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Latest ‘Hunger Games’ flick offers invigorating ride

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Catholic News Service

Positive values, including altruism, are highlighted in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.”

Together with the absence from the film of most problematic content, a good deal of stylized combat aside, those upright ethics make this sequel a worry-free choice for the parents of targeted teens.

Patina Miller, Liam Hemsworth, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Elden Henson star in a scene from the movie "'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1." Catholic News Service classification, A-II -- adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Liam Hemsworth, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Elden Henson star in  the movie “‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.” Catholic News Service classification, A-II — adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

The third installment of a four-part series based on best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins, the movie also offers satisfying and occasionally stirring action played out against the backdrop of the same disordered futuristic society in which its predecessors were set.

For those who are new to Panem, the dystopian North American nation that serves as that setting, here’s the (raw) deal: A cosseted urban elite, led by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), rules oppressively over a group of outlying districts populated by downtrodden workers. Each year, some of the children of the underclass are compelled to participate in the brutal survival tournament of the title, from which normally only one victor emerges alive.

Having been subjected to the games twice, first in a normal round, later as part of an all-star version, franchise heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a celebrity, not least because she managed to subvert the rules of the contest on both occasions. Her latest act of defiance, showcased at the end of the last film, coincided with, and helped spark, the outbreak of a rebellion against Snow’s regime.

The opening of this chapter finds Katniss holed up in a huge bunker that serves as the headquarters of the uprising. It leaders, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former tourney supervisor-turned-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are intent on using Katniss as the inspiring symbol of their movement.

Though Katniss is initially reluctant to take on that role, exposure to the ruthless devastation Snow’s forces have inflicted on the area where she used to live convinces her to play her part. But things become complicated when her sweetheart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), whom Snow is holding captive, becomes a tool in the president’s propaganda campaign aimed at stamping out the revolution.

As scripted by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, the romantic entanglements in director Francis Lawrence’s sci-fi adventure are so chaste that a single kiss between Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the lad who pines for her, takes on great significance. And Gale, it turns out, is not only well behaved, but heroically selfless in the pursuit of Katniss’ welfare.

For those willing to buy into the mythos behind it all, the progress of the revolt in which Katniss finds herself caught up makes for an invigorating ride. As for unimpressed holdouts, they can pass the time monitoring the dialogue, in vain, for any hint of profanity or other verbal trespasses.

The film contains some bloodless but potentially disturbing violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘Beyond the Lights’ finds appealing singer and cop surrounded by vulgarity

November 14th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Thoughwell-intended, the romantic drama “Beyond the Lights” includes elements that make it problematic even for grown viewers.

In large part, that’s a result of the milieu in which the film is set: the vulgarity-soaked world of rap music.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star in a scene from the movie "Beyond the Lights." 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)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star in a scene from the movie “Beyond the Lights.” 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)

As a rising star within the genre, British born singer Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) seems to have everything going for her: clamoring fans, industry awards and an upcoming album that promises to be a blockbuster. Behind the scenes, however, Noni is so burnt-out and miserable that she attempts to commit suicide by jumping from the balcony of her luxurious Los Angeles hotel.

She’s prevented from doing so by the soothing intervention of Kaz (Nate Parker), the policeman assigned to protect her. He gives her back the will to live by assuring her that he can see the real person behind her public persona. In the wake of this dramatic first meeting, the cocooned diva and the solitary cop, who aspires to become a politician, take a somewhat unlikely shine to each other.

Their budding relationship is opposed by Noni’s success-at-all-costs showbiz mom, Macy (Minnie Driver), and by callous singer Kid Culprit, played by real-life rapper Richard Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly, who is both Noni’s collaborator and her lover.

A sadly realistic atmosphere of degraded sensuality pervades the musical performances in writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s movie, though the story arc eventually finds Noni rebelling against this aspect of her career.

