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‘Deepwater Horizon’ presents a well-crafted spectacle of calamity

September 30th, 2016 Posted in Movies

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Catholic News Service

Audiences of the 1970s were fed a steady diet of fictional disaster movies. Ocean liners capsized, skyscrapers burned and planes were imperiled.

Dylan O'Brien and Mark Wahlberg star in a scene from the movie "Deepwater Horizon." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Lionsgate) S

Dylan O’Brien and Mark Wahlberg star in a scene from the movie “Deepwater Horizon.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate) S

Whatever the nature of the threat, endangered characters, whether plucky or pusillanimous, tried to see it through in the conviction that, to quote the popular theme song of 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure,” “There’s got to be a morning after.”

Such films often provided campy fun, even if they rarely boasted either high aesthetic quality or much staying power.

Quite the reverse is the case with the forceful but grim, fact-based chronicle of calamity “Deepwater Horizon.” Peter Berg’s dramatization of familiar recent events is an admirable and well-crafted spectacle for grownups, with the background assets of a positively portrayed marriage and incidental religious elements. Nonetheless, it’s not an easy picture to watch.

Drawing on a New York Times article by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul about the 2010 loss of the Deepwater, screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand fix their focus on a quartet of principals led by Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), the vessel’s chief electronics technician.

Kate Hudson plays Felicia, Mike’s worried wife back on shore; Kurt Russell is Jimmy Harrell, aka “Mr. Jimmy,” the craft’s respected crew commander; and Gina Rodriguez fills the role of Andrea Fleytas, the young officer responsible for keeping the vast, free-floating structure in position.

The tense opening scenes find visiting corporate executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) pushing back against the safety concerns expressed by both Mike and Mr. Jimmy, only to find himself, in short order, caught up in one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history. Following the “blowout,” the race for survival against shooting flames, sudden explosions and deadly flying debris is fueled by self-sacrificing heroism and courage.

The bloody wounds and wrenching situations to which viewers are exposed along the way are no doubt faithful to reality, but they involve some harrowing sights. Compensation takes the form of compelling acting from both Wahlberg and Rodriguez, each portraying an ordinary person suddenly forced to cope with destruction on a titanic scale.

Mike is shown blessing himself as he starts the helicopter ride that will bring him out to the rig for his three-week shift. There’s an irony in this since the dangers of flying turn out, of course, to be the least of his worries. Additionally, the movie’s wrap-up includes a spontaneous recitation of the Our Father by all the survivors.

Between these two faith-tinged moments, however, we’re reminded that people facing imminent death tend to use the S-word a lot.

The film contains pervasive, sometimes gory, disaster violence, a scene of nongraphic marital lovemaking, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and frequent crass language. 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.

 

‘Masterminds’ didn’t produce this bank-heist comedy

September 30th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

It seems obvious that bank robbery, especially in real life, makes a better subject for drama than for comedy.

Jon Daly and Leslie Jones star in a scene from the movie "Masterminds." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Relativity Studios)

Jon Daly and Leslie Jones star in a scene from the movie “Masterminds.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Relativity Studios)

Nothing in the Zach Galifianakis vehicle “Masterminds,” a comic recounting of the 1997 “hillbilly heist” from an armored-car firm in North Carolina, does anything to undermine that easily-arrived-at conclusion.

While the film is at least remarkably free of vulgarity, especially given the low-minded tone of so much screen comedy these days, it’s still marred by a few lapses into crassness.

Director Jared Hess and screenwriters Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey take as their premise the idea that Southerners with dead-end jobs who live in trailer parks are inherently funny. They evidently left it up to the actors, many of them from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” to work out their own character quirks, with highly uneven results.

Galifianakis spends a lot of time ridiculing himself, targeting his hirsute appearance, squeaky manner and juvenile personality. He’s variously compared to one of the Twelve Apostles, TV critic Gene Shalit and the love child of Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins. All this is intermingled with slapstick chases and the occasional gross-out gambit.

As for the business at hand, that famous theft, names have not been changed to protect the guilty. David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a vault supervisor for Loomis Fargo & Co., grabbed $17.3 million in bundled cash from the company’s facility in Charlotte, N.C. Although that still ranks as the second-highest dollar amount ever stolen in the United States, Ghantt was tripped up at every turn by his own ineptness and that of his co-conspirators.

Ghantt had a girlfriend, Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), who talked him into committing the crime with the help of her friend, Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson). The plan was for Ghantt to take off for Mexico with a small amount of the loot, with Campbell and Chambers to join him some time later. Their highly questionable calculation was that federal investigators would eventually lose interest in the case.

