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‘Transcendence’ uploads Johnny Depp, downloads confusion

April 22nd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Despite its lofty title, the muddled sci-fi drama “Transcendence” sinks rather than rises.

Among the burdens weighing it down are a host of misguided notions, either embedded in the action or expressed in the dialogue, that might be menacing to the impressionable if they were any more coherent.

Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany star in a scene from the movie “Transcendence.” Catholic News Service classification, A-III — adults. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Consider the premise on which the whole film rests: Fatally wounded in an assassination bid by a band of Luddite extremists called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), Will Caster (Johnny Depp), the world’s leading expert on artificial intelligence, manages to upload his entire consciousness to a super-computer before dying.

Will is aided in this project by his devoted wife and respected colleague, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), as well as by his best friend, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), another esteemed tech guru.

Max begins to have his doubts about the wisdom of what they’ve done soon after the transfer is complete. But Evelyn is a true believer, grateful that Will survives, if only through his voice and as an image on the screen.

The next step is for cyber-Will to go online and acquire all the factual knowledge available throughout the Internet. His head thus swelled, however,physically deceased but intellectually flourishing, Will begins to veer between benevolence and megalomania.

Since Will’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy that claimed several other victims, the FBI is on the case in the person of Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy). Buchanan teams with another of Will’s pals, outstanding researcher Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), to hunt RIFT and its leader, disenchanted lab assistant Bree (Kate Mara).

Once the threat to society’s future posed by Will’s outsized ambition becomes apparent, though, Buchanan and Tagger begin to wonder whom they should really be trying to stop.

Philosophical confusion reigns in director Wally Pfister’s meandering movie, beginning with the implicit idea that all human mental functions are purely physical and ending with virtual reality somehow permeating the world of nature. And there’s a dollop of irreverently expressed disbelief in the divine to go along with all the other off-kilter concepts.

Early on, an as-yet-unfelled Will is seen giving a lecture to a generally rapt audience. But question time finds him challenged by a RIFT type who’s also obviously meant to come across as some kind of religious fanatic. When the latter asks if he isn’t trying to create his own God by imparting self-awareness to computers, Will answers smugly: “Isn’t that what man has always done?”

Still, mature viewers are likely to be too bored by the slack proceedings to be much misled by the fast-and-loose or downright nutty concepts underlying them.

The film contains complex themes, atheism, some violence and gore, a brief nongraphic marital bedroom scene as well as a couple of uses of profanity and of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13,parents strongly cautioned.

 

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Cesspool of ‘A Haunted House 2’ gest deeper

April 22nd, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

A year ago, we summed up the first “A Haunted House” as “pornographic when not being scatological.” In “A Haunted House 2,” obscene imagery, like an invading virus, has taken over even more territory.

Graphic depictions of body functions return along with the sex acts and racial stereotypes that characterized the original. It’s all supposed to be pulled together as a comedy by the frantic mugging of Marlon Wayans who stars in — and with Rick Alvarez co-wrote — this mess, directed by Michael Tiddes.

We said the first installment “joylessly splashes around in a sewer with a wide range of perverse images.” This time around, the cesspool has only gotten deeper.

The film contains a sacrilegious portrayal of Catholic clergy, drug use, explicit sexual acts, at least one of them aberrant, upper female and rear male nudity, crude sexual banter, constant profanity, frequent racial slurs and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive.

 

 

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Don’t Be Afraid, ‘Heaven Is for Real’

April 17th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.” Those words, addressed to God in Psalm 8 of the King James Bible, might serve as the tagline for the fact-based drama “Heaven Is for Real.”

Kelly Reilly, Greg Kinnear and Connor Corum star in a scene from the movie “Heaven Is For Real.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage.  (CNS photo/Sony)

Audiences of almost any age will benefit from this intriguing, child-guided glimpse into the afterlife.

