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‘War Room’ deploys prayer to save a marriage

September 1st, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Prayer becomes the ultimate weapon to save a young family in crisis in “War Room.” This Christian-themed drama is the latest offering from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the fraternal team behind 2008’s “Fireproof” and 2011’s “Courageous.”

Karen Abercrombie and Priscilla Shirer star in a scene from the movie "War Room." 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/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Karen Abercrombie and Priscilla Shirer star in a scene from the movie “War Room.” 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/Warner Bros. Pictures)

A McMansion in suburban North Carolina serves as the film’s battleground. There, overtaxed wife and mother Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) finds that the demands of her job as a real estate agent leave her little time to focus on raising her daughter, Danielle (Alena Pitts).

Elizabeth’s ambitious but inattentive husband, Tony (T.C. Stallings), isn’t much help. His work as a salesman keeps him on the road where sinful temptations lurk, including opportunities to be unfaithful.

When Tony does come home, he and Elizabeth do nothing but argue. Frustration and depression take their toll on the family until the Jordan residence resembles an emotional war zone.

Riding to the rescue is elderly but feisty local character Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), who just happens to be selling her house. Elizabeth pays a visit and, as the coffee is served, pours out her heart, revealing her bitterness. Not one to beat around the bush with a perfect stranger, Clara, in response, immediately insists on a battle plan.

Clara shows Elizabeth her favorite hideaway: a walk-in closet, empty except for the letters, notes and photographs taped to the walls. “I call it my war room,” Clara explains. Here Clara develops a “prayer strategy” for calling on God and seeking his grace.

“Give me one hour a week and I will teach you how to fight the right way with the right resources,” Clara promises. “It’s time for you to take off the gloves and fight for your marriage.”

We follow Elizabeth’s metamorphosis as she reads Scripture and posts prayer requests in her own empty closet. In a transformative moment, she storms through her home, denouncing Satan. “This house is under new management!” she proclaims. “You go back to hell where you belong and leave my family alone!”

Slowly but surely, the heaven-sent healing begins. A symbolic turning point comes at the dinner table, when Tony sets aside a bottle of his favorite brand of hot sauce, “Wrath of God.”

Subtlety is not the armament of choice in this cinematic crusade, and the proselytizing can be heavy-handed at times.

But the brothers’ intentions — Alex directed, while Stephen collaborated with him on the script — are sincere and worthy. And, though they approach their subject matter from an evangelical viewpoint, their emphasis on piety, forgiveness and redemption is, of course, fully compatible with Catholic teaching.

The film contains mild domestic discord and some mature themes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘We Are Your Friends,’ if you’re living in a party-craving stupor

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Catholic News Service

The relationship between an aspiring DJ (Zac Efron) and his musical mentor (Wes Bentley) is threatened when the protégé falls for his patron’s live-in girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski).

A scene from the romantic drama "We Are Your Friends." 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/Warner Brothers)

A scene from the romantic drama “We Are Your Friends.” 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/Warner Brothers)

Alongside this casually physical love triangle, director and co-writer Max Joseph sets up a hackneyed conflict between the youthful hero’s artistic ambitions and the pressure to settle for a more mundane but practical lifestyle — in his case by joining his trio of closest friends (Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez and Alex Shaffer) in working for a shady real estate operator (Jon Bernthal).

Genuine moral values occasionally surface in this tepid, noncommittal drama. But for the most part, its characters move through their shallow lives in a party-craving stupor from which even the forceful intrusion of love and death barely awakens them. Benignly viewed drug use, cohabitation and premarital relations, brief semi-graphic bedroom scenes, upper female nudity, a couple of profanities, pervasive 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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‘No Escape’ — Former ‘James Bond’ helps terrified Americans abroad

August 26th, 2015 Posted in Movies

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Catholic News Service

There’s a reason most action films center on hard-boiled characters who know how to look out for themselves. Ordinary folk, be they accountants, dentists or that emo barista at the local high-end coffee spot who always spells your name wrong, are unlikely to flourish in the usual circumstances confronting a James Bond or a Jason Bourne.

