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‘The Promise’ melds love story with historical tragedy

April 21st, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The relatively little-known genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turks 100 years ago is brought into sharp focus by “The Promise.”

Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale star in a scene from the movie "The Promise." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale star in a scene from the movie “The Promise.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Taking his cue from epics like “Doctor Zhivago,” director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Robin Swicord, melds an important history lesson with a tender love story. Viewers will emerge with newfound knowledge of the enormity of the holocaust (1.5 million people killed between 1915 and 1922) while appreciating its profound impact on individuals and families.

The story begins in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in 1914. World War I is on the horizon, and the formerly mighty Ottoman Empire, which once controlled vast areas of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, is crumbling.

Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an idealistic medical student from a small Armenian village in southern Turkey, is entranced by the cosmopolitan city, and especially by Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a vivacious artist and fellow Armenian.

Never mind that Michael has made a promise of marriage to Maral (Angela Sarafyan), who awaits him back home. Nor that Ana is seeing firebrand American journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), who’s in Turkey to document the war.

Michael and Ana fall in love. But their plans for the future are spoiled when Turkey joins the war on the German side, and decides to embark on a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Up to this point, Muslim Turks and Armenian Christians have long lived together in relative harmony. All that changes, surreptitiously at first, as Turkish soldiers force Armenians from their homes. Most are shot outright; some are marched into the desert to prison labor camps.

As Armenians, Michael and Ana are targeted. Chris attempts to report on the killings and inform the world, but is arrested.

“The Promise” follows the travails of each character as the slaughter intensifies. Chris’ plight attracts the attention of the real-life American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau (James Cromwell), who sounds the alarm.

Remarkable courage, perseverance and their unwavering Christian faith sustain the victims against all odds. “Our revenge will be to survive,” Ana tells Michael.

Despite the warnings below, given its potential to raise awareness of a historical tragedy, one that the Turkish government, to this day, has never acknowledged , “The Promise” is probably acceptable for mature adolescents.

The film contains scenes of wartime atrocities and violence, a nongraphic, nonmarital sexual encounter and brief crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Saban’s Power Rangers’ in bad taste despite Krispy Kremes

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — A Saturday morning children’s show gets its third big-screen treatment with “Saban’s Power Rangers.”

Regrettably, unlike the two previous films in the franchise, this latest incarnation of the popular 1990s program (then called “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”) is more suitable for late night TV, because of a preponderance of crass humor, off-color language and inappropriate sexual references.

Ludi Lin, Becky G, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler star in a scene from the movie "Saban's Power Rangers." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.  (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Ludi Lin, Becky G, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler star in a scene from the movie “Saban’s Power Rangers.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Such vulgar updating of a relatively wholesome (if somewhat cheesy) concept is baffling, unless director Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”) and no fewer than five screenwriters were charged with a command to be relevant. That would also explain, in part, why one of the five teen superheroes, Trini (Becky G), aka the Yellow Ranger, is now gay. The subject of Trini’s homosexuality is confined to a single acknowledgement that she prefers girls over boys; she does not act out her inclination.

The bare-bones of the original series, a Japanese invention adapted for American audiences by Saban Entertainment, remain. Five high school students meet in after-school detention, each there for a different reason.

Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is the football star who fell from grace, wrecking several automobiles in the process. He has eyes for comely rebel Kimberly (Naomi Scott), recently cast out of her popular clique at school. Resident nerd Billy (RJ Cyler) is brilliant but often bullied. Zack (Ludi Lin) is a cool dude cast from the James Dean mold. And Trini is a moody loner who throws a mean left hook.

The quintet meets outside class by chance at an abandoned gold mine. There they discover five shiny coins, each a different color. This is no spare change, as the trinkets emit otherworldly powers which begin to transform our teens, a la Spider-Man, into superheroes.

Digging deeper into the mine, they discover an alien spacecraft and with it, their destiny. The disembodied deity Zordon (voice of Bryan Cranston) and his robot sidekick, Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader), have been waiting eons for our teens to take up the mantle of defenders of good over evil, in other words, become the Power Rangers.