Additionally, the script takes going to bed before strolling down the aisle for granted. Thus Noni and Kaz have a somewhat bizarre encounter on a private plane within days of meeting each other. They later skip town and drop out of sight for an interlude of living together that the narrative unabashedly romanticizes.

Yet their story does have its appealing aspects, including the positive mutual support that generally marks their interaction. Kaz encourages Noni’s ambition to write her own songs and perform more serious material in the mold of jazz icon Nina Simone. Noni, in turn, helps Kaz to recognize that he can’t live his life according to the dictates of his good-hearted but controlling dad, David (Danny Glover).

The film contains brief semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, temporary cohabitation, partial nudity, much strongly suggestive behavior, at least one use of the F-word and considerable crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘St. Vincent’ an endearing, if unusual, look at sanctity

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Catholic News Service

An unlikely baby sitter also serves as an unusual image of sanctity in the fundamentally endearing drama “St. Vincent.”

While writer-director Ted Melfi’s feature debut has a broadly appealing message, aspects of its main character’s dodgy lifestyle narrow the scope of its appropriate audience. The film’s approach to moral questions, moreover, requires mature reflection.

Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher star in a scene from the movie "St. Vincent." 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 PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, The Weinstein Company)

Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher star in a scene from the movie “St. Vincent.” 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 PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, The Weinstein Company)

Bill Murray is pitch-perfect as Vincent, a hard-drinking, curmudgeonly loner shambling his way through life, cutting ethical corners at every opportunity.

When Vincent acquires a new next-door neighbor in the person of recently divorced single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), the two take an instant dislike to each other. But, with no one else available to mind her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school, hardworking hospital lab technician Maggie is forced to turn to Vincent to do the job.

Since Vincent is an inveterate gambler in serious debt to, among others, loan shark Zucko (Terrence Howard), he agrees to the arrangement.

Vincent and Oliver bond over adventures at the race track, stints in Vincent’s favorite dive bar, where Oliver drinks soda, of course, as well as during visits to Vincent’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell). Sandy lives in a luxurious nursing home whose costly rates clearly eat up most of Vincent’s scant income.

Former boxer Vincent also teaches Oliver, whose small stature and lack of self-defense skills lead to his being bullied, how to stand up for himself. Increasingly, Oliver learns to look past his gruff caregiver’s obvious flaws and see the hidden goodness within him.

Catholic viewers will especially appreciate the thoroughly positive portrayal of Oliver’s funny, patient and wise parochial school teacher, Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd). The film’s title derives from a project Brother Geraghty assigns his students: to research someone in their lives who displays saintly qualities.

The script makes a valid point by reminding us that even saints aren’t perfect during their lives here on earth. Yet its unabashed celebration of Vincent’s positive qualities, and the pass it gives to his self-destructive habits and small-scale misdeeds, have to be scrutinized within the context of the Gospel imperative commanding us to eliminate sin from our lives entirely.

This is especially true of Vincent’s objectively adulterous relationship with Russian-born prostitute Daka (Naomi Watts). With Daka pregnant by an unknown father, her link with Vincent eventually evolves into a glumly chaste friendship, and he provides shelter both for her and the baby. But, while one can sympathize with the plight that led to their original connection, its sordid and exploitative nature can’t be overlooked.

Just how much is excusable in a person who is, at heart, unusually nurturing and generous? Moviegoers well grounded in their faith will know how to apply the holistic vision of Scripture to that issue, taking as their starting point, perhaps, St. Peter’s comforting assertion that “love covers a multitude of sins.”

The film contains brief semi-graphic adultery, a benign view of petty theft, a prostitution theme, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one instance of the F-word and much 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 PG-13.

 

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‘Big Hero 6’ will propel ‘Baymax’ on to Christmas lists

November 6th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Parents be warned: Your kids will want a robot for Christmas.

If so, blame “Big Hero 6,” the latest 3-D animated adventure from the studio that brought you last year’s cuddly must-have sensation, Olaf the snowman from “Frozen.”