Owen Wilson and Lake Bell star in a scene from the movie "No Escape." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Weinstein)

Owen Wilson and Lake Bell star in a scene from the movie “No Escape.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Weinstein)

So, while the people behind the grueling adventure “No Escape,” led by director and co-writer John Erick Dowdle, can be honored for trying to stretch genre boundaries by plunking an everyday family down in the midst of violent turmoil, their effort is doomed from the start.

The outcome of their experiment may be strengthened emotional bonds on screen. Yet down in the audience, their tinkering is likely to garner a harvest of winces based on moviegoers’ discomfort at seeing the innocent and the vulnerable suffer.

The endangered clan in question consists of expatriate businessman Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters, Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare). No sooner have the Dwyers arrived in the Thailand-like country where Jack is about to start a new job than a coup breaks out.

Normally, of course, that would be a matter for the locals to sort through, while protected tourists and foreign residents watched from afar. Unfortunately for the Dwyers, this particular uprising is fueled by murderous anti-American rage, and the hotel where they’re temporarily staying soon becomes a killing ground.

Forced to flee into the teeming, unfamiliar urban landscape beyond the besieged hostelry, the foursome benefits from the help of a British-born chance acquaintance named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan).

A veteran traveler whom the Dwyers first connected during their long flight from the States, Hammond, unlike his newfound friends, knows the lay of the land quite well. Better yet, for reasons that only become fully apparent later, he also boasts a set of well-honed combat abilities.

Dowdle’s script, penned in collaboration with his brother Drew, covers some predictable moral territory. Jack rises to the challenging occasion by resourcefully protecting his spouse and children. Yet he’s troubled by some of the brutal measures to which he’s forced to resort.

Partly, no doubt, to keep the proceedings from becoming too saturated in machismo, Annie turns out to be a doughty warrior herself. And the extreme danger the couple faces only serves to reinforce their slightly frayed marital ties. Thus, during a pause in their fraught odyssey, Annie acknowledges that the rewards of her current family life far outweigh the loss of the more self-centered dreams she cherished in youth.

Yet the unsettling experience of following the Dwyers’ escape effort remains. It’s one thing to watch Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt make his way across the perilous no-man’s-land fringing the Berlin Wall in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.”

However, quite different feelings are aroused by the plight of the trapped Dwyers as, with fanatical gunmen slaughtering their fellow guest, they steel themselves to jump from the roof of their hotel to the top of a neighboring building or, in the case of the girls, to be thrown across the yawning gap that separates the two structures. The situation is certainly dramatic and potentially tragic. But is it the stuff of adventure?

The political subtext is equally troublesome. Virtually all of the Asians in “No Escape” come across as inhuman marauding savages. Yet this blatant smear represents an indispensable element of the Dowdles’ flawed premise, which requires the depraved natives to prey relentlessly on their European and American victims.

To paper all this over, the dialogue includes an unconvincing political lecture portraying the whole situation as an unfortunate but understandable reaction to the injustices wrought by globalization.

The film contains frequent harsh and sometimes gory violence, emotionally wrenching situations, including a rape scene with partial nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and about a dozen instances each of 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.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Sinister 2’ loaded with vengeance, violence, disturbing visuals

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Catholic News Service

The desultory “Sinister 2” presents as good an opportunity as any to reflect on a seldom noted, yet deeply irksome piece of contemporary horror film bric-a-brac: the inevitable cameo by a Catholic priest.

Robert Sloan stars in a scene from the movie "Sinister 2." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.  (CNS photo/Gramercy Pictures)

Robert Sloan stars in a scene from the movie “Sinister 2.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Gramercy Pictures)

Vicious caricatures of the clergy and sacrilegious portrayals of religious practice have become as commonplace in chiller plots as scream-inducing jump cuts. So the opening visit of this flick’s hero, So & So — and, yes, that really is the name of the formerly minor character played by James Ransone — to a confessional booth suggests we’re off to an ill-starred start.