So, our ragtag bunch undergoes extensive Ninja-like training to learn how to morph into their armor-clad alter egos, each a distinctive color: red (Jason), pink (Kimberly), blue (Billy), yellow (Trini) and black (Zack).

Their reinvention comes not a moment too soon. Zordon’s ancient nemesis, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), has been revived and is hell-bent on world domination. She has a particular penchant for gold, rampaging countless mall jewelry stores to build a colossal monster that will locate the all-powerful “zeo-crystal.”

If this sounds silly and mindless, it is, and had the film taken a different tack it would have been escapist fun for all ages.

In the end, not even the amusing gag of locating of the zeo-crystal beneath the local branch of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, also an extreme example of product placement, can make up for the film’s excess of bad taste.

The film contains much crude humor, rough language, sexual innuendo and references to homosexuality and masturbation. 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.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Beauty (‘must-see film intended for children’) and the Beast’ (‘agenda at odds with Christian values’)

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Catholic News Service

Disney’s live-action adaptation of its beloved 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” arrives in theaters amid controversy over the updating of one of its characters into an openly gay man.

Emma Watson stars in a scene from the movie "Beauty and the Beast." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. . (CNS photo/Disney)

Emma Watson stars in a scene from the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. . (CNS photo/Disney)

The decision of the studio, director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”), and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos to reimagine LeFou (Josh Gad), sidekick of the villainous Gaston (Luke Evans), as Disney’s so-called “first gay character” is a regrettable one. A cherished family film has, in essence, been appropriated for an underlying agenda that is firmly at odds with Christian values.

Parents will have a hard time explaining to their kids, as most know the cartoon by heart, why LeFou has jumped on the homosexual bandwagon. His amorous advances to Gaston, proud display of a bite mark from Gaston on his stomach (due to “wrestling”), and ultimate dance in the arms of another man will raise eyebrows, to say the least.

Admittedly, many grown moviegoers will take LeFou’s transformation in stride. “Beauty and the Beast,” however, is a must-see film intended for children. Given the clear intent to make a statement with the character in question, the restrictive classification assigned below is a caution for viewers of faith, especially parents.

The pall cast over “Beauty and the Beast” is unfortunate, as the film is largely an imaginative and engaging work with an arresting visual style. An old-fashioned Hollywood musical at heart, it brims with familiar songs by Alan Menken and whirling dance sequences worthy of Busby Berkeley.

Like the cartoon, this film is loosely based on the 1740 fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The eponymous lovely, Belle (Emma Watson), is a spirited maiden in a French village who longs for excitement.

“I want adventure in the great-wide somewhere,” she warbles. “I want so much more than they’ve got planned!”

Be careful what you wish for, dearie. No sooner does she spurn the advances of the vain hunter Gaston than Belle winds up imprisoned in a haunted castle, having swapped places with her kidnapped father, Maurice (Kevin Kline).

Enter said Beast (Dan Stevens), aka The Prince. We learn in an extended prologue that this handsome royal was transferred into a horned (but infinitely more dapper) version of Chewbacca from the “Star Wars” franchise by Agathe (Hattie Morahan), an enchantress, as punishment for his selfishness.

Agathe’s curse extended to The Prince’s staff, who became not furry creatures but household objects. These exceedingly loquacious items include Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a stuffy mantel clock; Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), a dancing candelabra; Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), a motherly teapot, and her cup of a son, Chip (Nathan Mack); and musical duo Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), a harspichord, and Garderobe (Audra McDonald), a wardrobe.

Only if Beauty grows to love the Beast will the spell be broken, which seems a very long shot for this odd couple. A courtship ensues, with a lesson on looking beyond outward appearances for true love, until a vengeful Gaston raises an angry mob to kill the Beast, casting doubt on a happy ending.

