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Tom Cruise grabs a ride on jet during impossible mission

August 4th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Light the fuse and cue that nerve-jangling theme music everyone loves to hum; it’s time for “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”

As helmed by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, this fifth installment in a franchise that dates back, on the big screen, to 1996, and that began life as a CBS-TV series a full three decades before that — delivers a steady but stylized parade of action. The result is a nifty espionage adventure that most parents will likely find acceptable for their older teens.

Tom Cruise stars in a scene from the movie "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation." 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) See MOVIE-REVIEW-MISSION-IMPOSSIBLE July 31, 2015.

Tom Cruise stars in a scene from the movie “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” 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) See MOVIE-REVIEW-MISSION-IMPOSSIBLE July 31, 2015.

Viewers of any age looking for something more substantive than a fun, globe-trotting ride, with occasional reflections on the conflict between personal and patriotic allegiances thrown in along the way, will, however, scratch this picture’s slick surface in vain.

But, then, profundity has never been this property’s foremost agenda item anyway, whatever the medium. The point here is to waste as little time as possible before positioning agent Ethan Hunt — Tom Cruise, of course — on the outside of an airplane that’s roaring off the runway in some ex-Soviet republic, and making the fate of humanity depend on his sheer, headwinds-be-darned stick-to-itiveness.

Do-dah-do, do-dah-do …

This time out, Ethan and his colleagues on the Impossible Mission Force — an IMF even Greek moviegoers can love — are battling an underground terrorist organization of global reach called The Syndicate. (You can tell they must be dangerous by that capital T.)

Unfortunately for the good guys, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), the stubbornly jealous director of the CIA, stoutly denies that The Syndicate exists. Worse yet, over the fruitless objections of the IMF’s representative, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Hunley convinces the Senate committee charged with such matters to shut his rivals’ super-secret agency down altogether.

Naturally, Ethan and his intrepid circle — besides Brandt, there’s desk jockey-turned-field operative Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and topflight computer whizz Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) — are not to be stymied by the machinations of mere Capitol Hill pen-pushers.

Still, they don’t have much to work with: Hunt has gotten a glimpse of The Syndicate’s villainous top dog, pasty faced Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). And he’s been helped out of a fix by mystery woman Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Though Ilsa turns out to be a British agent who has managed to infiltrate The Syndicate, her true loyalties remain uncertain.

The interaction between Ethan and Ilsa is not exactly all business. But those with enough brand memory to recall that Ethan is a married man will not be surprised to observe that romance, in this iteration of his eventful biography, is kept at the level of significant glances and tellingly raised eyebrows.

Along with not overheating things for the younger set, this brake on the central duo’s flirtation also allows Ilsa — whose skills in one dust-up after another impress even Ethan himself — to stand on her own two, jujitsu-wielding feet.

The dialogue occasionally ponders the morality of all the violence Ethan and his buddies deal out in defense of the American Way. Are such means justified in pursuit of justice writ large? How can operatives resist the urge to revel in mayhem for its own sake? The answer to these important ethical questions is: Do-dah-do, do-dah-do…

The film contains pervasive but virtually bloodless violence, brief glimpses of partial nudity and a couple of uses each of profanity and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13..

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Second generation’s ‘Vacation’ fails to arrive at comedy

July 29th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The dog days of summer may inspire the urge to get away from it all. Wise moviegoers, however, will not seek their relief in “Vacation,” a dog of a comedy that happily rolls around in all manner of muck.

Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Christina Applegate and Ed Helms star in a scene from the movie "Vacation." 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.)

Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Christina Applegate and Ed Helms star in a scene from the movie “Vacation.” 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.)

This wretched revival of the franchise that began with 1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation” revolves around a new generation of the same hapless family, the Chicago-based Griswolds, featured in the original. The destination of their sultry season get-away also remains the same: a California amusement park, known as Walley World.

