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‘Free Fire’ would be better with pies instead of bullets

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Catholic News Service

The premise of “Free Fire” is that a single extended gunfight can sustain an entire film, provided the participants in the showdown keep making incongruously funny and mordant remarks.

Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley star in a scene from the movie "Free Fire."  The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.  (CNS/24)

Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley star in a scene from the movie “Free Fire.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/24)

This is the genre of the siege movie. Plot and character development are ignored in favor of the presumed enjoyment of watching villains working out their issues by blasting away at each other in a decaying Boston factory.

The setup involves a deal to buy assault rifles that quickly goes bad. So, the two sides spend the rest of the run time pulling their triggers and reloading while attempting to retrieve a briefcase loaded with cash.

Think of it as an extended pie fight, but with bullets. It would work out better were the movie actually comedic. But director Ben Wheatley, who co-wrote the screenplay with Amy Jump, is instead completely vested in choreographing these scruffy, amoral characters as they pop up from hiding places to fire off a few rounds. He also has them crawl around painfully after receiving flesh wounds.

There are occasional funny moments for viewers willing to detach the violent proceedings from real life. Thus, a soothing John Denver ballad, from an 8-track tape in a battered van, plays in the background at one ominous moment. And would-be gun buyer Justine (Brie Larson) says of arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley), “He was misdiagnosed as a child genius and he never got over it.”

But Wheatley also goes for the obvious in a ham-handed manner. This is an old umbrella factory, but no one has one when the sprinklers go off.

This being 1978, the characters have to rely on a single landline phone, and duck a fusillade of bullets if they want to call anyone on the outside for reinforcements.

The buyers, in addition to Justine, are Chris (Cillian Murphy), an Irish Republican Army operative, Frank (Michael Smiley), Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley). Selling, besides Vernon, are Martin (Babou Ceesay) Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor). The unctuous Ord (Armie Hammer) attempts to be the middleman.

Eventually, Wheatley runs out of wisecracks and has most of the characters die in a variety of gruesome ways. But there’s no resolution to the mayhem. “Free Fire,” accordingly, ends up a claustrophobic exercise in mindless conflict.

The film contains pervasive gun and physical violence, fleeting gore, drug use, occasional profanities and constant rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter — When it’s a demon, who you gonna call?

April 4th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

This year’s crop of demon-possession plots, that hardy stalwart of horror, kicks off in high style with the very adult “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.”

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie "The Blackcoat's Daughter." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/A24)

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/A24)

Although this story gives unusually short shrift to the rite of exorcism, which is portrayed even more casually and inaccurately than is usually the case in such dramas, the filmmakers have at least taken care to show an actual demon. That’s rare these days.

This one has two horns, inhabits a glowing basement coal furnace and, in another retro touch, calls his new best friend through a hallway pay phone. So the film is entrancing for quite a while before the stabbing victims begin to pile up.

Still, writer-director Oz Perkins keeps the gore factor comparatively low, emphasizing instead slow-building psychological horror, spooled out slowly through interlocking, time-shifting plot lines, all centered on a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York in the dead of winter.

There’s a trick ending, which Perkins tips in advance. But, since there’s a generous helping of the demon, that’s no more than an acknowledgment of the audience’s intelligence.

Gloomy freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) has had a vision of her parents’ death in a car crash on their way to pick her up for the school’s winter break. Rose (Lucy Boynton), an older student, fears she might be pregnant, and has arranged for her folks to pick her up on the wrong day so she’ll have time to tell her boyfriend.

These two are supposed to look after each other before the expected parental arrivals. Meanwhile, Kat starts getting and making calls, but not to her parents; she has a new pal in residence who demands murderous sacrifices. The cutlery flashes and heads roll.

In a third subplot, Joan (Emma Roberts), who has broken out of an asylum, desperately tries to return to the campus, utilizing a clueless but well-meaning couple, Bill and Linda (James Remar, Lauren Holly). They turn out to be Rose’s parents.

It eventually falls to kindly Father Brian (Greg Ellwand) to bring some clarity to the mayhem, although the movie is so vested in its deceptive ending, Catholic belief is only pro forma. But hey, at least someone knows how to recognize a demon.

The film contains an occult theme, knife violence with some gore, occasional profanities and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Slamma Jamma’ dunk funk

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

By

Catholic News Service

The well-intentioned sports drama “Slamma Jamma” occasionally comes to tepid life on basketball courts. But a weak script, together with production values indicative of a low budget, keep it hobbled as a story of redemption and Christian faith.