Even in the absence of the hot-button issue already discussed, young children might be frightened by several dark moments in the movie, including attacks by wolves and Gaston’s violent assault on the Beast’s castle.

The film contains a few scenes of peril and action violence, a benign view of homosexual activity, and some sexual innuendo. 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.

 

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‘Rock Dog’ — Sheep, dogs and rock ‘n’ roll

February 27th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” Elvis Presley crooned six decades ago. That pretty well describes “Rock Dog,” a feeble animated comedy about a canine with unlikely musical aspirations.

On Snow Mountain, high in the Himalayas, a Tibetan Mastiff named Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson) is stuck in the shadow of his stern father, Khampa (voice of J.K. Simmons). Their two-dog mission is to guard the village from marauding wolves eager to eat the resident sheep population.

Animated characters Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson and Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Lzzard, star in a scene from the movie "Rock Dog." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Animated characters Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson and Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Lzzard, star in a scene from the movie “Rock Dog.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Bodi prefers playing his guitar to sentry duty. When a passing airplane drops a radio from the sky, it’s like manna from heaven. Turning the dial to a rock ‘n’ roll station (reception is remarkably clear), Bodi is entranced by the music of legendary rock-and-roller Angus Scattergood (voice of Eddie Izzard).

The village elder, fittingly named Fleetwood Yak (voice of Sam Elliott), convinces Khampa to let his son leave the village and seek his destiny in the big city.

“It’s your life. Make it a happy one,” Fleetwood tells Bodi.

So Bodi hops the bus (mass transit is also surprisingly good), lands in the nearby metropolis, filled with anthropomorphic species, and seeks out Angus’ heavily guarded compound.

The aging rocker, a hipster cat with a British accent and a sassy robot butler named Ozzie, invites the awestruck fan into his lair, but his motives are not sincere. Angus needs a new hit, and Bodi’s fresh talent might be just the ticket.

Meanwhile, the big bad wolf pack, led by Linnux (voice of Lewis Black), is inspired by Bodi’s departure to mount a final assault on Snow Mountain. Sporting gangster attire and driving stretch limos, these cool dudes have one goal in mind: feasting on grilled lamb chops.

Director and co-writer (with Kurt Voelker) Ash Bannon keeps the story moving while borrowing heavily from other animated films, including “Zootopia” and “WALL-E.”

Despite the dangers characters occasionally face and Angus’ mildly intemperate language (he says things like “stupid bloody idiot!”), “Rock Dog” is mindless fare acceptable for all. except possibly the most easily frightened.

The film contains a few scenes of peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘The Resurrection of Gavin Stone’

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Catholic News Service

The parable of the prodigal son gets a soapy Hollywood treatment in “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” a faith-based comedy-drama.

The eponymous character (Brett Dalton) is a washed-up former child star whose bad-boy antics land him in big trouble during a visit to his hometown in Illinois. Sentenced to perform 200 hours of community service and unable to leave the state, Gavin reluctantly moves back in with his estranged father, Waylon (Neil Flynn), a carpenter (hint, hint).

Gavin’s community service is at an evangelical Christian megachurch run by Pastor Allen Richardson (D.B. Sweeney). “We really do believe in second chances here,” the pastor says.

Naturally, Gavin is a fish out of water and unused to cleaning bathrooms.

Fortunately, there is an outlet for his creative energy. The church is rehearsing a Passion play for Easter, and the ragtag group of volunteer actors could use some inspiration.

The production’s comely director, Kelly Richardson (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who happens to be the pastor’s daughter, is suspicious of the flashy newcomer. All actors must be professed Christians, so Gavin pretends he is saved.

“I’ve had the passion of the Christ for a couple of years now,” Gavin quips.

Before you can say “Alleluia!” Gavin is cast in the lead as Jesus, sheds his narcissism, and begins to see the light, as per the film’s title.

Dallas Jenkins directs with sincerity from a predictable but non-preachy script by Andrea Gyerston Nasfell that offers lessons in forgiveness and redemption suitable for all ages.

