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‘John Wick’ is dim, violent and ludicrous

October 24th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service Starring as the eponymous antihero of the action thriller “John Wick,” Keanu Reeves stays true to his laconic form, up to a point. Wick is a man of few words and efficacious. But since his chief talent is for killing, he’s incapable of evoking sufficient compassion. The result is that Reeves seems as capable as ever, but much more inert emotionally.

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie "John Wick." 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/Lionsgate)

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie “John Wick.” 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/Lionsgate)

Pseudo-stylish and extremely violent, the movie itself plays like a long commercial for a fancy imported beer. A significant amount of casual, tongue-in-cheek humor is generated by the characters’ reactions to Wick’s lethal prowess, enough to lighten the proceedings a bit, though not nearly enough to wash away the blood or offset the high body count. A notoriously brutal and persistent hit man, John Wick has had the rare experience of being allowed to withdraw from the New York crime scene and lead a so-called normal life in suburban New Jersey. But following the death of his wife from unnamed natural causes, he’s drawn back in when a young thug steals his prized 1969 Ford Mustang and kills the puppy his spouse left him to help with the grieving process. The rash hoodlum turns out to be Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), son of Russian crime czar Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a former associate of Wick’s. Although he doesn’t put it in so many words, there’s little doubt Wick will exact revenge. Aghast at having woken such a potent foe, Viggo goes on the offensive and provides an endless supply of black-suited henchman to be dispatched. In a series of repetitive sequences, Wick eliminates everyone in his way, frequently by shooting them in the head at point-blank range or snapping their necks. His friend and fellow hit man, Marcus (Willem Dafoe), gets drawn into the mayhem, as does a female assassin called Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki). Making his directorial debut, longtime stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski doesn’t choreograph the action with any appreciable verve. The noir atmosphere he aims for is neither original nor convincingly rendered. Dressing everyone in three-piece suits and making use of dim lighting doesn’t cut it. The effort to present a criminal underworld governed by a strict code of behavior, and in which all the nefarious players lodge at the same chic Manhattan hotel, is faintly ludicrous and decidedly unglamorous. Wick knows how evil he is and, while not completely without remorse, never pretends to be civilized or morally redeemable. That doesn’t make him less culpable or his murderous behavior any easier to watch, however. It only renders the movie drearily inevitable. Likewise, asking, as numerous characters do, whether Wick has come out of retirement permanently and whether it’s even possible to ever extricate oneself from this milieu, is idle speculation. The only certainty is that Reeves’ latest screen venture is eminently avoidable. The film contains pervasive bloody violence involving guns, knives, martial-arts combat and the brutal treatment of a priest, possible euthanasia, animal cruelty, drug use, an irreverent depiction of a Catholic church, at least one instance of profanity as well as frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Audiences likely to get ‘Ouija’ bored

October 23rd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Like some who play the “game” from which it takes its title, the folks behind “Ouija” wants to have it both ways: It’s all about harmless fun, of course. But what if it’s not?

Douglas Smith, Olivia Cooke and Ana Coto star in a scene from the movie "Ouija." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned.  Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

Douglas Smith, Olivia Cooke and Ana Coto star in a scene from the movie “Ouija.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

A half-baked cautionary tale that nonetheless serves as extended product placement for the Hasbro version of the device, director and co-writer Stiles White’s muddled chiller is an amateurish effort that delivers few jolts and little entertainment. Its ambiguous portrayal of a spiritually dangerous pastime, moreover, makes the film totally unsuitable for impressionable viewers.

When seemingly happy teen Debbie (Shelley Hennig) mysteriously hangs herself, her best pal Laine (Olivia Cooke) and her boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) are left with a host of troubling questions. So they ill-advisedly try to communicate with Debbie using an Ouija board the deceased girl had recently unearthed in her attic.