Although So & So proves an inept penitent, Father Rodriguez (John Beasley) somehow recognizes the ex-deputy as a demon-hunter; perhaps Father has seen the first movie? Rodriguez correctly suspects, moreover, that this spiritual warrior is facing a fresh set of troubles.

“Do you want my professional opinion?” the cleric rumbles. En garde, Catholic viewers!

“You don’t stop evil. You can only protect yourself from it.”

Oh, a platitude. Not so bad.

Rodriguez, it seems, is only there to enunciate the theme in a movie that merely samples religious imagery intermittently. Happily for all concerned, having done so, he doesn’t reappear.

Together with returning screenwriters Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, Ciaran Foy, who replaces Derrickson in the director’s chair, reintroduces the franchise’s bogeyman, a hulking white-faced pagan deity named Bughuul (Nicholas King).

Bughuul likes to lure children into killing their families in elaborately gruesome ways. In the manner of a tiresome tourist of old — circa, say, 1965, Bughuul also enjoys documenting these deaths with a superannuated home movie camera.

The disturbing twist this time results from the filmmakers’ flawed effort to give Bughuul a quasi-moral justification for his freewheeling slaughter. They do so by hinting that at least some of his victims may have been abusive parents.

Along those lines, would-be furniture restorer Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) has fled her violent husband Clint (Lea Coco). With her young twins, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), in tow, Courtney has moved into an abandoned parsonage in rural Indiana.

Naturally, the house has a haunted basement, and the shuttered church on the property, the venue for one of Bughuul’s mass murders a few years earlier, is crawling with the ghosts of children.

These unsuitable playmates try to convince first the sensitive Dylan, and then Zach, to do Bughuul’s bidding. They even show the lads “snuff films” of their own past misdeeds.

And, after all, the script suggests, Clint is somewhat cruel and controlling. Perhaps he has it coming?

The finale involves crucifixion imagery in a cornfield. This has less to do with religious allegory than with the well-established fact that there are only so many ways for a demon to dispose of his victims on a limited budget.

The film contains a vengeance theme, frequent violence, much of it involving children, numerous disturbing images as well as considerable profanity and rough 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.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘American Ultra’ comedy subdued by graphic violence

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

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Catholic News Service

The premise on which the action comedy “American Ultra” rests is a relatively clever one. Yet the film’s potential appeal is overwhelmed by the excessive violence with which this initial scenario is developed.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in a scene from the movie "American Ultra." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in a scene from the movie “American Ultra.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Director Nima Nourizadeh’s fish-out-of-water story begins by showing us the humdrum life of small-town West Virginia slacker Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg). Though he aspires to become a comic book artist, an ambition in which he’s supported by his stabilizing live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), Mike currently toils as a convenience store clerk.

Along with sketching in his notebook, Mike devotes a considerable portion of his free time to smoking the pot supplied to him by local misfit Rose (John Leguizamo). Mike’s leisurely lifestyle is suddenly interrupted, however, when a mysterious stranger (Connie Britton) appears at his workplace and starts spouting what sounds to him like gibberish but is, in reality, a coded warning.

As the audience knows, but Mike has yet to discover, this visitor is a CIA agent named Victoria Lasseter. She’s out to trigger Mike’s suppressed memories of participating, under her direction, in an agency research program designed to turn ordinary citizens who had run afoul of the law in a minor way into highly skilled warriors.

In the aftermath of the project, which failed and was shuttered, Mike’s recollections of the experience were erased. Yet he subconsciously retains the cutting-edge combat abilities he gained from the experiment.

That’s just as well because Victoria’s ruthless bureaucratic rival Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), the creator of a similar but far more sinister program designed to turn the criminally insane into government fighters, is out to show the superiority of his trainees by siccing them on Mike.

Though it amounts to the single joke on which screenwriter Max Landis wagers his script’s whole fortune, the combination of low-key wonderment and ninja-like dexterity with which Mike reacts to his peculiar circumstances, ably conveyed by Eisenberg, is good for a few laughs. At a deeper level, meanwhile, Mike’s single-hearted devotion to Phoebe, made manifest by his determination to propose to her, does add some positive morality to his situation.