The Griswolds embark on their road trip thither after bumbling patriarch Rusty (Ed Helms), the teen son in the Reagan-era films,, learns that his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their quarrelsome brace of boys, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), are bored with the clan’s annual outing to a cabin in the Wisconsin woods. Rusty decides a weeklong ride to the Left Coast, by contrast, will be just the thing to shake up their routine and boost togetherness.

The travels that follow are beset by a variety of disasters. Yet the real calamity befalls viewers as they find themselves dragged along on a forced march through a landscape of tastelessness unrelieved by laughs.

The movie tries to disguise their steamy material by cloaking it in family values. Thus, not only do we witness Rusty’s fatherly concern, which eventually morphs into exasperation, but also various scenes that demonstrate his and Debbie’s shared commitment to maintaining the vibrancy of their marriage.

The challenges to their union are typified by Debbie’s attraction to, and Rusty’s jealousy of, their hunky brother-in-law, Stone (Chris Hemsworth). But a stopover at Stone’s Texas home reveals, so to speak, the picture’s real agenda as their host pays Rusty and Debbie an enthusiastically exhibitionist bedtime visit, his tight underwear and contrived poses leaving nothing even to the sleepiest imagination.

Add to this interlude of too much information an inadvertent swim in a cesspool, the numerous obscenities the script puts into preteen Kevin’s mouth as well as ill-advised jokes about AIDS and pedophilia, and pretty soon you’ll be wishing you weren’t here.

The film contains pervasive sexual and extreme scatological humor, frontal male and upper female nudity, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and constant 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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‘Pixels’ tilts toward tasteless humor

July 24th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

All those misspent hours of youth, spending quarters on mindless video games, are finally put to use in “Pixels,” a manic comedy about an alien invasion of Earth by 3-D characters from the arcade.

Michelle Monaghan, Adam Sandler and Josh Gad star in a scene from the movie "Pixels." 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/Sony)

Michelle Monaghan, Adam Sandler and Josh Gad star in a scene from the movie “Pixels.” 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/Sony)

This inane mash-up of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Wreck-It Ralph” envisions former players, now grown up, drafted by the government to defeat the enemy at their own games (literally).

The trouble starts in 1982, when NASA sends a probe into outer space, containing samples of human culture. Why include “Pride and Prejudice” when you can send “Pac-Man,” you may wonder?

Alien baddies intercept, misinterpret the video games as attack plans, and decide to turn the tables, using monster (and mean-spirited) interpretations of the day-glo characters.

Thirty years later, after Guam is attacked by a swarm of cartoons, U.S. President Will Cooper (Kevin James) must come up with a plan to rescue the planet. Who better to vanquish evil than his boyhood nerdy pals: Sam (Adam Sandler), Ludlow (Josh Gad), and Eddie (Peter Dinklage)?

As kids in the 1980s, this quartet saved the world thousands of times, at 25 cents a game in the arcade. Now rebranded as the “Arcaders,” they face their pixelated friends in real time, with a few modifications.

“Pac-Man’s a bad guy?” Sam asks in amazement. And even the cuddly Smurfs are suspect.

Game on, big time, and Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders lay waste to much of London, Washington and New York. The president calls in backup, in the guise of a comely weapons specialist, Violet (Michelle Monaghan).

Smitten, Ludlow tells her, “You smell so nice, like the Book of Genesis,” one of the script’s many non sequiturs.

Actually, Violet only has eyes for Sam, as he unleashes his inner hero with proclamations like, “We got this! If we don’t, the world ends.”

Director Chris Columbus, famous for “Home Alone” and two Harry Potter films, juggles an uneasy mix of shtick and schlock. Regrettably, “Pixels” is short on fun and long on tasteless humor, making what should be a wholesome kids’ movie questionable for even mature teens.

By the time tennis star Serena Williams and domestic diva Martha Stewart make their appearance, viewers will wish for “Game Over.”

The film contains bawdy humor, some sexual innuendo, and a few mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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Teens are bored and disillusioned but talkative in ‘Paper Towns’

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

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Catholic News Service

The disillusionment and ennui of high school seniors, always fertile ground for literature, was perfected in films by John Hughes decades ago.

Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff star in a scene from the movie "Paper Towns." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material ma y be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Fox)

Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff star in a scene from the movie “Paper Towns.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material ma y be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Fox)

In the case of “Paper Towns,” a faithful adaptation of John Green’s young-adult novel, the kids discuss their anxieties — and talk, and talk some more — for nearly two hours. Seldom does enlightenment dawn, but they gamely plug away.

The dependable coming-of-age/teen romance formula is supposed to have its characters become wiser as they balance their intense emotions and precocity with the knowledge of looming adult responsibilities. That doesn’t happen in this movie; no one becomes much smarter, and it being high school, everyone’s obsessively focused on their upcoming prom.

Sexuality and language issues put this on the adult side of the ledger, but mature adolescents, the target audience, should easily navigate this material.

Quentin (Nat Wolff) and Margo (Cara Delevingne) have been friends since early childhood, when her family moved across the street in a sterile suburb of Orlando, Florida. By senior year, they’ve grown apart, but one night, Margo invites Quentin to help her with a night of criminal mischief against her cheating ex-boyfriend, and their bond is restored.

Margo is intensely world-weary with Orlando’s “paper houses and people,” and announces, “I’ve lived here 11 years and I’ve never come across anyone that matters.”

Her solution to this is to suddenly run away, a coping mechanism she’s used before. She drops Quentin some spooky scavenger-hunt clues — including one in Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” — so he can figure out her location.

This sets Quentin, along with friends Ben (Austin Abrams), Radar (Justice Smith), Lacey (Halston Sage) and Angela (Jaz Sinclair) on a quirky 1,200-mile road trip north to upper New York State to find Margo, who is hiding practically in plain sight in a “paper town.” That’s a term used by cartographers for invented places they add to maps to keep copyright infringement at bay.

In the safe and snug realm of a Green novel, he also wrote “The Fault in Our Stars,” they’re all good kids, reluctant, unlike Margo, to so much as bend any rules. Margo demands that Quentin become more enlightened and self-aware, but whether someone finds his journey worthwhile depends upon the prism of the age of the viewer.

The film contains mentions of sexual activity, teenage sexual banter, fleeting rear male nudity, and fleeting crude language and profanities. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘Southpaw’ — A fighter named Hope must learn to use his head

By

Catholic News Service

In the visceral boxing drama “Southpaw,” a seasoned trainer tries to convince a broken-down fighter that boxing is more mental than physical.

Forest Whitaker and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie "Southpaw."  The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.  (CNS photo/Weinstein)

Forest Whitaker and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie “Southpaw.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Weinstein)

A successful practitioner of “the sweet science” must use his head and strategize. Thinking is more important than punching.

No doubt boxing has a cerebral dimension. Fighting smart, at least smarter than one’s opponent, is better than the alternative. But the express aim of the inherently violent game is to hurt the other guy physically. Outthinking him is a means to inflicting more bodily damage than you receive.

If the viewer comes away believing that anyone who chooses to box is not very smart or, rather, is opting to use his or her head in the dumbest of ways, it doesn’t mean “Southpaw” is a failure. On the contrary, it is so effective at depicting the toll exacted by the sport that boxing becomes a source of fascination, no matter how seemingly irrational and barbaric.

As in most boxing flicks, boxing is both the problem and the solution, the source of the protagonist’s woes and the vehicle for his (or her) redemption. And yet, because violence is at the root of the game, “Southpaw” is inescapably, if not completely, problematic on a moral level. Also, the audience is pummeled by a near-constant barrage of profanity.

The advice about using one’s mind instead of wildly unloading on your adversary is offered to the title character Billy Hope, light-heavyweight champion of the world. Played by a chiseled Jake Gyllenhaal, Billy is first seen preparing to enter the ring for a major bout.