As the audience already knows, and as some who haven’t even seen the movie can easily guess, a malevolent spirit summoned up by this item was the cause of Debbie’s untimely demise. Thus, by consulting it, Laine, Pete and those rounding out the seance — Laine’s younger sister, Sarah (Ana Coto), her school chum Isabelle (Bianca Santos) and her sweetheart, Trevor (Daren Kagasoff) — have all landed themselves in the supernatural soup.

Extricating themselves involves finding out about the unwholesome family who once lived in Debbie’s house, making more than one visit to an asylum for the insane and crawling around in a dark basement. While White and his script collaborator Juliet Snowden are thus busily lurching from one genre standby to the next, characters are rapidly being felled, one of them, at least, in a manner that’s quite nasty to watch.

The ultimate impact on moviegoers? Well, there is another way to spell “board.”

The film contains occult themes, brief but harsh violence, a suicide, a couple of crude terms and some 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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Sex addition hinders her business, but what about the box office?

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

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Catholic News Service

Dramas about any form of addiction customarily exist in a tight moral universe. There are clearly limned ideas of right and wrong. Always, misdeeds bring harsh consequences.

“Addicted” keeps to that structure only briefly.

William Levy and Sharon Leal star in a scene from the movie "Addicted." 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/Lionsgate)

William Levy and Sharon Leal star in a scene from the movie “Addicted.” 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/Lionsgate)

Since the film is based on the first in a series of erotic novels by Kristina Laferne Roberts, who goes by the pen name Zane, and the craving at issue is thus for sex, gaudy, elaborately choreographed bedroom activity soon takes over. From there on, the proceedings might be said to occupy that nether-nether land between soft-core pornography and a big-screen soap opera on the scale of Tyler Perry’s “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.”

So, no moral lessons here except for the brief interjections of a therapist, Dr. Spencer (Tasha Smith). She’s treating Zoe (Sharon Leal), a married mother of two who unspools sad stories about how she can never get a man to satisfy her, and is descending into sex addiction.

Director Bille Woodruff and screenwriters Christina Welsh and Ernie Barbarash emphasize considerable undulating in expensive negligees, unusually long shower times and gratuitous peeks at male backsides.

Despite a stable marriage to architect Jason (Boris Kodjoe) and the positive influence of her mother, Nina (Maria Howell), who helps run their Atlanta household, visual artists’ manager Zoe can’t shake the feeling she’s been missing out. Her husband has been her only man ever since high school.

First, there are secretive visits to online pornography, then a fling with sensuous painter Quinton (William Levy), who tells her, “I just love to watch the way your lips move.” That ratchets up to acrobatic, drug-fueled casual sex at clubs with Corey (Tyson Beckford). Zoe’s time with her family plummets, and her obsession damages opportunities to expand her business.

There must be a cause to all this, right? Something perhaps from childhood? And who will finally intervene?

Well, it’s not a movie intended to leave anyone thinking, “What have we learned?”

The film contains strong sexual content — including graphically portrayed adultery, aberrant behavior and upper female and rear nudity — frequent rough language and much sexual banter. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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‘The Book of Life’ animates the Day of the Dead

October 20th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Who knew the Day of the Dead could be so much fun? The Mexican method of observing All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, is the backdrop for “The Book of Life,” an entertaining and visually stunning 3-D animated film.

Traditionally on this feast day, families visit cemeteries to place gifts by the gravesides of their departed loved ones in a spirit of remembrance. Although the practice is Aztec in origin, its intentions correspond with Catholic teaching, which encourages prayer for the souls of the deceased.

This is a scene from the animated  movie "The Book of Life." 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/Fox)

This is a scene from the animated movie “The Book of Life.” 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/Fox)

In popular culture, the Day of the Dead has often morphed into a Halloween-like party with multicolored skulls and imagery bordering on the diabolical. Fortunately, this is not the case in “The Book of Life.” Instead, director and co-writer (with Douglas Langdale) Jorge R. Gutierrez uses the observance to highlight the enduring bonds of family.