But the gory results of Mike’s campaign of self-defense, during which he deploys everything from the edge of a spoon to an iron-headed club hammer, are far too explicitly portrayed.

They sabotage the light tone as well as the movie’s more serious moments, such as Mike’s briefly sympathetic encounter with one of his pursuers (Walton Goggins). They also turn what might have been an amusingly dizzy outing into a queasy rampage.

The film contains frequent graphic bloodletting, cohabitation, drug use, profanity and pervasive 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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‘Hitman: Agent 47′ — less sexuality in this sequel but same violence

August 20th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Some things, as we know, improve with the passage of time. Alas, film adaptations of the video game series “Hitman” do not seem to be a case in point.

Rupert Friend stars in a scene from the movie "Hitman: Agent 47." 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/Fox)

Rupert Friend stars in a scene from the movie “Hitman: Agent 47.” 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/Fox)

In 2007, director Xavier Gens’ eponymous big-screen addition to the franchise showcased gory, limb-grinding violence and considerable nudity. While novice helmer Aleksander Bach’s redo, “Hitman: Agent 47,” tones down the sexuality, the level of mayhem remains much the same.

Eight years ago, we steered readers away from the initial version. Our current advice: Rebuff the reboot.

One of the main defects, on a purely cinematic level, is the picture’s overly explicated, yet under-accounted-for plot. Perhaps the best way to approach this partly burned, partly runny omelet is to observe that everyone of any significance in the cast is hunting for the same person: to wit, a fugitive biologist called Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds).

Litvenko’s estranged daughter, Katia (Hannah Ware), wants to reconnect with her missing dad for personal reasons. The otherwise unnamed purebred assassin of the title (Rupert Friend), whose genetic engineering was supervised by Litvenko, has a contract to fulfill and, apparently, no feelings to spare for anyone he might harm while completing it.

Then there’s John Smith (Zachary Quinto). Though he starts off by posing as Katia’s self-appointed protector, Smith has reasons of his own for tracking the solitary girl and, through her, Litvenko.

Working away in the shadows, meanwhile, is a reclusive underworld kingpin named Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann) who would also like to get his hands on Litvenko.

Some of the dialogue in Skip Woods and Michael Finch’s script feebly defends free will in the face of the immoral manipulation to which Agent 47 and others of his ilk have been subjected. “We determine who we are by what we do,” Katia insists as she works to counter 47’s fatalism.

But philosophy is hardly the point. Eliminating extras is the real agenda, and the means of death range from the familiar, viz., bullets and car crashes, to the gruesomely exotic. Falling squarely into the latter category are the conveniently placed airplane engines that are made to double, courtesy of the special effects department, as human meat grinders.

The film contains pervasive nasty violence with excessive gore, brief partial nudity, a couple of profanities and about a half-dozen uses each of rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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Relatively fun: ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’

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

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Catholic News Service

Another cultural landmark of the baby-boomer generation returns to the foreground with the arrival of the breezy espionage yarn “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." 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/ Warner Bros.)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” 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/ Warner Bros.)

The droll humor that punctuates director and co-writer Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the mid-1960s television series, as well as the James Bond-style glamour that permeates it, will likely please viewers. But they’ll find little of substance to take away with them once the final credits roll.

Still, in collaborating with Lionel Wigram on the script — and in helming the proceedings — Ritchie does keep the violence sufficiently vague to make his film acceptable for a broad adult audience.

Though its action is set at the height of the Cold War in 1963, this origin story’s premise recalls the alignment of forces that prevailed during the Second World War two decades earlier. That’s because the Kennedy-era adversaries of East and West have once again agreed to cooperate, as they had, however uneasily, in the glory days of the big bands.

And the motive for their temporarily repaired alliance? Same as it ever was: fighting the Nazis.

Hitler’s leftover minions, and their Mussolini-loving comrades from south of the Alps, are back, it seems, to causing trouble. This time, they’ve managed to spirit away prominent scientist Dr. Udo Teller (Christian Berkel). Teller is the genius behind a revolutionary development in nuclear know-how that, should it fall into the wrong hands, would spell doom alike for D.C. and the Kremlin.