According to the rap song blaring on the soundtrack, he’s a “beast.” He’s reached the pinnacle of boxing because he fights like a maniac, with no regard for his own safety. He puts up little defense and gets pulverized, but he always withstands the onslaught and finds a way to win.

In their gaudy suburban mansion after this fight, Billy’s 10-year-old daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), ritualistically counts all the wounds on his face. He’s bruised and battered. It takes hours for the blood to stop oozing from his nose and mouth and days for his left eye to stop glowing like red marble. But he’s the champ.

Billy and his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), met as preteen orphans in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. They’re deeply in love and she’s his biggest supporter. But she can no longer let him endure the punishment. She urges him to retire or at least take a break. “You’re gonna be punch-drunk in two years if you keep this up,” she argues, presumably aware he already appears addled, perpetually woozy to the point people frequently assume he’s inebriated or high on drugs.

Then tragedy strikes. Billy is dealt a wrenching blow outside the ring. In the aftermath of this personal crisis, his manager Jordan Mains (played with a believable mix of charm and menace by the rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) is no help. Billy loses all his money, his house and just about everything he holds dear.

Can he wise up and channel his sorrow and rage into productive behavior? Humbled and emotionally fragile, he makes his way to the ratty, inner-city gym run by Titus “Tick” Willis (Forest Whitaker), a no-nonsense trainer who agrees to teach him how to protect himself in the ring and, in effect, become a smart pugilist.

During the first third of the movie, director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) does a masterful job of making the brutal allure of boxing as palpable as the bond between Maureen and Billy. Grittily realistic camerawork and tremendous acting by Gyllenhaal and McAdams contribute to an atmosphere that’s both lurid and heartfelt. There’s no attempt to analyze Billy’s masochistic personality. The images, many featuring copious amounts of blood, say enough.

What follows is more melodramatic and less compelling. Billy’s professional comeback happens too easily and his emotional recovery, including a painful domestic situation, is implausibly linked to his return to the ring. The all-important character of Tick is not fully formed, despite Whitaker’s solid efforts and despite getting some of the choicer lines in Kurt Sutter’s script.

By telling of a man who makes his living by being violent and is brought low by a violent act, then saves himself by engaging in further, albeit more tactical, violence, “Southpaw” tries to have it both ways. How can a cautionary tale about violence offer violence as the answer? This question pertains to the genre tropes of boxing movies and storytelling conventions in general. It also mirrors the puzzle surrounding this anachronistic sport. How can we be drawn to boxing and repelled by it at the same time?

The film contains pervasive rough, crude and crass language, much bloody boxing violence, a character on the verge of suicide, a scene of gun violence, and an instance of partial male nudity. 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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‘Trainwreck’

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

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Catholic News Service

The self-deprecation in the title of this raunchy romantic comedy, a vehicle for stand-up comedienne Amy Schumer, is warranted.

Schumer, who plays the lead and wrote the screenplay for “Trainwreck,” has seen her star rise over the past few years thanks to her Comedy Central series “Inside Amy Schumer” and her propensity to combine X-rated humor with a satirical outlook, often about gender issues.

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader star in a scene from the movie "Trainwreck." 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)

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader star in a scene from the movie “Trainwreck.” 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)

Underlying much of her material is the notion that women have as much right to be vulgar as men. And she’s not afraid to mock herself if she thinks it will help skewer sexism and hypocrisy within the entertainment industry or society-at-large.

Though she’s probably right about there being a double standard regarding what men and women can say or do without being subject to censure, her fondness for obscenity and self-debasement renders her material a dubious form of empowerment, feminist or otherwise. Schumer may be groundbreaking, but the ground she’s staking out is fallow at best.

She plays Amy, a sexually promiscuous New Yorker who has a strict rule about never spending the night after an encounter. Despite having a devoted if dimwitted boyfriend, the muscle-bound Steven (played by wrestling star John Cena), she tests this rule routinely. A gauge of her wantonness: the role of “One-Night Stand Guy” appears four times in the movie’s credits.