Yes, dancing skeletons abound, and there are mythological aspects to the plot that might call for discussion with impressionable youngsters. But this is, in essence, a harmless fairy tale.

At its core, “The Book of Life” is a love story, told to schoolchildren on a museum visit by one of the institution’s guides, Mary Beth (voice of Christina Applegate). She uses wooden dolls that spring to life to enact her yarn.

In the Mexican village of San Angel, best friends Manolo (voice of Diego Luna) and Joaquin (voice of Channing Tatum) have been in love with the same woman, Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana), since childhood.

Manolo is a reluctant bullfighter, forced into the ring to uphold his family’s proud tradition. A gentle, sensitive soul, Manolo would rather make beautiful music with his guitar and with Maria. (He woos her with a surprising playlist that includes covers of Elvis Presley and Rod Stewart.)

Joaquin, on the other hand, is a puffed-up macho soldier, struggling to live up to his own family line of fierce warriors.

Unbeknownst to Manolo, Joaquin has a secret weapon: a medal which makes him invincible. This charm was given to him by the god Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman), the ruler of the desolate Land of the Forgotten, a purgatory-like underworld populated by the spirits of those who have no one to pray for them.

Xibalba longs to escape his realm. So he makes a wager with his estranged wife, the goddess La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo), overseer of the heaven-like Land of the Remembered. The bet centers on Maria. If she chooses Joaquin as her mate, La Muerte will, reluctantly, swap positions with Xibalba.

Since Xibalba has stacked the deck in favor of Joaquin, things look bad for La Muerte and Manolo. But several twists and turns are in store as the action shifts back and forth among the three worlds.

Although “The Book of Life” is a fantasy and does not espouse a particular religion, it does include among hundreds of background characters a (presumably Catholic) priest and a trio of nuns. Their depiction is, however, perfectly respectful.

Parents should be advised that, while the tone is light and the action slapstick, there are several dark moments which may frighten younger viewers.

In the end, Catholic moviegoers will concur with the script’s lesson about honoring the dearly departed: “As long as we remember, they are always with us.”

The film contains nonscriptural religious themes, some mildly scary sequences, occasional bathroom humor and a few very mild oaths in Spanish. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘The Best of Me’ improbable romance is tear-gusher flick

October 20th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Catholic author Nicholas Sparks, master of gooey romance, returns to the big screen with “The Best of Me,” based on his best-selling 2011 novel.

All of Sparks’ hallmarks are here: a handsome cast, a picturesque setting, conflict and misunderstandings, innumerable shifts in chronology, and a veritable gusher of tears.

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan star in a scene from the movie "The Best of Me." 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 Media)

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan star in a scene from the movie “The Best of Me.” 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 Media)

Predictability aside, director Michael Hoffman (“The Last Station”) has crafted an entertaining but morally flawed drama about destiny, posing a perennial question: If given a second chance, would you pursue a lost love?

That’s the dilemma facing former high school sweethearts Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan). The two are reunited after 20 years apart when they return to their small Louisiana hometown for the funeral of a mutual friend, Tuck (Gerald McRaney).

Sparks, no pun intended, still fly for this duo. “How do I fall back in love with you when I never stopped?” Amanda coos. Not so fast: She’s married to someone else, albeit unhappily, and there are unresolved issues from Dawson’s past.

That history is examined in flashbacks, as we follow the courtship of the young Dawson (Luke Bracey) and Amanda (Liana Liberato). They meet cute, but are from vastly different worlds. Amanda is from a refined Southern family. Dawson is poor, and subject to abuse by his drug-dealing father Tommy (Sean Bridgers).

After one beating too many, Dawson runs away, finding sanctuary with Tuck, who becomes his surrogate dad and guardian angel. Dawson’s love for Amanda grows, despite opposition from her family.

To reveal more about these star-crossed lovers over the next two decades would spoil the surprises of the improbable plot.

There are many shocking twists and turns on the road to reconciliation and redemption. There are also a number of ethical lapses at which J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters’ script winks, making this appropriate material for mature, discerning viewers only.