The movie gives Ghantt a harridan fiancee, Jandice (Kate McKinnon), as a further inducement to head south of the border. The real Chambers, believing that the FBI was only interested in Ghantt, hired a hit man, Michael McKinney (Jason Sudeikis), to eliminate Ghantt in the belief that he’d never be suspected of his partner’s murder, another dubious assumption.

In a bid for both laughs and pathos, McKinney is portrayed as being so stupid that he believes he and Ghantt, who used McKinney’s identity to cross into Mexico, are long-lost twin brothers.

Ghantt, Campbell and Chambers were, from all accounts, dimwitted and boorish criminals. They quickly called attention to themselves through lavish spending, including the purchase of a mansion for Chambers that featured a framed portrait of Elvis Presley on black velvet.

Justice eventually catches up with the miscreants thanks to the work of a deadpan FBI agent named Scanlon (Leslie Jones). A series of jokes about her appearance were apparently meant to be edgy; they register instead as crudely racist.

The film contains light sexual banter and some crude humor. 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.

 

Storks

September 26th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Popular culture’s relentless drive to portray a homosexual lifestyle as merely one more form of diversity and its view of out-of-wedlock motherhood as a respectable choice, at least for mature women, mars the otherwise unobjectionable animated comedy “Storks.”

Animated characters Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown) and Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) appear in the movie "Storks." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Warner Brothers)

Animated characters Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown) and Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) appear in the movie “Storks.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Warner Brothers)

Though the images by which these messages are conveyed are brief, even teens who are not well catechized should keep their distance from the movie. (As the description that follows will probably make clear, however, they’re unlikely to be interested in it in the first place.)

Directors Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland’s film (Stoller also wrote the screenplay) centers on an ambitious, can-do stork named Junior (voice of Andy Samberg).

Tapped by his boss, Hunter (voice of Kelsey Grammer), to take over the big-box store shipping system his breed now operates in lieu of delivering babies, Junior is on top of the world. At least, that is, until Tulip (voice of Katie Crown), a human orphan who was long ago stranded among the birds, derails his plans by accidentally setting the storks’ disused infant manufacturing machinery to work.

Together, Junior and Tulip scramble to get the child thus produced to her destined parents, Sarah (voice of Jennifer Aniston) and Henry (voice of Ty Burrell), and her young brother, Nate (voiced by Anton Starkman), before the potentially career-ruining mistake can be discovered.

Their odyssey is leavened with some positive, arguably pro-life, values. Since babies are cute, the unspoken, unabashedly sentimental, moral might be: Stuff in cartons is secondary. The film also benefits from a clever turn by Stephen Kramer Glickman voicing Pigeon Toady, the office nuisance who becomes the villain of the piece.

But the last-minute intrusion of the gay agenda, along with a misguided take on voluntarily chosen single parenthood, renders this occasionally funny but mostly awkward picture completely unsuitable for its target audience of kids. Only the brevity and passing nature of the inappropriate material keeps “Storks” from being objectionable for all.

“Storks” is preceded by “The Master,” a subpar martial arts-themed comedy short featuring Lego figures.

The film contains fleeting visuals endorsing homosexual acts and unwed motherhood and some potentially scary situations. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

 

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‘The Magnificent Seven’ — A theology of just war?

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

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Catholic News Service

A chivalrous parable that showcases self-sacrificing heroism, “The Magnificent Seven” can be seen as illustrating, in microcosm, Catholic theology’s theory of a just war.

Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio and Martin Sensmeier star in a scene from the movie "The Magnificent Seven." (CNS/MGM)

Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio and Martin Sensmeier star in a scene from the movie “The Magnificent Seven.” (CNS/MGM)

Essentially, that teaching holds that, just as an individual has the right to self-defense, so too a community or a nation is justified in using the minimal amount of force necessary to repel unwarranted aggression.

Yet, if director Antoine Fuqua jaunty Western is a tale about righting an egregious wrong, it’s also an exercise in unrestrained and creative death-dealing. As such, its steady stream of mayhem will undercut its pretentions to morality in the eyes of at least some grown moviegoers.

Set in 1879, Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk’s script loses little time in introducing us to a villain we can love to hate or in felling his first innocent victims.

Ruthless gold-mining mogul Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has decided he wants the land on which the frontier town of Rose Creek stands for his own. So, with his private army of thugs at his back, he breaks into the local church, where the citizenry busily debates what to do about him, and the killing in cold blood soon commences. Once it ends, he threatens the survivors with a similar fate unless they sell out to him for a pittance.