Also a heavy drinker and inveterate marijuana smoker, Amy writes for a sleazy men’s magazine called S’Nuff. One day, her unscrupulous editor, Dianna (Tilda Swinton), tells her to profile an orthopedic surgeon who treats elite pro athletes such as the NBA’s LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire (who appear as themselves and get a surprisingly large amount of screen time). Amy hates sports, which is why Dianna, seeking a controversial angle, gave her the assignment.

Initially, Amy claims the nerdy bone doctor Aaron (Bill Hader) is not her type, a clue she likes him given she’s been the opposite of discriminating heretofore. Sure enough, they fall for one another. As commitment-phobic as they come, Amy is freaked-out by her feelings for Aaron and by his reciprocation.

A subplot concerns Amy and her younger sister, a suburban mom and housewife, deciding to put their father Gordon (Colin Quinn), who has multiple sclerosis, into an assisted living facility. The movie’s first scene is a flashback to Gordon telling his two young daughters why he and their mother are divorcing, “Monogamy isn’t realistic.” In Amy’s case, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and now Gordon, an ornery rogue and bigot, urges her to remain single and not settle down with Aaron.

Somewhat surprisingly, the story follows a traditional trajectory, meaning no lives are actually wrecked as Amy endeavors to change her wild ways, albeit reluctantly and unapologetically. When you consider Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) is at the wheel, directing for the fifth time, the first without having written the screenplay, this adherence to romantic-comedy convention makes sense.

A prolific exponent of blue comedy on both the big and small screens, Apatow usually tries to dilute the smut with sentimentality. In this instance, however, it simply can’t be done and the happy ending is implausible, though not unwelcome.

“Trainwreck” is not well paced or structured. Apatow’s improvisational style of filmmaking makes for a relaxed, naturalistic atmosphere, which suits Schumer’s matter-of-fact delivery. But he allows the narrative momentum to flag and the movie feels way too long. It doesn’t help that the clown in “Saturday Night Live” alum Hader is kept under wraps or that a nonactor like James, who plays Aaron’s best friend, has so many lines.

Aside from being offensive and unfunny, a crude quip about Mother Theresa suggests Schumer’s primary aim is to shock and appear edgy. As the novelty of her persona and her tweaking of the romantic comedy formula wear thin, she’s exposed as a one-trick pony.

The film contains many fairly graphic sexual encounters between unmarried men and women; frequent sexual banter, much of it explicit; pervasive crude language; frequent profanity; some rear male nudity; racially insensitive comments; and much alcohol and drug use. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive.

 

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‘Ant-Man’ downsizes superhero violence for the better effect

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

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Catholic News Service

Better think twice before squashing that insect invader at your summer picnic; it could be “Ant-Man,” the diminutive superhero of the Marvel Comics universe.

Paul Rudd stars in a scene from the movie "Ant-Man." The Catholic News Service classification, A-II -- adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.(CNS photo/Disney)

Paul Rudd stars in a scene from the movie “Ant-Man.” The Catholic News Service classification, A-II — adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.(CNS photo/Disney)

Shrunk to bug size by means of a special suit, Ant-Man, a.k.a. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), acquires super-human strength and a nifty ability to control his fellow invertebrates, who bow before their leader.

Ridiculous, yes, but “Ant-Man” is nonetheless great fun, with swarms of creepy-crawlies rendered in glorious 3-D.

Ant-Man technology was invented by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a genius connected to the elite “Avengers” superhero team. Years ago Pym himself wore the suit and crawled around fighting baddies. But age has caught up with him, and Pym seeks a successor.

Just why Pym chooses Scott, an ex-con, is uncertain, although this cat burglar’s knack for breaking and entering certainly comes in handy.

Freshly sprung from prison, Scott is determined to reform his life and earn the respect of his young daughter, Cassie (Ryder Fortson).

“Second chances don’t come around all that often,” Pym tells Scott. “This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter’s eyes, to become the hero that she already thinks you are.”