This is a scene from the movie"Slamma Jamma." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

This is a scene from the movie”Slamma Jamma.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

Based very loosely on the life of slam-dunk champion Kenny Dobbs, it stars Chris Staples (a former Harlem Globetrotter in real life), as Michael Diggs, a onetime college basketball star potentially worth millions as a pro.

He’s unable to profit from his talent after an unscrupulous agent takes advantage of him. Coasting on his fame, he gets pulled into the violent armed robbery of a gun store, which earns him a six-year prison term.

Not very adroitly, the film shows Diggs embracing evangelical Christianity behind bars, and, upon release, slowly rebuilding his life by energetically making new contacts while working a series of menial jobs. Since he starts out humble, there’s no big transformative moment and so little in the way of dramatic tension that “Slamma Jamma” becomes almost unwatchable.

Away from the hoops, writer-director Tim Chey, no dab hand at dialogue, comes up with little other than clichéd, if supportive, remarks from Diggs’ ailing mother, Gemma (Rosemary Smith-Coleman), and from a neighborhood minister, Pastor John Soul (Ray Walia).

Diggs eventually gets his life back on track by winning slam-dunk competitions, halftime events, typically, with prizes in the many thousands of dollars. The faith elements are limned only sparingly, making this movie a tough slog even for those inclined to look favorably on religious fare.

The film contains a scene of gun violence and some trash-talking. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Drug heist and kidney crisis ‘Collide’

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

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Catholic News Service

As its title implies, “Collide” involves vehicular mayhem.

There’s so much high-speed demolition derby, in fact, that it becomes somewhat more entertaining, just on the basis of sheer volume, to focus on that rather than the thin drug-smuggling plot. But director Eran Creevy, who co-wrote the screenplay with F. Scott Frazier, intends all of this with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

We know this because Geran (Ben Kingsley), who hires Casey (Nicholas Hoult), a young American living in Germany, to hijack a truck smuggling cocaine, keeps calling him “Burt Reynolds.” It’s a 1970s reference, meant to imply that Casey’s just a good ol’ boy.

Casey’s career up to now has involved stealing cars and trucks for Geran. He’s despondent about where his life has taken him.

At a rowdy nightclub, he meets another American, Juliette (Felicity Jones), and their whirlwind romance sets him on a new course working honestly in an auto salvage yard. She’s dazzling, quirky and in desperate need of a kidney transplant for which the German health system will not pay.

Raising that kind of money necessitates a return to crime, an immoral means to a good end. So Casey agrees to participate in the complicated drug heist, which is being led by Hagen (Anthony Hopkins), Geran’s former partner and a leading German kingpin.

What could go wrong? Virtually everything. Casey, accordingly, has to escape Hagen and his torturing henchmen repeatedly, and rescue Juliette after they take her hostage.

Steal something, speed, crash, repeat. Watch the pretty muscle cars rushing by.

The outline for a bare-bones thriller is clearly here. But the story loses quite a bit in the execution, and the characters and dilemmas prove less than compelling.

The film contains gun and physical violence and fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

      Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service

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‘Fist Fight’ a dirty jokes mess in the parking lot after school

February 22nd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

We have to inquire: What kinds of audience laughter are the makers of the misbegotten “Fist Fight” going for?

Broad guffaws at human frailties? Nope, none of that. Expansive hoots at outrageous physical comedy? Again, not here.

Charlie Day and Ice Cube star in a scene from the movie "Fist Fight." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Charlie Day and Ice Cube star in a scene from the movie “Fist Fight.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

That leaves bitter, humorless sneering at various forms of human degradation. If there’s a sweet spot for that, this film has found it.

Director Richie Keen and screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser have constructed this unpleasant mess as a series of dirty jokes.

It’s the last day of the academic year at a crumbling Atlanta public high school, which has a tradition of year-end senior pranks. So a lot of these, usually involving crude sexual imagery or animal abuse, go on while the faculty worry about impending layoffs.

Nebbishy English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is fearful of losing his job because his wife is pregnant. And Strickland (Ice Cube), the only member of the staff who actually stands up to the pranksters, does so with nearly feral outbursts in a misguided attempt to maintain his dignity and authority.

Finally, Strickland has had too much of the high jinks and, with Andy in tow, goes after a student with a fire axe. Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) then has to decide, before the last bell, which one of the two is going to get the figurative axe as a result. With some urging from Andy, he chooses Strickland.

So Strickland challenges Andy to an after-school brawl in the parking lot, and the ensuing complications take up the rest of the plot, with much ridicule directed at Andy’s fears along the way.

