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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘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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‘The Great Wall’ — A deeply implausible, shallow spectacle

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

By

Catholic News Service

Those seeking nothing more from a movie than sheer spectacle may be satisfied with director Zhang Yimou’s visually interesting but thoroughly implausible action adventure “The Great Wall.”     

Epic in scale, the film is shallow in emotion and characterization. On the upside though, its central romance is completely chaste and its dialogue mostly free of cursing.

Matt Damon stars in a scene from the movie "The Great Wall." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS Universal)

Matt Damon stars in a scene from the movie “The Great Wall.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS Universal)

To appreciate those assets, however, viewers will first have to swallow a whopper of a premise. Drawn by the wealth they could gain by introducing gunpowder into the West, two medieval European mercenaries, William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal), arrive in China after an arduous journey during which they were harried, as the opening scenes show, by unidentified adversaries.

But an unpleasant surprise awaits the visitors. As they soon discover, their unwilling hosts are preoccupied with battling vicious alien monsters called the Tao Tei. It was to defend against these marauding creatures that the famous structure of the title was built.

Or so, at least, the script, written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy, attempts to inform us with a straight face.

William gradually becomes committed to this struggle, not least because he’s attracted to Lin Mae (Jing Tian), the fetching commander of one division of the local forces, the Crane Corps (think Cirque du Soleil with spears). But Pero remains focused on the original scheme.

He’s abetted in it by Ballard (Willem Dafoe), another traveler who came to the Middle Kingdom years before for exactly the same purpose as the new arrivals, and has been held prisoner ever since.

What with catapults launching great balls of fire and innumerable colorfully uniformed soldiers manning the ramparts, there’s plenty to absorb the eye. As for the brain or heart, not so much.

Super-skilled archer William undergoes something of a conversion, evolving from a lone wolf who boasts of trusting no one to a team player, at least where Lin Mae is concerned. And the movie’s conclusion does show him putting loyalty to Pero above potential profit, a choice the screenplay implicitly but unmistakably endorses.

But he remains merely the battle-hardened, scarred warrior type rather than a fully rounded person. Nor is there much individuality to Lin Mae.

Given that these two never so much as kiss, on the other hand, and that the screenplay is seldom marred by vulgarity, many parents may consider “The Great Wall” acceptable for older teens. All the more so since the mayhem of the fight against the Tao Tei is portrayed far more suggestively than graphically.

The film contains action violence with little gore, a mild oath as well as at least one crude and a couple of crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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Pointless exercise: ‘A Cure for Wellness’

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains some gory violence, a scene of torture, strong sexual content including a graphic incestuous assault and masturbation, much nudity in a nonsexual context, a couple of uses of profanity, and about a dozen instances each of rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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

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

By

Catholic News Service

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

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

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

By

Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Moonlight’ — powerful, compelling and morally offensive

February 8th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Considered as an exploration of the African-American experience in contemporary society, writer-director Barry Jenkins’ powerfully understated drama “Moonlight” makes a compelling statement. 

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali star in a scene from "Moonlight." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS /A24)

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali star in a scene from “Moonlight.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS /A24)

As the film chronicles three stages in the life of an inner-city Miami youth, however, aspects of its main character’s personal story raise complications for viewers of faith.

As a bullied and withdrawn 10-year-old, burdened with a crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), Chiron (Alex Hibbert), derisively nicknamed Little, comes under the surprisingly positive influence of local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan’s gentle girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), becomes a more predictable mentor, taking on the role of a second mom.

One of the few other bright spots in Chiron’s bleak existence is his friendship with schoolmate Kevin (Jaden Piner) who proves much more accepting of Chiron than the lad’s other peers.

Reaching his teens, Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) falls for Kevin (now Jharrel Jerome). Although Kevin boasts (apparently truthfully) of his prowess with women, he willingly participates in a single sexual act with Chiron. But circumstances soon set them cruelly at odds with each other.

Once grown, and now played by Trevante Rhodes, Chiron has himself become a pusher with a grim persona symbolized by his latest moniker, Black. He lives an isolated and shady life until an unexpected reunion opens up emotional possibilities for him.

The relationship at the heart of the film is dealt with in a restrained and thoughtful way, with spiritual affinity far outweighing eroticism and fidelity leading to sexual reserve. Yet the physical expression of the bond is presented as acceptable, making it impossible to endorse “Moonlight” for any age group.

In fact, the temptation to let sympathy blur moral borders is all the more potent here because immensely likable, terribly downtrodden Chiron has the audience rooting for him all the way. So, too, does compassionate Kevin. Yet commiseration needs to be clear-eyed where ethical truths, especially those taught both by Scripture and tradition, are at stake.

The film contains tacit endorsement of homosexual acts, mature themes, including narcotics use and prostitution, a graphic heterosexual and a semi-graphic same-sex encounter, several mild oaths, frequent rough and crude language and some vulgar sex talk. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Comedian’ — Funny as a car crash

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

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Catholic News Service

If a movie’s going to be titled “The Comedian,” and the phrase isn’t intended ironically, since the film is about a stand-up comic, the audience has a right to expect that some mirth awaits therein.

Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito star in a scene from the movie  (CNS/Sony Pictures Classics)

Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito star in a scene from the movie (CNS/Sony Pictures Classics)

But with Robert De Niro as insult comic Jackie Burke, this is where funny has gone to die, cringing the entire way.

Portrayals of sad, bitter comedians chasing fading laughter and applause have been around for decades, notably with Laurence Olivier in “The Entertainer” (1960), Billy Crystal in “Mr. Saturday Night” (1992) and Adam Sandler in “Funny People” (2009).

What makes “The Comedian” unique in this pantheon is that, whenever De Niro grabs a microphone and launches into one of Jackie’s caustic, profane rants, whatever pleasant storytelling flow has existed up to that point suddenly ends in the manner of a car crash.

Jackie’s at a precipice in both his life and career. His fame comes from a starring role in a catchphrase-laden 1980s sitcom, which threatens to pigeonhole him as a nostalgia act.

He has anger issues, too, and one night he attacks a heckler, who quickly puts the assault on YouTube. Viral ignominy finally gives Jackie’s career some heat, but he’s too suspicious and unbending to take advantage of it.

Unable to leave New York City because of his probation and sentenced to community service at a soup kitchen following a stint in jail, Jackie tries to reconnect to humanity through his steady comic patter with the homeless. He also starts a furtive romance with Harmony (Leslie Mann), a mobster’s daughter who’s also doing community service and has temper problems of her own.

Everyone in Jackie’s orbit suffers from his abuse, including his agent, Miller (Edie Falco), brother, Jimmy (Danny DeVito), and sister-in-law, Florence (Patti LuPone).

Director Taylor Hackford and a quartet of screenwriters capture a bickering, yet affectionate, show-business milieu, somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” from 1984. But in Jackie, they have too unpleasant and pointless a character to sustain a compelling narrative.

The film contains references to nonmarital sexual activity, occasional profanity and frequent rough 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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