There’s no time to lose. Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), wants to steal the technology to develop the ultimate weapon to bring peace to our time.

Needless to say, beneath Darren’s flashy version of the suit, nicknamed Yellowjacket, lies the beating heart of a megalomaniac bent on world domination, de rigueur for comic book movies.

Hoping an ant can stop a fly, the chase is on. At Scott’s side is Pym’s comely daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). When she’s not making eyes at Ant-Man, Hope dreams of wearing the suit herself.

Along for the wild ride are Scott’s jive-talking buddies, led by Luis (Michael Pena). They are amazed by his heroic transformation and likewise inspired to turn away from the dark side.

Part of the charm of “Ant-Man” is its scale and tone. Director Peyton Reed keeps tongue firmly in cheek as he downsizes the usual over-the-top violence of a Marvel film in favor of a clever heist picture, seasoned with plenty of humor and nice messages about honor and redemption.

The climactic battle, featuring a backyard bug zapper and a Thomas the Tank Engine train set, is a far cry from the apocalyptic destruction in this year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” And that’s a good thing.

The film contains cartoonish but bloodless violence, brief innuendo, and a few mild oaths. 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 Gallows’ — Run, scream and keeping recording

July 13th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News S ervice

As if the average high school weren’t a scary enough venue already, “The Gallows” adds a ghost to the mix. Though little blood flows as this noose-toting specter stalks the locker-lined halls, there’s not much brainpower on display, either.

Pfeifer Brown and Reese Mishler star in a scene from the movie "The Gallows." 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/Focus)

Pfeifer Brown and Reese Mishler star in a scene from the movie “The Gallows.” 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/Focus)

Still, with vulgarity as well as gore mostly held back, parents can feel reasonably comfortable allowing real-life secondary students, at least mature ones, to sign up for this inept panic-fest.

Co-writers and directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff certainly don’t earn high points for originality by presenting their tale as a collection of found footage. And the logical trap they’re thereby setting for themselves should be obvious.

Teens in the age of YouTube and the selfie may be all too addicted to their handheld devices and to the belief that no moment, however trivial, should go undocumented. Yet, when pursued by a homicidal wraith, would their natural response truly be to run, scream and keep shooting?

That’s the strategy that keeps us up to date with the quartet of youngsters at the heart of these proceedings. Much to the annoyance of his snide teammate Ryan (Ryan Shoos), football jock Reese (Reese Mishler) has turned temporary thespian in an effort to win the heart of drama maven Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Watching it all from the sidelines, perhaps with an interest in Ryan, or is it Reese?, loiters cheerleader Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford).

Realizing that he’s no Olivier, Reese allows Ryan to convince him, on the eve of opening night, that the best way to forestall humiliation would be to sneak into school after hours and wreck the set. Overhearing this plan, Cassidy insists on tagging along. Inconveniently, Pfeifer also turns up just as the sabotage is getting under way.

What all four have apparently failed to take into account, however, is the fact that the play in which Reese and Pfeifer are due to star has a troubling history. Exactly 20 years ago, a student at their school suffered a violent and mysterious death during a performance of this costume drama when a prop version of the titular scaffold worked all too well, leaving the poor lad, well, hanging.

So the lights go out and there are loud footsteps and inexplicable noises, and a mocking invocation of the name of the deceased turns out to be a dangerous as well as tasteless pastime. All of which adds up, in the end, to a degree of tedium some moviegoers may not have experienced since their last algebra class.

The film contains considerable stylized violence, some gruesome images, at least one use each of profanity and rough language as well as occasional crude and crass terms. 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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‘Self/less’ deals in immortality and memories

July 13th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The gunfire and car crashes that dominate the second hour of the soul-swapping thriller “Self/less” are sure signs that this ponderous property has run out of ideas.

