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‘Only the Brave’ — Searing look at wildland firefighters

October 17th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The heartbreaking true story of an elite Arizona firefighting team comes to the big screen in “Only the Brave.”  

In 2013, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, as the group was known, risked their lives and raced into a raging inferno to save a neighboring town from destruction. Given more recent fire calamities, their striking example of heroism, brotherhood and self-sacrifice is both timely and inspiring.

Josh Brolin stars in a scene from the movie “Only the Brave.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III , adults. (CNS photo/Columbia)

Only the country’s top wildland firefighters earn the designation “hotshots.” These squads, the Navy SEALs of firefighting, are deployed across the country, wherever the need is most extreme.

In Prescott, Arizona, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) has dreamed for years of earning hotshot status for his 20-member crew. With Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale) as his right-hand man, Marsh has honed them into a well-oiled firefighting machine.

The diverse bunch includes Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), a ladies’ man and prankster, and Clayton Whitted (Scott Haze), a youth minister who keeps his Bible handy. Most are young, newly married, and have children, which injects additional drama and poignancy into the saga. Marsh’s wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), epitomizes the lonely existence of the spouses, constantly anxious for their husbands’ safety.

“It’s not easy sharing your man with a fire,” says Marvel Steinbrink (Andie MacDowell), wife of Duane (Jeff Bridges), the local fire chief.

During a recruitment drive, an unlikely candidate appears: Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller). He has led a dissolute life of drugs and crime and, after a one-night stand, is now a father.

This has turned out to be a major wake-up call. Before long, McDonough is running drills with Marsh’s crew, learning to clear brush, dig trenches, and create controlled burns, which contain a fire by taking away its source of fuel.

When all else fails, the men crawl inside makeshift shelters, large reflective bags which they hope let the fire pass safely over them. “It’s gonna feel like the end of the world,” Marsh warns. “As long as you can breathe, you can survive.”

In adapting a magazine article by Sean Flynn, director Joseph Kosinski deftly juggles the intimate stories of the men’s personal lives with grand set pieces which evoke the sheer terror and destructive force of the flames they battle. Although the ending is well known, its impact is no less profound on screen. So the movie’s tagline, “It’s not what stands in front of you. It’s who stands beside you,” feels well earned.

The film contains scenes of extreme peril, mature themes, drug use, brief rear male nudity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, profanity and crude language, some sexual banter and obscene gestures. 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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‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ is no comic book

By

Catholic News Service

Fans of the comic book superheroine Wonder Woman (and of the recent film) are advised to steer well clear of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.”

Bella Heathcote stars in a scene from the movie “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. .(CNS photo/Annapurna Pictures)

The sheer escapist pleasure of watching the wholesome feminist icon fight for truth and justice is downright spoiled on learning the sordid story of the comic’s creator, William Moulton Marston (1893-1947).

In this case, the truth hurts, and not simply because Marston (Luke Evans) liked to tie women up and paddle them. In addition to sadomasochism, he was a proponent of so-called free love and open marriage. Or, in Hollywood parlance, he was “ahead of his time.”

At Radcliffe College in the late 1920s, the hunky professor teaches behavioral psychology to his eager female students. Marston purports that all human behavior can be traced to the interplay of four emotional states: dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance.

It’s not hard to see where all this will lead. “People are happiest when they submit to a loving authority,” Marston insists.

By his side is his wife and research partner, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). Together they invent a lie detecting machine, which offers multiple opportunities to ask awkward questions (and inspires Wonder Woman’s “lasso of truth”).

Open-minded Elizabeth tolerates her husband’s roving eye. “I’m your wife, not your jailer,” she says.

The door thus opened, in marches one of Marston’s students, the gorgeous Olive (Bella Heathcote), who volunteers as a research assistant. Marston is instantly smitten. But Olive, in a surprising twist, only has eyes for Elizabeth, at least initially.

What ensues is a love triangle devoid of all propriety. The trio moves in together, engages promiscuously and, as the years pass, multiple babies are born.

It’s only a matter of time before neighborhood whispers are confirmed, and Marston is fired. To earn a living (and support all those children), he turns to writing.

“I’m going to inject my ideas right into the thumping heart of America,” Marston boasts.

Viewers will be disappointed to learn that the inspiration for Wonder Woman comes from Marston’s visit to a seedy Manhattan sex shop filled with tight costumes, ropes and cuffs.

Indeed, the early years of the Wonder Woman comic (which began in 1941) raised eyebrows for its extreme violence, bondage episodes and an acceptance of “free love” and homosexual behavior. Amid calls for the comic to be banned, Marston is hauled before a tribunal headed by moral gatekeeper Josette Frank (Connie Britton), director of the Child Study Association of America.

He has some explaining to do, as does writer-director Angela Robinson, who eagerly hoists the banner of relativism, painting a sympathetic picture of the outrageous Marston triad and casting traditional morality to the winds.