The film contains a nongraphic portrayal of the Crucifixion. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Sleepless’ is awash in blood and silliness

By

Catholic News Service

There’s little chance of catching a quick nap during “Sleepless,” a noisy, vulgar, and highly violent police drama.

Michelle Monaghan and Jamie Foxx star in a scene from the movie "Sleepless." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Open Road Films)

Michelle Monaghan and Jamie Foxx star in a scene from the movie “Sleepless.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Open Road Films)

Based on the 2011 French film “Nuit Blanche” (“Sleepless Night”), this tense thriller, directed by Baran bo Odar, involves a complex game of cat-and-mouse between law enforcement and drug dealers on the mean streets of Las Vegas.

“This city is crawling with dirty cops,” declares Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), an internal affairs investigator for Sin City’s police department. Badly beaten while trying to break up a narcotics ring, she suspects her fellow officers were behind the attack.

The dirtiest cops may be Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) and his partner, Sean Cass (rapper T.I.). Both are dealing cocaine on the side, supplying Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), a smarmy casino owner, as well as the local drug lord, Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy).

When a delivery goes awry, Novak’s henchmen are killed, and Cass runs off with the cocaine, Rubino plots his revenge. He kidnaps Downs’ son, Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson), and holds him hostage until Downs can deliver the goods.

Despite being stabbed in the chest, Downs races against the clock (and fends off sleep) to retrieve the drugs and rescue his son, all the while pursued by Bryant and her partner, Doug Dennison (David Harbour).

Added to the mix is Downs’ ex-wife (and Thomas’ mom) Dena (Gabrielle Union), an emergency room nurse who just happens to be handy with a pistol.

Andrea Berloff’s script, awash in blood (and silliness), tries to keep viewers guessing until the very end as loyalties shift and true identities are revealed. The last-minute message that crime doesn’t pay barely retrieves this gritty vigil from being ruled out for all.

The film contains relentless graphic violence, including gunplay and torture, and pervasive crude and profane 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.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘La La Land’ dreams big in Hollywood

January 5th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Though it’s set in present-day Los Angeles, the comedy-drama “La La Land” takes a spirited stab at reviving the musicals of Hollywood’s golden age.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in a scene from the movie "La La Land." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in a scene from the movie “La La Land.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Writer-director Damien Chazelle dreams big in this over-the-top fantasy where drivers exit their cars on a freeway overpass and burst into song, and lovers float in the air amid the projected stars in a planetarium.

Beautifully shot in CinemaScope, “La La Land” is a unique and self-indulgent film, to say the least. But it tends to lose its way when song and dance take over. Fortunately, that’s largely made up for by Chazelle’s engaging script, a cast of first-rate actors, and superb jazz music.

In the city where dreams are manufactured, two star-crossed lovers meet: Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist. Each is driven toward a singular goal. Mia wants to be a movie star, while Sebastian hopes to open his own club.

Their gooey romance bubbles over into a series of numbers worthy of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. In this context, the corny dialogue is utterly appropriate, even charming:

“It’s pretty strange that we keep running into each other,” Mia tells Sebastian.

“Maybe it means something,” he replies.

And how!

Needless to say, the path to success is rocky, and perseverance is sorely tested. Mia suffers one humiliating audition after another. Sebastian, broke, joins a rock band led by his newfound friend Keith (John Legend), and heads out on the road, sacrificing his craft for a paycheck.

Separation frays the relationship, and conflict ensues. As the music swells and Mia warbles tunes like “The Fools Who Dream,” the power of love to conquer all seems momentarily in doubt.

The film contains an implied premarital relationship, rough terms and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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No mistaking the entertainment value of ‘Moana’

November 23rd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The same tropical setting that provided the backdrop for the 1949 musical “South Pacific” now lends its exotic flavor to the animated feature “Moana.”

Characters are shown in a scene from the animated movie "Moana." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

Characters are shown in a scene from the animated movie “Moana.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

As for the feminism-friendly story of the movie’s eponymous heroine, well, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovelorn Seabees so famously declared, “There is nothing like a dame.”

