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Avoid the ‘CHIPS’

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Get your motor running, spring yourself from a cage out on Highway 9, do whatever it takes to get away from the mind-numbing, motorcycle-bedecked comedy “CHIPS.”

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena star in a scene from the movie "Chips." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena star in a scene from the movie “Chips.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

The humor in this twist on the 1977-1983 NBC-TV drama series quickly skids off the road and into the gutter, where it remains.

Dax Shepard, who also wrote and directed, plays rookie California Highway Patrol officer Jon Baker while Michael Pena portrays Jon’s first partner, and odd-couple counterpart, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. Supposedly a veteran of the force from another part of the state, Ponch is in fact an undercover FBI agent investigating a corruption case.

As Jon makes a nudge of himself and Ponch gripes about it (until of course, the two inevitably bond), the script lurches from one base topic to another. We visit a locker room where the awkwardness of two straight men embracing while dressed only in their underwear is both played for laughs and discussed: Is being uncomfortable with such a gesture symptomatic of homophobia? Yes, no, ha, ha ha.

We stroll through more than one parking lot so that Ponch and the camera can ogle women in yoga pants as they bend over to put something in the trunk. We already know that Ponch is a philanderer since, as the opening sequence has shown us, he has to write down the name of the girl in bed with him lest he forget it in the morning.

That’s not to mention an extended exchange between the two leads on the enthralling question of why Ponch stops to use the bathroom so often.

There’s also a vaguely pro-divorce message to “CHIPS.” Jon, a washed-up extreme-sports motorcyclist, initially becomes a police recruit in an effort to win back his estranged wife, Karen (Kristen Bell), whose dad was a cop. But he eventually discovers, with Ponch’s help, that Karen is so selfish and greedy, he’s better off without her.

Since juvenile potty and bedroom gags must nowadays be rounded out with nauseating visuals, late developments include the decapitation of one character and the loss of four fingers by another. Lavish attention is paid to the bloody stumps as well as to the dismembered digits lying about like so many stubby breadsticks.

Our advice? Let these “CHIPS” fall where they may. And leave them there.

The film contains scenes of gross-out gore, strong sexual content, including brief graphic activity, masturbation and full male and female nudity, much sexual and scatological humor, frequent 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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‘Life’ — In this space there is no heaven

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adopt a serious tone in the ensemble sci-fi thriller “Life.”

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie "Life." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. CNS/Columbia)

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie “Life.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. CNS/Columbia)

Together with deft performances and some creative camera work, this unusually thoughtful mood serves to offset the familiarity of the film’s humans-versus-predator premise.

Characters are too busy battling for their lives to engage in much romance, chaste or otherwise. But the bloody details of their conflict with the rampaging alien at the heart of the action are suitable neither for kids nor for the squeamish among their elders.

Said E.T. arrives on an unmanned capsule carrying samples back from Mars that the multiethnic crew of an international space station has been tasked with retrieving.

Besides the vessel’s commander, cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the team includes world-weary physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal); rules-driven disease prevention expert Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson); freewheeling mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds); homesick flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada); and paraplegic British scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare).

Faced with the tricky task of stopping the cargo ship before it speeds past them, the astronauts are delighted when they succeed. They’re even happier once Derry’s research reveals that they’re in possession of the first living organism ever encountered beyond Earth.

Unfortunately for them, however, the initially tiny creature they’ve taken on board turns out to have not only an incredibly rapid growth rate but a murderously aggressive approach to interacting with humans. It’s also devilishly brilliant and resourceful.

Loss of life is treated with an unusual degree of sober reflection in the suspenseful clash of wits and survival skills that follows.

This is in obvious and welcome contrast to the innumerable Hollywood movies in which the bodies of anonymous, mown-down extras seem to pile up like so many chords of wood. It may also serve as a legitimate point of divergence from the movie with which many viewers will inevitably compare “Life” — Ridley Scott’s memorable 1979 franchise-begetter, “Alien.”

Yet, while largely free of callousness in its portrayal of fatal violence, “Life” is so bleak and, at times, darkly ironic, that it can feel nihilistic. Thus, in whole passages of the dialogue discussing bereavement, there’s not a glimmer or hint of faith in an afterlife. As a result, moviegoers may feel as confined in the script’s secular, despairing outlook as the trapped space travelers do within their invaded craft.

