a touching comedy bogs down instead in juvenile nastiness.

Doug Harris’ (Josh Gad) betrothal to girl-beyond-his dreams, at least where looks are concerned, Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) presents the otherwise delighted husband-to-be with a difficulty: Lacking any close friends, he has no one to stand by him at the altar.

Josh Gad and Kevin Hart star in a scene from the movie "The Wedding Ringer." 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/Sony

Josh Gad and Kevin Hart star in a scene from the movie “The Wedding Ringer.” 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/Sony

So, on the advice of extravagantly effeminate wedding planner Edmundo (Ignacio Serricchio), Doug seeks out the services of best-man-for-hire Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart). For a price, Jimmy agrees to supply not only his own presence for the big day, but that of a hastily assembled crew of fake groomsmen.

Despite Jimmy’s rule that his relationships with clients must remain strictly professional, he’s only posing as their bosom buddy, the script sketchily traces his burgeoning affinity with Doug. Like Doug, Jimmy is an unwilling loner whose work dominates his life.

The screenplay also scores a few points off the kind of run-amok romanticism that leads brides like Gretchen to obsess over wedding details instead of concentrating on the solidity of the marriage to follow. In her case, it turns out, the forthcoming nuptials are based on the shakiest of foundations, with both future spouses acting out of shallow motives.

The potentially enjoyable proceedings first go seriously awry when Doug informs Jimmy that the nonexistent closest pal he’s going to be impersonating has been described to Gretchen as a Catholic military chaplain.

This revelation opens the way for dialogue highlighting Jimmy’s frustration with such a role, hookups with bridesmaids normally being one of the perks of his job. It also leads into supposedly humorous swipes at the clergy sex abuse scandal.

By the time Jimmy and Doug cement their bond amid a wild bachelor party, good taste has been left so far behind that Garelick and Lavender actually try to garner giggles by involving a dog in a sex act.

A glimpse into Edmundo’s private life, which shows his light-in-the-loafers persona to be entirely an act, is obviously intended as a jab at the stereotyping of gay men. Yet the sequence goes on, paradoxically, to mainstream homosexual unions by showing them to be as quarrelsome as marriage.

The film contains anti-Catholic and irreverent humor, strong sexual content, including depraved activity with partial frontal nudity, a frivolous treatment of homosexuality, about a dozen uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive.

 

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‘Paddington’ a delightful bear and film for families

January 15th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Hollywood offers a belated Christmas gift in “Paddington,” a delightful, warmhearted comedy for the entire family.

The screen adventures of the talking bear (voice of Ben Whishaw) from “darkest Peru,” who travels to Britain in search of a new home, are based on the celebrated series of children’s books by Michael Bond.

A bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, and Hugh Bonneville are pictured in a scene from the movie "Paddington." 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/Weinstein)

A bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, and Hugh Bonneville are pictured in a scene from the movie “Paddington.” 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/Weinstein)

Writer-director Paul King deftly balances manic comedy with genuine affection for his source material in a story that reinforces a timeless message about being kind to strangers. His film, which mixes animation and live action, contains a few scary moments as it barrels along, but nothing too upsetting for even the youngest viewers.

We first meet our initially nameless hero, an orphan, in the Peruvian jungle where he lives with his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (voice of Michael Gambon). Their unusual fondness for all things British (inspired by a passing explorer) includes an addiction to orange marmalade.

When an earthquake destroys his home, the young cub is encouraged to seek a new life in London. Before he leaves, Lucy puts a label around his neck: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

Arriving at the Victorian train station from which he eventually takes his name, Paddington meets the Brown family: Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins) and their two children, Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Mary takes pity on the refugee and insists he come home with them, despite Henry’s objections.

Paddington’s adjustment to life in a townhouse is rocky, to say the least, and includes several gross-out moments that will delight kiddies. Still, with his signature red hat and blue duffel coat, the bear wins the hearts of the “curious tribe” that is his newfound clan.

But danger lurks around the corner in the guise of Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a sadistic museum taxidermist who thinks Paddington would make a fine addition to her collection. “Families stick together,” Henry proclaims, as the Browns rally to protect their furry friend.

The film contains some mildly scary action sequences, brief innuendo and a few instances of bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Inherent Vice’ on film lacks reported charms of book

January 14th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

The meandering plot of “Inherent Vice” is perhaps better appreciated in the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel on which the film is based.

On screen, however, its “nothing is as it seems” ambiance has all the charm of a bad sunburn.

Joaquin Phoenix and Katherine Waterston star in a scene from the movie "Inherent Vice." 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.)

Joaquin Phoenix and Katherine Waterston star in a scene from the movie “Inherent Vice.” 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.)

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation emphasizes the narrative’s amorality and makes it all appear vaguely smutty rather than intriguing. When not aimlessly getting high, characters are being killed or else indulging in joyless sexual encounters.

What emerges is a series of scenery-chewing roles that were presumably fun to write and enjoyable for the actors to play. Private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), for example, stumbles perpetually through a fog of marijuana in 1970 Southern California.

The script’s many political references swirl around police contempt of hippies in the wake of Charles Manson’s murderous rampage, President Richard Nixon, a conservative group calling itself “Vigilant California” — as well as a hodgepodge of conspiracy theories.

Sportello gets a series of visits from women asking for help. Ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) wants assistance with powerful developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) wants Sportello to find her husband, Coy (Owen Wilson).

Tough-talking police detective Christian Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) ought to be summing up the various conspiracies. But underneath his bluster, he’s as confused as everyone else.

Sportello is occasionally told to beware of the Golden Fang. What’s that? There are many proposed interpretations, explained at great length. It’s all supposed to be surreal fun. It’s surreal, all right.

The screenplay includes a riff on part of a line from Pynchon’s text: “As long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel would always be assured a bottomless pool of new customers.” Escaping life with this movie turns out not the best use of anyone’s time.

The film contains frequent drug use, strong sexual content, including scenes of aberrant behavior and much crass banter, as well as pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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