The spunky heroine of Disney’s 56th animated film is a 16-year-old Polynesian princess (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) who seeks not a boyfriend but a grand adventure on the high seas, all to save her world from destruction.

There’s no mistaking the entertainment value of “Moana,” gloriously rendered in 3-D, with a delightful array of characters and toe-tapping songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Broadway’s “Hamilton.” The film also offers good lessons about family, friendship and the need to be responsible.

But Christian parents may be concerned to find that Jared Bush’s screenplay is steeped in indigenous mythology. “Moana” presents a view of creation at odds with the biblical account, and could confuse impressionable minds. Well-catechized teens, however, will likely slough these elements off as mere fantasy.

As “Moana” tells it, in the beginning was not God but a comely goddess named Te Fiti, who commanded the oceans and brought life to the world.

Te Fiti was joined by a demigod (half -god, half-human) named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson). Maui had a nifty talent of pulling islands up from the sea with his trusty fishhook. But he was greedy, and stole the magical “heart” of Te Fiti. Darkness covered the world, and Maui was banished.

Fast-forward several centuries to the tranquil island of the so-called “Chosen One,” Moana. Since her name means “ocean,” it’s no wonder that Moana is drawn to the open waters beyond her island’s protective reef, despite the warnings of her father, Chief Tui.

“No one goes beyond the reef,” he says. “It keeps us safe.”

But the ocean has a mind of its own, and — in a manner strikingly similar to the animated column of water in 1989’s “The Abyss” — the sea pokes and prods Moana into seeking her destiny. Her quest is to locate Maui, transport him across the sea (demigods don’t swim), and restore Te Fiti’s heart before the encroaching darkness reaches Moana’s island.

Maui is more surfer dude than classical Greek god. He’s also accustomed to adulation, not the commands of a teenager. The tattoos covering his ample girth spring to life, acting either as a voice of approval or an admonishing, Jiminy Cricket-like conscience.

Throw into the mix Moana’s pet, a dimwitted rooster named Heihei (voice of Alan Tudyk), and you have the recipe for a chaotic but amusing journey across the sea.

With previous helming credits like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker represent the aristocracy of Disney animation. Yet “Moana” does feel derivative at times, with echoes of previous films. And storm sequences as well as creature battles may be too intense for younger viewers.

The film contains nonscriptural religious ideas, mildly scary action sequences and occasional bathroom 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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‘Hacksaw Ridge’ depicts ‘no greater love’ heroism

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Catholic News Service

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

That statement is vividly realized in “Hacksaw Ridge,” which recounts the extraordinary heroism of Army medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) during the Battle of Okinawa in the closing days of World War II.

Andrew Garfield stars in a scene from the movie "Hacksaw Ridge." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. T (CNS photo/Cross Creek Pictures)

Andrew Garfield stars in a scene from the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. T (CNS photo/Cross Creek Pictures)

A committed Christian and conscientious objector who refused to bear arms, Doss was nonetheless eager to serve his country. He single-handedly saved the lives of more than 75 wounded soldiers while under constant enemy fire, earning him the Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress.

Director Mel Gibson, working from a screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, presents his fact-based drama in two parts. The first probes Doss’ childhood and upbringing in rural Virginia, while the second unfolds on Okinawa, atop a jagged cliff nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge” for the brutality of the Japanese offensive there.

War is indeed hell, as Gibson pulls no punches in extreme battle scenes reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan.” Awash in blood and gore, with heads blown off and soldiers set afire by napalm, the violence is no doubt realistic, but will necessarily restrict this film’s audience to those adults willing to endure such sights.

We first meet Desmond as a spirited boy (Darcy Bryce) who is losing a fistfight with his older brother, Hal (Roman Guerriero). Desmond picks up a brick and strikes Hal, knocking him out cold.