The film contains some gory deaths and gruesome images, a few uses of profanity as well as numerous rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Logan’ presents dreary killing fest

March 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Moviegoers unwise enough to take in a showing of “Logan,” the 10th installment of the Marvel Comics-based X-Men series, will discover that the very first word of the dialogue is a four-letter one beginning with “F” and the last image of the film is sacrilegious.

Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman star in a scene from the movie "Logan." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive.  (CNS photo/Fox)

Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman star in a scene from the movie “Logan.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Fox)

In between, the grumpy mutant of the title (Hugh Jackman), a character better known as Wolverine, uses his machete-like claws to perforate all who threaten him.

His main adversary is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Pierce is an agent of Transigen, a company that has set itself the goal of eliminating all mutants not under their control.

That includes Logan’s current housemates, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant), as well as Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl with blades like his own who, as the plot progresses, comes under Logan’s reluctant protection.

Set in the near future, director James Mangold’s action adventure poses as a redemption story for its bad-tempered protagonist. Logan gradually has his disgust with the world softened by Laura’s presence. He also improves his strained relationship with Charles.

But in the midst of all that, he carries on a spree of beheadings, impalements and limb lopping as he vents his anger and his enemies. Worse yet, Laura behaves in a similarly vicious manner, balletically jumping form one extra’s back to the next one’s shoulders as she, so to speak, digs in.

As though this duo wasn’t enough, Transigen has been developing another blade wielder who, once unleashed, starts to get under Logan’s skin.

The upshot is a dreary killing fest that’s gutsy in all the wrong ways.

The film contains excessive gory violence, upper female nudity, about a half-dozen uses 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.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Shack’ seeks to justify the ways of God

March 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“The Shack,” director Stuart Hazeldine’s screen version of William Paul Young’s best-selling novel, represents a serious effort to tackle the problem of evil from a Christian perspective. As such, it will be welcomed by believers.

Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington star in a scene from the movie "The Shack." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington star in a scene from the movie “The Shack.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

While objectionable elements are virtually absent from the film, however, patches of dialogue discounting the value of religion, here implicitly set in opposition to faith broadly speaking, and hinting that God is indifferent to how we worship him mean that impressionable viewers should keep their distance. So, too, does the morally problematic treatment of a dark and long-kept secret.

After his young daughter, Missy (Amelie Eve), is abducted and murdered, previously devout churchgoer Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips (Sam Worthington) has a crisis of faith. But a note from “Papa,” his wife, Nan’s (Radha Mitchell), nickname for God, leads to an encounter with the Trinity near the titular hideout where evidence of Missy’s death was uncovered that alters his perspective.

Octavia Spencer plays an unflappable, warmhearted God the Father, Avraham Aviv Alush a fun-loving Jesus and Sumire a serene Holy Spirit. As Spencer bakes, Sumire gardens and Alush tinkers in his carpentry shed, Worthington learns to see his own tragedy as a spiritual death that offers the prospect of resurrection.

While some may be uncomfortable with the fact that both the Father and the Holy Spirit manifest themselves to the protagonist as women, given that they would be free to do so in whatever guise they chose, this is no real objection, all the more so since Spencer eventually morphs, when it seems advisable, into a paternal Graham Greene.

The narrative’s brief descent from nondenominationalism into outright indifferentism and its suggestion that religion is “too much work” are more substantial defects. While Mack has much to forgive, moreover, he has a shocking crime in his own background that the movie seems to excuse too easily.

Beautiful settings and a sense of humor help to keep the somewhat overlong proceedings from bogging down in sentimentality. But the script, penned by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Cretton, takes on too many weighty subjects, from the suffering of innocents to the need for forgiveness, to treat any one of them in a fully satisfying way.

Still, on the whole, this is an intriguing endeavor to accomplish the same goal British poet John Milton set himself in writing his masterpiece, “Paradise Lost,” namely,” to justify the ways of God to men.”

The film contains scenes of domestic violence and mature themes requiring careful discernment. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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The end is the beginning in ‘Before I Fall’

March 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Sound values underlie the conversion story “Before I Fall.” But the path toward its positive conclusion takes twists and turns that will give the parents of targeted teens pause in considering whether their kids should travel it.

Logan Miller and Zoey Deutch star in a scene from the movie "Before I Fall." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Open Road)

Logan Miller and Zoey Deutch star in a scene from the movie “Before I Fall.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Open Road)

Early on in the film, its main character, seemingly successful high school student Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), is killed in a car crash. But instead of this being the end of her tale, it turns out to be just the beginning.