So it’s time to play nice, much to the machismo-driven chagrin of two apparently born enemies: Napoleon Solo of the CIA (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin of the KGB (Armie Hammer). Yet these forced friends turn out to have more in common than they initially realize, since neither serves his government with a truly willing heart.

Suave Solo is an ex-GI who took to plundering art treasures in the waning days of the war. The use the intelligence establishment can make of his underhandedness is the only thing standing between Solo and a long stint in prison.

For rage-prone Kuryakin, it’s the stick, not the carrot, that keeps him working as a spook. His disgraced father, we learn, fell from Stalinist favor, and was carried off to the gulag.

Rounding out the team formed by these unwilling collaborators is Dr. Teller’s estranged daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander). Gaby is a skilled auto mechanic whose Solo-aided escape from East Berlin serves as the movie’s opening adventure.

Together this improvised trio tracks the suspicious activities of Alexander Vinciguerra (Luca Calvani), the shady heir to a fascism-tainted Italian industrial fortune, and his scheming, but oh-so-elegant wife, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). As Solo and his colleagues shadow the couple, audiences get a taste of “la dolce vita” courtesy of a high-end stay in Rome, a day at the speedster races and a visit to the Vinciguerra’s private island.

Along the way, a substantial, if slightly strange, relationship blossoms between Illya and Gaby. But their more or less respectable tether is ethically offset by Solo’s carefree philandering — though, admittedly, Ritchie deals with his Napoleon’s conquests more by implication than demonstration.

The picture’s underlying anti-war, pro-friendship sentiments are congenial enough. Yet reflective moviegoers will note that they rest, to some extent at least, on an implied moral equivalence between the Soviets and their Western foes that’s wholly at variance with the truths of history.

The film contains much violence, including torture, but with little gore, brief gruesome images, off-screen casual encounters, glimpses of partial nudity, some sexual banter and a couple of crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Straight Outta Compton’ looks at N.W. A’s gangster rap history

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

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Catholic News Service

The proper limits of free speech and the appropriate use of violence are just two of the topics raised in the striking but gritty dramatization “Straight Outta Compton.”

Aldis Hodge, Cornelius Brown Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr., star in a scene from the movie "Straight Outta Compton." 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 Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-COMPTON-(EMBARGOED) Aug. 13, 2015.

Aldis Hodge, Cornelius Brown Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O’Shea Jackson Jr., star in a scene from the movie “Straight Outta Compton.” 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 Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-COMPTON-(EMBARGOED) Aug. 13, 2015.

As he recounts the rise and collapse of the gangster rap group N.W.A, beginning in 1986, director F. Gary Gray clearly intends to use the ensemble’s experiences as a vantage point for a larger critique of society as a whole.

While there’s no denying the serious intent behind Gray’s collective biography, the yawning gulf between the materialistic lifestyle the whole genre of hip-hop tends to glamorize and an outlook based on scriptural values is equally indisputable. Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff’s script nibbles at the edges of the art form’s assumptions, but never fundamentally challenges them.

The story focuses primarily on the two members of N.W.A — Ice Cube (played by the rapper’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) — who went on to have headlining solo careers as well as on Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), another founder whose life took a different turn. This trio’s goal, shared with collaborators DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr..) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), is to translate the frustrations of growing up in the Los Angeles-area ghetto of the title into popular protest music.

Aided by seemingly good-hearted manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who successfully markets their sound, the guys parlay their local notoriety into nationwide fame. But controversy dogs them, based largely on the perception that some of their lyrics call for attacks on the police.

The nature and legitimacy of N.W.A’s actual stance is open to debate. But there’s no getting around the fact that cops, whether they hail from Southern California or the Midwest, are relentlessly demonized in “Straight Outta Compton.”

In the current climate of alienation between minority communities and law enforcement, such vilification becomes more than mere evidence of a narrow cinematic perspective. Reinforced by images of the Rodney King beating — and news accounts of the acquittals that followed for the officers involved in it — this unbalanced portrayal skirts the border between radicalism and irresponsibility.

