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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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New poll shows Americans strongly support abortion restrictions

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A few days before the annual March for Life, a new national poll indicated shifting public attitudes, crossing party labels, in favor of increased restrictions on abortion.

“When you ask Americans what they think of abortion … you get very, very strong numbers in favor of restrictions,” said Andrew T. Walther, vice president of communications of the Knights of Columbus, during a Jan. 23 news conference.

Participants carry a banner during the annual annual Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Jose Aguirre, Walk for Life West Coast)

Participants carry a banner during the annual annual Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Jose Aguirre, Walk for Life West Coast)

The Marist survey of 2,729 adults was conducted in December and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. It contains breakdowns by political affiliations and ethnicity but not religious beliefs, so there was no information on how many respondents were Catholics.

Fifty-two percent of the respondents indicated that they thought of themselves as “pro-choice,” while 42 percent self-identified as pro-life. But when the questions became more detailed on abortion policies, the numbers shifted.

Across political and ethnic lines, overwhelming majorities of respondents indicated they would like “significant restrictions.” That included 91 percent of those who called themselves supporters of President Donald J. Trump, and 55 percent of those who identified themselves as Hillary Clinton supporters. The poll further showed that 79 percent of both African-American and Latino respondents favored significant restrictions.

Further, 74 percent said they wanted the Supreme Court to rule on these restrictions, indicating support for overturning the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion virtually on demand.

Eighty-three percent said abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the mother, while 77 percent said it should not be permitted under any circumstance.

In line with Trump’s new executive order reinstating what’s called the Mexico City Policy, which bans tax dollars from funding groups that promote or perform abortion overseas, 83 percent opposed that use of tax money in other countries, and 62 percent opposed the use of tax money generally.

Fully half the respondents thought abortion “has a negative, long-term impact on a woman’s life,” while 19 percent were unsure.

Fifty-nine percent believe that abortion limits were either “important” or an immediate priority, and the same percentage agreed when asked if they thought abortion was morally wrong.

The same level of support was expressed for an abortion ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and 60 percent believed that medical professionals with moral objections should not be legally required to provide abortion services.

The 44th annual March for Life, which draws thousands to Washington to commemorate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe decision, will be held Jan. 27.

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‘Split’ delves into multiple personality prognosis

January 20th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Split,” the latest psychological thriller from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, posits that victims of childhood sexual abuse are not only prone to dissociative identity disorder, split personalities, but also that each persona can have unique physical characteristics.

Anya Taylor-Joy stars in a scene from the movie "Split." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Universal)

Anya Taylor-Joy stars in a scene from the movie “Split.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Universal)

In addition, Shyamalan suggests that victims of the condition have hidden strengths that may be advanced on the evolutionary scale. That’s typically an excuse to lard on special effects and stunts, but not here.

Shyamalan’s not out to make anyone think too deeply about this prognosis. He prefers to couch the story in the efficient tropes of a cheese-ball teen-abduction drama, using a reliable scream queen, Anya Taylor-Joy, as a lure. The film does not veer in the direction of exploitation, however, making it possibly suitable for older adolescents.

His devotees will recognize Shyamalan’s continued exploration of the concept of the immortal soul, which began in 1999 with “The Sixth Sense” and continued with “Unbreakable” the following year.

Shayamalan’s villain, Kevin (James McAvoy), abducts three teen girls, Casey, Claire and Marcia (Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula), in suburban Philadelphia and whisks them away to what appears to be a subterranean lair, but is later shown to be an underground warren of rooms at a zoo.

Kevin’s motives are not clear. It turns out he’s the frightened host of 23 other personalities, of whom we see a cheerful 9-year-old boy, a prissy British woman, a fey clothing designer and an angry thug. There’s also a 24th personality he particularly fears, which he calls The Beast.

Kevin, when he’s out and about, seeks help from a psychologist, Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). She’s aware that she’s seeing only part of a very complicated puzzle and that Kevin was abused by his unstable mother as a child. But she doesn’t know about the abductions.

Casey, it turns out, is best equipped to deal with Kevin since, as we are shown in discreet flashbacks, she was molested by an uncle at an early age, and the abuse continued for years after the death of her father. The other two girls are mostly just fodder for escape attempts and Kevin’s many threats and murderous intentions.

So from early on, “Split” follows the familiar pattern of teen girls in peril, with a general “moral” about what doesn’t kill you making you stronger, in this case, amazingly stronger.

The film contains gun and physical violence with some gore, mature themes, including sexual abuse, 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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‘20th Century Women’ presents plotless collection of whimsey

January 19th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The moral compass in “20th Century Women,” writer-director Mike Mills’ rambling, unfiltered drama, loosely based on his adolescence in 1970s Santa Barbara, Calif., is not one of the characters. Rather, it’s President Jimmy Carter.

Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig star in a scene from the movie "20th Century Women." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/A24 Films)

Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig star in a scene from the movie “20th Century Women.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/A24 Films)

Specifically, the film makes use of Carter’s sermon-like “Crisis of Confidence” address, usually mislabeled as his “malaise” speech. In it, he admonished America: “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns.”

This drones out of a TV set with the wallop of a Shakespearean soliloquy. The principal characters up to that point have been indulging themselves as if their lives depended on it, only they’ve been calling it self-realization. They’re suitably chastened, if only momentarily.

Overall, the movie is more a nearly plotless collection of whimsy than a fully realized story. So whatever insight Carter provides quickly evaporates.

Mills takes an affectionate look back at his world, circa 1979, with well-meaning if slightly confused women attempting to steer his stand-in, 15-year-old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), in the general direction of sensitive adulthood with their nascent feminist ideals as their guide.

They rely heavily on the self-help literature of the time. All the adults, even the ones engaging in nonmarital bedroom activities, are intensely curious about sex but don’t derive much pleasure from it. Instead, they find it eternally perplexing.

Dorothea (Annette Bening), Jamie’s divorced mother, prides herself on being open-minded but retains a faint sense that romance was better decades earlier. As Jamie keeps explaining to others, “She’s from the Depression.”

Dorothea has the notion that Jamie will become a better man if he’s advised by his 17-year-old friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), who has nonsexual sleepovers with Jamie, and 24-year-old Abbie (Greta Gerwig), the photographer and punk-rock devotee who rents a room in their ramshackle Victorian house, a structure that’s in a perpetual state of renovation.

Jamie helps Julie through a pregnancy scare and Abbie through a bout with cervical cancer that she fears will leave her unable to bear children. Dorothea, meanwhile, chain-smokes, explaining that she’s unlikely to come down with a fatal disease from it, since she began when smoking was considered fashionable.

There are several visits to a grungy rock club. And lengthy discussions of the quality of groundbreaking bands are mingled with talk of humanity’s role in the cosmos as well as the responsibility men bear toward women.

Everyone, including William (Billy Crudup), the handyman, who is occasionally drawn into the sexual situations, is determined to make moral decisions in the face of whatever obstacles they encounter. All this makes “20th Century Women” a road trip in the company of pleasantly sensitive, albeit ethically clueless, companions. If only they had the vaguest notion of their destination.

The film contains marijuana use, brief upper female nudity and lengthy dialogue about sexual matters, including allusions to nonmarital activity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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