The film contains strong sexual content, including pornographic images and masturbation, drug use 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.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ presents cartoonish nihilism

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Catholic News Service

The stylized, nearly cartoonish nihilism and resulting high body count in “John Wick: Chapter 2” create most of the apparent appeal of this second drama about a professional assassin.

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie "John Wick: Chapter 2." 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/Lionsgate)

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie “John Wick: Chapter 2.” 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/Lionsgate)

The rest, as directed by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script, consists of small moments — quite small, since there’s nearly no dialogue — of mordant and questionable humor.

Violently pulled out of retirement, Wick (Keanu Reeves) arrives in Rome for an assignment.

“Are you here to see the pope?” a worried-looking Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the Continental Hotel, asks. Assured that’s not the case, Winston tells Wick that he has a room available to use as a base of operations.

The Continental is also the name of a secret international network of assassins of which Wick is the indisputable star, since he’s acrobatic, amazingly versatile and fearless. He also, in this episode, has a bounty on his head, so when he’s not shooting or committing mayhem in a muscle car, he’s being shot at.

The core story has Wick unwillingly drawn into a plot to seize a seat at the High Table, a criminal enterprise. Italian playboy Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) wants the seat held by his fur-adorned sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). To get it, he orders Wick to treat Gianna with extreme prejudice.

Since a previous life-or-death commitment to Santino leaves Wick with no choice but to accept this mission, he takes to it in the manner of James Bond being equipped by Q. He’ll have to face off against Gianna’s loyal bodyguard, Cassian (Common). And Santino has a large squad of goons who don’t wish to see Wick get away alive.

It’s not a movie that requires concentrated attention. What’s needed instead is a tolerance for — and enjoyment of — elaborately choreographed stunts and chase sequences.

The film contains pervasive action violence with little blood, a suicide and brief full female nudity. 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.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Here’s the third call from ‘Rings’

February 7th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

There’s something about being tossed down a well and left for dead that can make a girl really cranky.

Matilda Lutz stars in a scene from the movie "Rings." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS /Paramount Pictures)

Matilda Lutz stars in a scene from the movie “Rings.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS /Paramount Pictures)

Hence, “Rings,” the third film in an American horror franchise based on a 1998 Japanese feature. The series concerns a spooky black-and-white video, viewers of which are doomed to die seven days after watching it. Like a chain letter, it has to be shared and viewed by another person, otherwise Samara (Bonnie Morgan) emerges from her watery grave on video screens to exact her human toll.

Updated for the viral-video and cellphone era since the last installment in 2005, this time the disturbing symbolic images are widely shared by undergraduates involved in malevolent professor Gabriel’s (Johnny Galecki) research into how the soul migrates after death.

One part never changes, of course. After someone watches the video, his or her phone rings, a girl’s voice hisses “Seven days!” and the fate of the person on the other end is sealed.

At this point, there’s not much shock value when Samara surfaces to commence killing. In fact, at this stage the audience is more likely to give her entrance applause as if she were a beloved musical-comedy star.

Recognizing this, director F. Javier Gutierrez and screenwriters David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman turn up the psychological-thriller elements, focusing on the search for Samara’s origins in the quaint, yet evil, hamlet of Sacrament Valley.

Julia (Matilda Lutz) and boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) make efficient use of their seven days to figure out that the birds, ants and so on in the video images are a message from Samara identifying her killers and the people who made her life miserable before that.

The duo set off on a compassionate search that leads them to Samara’s presumed tomb, a deconsecrated church, a story about a flood and rustic plaid-clad locals, all of whom harbor secrets.

Occult overtones or, in this case, ringtones, routinely move this type of film into the adult range. Yet “Rings” is clearly aimed at teens, with gory sights kept mostly in check. So many parents may consider it acceptable for mature adolescents.

The film contains occult themes, some violence but with little blood, brief drug use and references to nonmarital sexual activity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’

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

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Catholic News Service

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is the sixth and presumably last in a series of video game-based films that began back in 2002.

William Levy stars in a scene from the movie "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Sony)

William Levy stars in a scene from the movie “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Sony)

The movies have always kept their connection to the console on open display. This makes them ideal for those who like their zombies, shootouts and occasionally gory incidents of flesh-eating served up with a minimum of story line or dialogue. For anyone beyond the fan base, though, frustration and a possible headache awaits.

Alice (Milla Jovovich, as ever), squeezes into her famous black tights to battle the undead as well as the evil Umbrella Corporation led by the diabolical Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen). Her sidekick, Claire (Ali Larter), provides occasional assistance.