Though most of the burgh’s inhabitants see no choice but to buckle under, plucky Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the widow of one of Bogue’s victims, is having none of it. Instead, she hires roving lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to organize resistance. The result is a motley band of skilled gunmen, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are its other most prominent figures, and an extended shoot-’em-up showdown.

The titular grouping is marked not only by the shared outsider status of its members but by their varied ethnicities and backgrounds, despite which, in the ideal American manner, they manage to bond through mutual admiration.

Thus, although he’s an ex-Confederate soldier famed for his exploits at Antietam, Hawke’s character, Goodnight Robicheaux, is also an old friend of Chisolm’s. And Robicheaux’s closest pal is Chinese immigrant Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), whose skill with knives makes him a welcome addition to the pack.

In similar rise-above-it fashion, renowned Indian fighter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) gets to like his newfound Comanche comrade, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As for Pratt’s persona, Josh Faraday, he likes to mock Mexican fugitive Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). But Vasquez gets the better of him with Spanish insults Faraday mistakes for compliments.

Amid the furious action, Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 film of the same title, which was itself, in turn, adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic “Seven Samurai,” pauses occasionally to reflect on the dividing line between justice and vengeance. It also features Christian references and imagery, the burned-out church, for instance, becomes ground zero in the climactic struggle, as well as examples of devotion ranging from the sincere to the eccentric.

Though it’s appealing to find explicit, if nondenominational, Christian faith occupying such a prominent and positive place in a contemporary Hollywood film, at least some believers may view “The Magnificent Seven” as pitting good against evil simply in order to let the bullets fly.

The film contains constant stylized violence with gunplay and explosions but very little blood, several uses of profanity, a couple of mild oaths and numerous crude and crass expressions. 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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‘Snowden’ makes no secret of its viewpoint

September 21st, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Few figures on the contemporary scene are as controversial as Edward Snowden, the former intelligence officer who, in 2013, revealed to the press the existence of a secret National Security Agency program for the collection of mass data that he considered abusive.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in a scene from the movie "Snowden." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in a scene from the movie “Snowden.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS/Open Road Films)

Champion of individual rights against an intrusive government or a traitor to his country? Opinions about Snowden vary between these two extremes but also probably occupy every square inch of the wide philosophical and political territory dividing them.

Riding into this ongoing fray comes left-wing stalwart Oliver Stone. As director and co-writer (with Kieran Fitzgerald) of “Snowden,” Stone serves up an interesting screen biography, but one that eventually proves both excessively one-sided and overlong.

Holed up in a Hong Kong hotel on the eve of his epochal leak, Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recalls the events of his life, beginning with his service in the Army, for the benefit of documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo). Between the extensive flashbacks that follow, he also strategizes with the two principal reporters, Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), working to publish the documents he’s stolen.

Drawing on a duo of books, “The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding and “Time of the Octopus” by Anatoly Kucherena, Stone initially presents his protagonist as a conscientious man pulled in different directions by his loyalty to the government, his larger sense of duty and his love for his live-in girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Once Snowden determines his eventual course of action, however, a hero-worshipping tone takes hold to a degree that mars the film’s effectiveness.

Indeed, the swelling music and coin-like profile pose with which we take leave of the title figure would not be out of place in a movie about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.

If the script is historically accurate, the intelligence community does have some life-endangering, morally indefensible actions to answer for, as when Snowden becomes involved in a potentially murderous plot to blackmail Middle Eastern banker Marwan al-Kirmani (Bhasker Patel).

But the larger question “Snowden” raises, how to strike the proper balance between security and privacy, remains a prudential judgment about which viewers are free to disagree.

Accordingly, adult moviegoers, some of whom may be put off by the picture’s brief but explicit portrayal of sexuality, will have to draw their own conclusions. Those arrived at, and driven home with a heavy hand, by Stone and his collaborators, are all too obvious to the aesthetic detriment of his project.

The film contains a graphic scene of nonmarital sexual activity, images of upper female nudity as well as partial nudity in a strip club, a few uses of profanity and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ delivers expected charm

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Catholic News Service

Typically, romantic comedies do not revolve around characters our youth-crazed culture tends to dismiss as middle-aged. “Bridget Jones’s Baby” (Universal) is a charming exception.

Emma Thompson and Renee Zellweger star in a scene from the movie "Bridget Jones's Baby." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Universal)

Emma Thompson and Renee Zellweger star in a scene from the movie “Bridget Jones’s Baby.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Universal)

An over-40 heroine and her two mature suitors prove more than capable of combining love and laughter to life-affirming effect.