An extra box of tissues will come in handy for those grown-ups inclined to take this wild ride.

The film contains gunplay, domestic violence, drug use, benignly viewed adultery and nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and occasional profane 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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A study of psychological effects of combat ‘Fury’

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Catholic News Service

Brutal realism in the depiction of combat and scripturally inspired spirituality hardly make an obvious pairing.

Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal star in a scene from the movie "Fury." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of A merica rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Columbia Pictures)

Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal star in a scene from the movie “Fury.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of A merica rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Columbia Pictures)

Yet, by bringing them together in “Fury,” writer-director David Ayer crafts a powerful, albeit disturbing, study of the psychological effects of combat.

In addition to a willingness to subject themselves to sometimes repellent images, those few grown-ups for whom the film makes suitable viewing also will require ethical subtlety to work their way through the script’s thicket of moral complexity.

Those not appropriately equipped to navigate this challenging terrain may find themselves as bewildered as Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), the young GI in whose company we primarily traverse it.

With the European phase of World War II reaching its final stages, and American troops rolling ever deeper into Germany, Norman finds himself assigned to replace a fallen crew member on the tank whose nickname serves as the movie’s title.

This comes as unwelcome news to the vehicle’s hard-bitten commander, Don Collier (Brad Pitt), all the more so after Norman protests that he has only been trained for a desk job, and that his current orders must be a mix-up.

Snafu or not, however, there’s no undoing the transfer. So Norman is forced to settle in to his new surroundings under the hostile gaze of a trio of unwilling comrades: Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal).

Boyd, a born-again Christian whose moniker is “Bible,” introduces the movie’s religious theme by asking hapless Norman if he is saved. When Norman, an Episcopalian, replies that he has been baptized, Boyd only scoffs.

Novice gunner Norman soon has a much bigger problem than this lack of ecumenical understanding. Totally unschooled for his military task, he has difficulty bringing himself to kill enemy soldiers.

Since Norman’s delicacy could end up costing lives, Collier resorts to a savage measure, attempting to force Norman to shoot a German prisoner in cold blood. Yet we soon see other aspects of Collier’s character that prove he has not given way entirely to such barbarism.

As Norman struggles to adapt to the kill-or-be-killed environment into which he’s been thrown, he gradually learns to follow Collier’s example, suspending some tenets of basic morality while keeping other facets of his humanity intact.

Mature moviegoers will need sound judgment to assess the terms of that bargain as well as a high tolerance for harsh visuals to endure the graphically portrayed circumstances which lead Norman to imitate Collier by adopting it.

A margin of compensation comes in the more serious treatment of faith to which Boyd’s biblical literacy eventually leads. But for some Christian viewers, at least, this blend of theologies will seem irredeemably out of place amid the much more prominent slaughter by which it’s surrounded.

The film contains pervasive wartime violence with much gore, an off-screen nonmarital bedroom encounter, numerous uses of profanity and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

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‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

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Catholic News Service

Top prize for the most descriptive (and longest) film title of the year goes to “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Ed Oxenbould stars in a scene from the movie "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." 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/Disney)

Ed Oxenbould stars in a scene from the movie “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” 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/Disney)

This manic comedy, based on the 1972 children’s book by Judith Viorst, follows the exploits of the titular 12-year-old boy (Ed Oxenbould) as he experiences the seemingly worst day of his life. Murphy’s Law reigns supreme in Alexander’s universe: just about everything that can go wrong does.

But in a departure from the book, director Miguel Arteta (“Youth in Revolt”) and screenwriter Rob Lieber extend the mayhem to Alexander’s family members so they, too, can feel what it’s like for Alexander at the very bottom of the totem pole.

It’s the day before Alexander’s birthday, and his downward spiral starts with a minor annoyance: he gets gum stuck in his hair. It’s a portent of the calamities to come. He’s ridiculed by students at school, fails to impress the pretty girl in class, and nearly burns down the science lab.