As readers of Todd Burpo’s best-selling book (written with Lynn Vincent) will know, this is the story of his young son, Colton. After coming close to death during an operation, the 4-year-old (Connor Corum) startled his Wesleyan minister father (Greg Kinnear) and choir-director mother, Sonja (Kelly Reilly), by announcing that he had visited heaven and met Jesus.

His subsequent description of two deceased relatives, the existence of one of whom was previously unknown to him, lent remarkable credibility to the lad’s claim.

Perhaps because they seemed too literal to be readily accepted, however, Colton’s matter-of-fact statements about paradise stirred controversy in his family’s small-town community of Imperial, Neb. Ironically, they also provoked a crisis of faith for Todd, who was forced to ask himself how genuinely he believed what he had long been preaching.

Director and co-writer (with Christopher Parker) Randall Wallace’s adaptation of Burpo’s account is substantial and moving, thanks in large part to the mature way in which it grapples with fundamental issues of religious belief and doubt. What could have been a hokey, feel-good exercise in Christian cheerleading instead comes across as a sober, though far from humorless, meditation on the reality of death and the virtue of hope.

Those themes are ably personified by Margo Martindale in the role of Burpo family friend Nancy Rawling. A stalwart member of Todd’s congregation, Nancy nonetheless suffers deep, ongoing grief over the loss in combat of her Marine son.

Along with its faith-affirming revelations about the beyond, “Heaven Is for Real” also showcases a tenacious marital bond. Beset by money troubles, illnesses and other worries, Todd and Sonja occasionally quarrel. Yet their underlying commitment to each other is unwavering.

Scenes portraying the medical difficulties the Burpos endure, including a painful baseball injury for Todd, might not be suitable for the littlest moviegoers.

Viewers will particularly appreciate Colton’s takeaway from his celestial journey, a message so simple and liberating that those around him, including believers, were hesitant to accept it: Thanks to the existence of heaven he says, “We don’t ever have to be afraid.”

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Draft Day’ audience could use a NFL rule book

April 14th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

The National Football League is front and center in “Draft Day.”

This rather parochial promotional sports drama explores the extreme measures professional teams will take to secure new talent and, they hope, a shot at the Super Bowl.

Kevin Costner stars in a scene from the movie “Draft Day.” 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/Summit)

Producer-director Ivan Reitman tackles a factual subject in this take on the NFL draft, the annual event during which teams negotiate to sign the top players coming out of college.

Niccolo Machiavelli would feel right at home amid all the cunning and duplicity; athletes are mere pawns in a great big money game. Along with the morally troubling machinations, some plot elements, a fleeting female shower scene and overheated language put this out of bounds for youngsters.

The first day of the draft has not started well for Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), the fictitious general manager of the real-life Cleveland Browns. Personal and professional issues bubble to the surface: Ali (Jennifer Garner), Sonny’s colleague and girlfriend, has announced she’s pregnant. His acerbic mother, Barb (Ellen Burstyn), is a mess, grieving the death of her husband, the former Browns coach.

The present occupant of that job, Coach Penn (Denis Leary), has threatened to quit. And Browns owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) is expecting big things from the draft.

“You need to make a splash,” he tells Sonny. “A splash sells tickets. People will pay to get wet.”

Sonny’s splash is more like a tsunami. The Seattle Seahawks offer Sonny a chance to secure their number-one draft pick, quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), in return for future prospects from the Browns.

Sonny can barely believe his luck, in fact, the deal seems too good to be true. Trouble is, Sonny already has a star quarterback, Brian Drew (Tom Welling), and he was planning to use his Browns pick to draft promising running back Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman).

His hold on Bo puts Sonny in the catbird’s seat, and “Draft Day” turns into an extended telephone call as teams cascade Sonny with alternative deals. Reitman makes good use of split-screen sequences to show the tense emotions at each end of the phone line. As the draft clock ticks away, promising young careers are held in the balance.

Ultimately, “Draft Day” is for confirmed football fans. Others will wish they had a rulebook to follow all the complex regulations, as well as a guide to the many cameo appearances by celebrity players and sports announcers.