Ryan Reynolds, foreground, and Ben Kingsley star in a scene from the movie "Self/less." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Focus)

Ryan Reynolds, foreground, and Ben Kingsley star in a scene from the movie “Self/less.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Focus)

Yet director Tarsem Singh’s Faustian fable about selling one’s soul to Satan in exchange for immortality begins on a potentially intriguing note.

Wealthy, ruthless industrialist Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is dying of cancer. Damian has always hedged his emotional bets. But he now hopes to repair his relationship with his estranged, idealistic daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery).

Better yet, Damian thinks he may have found an escape hatch from his fate thanks to Phoenix Biogenetics, a mysterious corporation that dabbles in a real-world technological movement called Transhumanism.

Through a process colloquially known as “shedding” and, of course, for a vast fee, Phoenix, headed by its amoral CEO, Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode), will transfer a client’s consciousness into a handsomer, younger body. Though Phoenix uses the cover story that these bodies are grown in a lab, the company is, in reality, paying people in tragic circumstances to vacate them.

There are, accordingly, unpleasant side effects to the trade, including so-called “hallucinations” that are actually the scrambled memories of the physique’s previous occupant tugging on the mind of its new tenant. A drug is supposed to hold these flashbacks at bay.

Logic having flown the coop by this point, Damian, in the body of handsome Mike (Ryan Reynolds), speedily picks up on these visions, and sets off for Mike’s former home in rural Missouri. There he reconnects, so to speak, with wife Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and cancer-stricken daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).

Damian’s long-neglected moral core is touched when he realizes that Mike sacrificed his life to pay for Anna’s medical treatment.

Besides sketchy subplots intended to show the pervasive, controlling nature of the evil conglomerate, all that remains after this revelation are lengthy chase sequences fueled by Damian/Mike’s eagerness to dispatch pursuing bad guys.

The film contains frequent gunplay and other violence, a nongraphic bedroom scene with partial nudity, at least one use of profanity and occasional crude language. 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.

 

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‘Minions’ a real screen treat for family viewing

July 13th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Fillet it how you will, “Minions” is a rare treat.

This bright 3-D animated comedy traces the history of the yellow, capsule-shaped creatures whose endearing presence in the background contributed to the success of both 2010’s “Despicable Me” and its unimaginatively titled 2013 sequel, “Despicable Me 2.”

Minions star in a scene from the movie "Minions." 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/Image.net)

Minions star in a scene from the movie “Minions.” 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/Image.net)

In hauling these sweetly bumbling beings to the fore, and providing them with an ever upbeat, though not always tightly crafted, adventure of their own, co-directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda avoid any genuinely objectionable material. Only a few scenes of combustive mayhem and a couple of mildly out-of-place visuals may give some parents pause.

After an origins story that reaches all the way back to the primordial ooze, the proceedings settle down in the swinging London of the 1960s. There, motivated by their natural inclination is to serve a villainous master, the central trio of minions — Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all voiced by Coffin) — assist famed criminal Scarlet Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock) and her mad scientist husband Herb (voice of Jon Hamm) in their wild scheme to steal the British crown from Queen Elizabeth II (voice of Jennifer Saunders).

Narrated by Geoffrey Rush, and interspersed with familiar hippie-era musical standards, the freewheeling plot that follows pursues its own logic down curious courses, some of which feel like detours. But the underlying morality is sound enough.

In contrast to Gru, the supposed bad guy of the earlier outings, Scarlet is a truly negative character given to selfishness, greed and disloyalty. Her evil tendencies, which carry straightforward consequences, are all the more obvious when compared to the virtues consistently displayed by Kevin and his pals, an appreciation for one another and a sensitivity to the common good prominent among them.

The climactic conflict might prove too much for small fry. In the buildup to it, a few possible irritants for vigilant grown-ups also appear, including a sumo wrestler’s frequently glimpsed backside and the brief presence of a mustachioed bystander whose enthusiasm for Scarlet leads him to dress exactly like her. While treated comically, his quirky behavior may not sit well with some adults.

The film contains occasional cartoonish violence, fleeting anatomical sight gags and a touch of scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage.

 

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