Samantha awakens again on the morning of her last day on earth, a period of time, she soon discovers, that she will be forced to relive over and over until she discerns what she needs to change about her life to escape the cycle. The relationships she has to re-evaluate include those with her trio of closest pals, Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahirri).

Additionally, she’ll need to re-examine her bond with her shallow boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley), her treatment of Kent (Logan Miller), the less glamorous but more caring lad who has loved her from afar since childhood, and her persecution of troubled schoolmate Juliet (Elena Kampouris) whom Samantha and her clique relentlessly torment.

Symptomatic of the problem with director Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel for young adults is Samantha’s attitude toward romance and sexuality. This is another area in which her values take a posthumous turn for the better. Yet her starting point on this journey finds her besties celebrating the fact that she is about to lose her virginity, and presenting her with a condom for the occasion.

Together with some of the language in Maria Maggenti’s script, such behavior makes “Before I Fall” a risky proposition for any but grownups.

The time loop conceit inevitably invites comparison with the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day.” For Catholic moviegoers, at least, Samantha’s experience also can be viewed from a theological perspective as representing a sort of purgatory through which she must pass.

The fact that she not only sees through the illusions that have blinded her in the past but reaches a high level of compassion and altruism fittingly fulfills the goal of that cleansing state. So it’s a shame that other aspects of the movie preclude endorsement for the young people at whom “Before I Fall” is clearly aimed.

The film contains semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial nudity, underage drinking, a single use each of profanity and rough language, a mild oath, frequent crude talk and mature references, including to homosexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Get Out’ — Guess who’s coming to frighten you

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Catholic News Service

Is the thriller “Get Out” as good as all get out? Well, not exactly.

Clever social commentary from writer-director Jordan Peele does add heft to the proceedings. But late scenes featuring some gory encounters, together with swearing throughout, make his film a rugged ride even for grown-ups.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams star in a scene from the movie "Get Out."  (CNS/Universal)

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams star in a scene from the movie “Get Out.” (CNS/Universal)

In a setup reminiscent of 1967’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” young black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), is about to meet his white live-in girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents — Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) Armitage — for the first time.

In lieu of the earlier movie’s titular meal, the occasion for Chris’ introduction to the family is to be a weekend visit to the Armitages’tony estate in the country.

While Chris is prepared for the initial awkwardness Missy and Dean display as they go out of their way to show they’re not bigots, less predictable developments leave him increasingly unsettled. There’s Rose’s weirdly aggressive brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), for instance, who seems to be spoiling for a martial-arts smackdown with Chris.

Then, too, there’s the Armitages’ strangely subdued, zombie-like household staff: maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and gardener Walter (Marcus Henderson). In fact, Chris is disturbed by the behavior of pretty much everyone he meets during his stay, on both sides of the racial divide.

As things turn ever more sinister, Peele adeptly uses horror tropes to comment on slavery, racism and liberal pieties. The plot’s denouement, however, comes dipped in a needless amount of blood.

This wrap-up is also clearly designed to incite the audience to cheer as an array of villains meet satisfyingly grisly ends. It’s ironic and unfortunate that a picture aimed at satirizing one negative aspect of human nature should eventually appeal to another.

The film contains some harsh and bloody violence, cohabitation, at least one use of profanity 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.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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The 10 best movies and family films of 2016 from Catholic News Service

February 20th, 2017 Posted in Featured, Movies Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

The quality of the best Hollywood films was higher in 2016 than in some recent years. But the outstanding movies of the 12 months just past tended to deal with challenging subject matter. Assassination, the exactions of combat, even religious repression enforced through torture were all dealt with in a skillful way, but also in a manner not likely to appeal to the casual moviegoer. Read more »

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Pointless exercise: ‘A Cure for Wellness’

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Catholic News Service

The Swiss spa that serves as the primary setting for the creepy, but otherwise pointless horror exercise “A Cure for Wellness” operates, it seems, on the Hotel California plan.

Dane DeHaan stars in a scene from the movie "A Cure for Wellness." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Fox)

Dane DeHaan stars in a scene from the movie “A Cure for Wellness.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Fox)

As fans of the Eagles’ 1977 hit will recall, that means, “you can check out anytime you like; but you can never leave.”