Worst of all, Alexander gets no sympathy, or even much attention, at home. His mom, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), is preoccupied with her job at a publishing company. His stay-at-home dad, Ben (Steve Carell), is busy with 1-year-old Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas).

The older siblings are equally self-absorbed. Anthony (Dylan Minnette), the most popular kid in school, is getting ready for the prom. Emily (Kerris Dorsey) has the lead in the school production of “Peter Pan.”

So as his birthday dawns, Alexander makes a wish: that his family could know what it’s like to have a really awful day.

Needless to say, they all do. Anthony crashes the car. Trevor has a close encounter with indelible ink. Emily, fighting a cold, drinks too much cough syrup.

Even Dick Van Dyke, playing himself, turns up to spoil Kelly’s book launch.

If you can look beyond the relentless physical gags, a peeing baby and a vomiting teenager, there’s a small lesson here in how a family pulls together in the midst of adversity.

In the words of Alexander, “You’ve gotta have a bad day so you can love the good days even more.”

The film contains mild family discord, some bathroom humor and references to body parts. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Dracula Untold’ — There will be blood and moral ambiguities

October 10th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

A positive portrayal of family life, mostly bloodless battle scenes and a script laudably free of vulgar dialogue would seem to make the revisionist horror history “Dracula Untold” readily endorsable for youthful viewers.

Luke Evans and Sarah Gadon star in a scene from the movie "Dracula: Untold." 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 inappropria te for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

Luke Evans and Sarah Gadon star in a scene from the movie “Dracula: Untold.” 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 inappropria te for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

But director Gary Shore’s awkward attempt to provide the world’s most famous bloodsucker with a makeover also comes with moral ambiguities aplenty and a treatment of religion that’s equally hard to pin down, raising red flags for parents.

Set in the 15th century, the film draws on the connection between novelist Bram Stoker’s character Count Dracula and the historical figure Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, aka Vlad the Impaler, whose patronymic Stoker chose as his garlic-averse nobleman’s last name.

With his impaling days behind him, formerly savage but now peace-loving Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) is under threat, early on in the movie, from the cruel Sultan of Turkey, Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper). Despite Vlad’s payment of his realm’s usual tribute to Mehmed, the Ottoman ruler has demanded more: a levy of 1,000 boys to be raised as soldiers for his army as well as the handing over of Vlad’s young son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) as a hostage.

Having endured the life of a hostage at the Turkish court himself during his youth, and swayed by the emotional pleas of his beloved wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), Vlad refuses. Lacking an army with which to fight the war that will inevitably follow his rebuff to Mehmed, however, Vlad is facing certain defeat.

So he turns for help to a cave-dwelling vampire (Charles Dance), hoping to share in the outcast’s superhuman strength. The terms of their deal give Vlad the powers he needs temporarily. But, while they last, he will have to resist the desperate urge to drink human blood that accompanies them. If he gives in to the temptation, he will become undead eternally.

Though his alliance with the occult is not without numerous negative consequences, on balance, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’ screenplay implicitly endorses Vlad’s decision to use evil means to accomplish the good ends of protecting his family and his country. And viewers are invited to revel in the stylized mowing down of his enemies’ easy stand-ins for contemporary extremists of the same religion?

Vlad himself is all over the map where faith is concerned. At one point, he angrily interrupts his fellow warriors’ prayers, insisting they will do no good. Yet he later visits a chapel and fervently implores God’s help in his struggle to forgo becoming a full-fledged vein-drainer.

Of course, the real point here is the spectacle of Evans holding off a whole army single-handedly and choreographing the movements of a vast swarm of angry bats. Accordingly, moviegoers may be too distracted by special effects and too bored by the ponderous turns of phrase with which they’re interspersed to want to probe any deeper.

The film contains pervasive combat violence with occasional gore, gruesome images and brief nongraphic marital lovemaking. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘The Judge’ unfolds with an ethical blind spot

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Catholic News Service

Considered in strictly cinematic terms, “The Judge” constitutes an adequate but overextended drama that would have benefited from further editing.