The movie’s outlook on violence in general, at least of the retaliatory sort, is ambiguous at best. Giamatti earnestly counsels Eazy-E to seek only legal means of redress after the singer is assaulted by menacing, semi-psychotic record producer Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor) –- who in summer 2015 awaits trial on murder charges stemming from an incident that, ironically, took place on the “Compton” film set.

Yet Heller, the only white character of any significance in “Compton,” turns out, in the end, to be more of a greedy manipulator than a genuine mentor. And an earlier scene has made giddy fun out of an armed confrontation between the freewheeling womanizers of N.W.A and some rivals for the affections of the ladies they’re currently, er, entertaining in a hotel suite.

In fact, these competitors interrupt an orgy. Not only is this interlude needlessly explicit, it also serves to reinforce the picture’s overall misogyny, under the terms of which women’s body parts are far more prominent than their personalities.

A more critical treatment of the ethically impoverished worldview that permeates the music it celebrates would have made this sometimes flavorful slice of pop culture history endorsable for at least a few mature viewers. And including a line or two of dialogue not weighed down with an obscenity would have helped as well.

The film contains flawed morality, some harsh violence, strong sexual content, including brief but graphic casual activity and full nudity, drug use, several instances of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Shaun the Sheep Movie': Shear delight for most of the family

August 6th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Ewe” are bound to have fun watching “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” an endearing and pun-filled animated feature about the madcap adventures of a woolly English flock.

Animated characters Shaun, Slip and Bitzer appear in "Shaun the Sheep Movie." 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/Lionsgate) See MOVIE-REVIEW-SHAUN-SHEEP Aug. 5, 2015.

Animated characters Shaun, Slip and Bitzer appear in “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” 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/Lionsgate) See MOVIE-REVIEW-SHAUN-SHEEP Aug. 5, 2015.

The inventive, stop-action comedy is created by the master clay-crafters at Aardman Animations. They’ve previously given us the “Wallace & Gromit” films as well as “Chicken Run.”

Unusually for a full-length title, “Shaun” is dialogue-free. The cuddly sheep baa and bleat; the mindless humans grunt and growl. But no words are spoken.

Remarkably, none is needed for an entertaining movie that, some questionable jokes aside, makes suitable viewing for most of the family.

The eponymous hero was introduced in the 1995 “Wallace & Gromit” short “A Close Shave” and went on to star in a British TV series of his own that launched in 2007.

Shaun lives with his fellow livestock on Mossy Bottom Farm, where the daily routine is mind-numbingly dull and monotonous. The owner, known simply as “the Farmer,” suffers from severe myopia and extreme cluelessness. Nonetheless, he runs a tight ship, with his trusty sheepdog Bitzer by his side.

Even sheep deserve a day off now and then, though. So Shaun plots with his flockmates to go rogue after coaxing the Farmer back to sleep (by counting sheep, of course) in his camper-van bed. Sedation successful, the domesticated lambs go wild, watching TV, eating junk food and playing games.

The rollicking good times come to an end when Bitzer gets wind of the high jinks and attempts to restore order. But in his haste to wake the Farmer, Bitzer inadvertently sets the camper in motion. The vehicle rolls down a hill and onto the main road, headed inexorably toward the far-off Big City.

Aghast at the sudden absence of their source of food and shelter, the occupants of the barnyard must rally round and mount a rescue operation. Shaun and his buddies don disguises as they catch the next bus bound for the urban jungle.

Once there, the real fun begins as the human and sheep worlds collide in such places as “Le Chou Brule,” a stuffy French restaurant whose name means “The Burnt Cabbage.”

Further complicating matters are the Farmer’s amnesia, the result of a blow to the head, and the wicked ways of an animal warden named Trumper.

Co-writers and co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak prove themselves adept at clever Chaplinesque sight gags and routines in what is essentially a silent movie. Still, a few audible pleasures are in store, including a tuneful baa-bershop quartet.

The film contains some rude bathroom humor and vague innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Tom Cruise grabs a ride on jet during impossible mission

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

By

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.

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