The audience may pick up on this unusual policy well before the film’s protagonist, a junior Wall Street business executive the dialogue identifies only by his last name, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), ever does.

Callous young Lockhart has been dispatched to the Alps to convince a higher-ranking colleague called Pembroke (Harry Groener) to break his recently announced resolution to make his stay at the resort permanent. There’s a big merger in the works, and his fellow board members need Pembroke to sign off on it.

Corrupt machinations add urgency to Lockhart’s mission since Pembroke is to be made the fall guy for Lockhart’s own misdeeds in the lead up to the pending deal. Rare is the capitalist who comes off well in a Hollywood movie these days.

Despite the soothing manner of the facility’s director, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart eventually discovers that something is profoundly amiss, and his own chances of ever departing the place are remote.

Working from a script by Justin Haythe, director Gore Verbinski effectively conjures up a sinister atmosphere. But the subtlety with which he initially unsettles viewers is lost as he attempts to ratchet up the tension, in part by subjecting Lockhart to the kind of unpleasant hallucinations the Haight-Ashbury set used to term a bad trip.

Some of these delusions take place in a large complex of steam baths where people for whom the virtue of modesty would be a wise choice wander around in the altogether. The resulting imagery is more reminiscent of the work of British painter Lucien Freud than anything Hugh Hefner ever had in mind.

The mildly unnerving gives way to the gothic as a backstory about the evil nobleman who once owned the land on which the spa stands takes on increased significance. From there, the proceedings become downright lurid via plot developments involving Volmer’s daughter, Hannah (Mia Goth).

By this stage, many moviegoers will wonder why they’ve subjected themselves to this ultimately hellish journey in the first place. In fact, as its logically unsatisfying wrap-up approaches, “A Cure for Wellness” hovers on the border of the offensive. In the judgment of some at least, it may cross that line, despite the relatively respectable overall intentions of its creators.

Either way, why be a prisoner of your own device?

The film contains some gory violence, a scene of torture, strong sexual content including a graphic incestuous assault and masturbation, much nudity in a nonsexual context, 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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Weekend flick? ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ an animated treat

February 10th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

In 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff “The Lego Batman Movie,” Arnett’s character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage. Read more »

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Damonds are still a girl’s best friend in ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

February 10th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

To beat or not to beat, that is the question in the sordid sequel “Fifty Shades Darker.” Sensible people won’t care a whip, er, a whit what the answer is.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in a scene from the movie "50 Shades Darker." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Universal)

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in a scene from the movie “50 Shades Darker.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Universal)

Extending a franchise whose appeal seems to be that it offers armchair submissives the erotic equivalent of ordering Fra Diavolo sauce in an Italian restaurant, director James Foley pads out his adaptation of E.L. James’ novel, the second in a trilogy, heaven help us, with nonsexual scenes that range from the boring to the ridiculous. So anyone with a higher interest than mere prurience will be disappointed.

Yearning to revive his relationship with book editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who doesn’t share his interest in dungeon doings, sadist Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) struggles to control his urges. Whether Mr. Kinky Boots can kick the habit is one of the least compelling questions imaginable, however, and so the mind wanders to other matters.

Is it not pretentious for anyone unrelated to the Romanovs to bear the weighty name Anastasia? Why, in this film’s version of the Emerald City, does it only rain when our heroine is depressed? What would Henry James make of E.L.?

The sketchy plot is founded on a dubious backstory. Christian, we are led to believe, acquired his disordered tastes from a combination of childhood physical abuse and the later tutelage of his adoptive mother Grace’s (Marcia Gay Harden) friend, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), whom Christian nicknames Mrs. Robinson. Koo-koo-ka-choo.

We will leave it to the professionals to explain how plausible it is that Christian has switched sides in the bondage game, going from taking punishment at Elena’s hands to dishing it out to a succession of partners. Equally puzzling is the idea that being mistreated by a man early in life would inspire a mania for walloping women. But there it is.

As for Anastasia, presumably in order to keep things frisky, she occasionally takes a walk on the wild side. But the next minute, she’s back to freaking out over Christian’s 31-flavors approach to bedroom behavior.

To give the movie its due, the central duo does move toward acquiring outward respectability and lending permanence to their bond. So, if there’s a moral to be drawn from Anastasia’s saga, perhaps it’s this: A smack on the butt may be quite continental, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend.

The film contains excessive sexual content, including aberrant acts, graphic activity and much nudity, several uses of profanity and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. restricted.  

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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