The film contains a premarital situation, brief, partially obscured rear nudity as well as frequent profanity and rough 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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‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ bright with cute, dark with comedy

March 31st, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is writer-director Wes Anderson’s triumph of smug artifice over substance and storytelling.

As a collection of deadpan segments, it’s likely to please Anderson’s fans. However, this saga of a European concierge who dreams of lost grandeur and romances his hotel’s aging female clientele, recounted like a fable, is without a moral or even a clear ending. So non-devotees should consider themselves warned.

Ralph Fiennes stars in a scene from the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Fox Searchlight)

In the fictional East European country of Zubrowka in the 1930s, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is said concierge; lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) is his protege. Gustave teaches Zero all the fine points of elegant catering to guests, while spending the rest of his time wooing rich ladies.

Gustave barks orders such as, “Run to the cathedral of Santa Maria Christiana in Brucknerplatz. Buy one of the plain, half-length candles and take back four kublecks in change. Light it in the sacristy, say a brief rosary, then go to Mendl’s and get me a Courtesan au chocolat. If there’s any money left, give it to the crippled shoeshine boy.”

That’s kind of cute, but the moment doesn’t lead anywhere beyond the snappy patter. Instead the proceedings devolve into a dark comedy.

One of Gustave’s elderly ladies, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances and bequeaths him a valuable painting, “Boy With Apple.” Gustave spends the rest of the film trying to retrieve the painting from her outraged relatives, being framed for murder, escaping prison and attempting to withstand the growing Fascist storm with his charm.

A summoning of the Society of the Crossed Keys, a secret group of super-efficient hotel managers, is an excuse for a host of cameos including Bill Murray, Fisher Stevens and Bob Balaban.

Since the story is related in 1968 by an older Zero, now called Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), It’s not clear in whose imagination the story is taking place. And Anderson evidently isn’t interested in explaining this either.

The film contains implied, and benignly treated, nonmarital and premarital sexual encounters, fleeting upper female nudity and a smattering of rough and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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Hollywood ‘Noah’ wants to save nature, not humanity

March 28th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

“Noah,” which begins as a fairly straightforward recounting of the biblical story of the flood, eventually veers off into a grim, scripturally unfounded drama about a family dispute.

Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe star in a scene from the movie “Noah.” 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)

This clan conflict is driven by the titular patriarch’s (Russell Crowe) misguided interpretation of God’s purposes in causing the deluge. Though Noah’s extreme pro-nature, anti-human reading of the situation is corrected in the end, his temporary fanaticism requires that viewers approach the film with mature discernment and with a solid grounding in the relevant, sometimes mysterious passages of the Old Testament.

Even early on, the narrative of the Book of Genesis is padded out, and there are some borrowings from other parts of the Bible as well as from noncanonical works. Thus, in convincingly portraying the wickedness from which the earth is to be cleansed, director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky embodies the range of sinful tendencies on display in the impious person of self-proclaimed “King” Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).

The single verse of Scripture that refers to Tubal-Cain, Chapter 4, Verse 22, of Genesis, tells us only about his genealogy and his role as, more or less, the first metalworker. But there is a tradition that at least part of Tubal-Cain’s craft involved forging weapons, so perhaps he can reasonably be enlisted as the prototype of arms merchants and war-profiteers.

A more questionable exercise of creative liberty presents us with a race of giant creatures called the Watchers. Their background story, meant to connect them to the shadowy Nephilim mentioned in Chapter 6 of Genesis, describes them as angels who voluntarily fell to Earth to help the fledgling human race. The idea of angel-like Watchers also evokes the Book of Daniel and the extra-canonical books of Enoch and Jubilees.

Still, the opening sequences are largely faithful to the original story, though in place of a direct revelation by God, Noah is tipped off to the fate of humanity by a dream. He interprets this vision, acknowledging that it was sent by “the Creator,” as God is always called in the dialogue, with the help of his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).

The building of the ark and the gathering of the animals are also according to Hoyle, and are accomplished through predictably impressive special effects.