Director and writer Paul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich’s real-life husband) provides not so much a plot as a goal, as if this were a game level.  Alice has 48 hours to find the airborne antidote to the T-virus. A pandemic of said malady has turned the planet, especially the remnants of Washington, into a dystopian moonscape populated by flesh-craving zombies.

Alice herself had the T-virus. But it seems to have been just her cup of T, since she somehow gained superpowers from her illness.

On this adventure, she fights Dr. Isaacs with whatever weapons come to hand, leads skirmishes against the zombies (who prefer to run in packs), and has occasional encounters with the Red Queen (Ever Anderson), a digitized younger version of herself who provides instructions and reminds the audience what Alice is supposed to be doing.

This series, while well short of classic, has nonetheless proved quite durable. And Jovovich puts in the effort to keep Alice a moral force of a sort. She does, after all, stay grimly focused on the collection of villains she’s up against.

The film contains gun, knife and martial-arts violence with some gore and fleeting foul language. The Catholic News classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Former employee alleges SNAP took kickbacks from lawyers suing the church

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A former director of development for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has charged in a wrongful termination lawsuit that SNAP is more interested in fundraising and taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the Catholic Church than in helping survivors. Read more »

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Former employee sues SNAP, the group that advocates for victims of clergy abuse

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A former director of development for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has charged in a wrongful termination lawsuit that SNAP is more interested in fundraising and taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the Catholic Church than in helping survivors.

A detail from the cover of the 2016 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection annual report on dioceses' compliance with the USCCB charter on abuse prevention. A former employee of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, has charged in a wrongful dismissal suit that SNAP is more interested in fundraising and taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the church than in helping survivors.. (CNS/USCCB)

A detail from the cover of the 2016 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection annual report on dioceses’ compliance with the USCCB charter on abuse prevention. A former employee of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, has charged in a wrongful termination suit that SNAP is more interested in fundraising and taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the church than in helping survivors.. (CNS/USCCB)

Gretchen Rachel Hammond, in her suit filed Jan. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, further accuses SNAP of being “a commercial organization” and “premised upon farming out abuse survivors as clients for attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors and collect settlement checks from the Catholic Church.”

Hammond worked for SNAP from July 2011 to February 2013, and is now a journalist for the Windy City Times. She claims she was fired in retaliation for a series of discoveries she made about the way settlements were being handled, and that the stress caused by SNAP’s treatment of her sent her to the hospital four times and resulted in a series of health problems.

She also asserts that SNAP “is motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.” In 2011, SNAP helped publicize the attempt in Europe to bring charges against Pope Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.

“The allegations are not true,” SNAP president Barbara Blaine said in a statement sent to Catholic News Service as well as other news organizations. “This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

SNAP, founded in 1989 and based in Chicago, is considered the largest and best-known advocacy organization for survivors of clerical abuse.

The lawsuit alleges that after abuse survivors are referred to attorneys, “these cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

SNAP, Hammond claims, “regularly communicates with attorneys about their lawsuits on behalf of survivors, receiving drafts of pleadings and other privileged information.” Attorneys and SNAP “base their strategy not on the best interest of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and fundraising opportunities for SNAP.”

Hammond further claims that the bulk of donations to SNAP have come from attorneys, as much as 81 percent of the $437,400 in donations made in 2007 and 56 percent in 2011.

“Tellingly, at one time during 2011 and 2012,” the suit, says, “SNAP even concocted a scheme to have attorneys make donations to a front foundation, styled the ‘Minnesota Center for Philanthropy,’ and then have the Minnesota Center for Philanthropy make a grant to SNAP in order to provide a subterfuge for, and to otherwise conceal, the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ kickbacks to SNAP.”

It also accuses SNAP’s executive director, David Clohessy, of recommending that an abuse survivor pursue a claim in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy settlement.

It quotes a Clohessy email: “I sure hope you DO pursue the WI bankruptcy … every nickle (sic) they don’t have is a nickle that they can’t spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc.”

Attorney Bruce Howard, of the Siprut firm in Chicago, which is representing Hammond, told CNS in a phone interview late Jan. 20 said he likes their chances in the case. “Generally, we don’t bring frivolous cases,” he said.

He emphasized that the case is strictly a wrongful termination case and that his firm has never been associated with “any case involving SNAP or any case remotely tangential to SNAP.” Howard added that his firm takes a lot of whistleblower cases, which usually start out as wrongful termination cases.

Howard noted the firm’s client “is Jewish and was raised in the Church of England and has no connection to the Catholic Church. I have never been involved in a case dealing with the Catholic Church.”

Hammond is not seeking a specific sum in damages but is asking for “compensatory damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest.”

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