Recoiling in horror, the boy fears he has killed his sibling (shades of Cain and Abel). He hasn’t, but the incident shakes him to the core, and inspires his steadfast pacifism.

“To take another man’s life is the greatest sin of all,” his kindly mother, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), reminds her son, citing their beliefs as Seventh-day Adventists.

Fast forward 15 years, and both sons have enlisted, to the dismay of their abusive father, Tom (Hugo Weaving). A veteran of World War I, he knows firsthand the horror and futility of war.

But Desmond is keen to play his part, despite the misgivings of his fiancee, local nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). “While others are taking life, I will be saving it,” he reassures her.

Needless to say, Desmond faces ridicule and beatings by his fellow recruits at boot camp, who regard him as a freak and coward. The platoon’s leader, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn), and the company’s commander, Capt. Glover (Sam Worthington), make his life miserable, and lobby for his discharge.

But Doss holds firm, calling himself a “conscientious cooperator.” A military court rules that he may serve as a medic, and not bear arms.

Once on Okinawa, Doss proves his mettle and earns the respect of his platoon as he runs back and forth on the battlefield to remove the wounded. His nearly superhuman actions would seem farfetched were they not true.

As might be expected with Gibson at the helm, “Hacksaw Ridge” does not sideline Doss’ religious convictions, which are integral to his story and his performance on Okinawa. With Dorothy’s Bible in his breast pocket, Desmond utters the cry, “Please God, let me get one more,” as he repeatedly plunges back into the abyss.

References to baptism and the resurrection give “Hacksaw Ridge” a transcendent, messianic quality that draws comparison with Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” As did that film, “Hacksaw Ridge” uses the pain and bloodletting it portrays to inspire viewers with a redeeming Christian message.

The film contains graphic war violence with much gore, brief rear male nudity, a scene of marital sensuality and considerable profane 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.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘When the Bough Breaks’

September 12th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

If you recall the familiar nursery lullaby, you’ll know that “When the Bough Breaks” foretells doom for both cradle and baby.

Morris Chesnut and Regina Hall star in a scene from the movie "When the Bough Breaks." The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. (CNS photo/Sony)

Morris Chesnut and Regina Hall star in a scene from the movie “When the Bough Breaks.” The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. (CNS photo/Sony)

So it comes as no surprise that this lurid thriller about the desperate measures prospective parents take to start a family is, in the end, a cautionary tale about misplaced morality.

The Taylors are an attractive professional couple. Laura (Regina Hall) is an acclaimed chef, and husband John (Morris Chestnut) a hotshot attorney.

The only thing missing in their apparent domestic bliss is a child. Laura has suffered multiple miscarriages. In vitro fertilization has not worked.

Mindful of John’s callous warning that “We’re down to our last viable embryo,” the Taylors go shopping for a surrogate.

They find one in the comely Anna (Jaz Sinclair). Her wide-eyed innocence and altruism in eagerly offering her body seem too good to be true.

They are. A background check of Anna would have revealed a sordid, violent past. And her psychotic fiance, Mike (Theo Rossi), wants Anna to keep the baby to extort more cash from the Taylors.

Over the course of nine months, Anna herself becomes increasingly deranged. Her obsession with John grows ever larger along with her baby bump.

It’s not hard to see where this leads, as director Jon Cassar and screenwriter Jack Olsen borrow heavily from thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” (1987) and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (1992).

Predictability aside, “When the Bough Breaks” falls flat in its fundamental premise: that in vitro fertilization, and the surrogacy option, are normal, natural choices. On the contrary, the Catholic Church teaches that IVF is gravely immoral, particularly as the process requires the test-tube creation of multiple human embryos, most of which do not survive.

It’s this cavalier attitude toward the destruction of innocent human life, along with Anna’s expressed acceptance of abortion, which places the film firmly out of bounds for viewers of faith.

The film contains a benign attitude toward abortion and immoral methods of conception such as in vitro fertilization, domestic violence, mild gore, partial nudity, and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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