On the eve of the flood, though, the stage is set for the familial clash that will occupy the audience’s attention throughout the ark’s forthcoming voyage. This necessitates not just a departure from the text of Genesis, but a direct contradiction of it.

The Bible tells us that all three of Noah’s sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), were accompanied onto the ark by their wives (Chapter 7, Verse 13, of Genesis). On screen, Shem has his destined bride in Ila (Emma Watson), an orphan Noah and his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), long ago rescued and adopted. But Ham has no spouse, and Noah systematically thwarts his efforts to acquire one, while Japheth is barely a teenager.

Noah, it emerges, believes that the only reason he and his relatives have been rescued by God is so that they can keep the animals safe during the flood. Having seen to all the other creatures’ survival, it will then be wicked humanity’s destiny to die out, restoring the natural world to a pure and innocent state.

This ultra-environmentalist outlook not only puts Noah at odds with Ham but, through a late-blooming crisis not to be outlined for fear of a spoiler, with everyone else on board except Japheth. Since Noah will stop at nothing to carry out the apparently anti-life mission the Deity has entrusted to him, what we are left with, for the time being at least, is not a model of faith but an image of unbalanced zealotry.

All this is somewhat mitigated, and explained away, before the closing credits. And Aronofsky’s script, penned in collaboration with Ari Handel, approaches its weighty themes of righteousness and evil, punishment and redemption, with due seriousness.

But, taken together with the elements listed below, the movie’s dramatic deviations from its inspired source material mean that young viewers would be better directed, initially at least, to more literal-minded adaptations, rather than this very free variation on a theme.

The film contains much stylized violence with minimal gore, an off-screen encounter that may be premarital, distant partial nudity and some mild sensuality. 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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‘Sabotage’ blends foul-mouthed machismo with repellant gore

March 28th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Excessive violence and a flawed moral outlook characterize “Sabotage,” an action vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger directed and co-written by David Ayer.

When I’s not showing us the pools of blood or mashed-up body parts left behind by murder victims, Ayer’s film, as penned with Skip Woods, revels in a foul-mouthed machismo that’s almost as repellant as the gore.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in a scene from the movie “Sabotage.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive.

Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA unit made up of skilled but crooked agents, all of whom, like their boss, sport a defining nickname.

So we’re introduced to James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway) and Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello). Only Murray’s wife, Lizzie (Mireille Enos), the sole woman in the ensemble, seems content to be known by her original moniker.

The opening scenes take the group inside a drug cartel safe house where they kill everyone in sight, then skim $10 million off the much larger horde of cash on hand, stowing their loot in a sewer pipe. When they go to retrieve their ill-gotten gains, however, the money is missing. Things go further awry when it turns out that the authorities are on to the theft and have launched an investigation of Wharton’s team.

Though this probe peters out, a far worse threat develops when various members of the squad begin to turn up dead, slaughtered in spectacularly brutal ways. As Caroline (Olivia Williams), the straight-arrow local police detective assigned to the case, works diligently to get to the bottom of it all, the remaining operatives wonder whether it’s the cartel they robbed that’s hunting them down or one of their own.

With Caroline the lone exception, greed and vengeance are the dark motives guiding everyone’s behavior within the seamy environment of this sometimes suspenseful but ethically unanchored movie.

Visits to strip clubs and the trading of coarse insults constitute the favored tension-relieving pastimes for Wharton and his crew. Wharton also proves willing to use the seduction of an acquaintance as a tool in advancing his schemes, though the outcome of this, unlike the decadent doings in the pole-clinging establishments the boys frequent, is only implied.

The script plays a familiar trick by offering us a set of villains so evil that almost any revenge exacted against them will be calculated to yield the audience visceral satisfaction. Though something in the way of a civilizing limit is eventually drawn in this area, at least through the dialogue, it will register as too little too late.