So much for being lassoed by the truth.

The film contains a negative view of religion, strong sexual content with nudity, a benign view of aberrant behavior, pornography and birth control, sexual banter, frequent rough language and one profane oath. 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.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Happy Death Day’ is a ‘Groundhog Day’ as murder mystery

By

Catholic News Service

With a name like “Happy Death Day,” a sweet, wholesome story is unlikely to unfold.

You can say that again. 

Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard star in a scene from the movie “Happy Death Day.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Universal)

Rather, “Happy Death Day,” directed by Christopher Landon (“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”) is an uneasy mix of horror and humor, a slasher movie with a message of self-improvement that doesn’t go far enough.

Jessica Rothe plays college student Tree, yes, that’s her real name, who awakens on the morning of her birthday, hung over, in the dorm room of fellow student Carter (Israel Broussard), after an apparent one-night stand.

Disgusted, she storms out and starts her daily routine, which essentially means being obnoxious to all and sundry, including her sorority president Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and put-upon roommate Lori (Ruby Modine).

There’s little time for study, of course, since she’s having an affair with Gregory (Charles Aitken), her married professor. Tree also ignores repeated phone calls from her father, David (Jason Bayle), who is anxious to see her on her birthday.

Ah, but this is no ordinary birthday, for at the end of the day, Tree is stabbed to death by an assailant wearing a baby-faced mask.

Taking a page from 1993’s time-loop fantasy “Groundhog Day,” Tree awakens in Carter’s room with a major case of deja vu, as her birthday, make that “death” day, repeats itself. She will continue to relive the same day, with minor variations, always ending with her murder. 

During one loop, Carter (who, it is revealed, was a perfect gentleman), accepts Tree’s story and encourages her to play detective to uncover the killer’s identity.

Much like Bill Murray’s obnoxious weatherman in “Groundhog Day,” Tree comes to see the error of her selfish ways, and each time loop offers the chance for redemption. She takes Carter’s advice to heart: “It’s never too late to change. Each new day is a chance to be someone better.”

That’s an encouraging message, and Tree’s growth is extraordinary. But Scott Lobdell’s script only goes so far. College-age viewers (and younger) may conclude that anything which makes you happy, even aberrant behavior, is a good thing. It’s not.

The film contains moments of violence and terror, sexual banter, brief rear female nudity, a benign view of drug use, pornography, homosexual acts and masturbation, and some 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 PG-13.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Plane crash sparks love match on ‘The Mountain Between Us’

October 6th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The proverbial call of the wild sounds more like a roar in “The Mountain Between Us,” a trapped-in-the-wilderness survival drama based on the 2011 novel by Charles Martin. Read more »

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‘American Assassin,’ Rhode Island, specifically

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Catholic News Service

The award for the most obvious film title of the year goes to “American Assassin,” an action thriller about, you guessed it, a professional killer from the United States, specifically Rhode Island.

Shiva Negar, Michael Keaton, Neg Adamson and Dylan O’Brien star in a scene from the movie “American Assassin.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/CBS Films and Lionsgate)

This adaptation of the 2010 novel by Vince Flynn opens with a bang and proceeds at a breakneck pace, leaving in its wake a veritable tsunami of bullets, blood and bodies.

It’s a gory revenge fantasy reminiscent of the “Death Wish” films, requiring a strong stomach and extreme patience. But the movie does finally come to its senses, and good triumphs over evil.

The story opens on a happy note before spiraling downhill. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has just proposed to his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega), on a crowded beach in Ibiza. As he strolls off to get celebratory cocktails, gunmen burst onto the sand and open fire, killing just about everyone in sight, including Katrina.

Flash forward two years, and Mitch has transformed himself into a lean, mean, fighting machine, a baby-faced version of Jason Bourne. He is driven by one desire: to avenge Katrina’s death by killing the terrorists responsible. This means learning Arabic, studying the Quran and joining shadowy chat rooms on the internet.

Unbeknown to Mitch, the CIA is watching his every move, and deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) is impressed.

“I like your agenda,” she says. “I know exactly what to do with you.”

And so Mitch is recruited for a new black-ops program to infiltrate Iranian terrorists seeking to unleash nuclear war in the Middle East.

First he must be trained, and that responsibility falls to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a grizzled Cold War veteran. To his credit, Stan tries to temper Mitch’s rage, and the hothead’s belief that “we kill people who need to be killed.”

“We need a higher cause,” Stan counters, discouraging Mitch’s vigilantism. “As soon as it starts feeling good, that’s when you stop being a professional.”

As the Iranian plot unfolds, Batman and Robin, make that Stan and Mitch, join forces with Annika (Shiva Negar), a comely Turkish agent who has her own scores to settle.