The animated artistry of characters Aunt Cass and Hiro Hamada star in a scene from the movie "Big Hero 6." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

The animated artistry of characters Aunt Cass and Hiro Hamada star in a scene from the movie “Big Hero 6.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

This time, it’s Baymax (voice of Scott Adsit), an inflatable vinyl robot designed by a college student, Tadashi (voice of Daniel Henney), to be a “Personal Health Care Companion.” In other words, Baymax is to serve as both nurse and nanny for Tadashi’s troublesome younger brother, Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter).

Unlike Mary Poppins, Baymax is short on words and discipline. Instead, this distant cousin of the Marshmallow Man offers warm, squishy hugs and a playful demeanor, and steals the movie.

Unfortunately, the rest of “Big Hero 6” is less inventive and follows a familiar playbook. That’s not especially surprising given that the film is loosely based on a Marvel Comics series.

The setting is the city of “San Fransokyo,” a mash-up, as its name obviously suggests, of San Francisco and Tokyo: think cable cars and cherry blossoms. Tadashi and Hiro are orphans (a Disney standard), raised by their sassy Aunt Cass (voice of Maya Rudolph). They share a passion for robotics.

After Tadashi dies in a lab explosion under mysterious circumstances, Hiro uncovers an evil conspiracy (naturally), and sets out to find the bad guys.

Of course, Hiro needs backup. So Baymax gets a high-tech makeover, which turns him into a version of Iron Man. And an assortment of Tadashi’s college buddies are recruited for the adventure: cyclist GoGo Tomago (voice of Jamie Chung), beatnik Wasabi (voice of Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (voice of Genesis Rodriguez), and monster-loving Fred (voice of T.J. Miller).

Superhero feats are not in their nature, however. “We’re nerds,” Wasabi protests.

“No, you can be anyone you want,” Hiro insists. With distinctive costumes and high-tech weapons, the sextet, rounded out by Baymax, is christened “Big Hero 6.”

Directors Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”) ramp up the action as “Big Hero 6” morphs into a version of “Revenge of the Nerds.” The film’s Marvel provenance is evident in noisy smash-bang sequences which may be too intense for younger viewers.

Parents will appreciate the movie’s calmer moments which offer good lessons in friendship, self-sacrifice, and resisting temptation.

Preceding “Big Hero 6” is “Feast,” a charming animated short directed by Patrick Osborne. It offers a dog’s-eye view of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness, one meal at a time. “Feast” is acceptable for all ages.

“Big Hero 6” contains mildly scary sequences, references to puberty and some slightly edgy humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Interstellar’ travel makes theoretical paradoxes feel confing

November 5th, 2014 Posted in Movies

By

Catholic News Service

As befits a sprawling space epic, “Interstellar” aims high.

While its ambitions are admirable, and its visuals dazzling, the film’s roughly three-hour running time tries patience. Other aesthetic miscalculations, combined with morally problematic elements, ultimately make for something of a flawed liftoff.

From left, Timothee Chalamet, Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy star in a scene from the movie "Interstellar." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/Paramount)

From left, Timothee Chalamet, Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy star in a scene from the movie “Interstellar.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Paramount)

Director and co-writer (with his brother Jonathan) Christopher Nolan charts the exploits of a crew of astronauts who use a wormhole to speed their travel to distant planets. Their critical goal is to find a habitable refuge for the entire human race, which is facing worldwide starvation back on a dystopian, dustbowl-plagued version of Earth.

Leading the mission is former test pilot and engineer-turned-unwilling-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). With society’s need to cultivate crops having displaced interest in advancing technology, Cooper, a widower, has been forced to pursue an agricultural lifestyle on the farmstead he shares with his cranky father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his placid teen son. Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and his precocious, adoring daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy).

So when an unusual turn of events results in the opportunity for Cooper to command a space expedition, he essentially jumps at the chance, despite the fact that the prospect of his prolonged absence is nothing short of crushing to Murph.