The film contains pervasive bloody, sometimes gruesome violence, including torture and extreme images of gore, graphic sexual activity, some of it aberrant, upper female nudity, drug use, much sexual and scatological as well as brief irreverent humor, several uses of profanity and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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‘God’s Not Dead,’ he’s stacked this drama’s deck

March 25th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

A classic bit of impertinence from 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche notwithstanding, it seems that “God’s Not Dead.”

Willie and Korie Robertson star in the movie “God’s Not Dead.” 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/Icon Media Group)

While that may be a welcome piece of news to those who were entertaining any doubts, the message movie that endeavors to proclaim such reassurance from the big screen turns out to be earnest but ineffective.

Pity poor college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper). No sooner does Josh stroll onto the picturesque campus of his new university than he encounters Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), the militantly atheistic faculty member who presides over the introductory philosophy course for which committed believer Josh has ill-advisedly registered.

Nearly the first order of business in Radisson’s class is for each student to write out, sign and pass to the end of the row the succinct formula: “God is dead.” Not surprisingly, Josh demurs; astoundingly, no one else in the packed lecture hall seems to have the least objection to fulfilling so flagrantly inappropriate a requirement.

Josh’s stand-out obstinacy drives his infuriated instructor to challenge him to a multipart debate on the subject of the Almighty’s existence, with Josh’s classmates as the jury and the lad’s grade for the course hanging in the balance.

Josh takes up the gauntlet, despite the active discouragement of his believing but ambitious girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford), who thinks he should go with the flow to avoid ruining their perfect future together. He is pre-law, after all.

So the stage is set for a rather dreary exchange of views, angry on Radisson’s side, meek but steadfast on Josh’s’ during which such names as Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking get bandied about for one side’s benefit or the other’s. Josh. no flat-Earther he. insists that both the Big Bang theory and the hurried pace of early evolution weigh on the side of a Creator and correspond to the symbolic details contained in the Book of Genesis.

Subplots abound around this core story. One involves strictly brought-up Muslim lass Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu). Though she dislikes the headscarf her traditionalist father makes her wear, and ditches it as soon as he drops her off on campus each morning, her inclusion in the movie seems, initially, to hold out the hope that the filmmakers are taking a broad view, and that believers of all stripes are eventually to be seen rallying to the cause.

Alas, not a bit of it. Ayisha harbors a secret, one that only reinforces the rigid presuppositions on offer here.

Other characters being made to conform to the script’s cramped and caricatured worldview include crassly materialistic business exec Mark (Dean Cain), his hippy-dippy main squeeze Amy (Trisha LaFache) and Josh’s fellow student and newfound pal, People’s Republic of China-bred Martin (Paul Kwo), to whom any mention of matters divine apparently comes as a shock.

On the side of the angels, meanwhile, lurk the local minister, Rev. Dave (David A.R. White), his missionary best friend, Rev. Jude (Benjamin Ochieng), as well as Radisson’s beleaguered (and possibly live-in) love interest Mina (Cory Oliver), a semi-closeted Christian for whose timidly proffered ideas her companion has only scorn.

There might be the kernel of an intriguing documentary buried within director Harold Cronk’s stacked-deck drama, given the extent of real-life academic hostility toward religion. But even faith-filled moviegoers will sense the claustrophobia of the echo chamber within which this largely unrealistic picture unfolds.

The film contains mature themes, brief domestic violence, a potentially upsetting accident scene and vaguely implied cohabitation. 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 be not suitable for children.

 

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‘Muppets Most Wanted’ a crime and puns of fun

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

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Tina Fey and Kermit the Frog star in a scene from the movie “Muppets Most Wanted.” 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/Disney)

Catholic News Service

Viewers of almost any age will find themselves well rewarded for tracking down “Muppets Most Wanted.”

Some brushes with peril integral to its farfetched story might frighten the very smallest audience members. But this sprightly musical outing for the beloved puppet ensemble created by Jim Henson makes winning, family-friendly entertainment for all others.

It’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn meets “Hogan’s Heroes” as an unlikely plot twist sends the Muppets’ gentle leader, Kermit the Frog, to a Siberian gulag. His imprisonment comes courtesy of Russian gangster, and dead-ringer Kermie look-alike, Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog.”