Director Michael Cuesta, channeling a Robert Ludlum thriller, keeps the audience guessing and the body count rising as the trio zips across Europe in search of a mysterious ringleader named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who just happens to be an old buddy of Stan’s.

The film contains a vigilante theme, constant bloody violence, including torture and gunplay, brief upper female nudity, several uses 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.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Tulip Fever’ treads clumsily through love and lust

By

Catholic News Service

Horticulture was never as steamy or silly as in “Tulip Fever,” a period drama based on the 1999 novel by Deborah Moggach.

Cara Delevingne stars in a scene from the movie “Tulip Fever.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. . (CNS photo/The Weinstein Company)

Despite a handsome cast, lavish sets and a script by no less than Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”), the film never transcends above a bodice-ripping soap opera, venturing dangerously close to soft-porn territory.

In 17th-century Amsterdam, an orphan named Sophia (Alicia Vikander) lives in a convent run by a crusty old abbess (Judi Dench). The abbess is approached by Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy merchant who seeks a young wife to provide him with a son and heir.

“Love, honor and obey,” the abbess tells Sophia as she heads to the altar.

“The Sound of Music” this is not. Years pass, and despite multiple attempts at conception (all depicted in living color), the union is childless and Sophia is miserable.

But Cornelis is patient, and as a distraction enlists a struggling young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of the supposedly happy couple.

Bad idea. Jan is enchanted by Sophia, who returns his affection, and soon they embark on a torrid affair, unbeknownst to Cornelis.

Meanwhile, below stairs in the Sandvoort household, the saucy maid, Maria (Holliday Grainger), is also in love, make that lust, with the hunky fishmonger, William (Jack O’Connell).

All this randy behavior is set against the frenzied tulip market, think Wall Street, but with flowers, where fortunes are won and lost based on the viability of a single bulb. By chance, William acquires a rare one which may be his ticket out of the fish market. Jan also sees a way to buy his happily-ever-after with Sophia.

If it all sounds confusing and somewhat preposterous, it is, as director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl” juggles multiple story lines including a faked pregnancy. Mercifully, some consciences do prevail in the end and there is welcome redemption.

As the wise abbess, chewing on her clay pipe, growls, “Never underestimate God. He forgets nothing.”

The film contains frequent premarital, marital and adulterous sex scenes, full nudity, and unflattering references to religion. 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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Ballet fans might jump for joy at ‘Leap!’

August 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film “Leap!” Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled “Ballerina,” this French-Canadian movie, produced by L’Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.

Animated characters Felicie, voiced by Elle Fanning, and Victor, voiced by Nat Wolff, appear in the movie “Leap!” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. . (CNS/Weinstein)

Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colorful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.

The plot centers on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.

The buddies plan their getaway. “We arrived at the same time and we’ll escape at the same time,” says Felicie.

Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).

But destiny will not be denied and, with Victor masquerading as a nun, the merry duo absconds. They make their way to City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.

Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris’ famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.

Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette’s mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine’s bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).

Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in

“The Nutcracker.” Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: “Don’t give up on your dreams. If you never leap you’ll never know what it is to fly.”

The film contains brief scatological humor and a less than flattering representation of women religious. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Logan Lucky’ is a zany heist caper

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

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Catholic News Service

Director Steven Soderbergh reinvents his “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy with a backwoods twist in “Logan Lucky, ” a zany heist caper.

Adam Driver, Tom Archdeacon and Alex Ross star in a scene from the movie “Logan Lucky.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS /Fingerprint Releasing, Bleecker Street)

Instead of suave leading men like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who rob casinos with sophistication and flair, Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay presents a band of mismatched misfits from West Virginia who turn to crime in the hope of a better life beyond the trailer park.

The resulting romp is an amusing bit of fluff, a tasty confection that, like cotton candy and other late summer treats, does not linger long in the memory. It’s safest for grownups, but possibly acceptable for mature teens as well.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job as a coal miner. He adores his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his mean ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). With Bobbie Jo planning to relocate out of state, Jimmy is in desperate need of cash to move closer to his daughter.

He concocts a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighboring North Carolina during a NASCAR race. The racetrack sits atop a series of tunnels which Jimmy helped to excavate, and where he observed the elaborate system of pneumatic tubes that funnels cash from the betting windows and concessions above to the vault below.

A bit too eagerly, Jimmy’s siblings hop on board: his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who makes a mean martini, and his sassy sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a beautician.

All that’s needed is a demolition expert to blow a hole in the vault. Enter the aptly named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, straying very far indeed from his James Bond persona). There’s one catch: This lunatic is in prison.

No worries: Jimmy and Clyde arrange to spring Joe for the heist and have him back in his cell before the guards miss him.

“Logan Lucky” rolls merrily along, introducing more oddball characters than you can wave a racing flag at, including Joe Bang’s dimwit born-again brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), and a smarmy race-team owner with the brilliant name of Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane).