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall star in a scene from the movie "The Judge." 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. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall star in a scene from the movie “The Judge.” 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. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

From a moral perspective, however, the inclusion of a seamy subplot, dealt with in an inappropriately offhand manner, mars director David Dobkin’s otherwise mostly warmhearted film. Its presence also calls for mature discretion on the part of viewers.

When his mother’s death brings hotshot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) back to his rural Indiana hometown, his plan is to attend her funeral then bolt back to the Windy City as quickly as he can. Central to his desire to cut his visit short is his chilly relationship with his estranged father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the burgh’s respected magistrate.

But when aging, forgetful Joseph is accused of causing a fatal hit-and-run accident and turns to semi-amateur local attorney C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) to helm his defense, Hank not only sticks around, he becomes increasingly exasperated by C.P.’s timidity. All the more so, since hard-hitting special prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) proves zealous in his efforts to obtain a conviction.

As Hank and Joseph butt heads over how to handle the case, soon-to-be-divorced Hank rekindles his romance with his high-school sweetheart Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga). He also revives his relationship with his two brothers: onetime baseball champ Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), whose potential career was derailed by an accident, and gentle, developmentally challenged Dale (Jeremy Strong).

Earlier, Hank has shown that Samantha isn’t the only girl in town for whom he has eyes, and it’s through his seemingly meaningless encounter with a stranger that the movie’s most troubling element eventually comes to the fore. The heinous upshot is treated so nonchalantly that ethically acute moviegoers are likely to shake their heads even as they squirm.

The film contains nongraphic casual sexual activity involving unintentional incest, some scatological humor and images, about a dozen uses of profanity and considerable rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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Absorbing and thoughtful movie has a terrible title

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Catholic News Service

Beatles fans will be disappointed to learn that, apart from borrowing the title character’s name, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” has absolutely nothing to do with the band’s 1966 hit single.

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy star in a scene from the movie "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them." 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/Weinstein)

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy star in a scene from the movie “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.” 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/Weinstein)

Rather, this is an absorbing and provocative study of grief and its destructive effects on a young married couple.

Written and directed by Ned Benson, the movie is part of a grand filmmaking experiment, a trio of pictures telling the same story about Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) and Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy). “Them” considers both the main characters’ points of view. Each of its accompanying films, “Him” and “Her,” explores one perspective on the same events.

“Them” opens with a shock. Eleanor, a vivacious redhead passionately in love with Conor, jumps off a Manhattan bridge. She survives, but vanishes, slipping out of the city for sanctuary at her childhood home in Connecticut.

There, Eleanor is cocooned by her quirky parents. Her bohemian mother, Mary (Isabelle Huppert), is a free-spirited Frenchwoman who likes her wine.

Her father, Julian (William Hurt), is a buttoned-up psychology professor desperate to help his daughter put her shattered life back together.

“Tragedy is a foreign country,” he admits. “We don’t know how to talk to the natives.”

Soon we learn the reason why Eleanor is so depressed: She and Conor had a son who died. The heartache was overwhelming, driving the duo apart, and Eleanor to suicide.

As a distraction, Eleanor returns to the city to take graduate courses. She strikes up a friendship with her sassy professor, Lillian (Viola Davis), who dispenses no-nonsense advice.

In the meantime, Conor is a mess. He’s desperate to find his wife and save his failing business, a dingy restaurant.

To the director’s credit, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” unfolds at a gentle pace, allowing viewers to appreciate the complexity of the situation. It’s a blend of grand romance and therapy session as Eleanor and Conor seek healing and a path back to their lost love.

Their journey is wrenching. In the end, the audience will sympathize with Conor’s initial plea when he meets his future wife: “There’s only one heart in this body. Have mercy on me.”

The film contains a suicide attempt, adulterous situations, nongraphic sexual activity with brief upper female nudity and some 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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