As part of his plans for a daring jewel heist, Constantine, escaped from the gulag himself, is out to take Kermit’s place on a forthcoming Muppet world tour. Aiding Constantine’s scheme is his smooth talking human confederate Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Dominic, who explains away his telltale last name by asserting that it’s French and therefore pronounced “Bad-gee,” has managed to insinuate himself into the role of the Muppet’s manager.

While Kermit languishes in the arctic under the supervision of his over-the-top principal jailer Nadya (a hilarious Tina Fey), all his old chums except Animal are taken in by the impostor. Part of Constantine’s success rests on his promise to give the Muppets whatever they want, beginning with Miss Piggy, whom the faux Kermit finally and all-too-readily agrees to marry.

The movie combines singing, dancing, innocent humor and entertaining cameos. The resulting treat is then topped off with an endearing message about loyalty to friends. The script also cautions against greed and egotism, sending positive signals for youngsters amid the lively fun.

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

 

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Same difference: ‘Divergent’ and ‘Hunger Games’

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

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Catholic News Service

If Hollywood has its way, teenagers won’t have it easy in the post-apocalyptic future.

“The Hunger Games” started the ball rolling, with its vision of a dog-eat-dog world where young people are forced to kill each other to survive.

Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ansel Elgort star in a scene from the movie “Divergent.” 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/Summit)

Now comes “Divergent,” which, despite its title, is not vastly different from “The Hunger Games.” It, too, features a strong-willed heroine. Torn from her family, she is the chosen one who will redeem a totalitarian society. But first she must become a hardened warrior/killer and get a tattoo.

Director Neil Burger is perhaps too faithful to the eponymous novel by Veronica Roth, juggling a dizzying amount of names, labels, rules and regulations to establish time and place. Underneath all the lavish exposition is a basic good vs. evil story, with a pinch of social commentary and a dash of puppy love.

The setting is Chicago, a century after “the war” which wiped everything out except, happily, the Windy City. To preserve the peace, the “Founders” divided Chicagoans into five factions, each representing a different virtue: Candor (honesty), Amity (peace), Erudite (knowledge), Dauntless (bravery), and Abnegation (selfless).

In this brave new world, Amity members work the farms, Erudites run the schools, Dauntless types man the police force.

“The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” proclaims Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), who oversees the structure. “The system removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will.”

Or so she thinks. Enter shy wallflower Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley). She belongs to Abnegation, where her father, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn), is a government official. Members of this faction reject vanity, embrace goodness and serve others, including the disadvantaged and downtrodden who have been expelled from other groups.

It all sounds rather Christian, although “Divergent” never plays the religion card. Needless to say, Abnegation is looked down upon by the other, more lively tribes.

At age 16, every child must choose his or her fate: whether to stay at home, or join another bloc. Helping to make the decision is an aptitude test akin to a chemical brainwashing.

When Beatrice undergoes the procedure, the results are inconclusive. She is that rare freak of nature, a “Divergent,” able to exist in any faction. Because of their independent nature, Divergents are a threat to the status quo and, so Jeanine commands, must be eliminated.

To protect her family from her secret, Beatrice decides to choose another grouping: Dauntless. She adopts the nickname “Tris” and struggles to fit in with a considerably hipper, angst-ridden crowd.

What ensues is a prolonged and increasingly vicious training and initiation ritual, led by a hunky instructor named Four (Theo James).

Before long, Tris and Four are an item, with a lot more in common than their tattoos. Happily, their courtship is a chaste one, with Tris telling Four she prefers to “take it slow.”

Together they uncover a nefarious takeover plot by Jeanine that puts the survival of Abnegation — and Tris’ family — in jeopardy.

As it barrels towards an explosive climax, “Divergent” pushes the boundaries of mayhem to the limit, placing the picture squarely outside the proper reach of younger teens.

The film contains intense violence, including scenes of torture. 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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