As the climax nears, expect a few curve balls, as well as curvaceous FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). She arrives to investigate the so-called “Hillbilly Heist,” which also goes by the code name “Ocean’s 7-11” (wink, wink).

The film contains drug references and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ deploys Christian imagery

July 14th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Monkey business turns deadly serious in “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the climactic installment of the rebooted film franchise based on the work of French science-fiction author Pierre Boulle (1912-1994).

This is a scene from the movie "War for the Planet of the Apes." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Fox)

This is a scene from the movie “War for the Planet of the Apes.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

This grim, violent 3-D movie picks up two years after the events of 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which presaged a great conflict between the super-sentient simians (rendered remarkably lifelike in CGI) and what’s left of the human race after a devastating epidemic.  

Caesar (Andy Serkis), the erudite ape leader, is battle-scarred and weary. He wants nothing more than to lead his people, Moses-like, to a promised land in the desert, far away from the enemy.

“We are not savages,” he insists.

Unfortunately, the ragtag human army has other plans. Its leader, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), is hell-bent on annihilation. With his bald head, crazy eyes, and messianic complex, he’s a dead ringer for another colonel, Kurtz, in “Apocalypse Now.”

When tragedy strikes the apes’ compound, Caesar is transformed, and not for the better. A personal loss fills him with rage and a desire to seek revenge on the Colonel.

Abandoning his flock, Caesar sets out for the heart of darkness, accompanied by Maurice (Karin Konoval), his trusted orangutan adviser, and Rocket (Terry Notary), his right hand.

Along the way they pick up a mute human girl (Amiah Miller), whom they christen “Nova” (after the former Chevrolet automobile), as well as a manic simian called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who provides welcome comic relief.

Director Matt Reeves, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Bomback, earnestly strives for epic status with grandly staged battle scenes, but is a bit heavy-handed when it comes to religious imagery. In fact, a better title for this film would be “The Passion of the Apes,” especially as Caesar is scourged and hung on a St. Andrew cross while his fellow apes are tortured or killed.

However, the spiritual messages are decidedly mixed, even troubling. While the apes espouse winning Christian values of peace, love, and family, there’s a subtle anti-Christian message in the evil Colonel, who wears a cross around his neck, displays one in his quarters, and gleefully announces that he is waging a “holy war.”

The film contains frequent stylized violence, two uses of profanity, and a subtle anti-Christian message. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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A third new paint job for ‘Cars 3’

June 14th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Fasten your seatbelts and start your engines for a wild (and often ear-splitting) ride in “Cars 3,” the latest installment of the family-friendly animated franchise.

Six years after the initial sequel and 11 since the series began with “Cars,” the anthropomorphic autos are back with a vengeance. Director Brian Fee ramps up the racing action (and the roar of the engines) while introducing a fleet of new characters sure to please young viewers, not to mention toy manufacturers.

This is a scene from the movie "Cars 3." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage.  (CNS /Disney)

This is a scene from the movie “Cars 3.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. (CNS /Disney)

Happily, there’s much more than the dizzying blur of NASCAR-like action. Screenwriters Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich inject a nice amount of heart and pathos into the comedic plot, and add winning messages about second chances and the value of mentoring.

The years have been kind to ace racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson). He’s still at the top of his game. But just over his shoulder is a new generation of faster vehicles, like the brash rookie Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer).

“Enjoy your retirement,” Jackson tells Lightning as he whizzes past.

In a flash, Lightning is sidelined by an accident. Disillusioned and depressed, he retreats to his adopted home of Radiator Springs. There he draws on the support of his loyal tow-truck sidekick, Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and comely Porsche sweetheart, Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt).

Sally knows Lightning must look to the future. “Don’t fear failure,” she insists. “Take a chance. Try something new.”

A spiffy fresh paint job by Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin) helps. “It’s so beautiful,” Ramone says of his own work, “it’s like the Sistine Chapel!”

With his spirits buoyed, Lightning heads to the training center run by his sponsor, Rust-Eze, and its new owner, the “businesscar” Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion). His eager young coach, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), is thrilled with her new, if elderly, charge.

“You’re my senior project!” she gushes.

As the bond between veteran racer and rookie wannabe grows, Lightning recalls the wisdom of his dearly departed mentor, Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman). On a whim, he takes Cruz on a road trip to find Doc’s original trainer, a grizzled ’51 Ford named Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper), to recapture some of the old magic.

“You’ll never be the racer you once were,” Smokey intones. “You can’t turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again.”

“Cars 3” is full of surprises, and there’s a nice twist in store well before the finish line.

Preceding “Cars 3” is a short film entitled “Lou.” It’s a charming fable about a playground bully who learns the error of his ways thanks to some enchanted objects in his school’s lost-and-found box.

The film contains a brief, highly stylized crash scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G.

 

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