Fifteen years after British writer Helen Fielding’s klutzy diarist first popped up on movie screens, she resurfaces in a scenario that renders her endearing indeed. In “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and its 2004 sequel, Bridget’s awkwardness and cringe-worthy antics drove the humor; we were asked to mock and cheer for her at the same time.

Though still quite clumsy, and despite the fact her relative wantonness will make some viewers wince, Bridget is easier to root for now because she’s comfortable in her own skin. Her self-awareness has evolved into self-understanding, which in turn triggers deeper empathy and a more durable feeling of goodwill.

Bridget (Renee Zellweger) has no love interest to celebrate with on her 43rd birthday, and plans with friends have fallen through. But being alone in her London flat does not maker her appear pathetic. Her job producing a major TV news show is a source of satisfaction and she’s enriched by her relationships with work mates and a diverse set of friends. Still, she longs for a husband and family.

At a music festival she meets Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the American founder of a matchmaking website that uses an algorithm to determine compatibility. With minimal ado, they have relations and go their separate ways. Less than a fortnight later, Bridget and her ex boyfriend Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) relight the flame following a christening party. Finding herself pregnant, she has no idea which man is the father.

Esteemed lawyer Mark remains a reserved, emotionally repressed figure. Often wearing a pained expression, Firth brings even more dour haughtiness to the role than before. Yet this works in the movie’s favor by heightening the believability of his feelings when they are revealed. For his part, the effusive Jack has an unrealistic approach to romance, one that relies on a mathematical formula.

Adding to the turmoil, at work a team of hipster media consultants has been brought in to update, read dumb-down, Bridget’s news program. And her mother (Gemma Jones) is campaigning for a local council position on a conservative, family-values platform.

Returning to the franchise after directing the first movie, Sharon Maguire adroitly balances the physical and verbal humor. She wrings the right amount of giggles and feel-good warmth from the plot, which doesn’t offer any startling developments and sags in the middle section before delivering its bundle of happiness. Playing Bridget’s droll obstetrician, Emma Thompson steals every scene she’s in; she also shares credit for the screenplay along with Fielding and Dan Mazer.

The degree of calmness impending motherhood brings to Bridget doesn’t preclude hilarious gaffes and moments of self-doubt, but she’s less susceptible to feeling humiliated. The language is colorful to say the least; and Bridget’s willingness to have premarital sex (modestly depicted) cannot be endorsed. More importantly, however, there’s never the slightest suggestion that she won’t have the baby. She wants to be a mother, and a wife.

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” evinces a healthy desire, a fruitful yearning that takes into account the wisdom and nurturing instincts that develop as one gets older. Thematically, the picture respects tradition while championing tolerance and smart innovation. It favors lived experience and intangible bonds over mathematical abstraction and sparkly veneers. Bridget can distinguish between the inanely modern or progressive, for change’s sake, if you will, and values that are truly important and lasting.

The film contains recurring crude sexual language and humor, some rough language, two implied sexual encounters, brief upper female and real male nudity, and an instance of toilet humor. 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.

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘When the Bough Breaks’

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Hanks and Eastwood clear ‘Sully’ for takeoff

September 8th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Putting Tom Hanks in the cockpit as everybody’s favorite aviator, US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, and bringing Clint Eastwood on board to direct him certainly sounds like a formula for high-flying success. And so it proves with “Sully,” Eastwood’s satisfying adaptation of Sullenberger’s memoir (co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow) “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.”

Arron Eckhart and Tom Hanks star in a scene from the movie "Sully." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Arron Eckhart and Tom Hanks star in a scene from the movie “Sully.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Hanks is in his element conveying the understated heroism of the aviator whose 2009 feat in landing his plane on the Hudson River after it was crippled by a bird strike, and saving all 155 souls on board in the process, gained him instant fame.

Even as the public was embracing him as a hero, however, behind the scenes Sullenberger was being second-guessed by a team of federal investigators led by somberly suspicious Charles Porter (Mike O’Malley).

In fact, the early stages of the National Transportation Safety Board’s inquiry seemed to suggest that the aircraft’s engines had not been totally disabled, as Sullenberger asserted, and that a much safer landing could have been made at any one of three nearby airports.

It’s these hidden events, together with Sullenberger torturous self-doubt, that lend the drama an element of suspense, despite the universal familiarity of its protagonist’s exploit. They also inspire Eastwood to maintain a surprisingly sober tone, the enjoyable flashes of wit in Todd Komarnicki’s script notwithstanding.