Cooper is joined on the journey by astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and science officer Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway). The latter’s father (Michael Caine), a renowned professor who was once Cooper’s mentor, conceived the rescue program and is its overall supervisor.

Just as protracted separation tests Cooper’s bond with Murph (played in adulthood by Jessica Chastain), so Amelia’s relationship with her idolized dad is eventually subjected to other strains.

“Interstellar” has most of its values in good order as it weighs familial ties against the sacrifices necessary to advance the common welfare and ponders the place of love within a worldview shaped by quantum mechanics and Darwinian evolution. But both the film’s implicit message about the dire consequences of overpopulation and a subplot involving frozen embryos call for moral discernment.

Cinematically, unnatural situations resulting from the relativity of time and other environmental factors create a distance from ordinary reality that blunts the impact of the movie’s human element. In this respect, “Interstellar” stands in contrast to Nolan’s masterful 2010 mind-bender “Inception.”

In that earlier picture, different strands of events simultaneously unfolding within varied chronologies made for suspense and excitement. Here the playful feel of “Inception” is absent, as too is the driving sense of urgency. Instead, like the character central to the climax of “Interstellar,” moviegoers are likely to feel trapped by the theoretical paradoxes of boldly going where no man — or woman or movie director, for that matter — has gone before.

The film contains ethical issues, some bloodless violence, a handful of profanities and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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Remember, ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ is an enjoyable whodunit

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

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Catholic News Service

The cherished amnesia plot gets dusted off for the thriller “Before I Go to Sleep.” Writer-director Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of S.J. Watson’s novel adeptly executes a few turns. But it offers only one big twist.

Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth star in a scene from the movie "Before I Go To Sleep." 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/Laurie Sparham, Clarius Entertainment)

Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth star in a scene from the movie “Before I Go To Sleep.” 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/Laurie Sparham, Clarius Entertainment)

As the result of a vicious assault 10 years ago, during which she sustained a head injury, Christine’s (Nicole Kidman) memory erases nightly when she goes to sleep. So she begins each day with a ritual, assisted by photos and written reminders of “Who are you, and where am I?”

By bedtime, she’s almost up to speed. In her dreams, she’s tormented by glimpses of the attack. And each morning, the cycle begins anew.

Christine’s situation renders her helpless and easily manipulated by others.

Aiding her is Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a psychologist. He has Christine create a daily video diary so she can build a long-term “memory,” carve out some independence and perhaps recall the identity of her assailant.

Eventually, bits of Christine’s past reveal themselves. She’d had an affair. So had her husband with her best friend Claire (Anne-Marie Duff). Yet now her spouse Ben (Colin Firth) seems so kindly and attentive.

If there’s a moral issue raised in this whodunit, which fans of the genre should enjoy, it might be the question of whether the illusion of a secure existence can effectively substitute for real family love.

The film contains occasional physical violence, an adultery theme, fleeting rear nudity as well as a few instances of profanity and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

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‘Nightcrawler’ depicts a creepy, unsettling character

October 30th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

The free-for-all world of local TV news reporting provides the backdrop for the strikingly creepy character study “Nightcrawler.”

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in a scene from the movie "Nightcrawler." 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/Chuck Zlotnick, Open Road Films)

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in a scene from the movie “Nightcrawler.” 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/Chuck Zlotnick, Open Road Films)

Though it showcases a memorable, if unsettling, performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, writer-director Dan Gilroy’s drama also features a gritty urban atmosphere pervaded by an air of moral nihilism. It thus calls for thoughtful assessment by mature, well-grounded viewers.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a borderline-autistic Los Angeles loner scratching out a bare-bones existence through the nonviolent theft of items like scrap metal or an unattended racing bike.

Accidently exposed to the work of the breed of ambulance-chasing cameramen whose disdainful nickname gives the film its title, Bloom takes up the seamy craft — and discovers that he’s quite good at it. Mainly, that’s due to the fact that he displays a total disregard for any semblance of ethical standards. The more gruesome the images he can intrusively videotape at the site of a car wreck or on the scene of a violent crime, the better.

In fact, Bloom’s indifference to the suffering he captures brings him so much success that Nina (Rene Russo), the producer of the show to which he markets his sensationalist wares, becomes dependent on his output to maintain ratings and thereby keep her job. Since Bloom is attracted to the considerably older Nina, the power he wields over her leads to some queasy exchanges in the dialogue.

With his fortunes in the ascent, Bloom hires homeless drifter Rick (Riz Ahmed) to serve as his assistant and sidekick. But his proximity to Bloom eventually reveals to Rick just how dark the hidden depths of his employer’s obvious eccentricity are, an insight that leaves him not only repelled but alarmed.

Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is mesmerizingly off-kilter, utterly tone deaf to the social cues of those around him and delusionally pretentious. Addicted to the kind of bromides that might be overheard at a particularly woeful team-building retreat, he is nonetheless genuinely driven to succeed, and to do so at any cost.

Via Bloom’s disturbing antics, Gilroy adeptly satirizes both yellow journalism and the public hunger for tabloid images that fuels its excesses. But as Bloom’s initial moral sketchiness leads on to more sinister wrongdoing, distance and discernment are required to resist treating his descent as a giddy vicarious ride into amorality.

The film contains considerable, often gory violence, several uses of profanity, brief but coarse references to sexuality and 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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Up in the sky, it’s a sad ‘Birdman’ on a queasy journey

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Catholic News Service

Talky, pretentious and filled with existential angst when the characters aren’t preoccupied with spitting curses, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is visually dazzling.

Michael Keaton stars in a scene from the movie "Birdman." 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/Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Michael Keaton stars in a scene from the movie “Birdman.” 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/Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Morally, though, it’s dead weight.

This black comedy reflects on the nature of fame, specifically, the warping power of movie fame gained by playing big-budget comic-book heroes. It occasionally circles this theme, but provides no resolution. Gloom, anxiety and complete self-absorption supplant responsible behavior, with no evident consequences.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who has achieved worldwide fame playing an action hero called Birdman in a series of films. This, of course, parallels Keaton’s own experience as the star of two Batman pictures released in the late 1980s and early ’90s. We are constantly reminded that Thomson’s turn as Birdman represented a soul-deadening artistic sellout.

With much of his money now drained away, Thomson is attempting to redefine himself as a serious actor. He has adapted, and is directing and starring in, a work by short-story writer Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” As the movie opens, the show is in previews on Broadway.

The preview performances mostly go wrong, launching a series of in-jokes for theater buffs. Things go from bad to worse when, after a rehearsal mishap, Thomson hires intense performer Mike (Edward Norton), who undermines him at every opportunity.

Riggan’s Birdman alter ego haunts him in voiceovers, taunting him about his earlier celebrity and deriding his effort to become a grounded actor. That Riggan’s movie powers derived entirely from special effects never appears in these discussions.

Riggan understands so little about Carver’s story that he ends the play with an on-stage gun suicide he wrote himself. This delights the uncaring, whooping audiences in need of spectacle, while guaranteeing he’ll get a hostile review from The New York Times.

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and his co-writers, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, fill most of the film with bitter speeches. Riggan’s daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone) gets to deliver one of the strongest of them: “You’re doing this because, like the rest of us, you’re scared you don’t matter! And guess what — you don’t matter! Get used to it!”

Riggan has his supportive girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) in the cast and sometimes receives terse counseling from producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis). But most of his best advice comes from his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), who consoles him with, “It’s what you always do. You mistake love for admiration.”

One’s reaction to the movie becomes, then, strictly a matter of taste. If you savor vinegar, as in, bucket after bucket of it, you’ll have little trouble enduring this. Otherwise, it’s a sad, bilious journey.

The film contains fleeting rear nudity, much sexual humor, including a crude sight gag, a same-sex kiss, frequent profanity and pervasive crude 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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‘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.

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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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