What emerges is the portrait of a morally deep-rooted and honorable man with a heartfelt concern for those in his charge. Other facets of his fine character are revealed by his appreciative attitude toward his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), with whom he rapidly forms a friendship, and the mutually supportive love he shares with his wife, Lorrie (Laura Linney). Despite some salty language in the dialogue, these ethical assets make “Sully” possibly acceptable for older adolescents.

The film contains potentially disturbing scenes of peril and destruction, at least one of profanity and the F-word as well as about a dozen crude 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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‘Morgan’ revisits artificial-human-gone-haywire plot

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Catholic News Service

In the “humanoid made from synthetic DNA” genre, “Morgan” is both unoriginal and omits even an occasional reflection on what it means to have a human moral sense.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Mara star in a scene from the movie "Morgan."

Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Mara star in a scene from the movie “Morgan.”

Instead, director Luke Scott and screenwriter Seth Owen put Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) through the paces of shlock 1980s horror.

Like all man-made creatures in film, she has anger issues mixed with her kindly emotions and is eventually off on a killing spree, since, somewhat like 2011’s teen-assassin thriller “Hanna” and 2015’s “Ex Machina,” that’s what she was built for.

She’s loved, though. The folks who made her in their underground lab are quite fond of their sullen girl in a hoodie and her concrete bedroom, after two previous attempts never made it to the full-grown stage. Morgan even considers Lui (Michelle Yeoh) as her “mother.”

But she has a dull stare and sudden rages. She stabs Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye, which brings both Lee (Kate Mara), a ruthlessly efficient inspector from the outfit’s corporate office, to shut down the project, and a clumsy psychiatrist, Alan (Paul Giamatti) to interrogate Morgan.

Lee’s mission is unclear until Morgan displays an unexpected Hannibal Lecter-like fondness for human flesh in her kills.

After that, Morgan runs around slaughtering her loved ones and speeding through the forest with Lee in pursuit. There’s a big twist to the conclusion, as this genre always has, but it’s telegraphed early on, lessening any shock value.

The film contains frequent references to the artificial creation of human life, frequent physical violence, occasional gore, and fleeting rough and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Powerful old-fashioned weeper: ‘The Light Between Oceans’

September 2nd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Beginning with 1979’’s “The Europeans,” the producer-director team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, whose partnership was already of 15 years standing, churned out a succession of high-quality period films. The duo’s pictures were famous for their lush cinematography, all-star casts and compelling story lines, usually based on a deep, dark secret.

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star in a scene from the movie "The Light Between Oceans." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III ,adults.  (CNS photo/Disney)

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star in a scene from the movie “The Light Between Oceans.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III ,adults. (CNS photo/Disney)

Think “A Room with a View” (1985), 1992’s “Howards End” and “The Remains of the Day” (1993).

Writer-director Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) picks up the Merchant-Ivory mantle with “The Light Between Oceans,” his adaptation of the 2012 novel by M.L. Stedman. Beautifully shot in Australia and New Zealand, this melodrama is an old-fashioned weeper about love and loss, with a powerful message about forgiveness and the role of conscience.

After fighting in World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns home to Australia a broken man. He eagerly takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island called Janus Rock, seeking solitude as a balm for his emotional wounds.

He lives just at the point where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet, and his signal is thus a vital beacon for passing ships.

As he sets out from the mainland, Tom catches the eye of charming, spirited Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). They correspond, fall in love, and eventually marry.

Making a home on their lonely island, the pair initially finds happiness together. But they remain childless. Two miscarriages drive Isabel to the brink of despair.

But not for long. One morning a dinghy washes ashore, carrying a dead man and an infant girl who’s barely alive. In this, Isabel sees the answer to her prayers. She persuades her reluctant husband not to report the tragedy so that they can raise the child, christened Lucy (Florence Clery), as their own.

Years pass, but the weight on Tom’s conscience never lifts. A chance encounter on the mainland with Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), Lucy’s real mother, only makes matters worse. Hannah continues to mourn the loss of her husband and child.

From its perch on the aptly named Janus Rock, “The Light Between Oceans” looks both toward the past and into the present, keeping viewers guessing as to whether the truth will out and some version of justice prevail. In passing through this beautifully landscaped vale of tears, sensitive viewers will find that a jumbo box of tissues comes in very handy.

The film contains mature themes, scenes of marital sensuality and a few profane oaths. 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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