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‘Battle of the Sexes’ when male chauvinism loses on court

October 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The early 1970s in all its revanchist sexism, double-knit-fabric garishness and choking cigarette smoke is the setting of the coming-of-age story that is “Battle of the Sexes.”

That the coming of age arrives for Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) when, as a 29-year-old champion tennis player, she achieved her greatest fame by defeating 55-year-old Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the gaudiest, most-hyped tennis exhibition match of all time in Houston’s Astrodome, makes this no less poignant.

This lightly fictionalized version of history is ultimately more about King than the past-his-prime Riggs, but the script by Simon Beaufoy, as directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, takes pains to show each character’s harsh isolation and crippling doubts leading up to the match.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell star in a scene from the movie “Battle of the Sexes.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS/Twentieth Century Fox)

King, married to the bland Larry (Austin Stowell), copes with her realization that she’s attracted to hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) despite the scandal and loss of income that would have meant then. Cut off from equal prize money by the all-male gatekeepers of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, she seeks equal pay for women on the small Virginia Slims tour. (A cigarette sponsoring tennis? Welcome to the ’70s!)

Riggs, trapped in a corporate job and a loveless marriage to wealthy socialite Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) and unsuccessfully struggling with a gambling addiction, is desperately trying to make himself relevant in a sport in which he’d excelled decades before, but he has to settle for hustler stunts such as filling the tennis court with livestock.

He finally sees a lucrative opportunity, the chronic gambler’s vision of the ultimate payoff, by promoting himself as the ultimate male chauvinist pig who takes on women to “prove” male superiority in tennis and other matters.

Riggs isn’t entirely serious, but most of professional tennis, which has long spurned his clowning, is on his side, and he knows it all makes for good TV.

King’s other major rival is Australian Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), the only player on the women’s tour with a child, and suspicious of King’s sexuality. “That’s what happens on an all-women’s team,” Court tells husband Barry (James Mackay). “Licentiousness, immorality, sin.”

Well, not in this movie, no. Stone makes King both conflicted and a little prim, and Larry, who knows the score and also Billie Jean’s ultimate fixation only on her game, eventually lectures Marilyn with, “I’m her husband and we’re just both a phase.”

Real life is never this neat, of course, but the plot necessarily churns toward the big showdown with all the formula and backstage clichés this requires.

Riggs first takes on Court, and manages to break her confidence as he defeats her before the match with King that drew 90 million TV viewers. King, however, is one tough cookie who polishes her skills while Riggs gulps vitamins and fails to train.

The film contains references to aberrant sexuality and fleeting profanities. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

 Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Flatliners’ turns near-death events into tepid horror

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Catholic News Service

Far from heavenly, but not exactly hellish either, the tepid afterlife-focused thriller “Flatliners” is more like a visit to limbo.

Comparisons to a spell spent sitting in your doctor’s waiting room might be equally apt, since this sequel of sorts to the eponymous 1990 film once again involves a group of medical students.

James Norton (left), Ellen Page and Diego Luna star in a scene from the movie “Flatliners.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS photo/Sony)

A link to the original is provided by the presence of one of its stars, Kiefer Sutherland, aka Nelson Wright, now all grown up and teaching med school with an entirely new name, Dr. Barry Wolfson. Those under his tutelage include hard-driving, slightly troubled Courtney (Ellen Page) whose memories of a tragic car accident are shared with the audience by way of vague flashbacks.

Courtney has an interest in near-death experiences. To study the physiology of that situation, she persuades two of her peers, Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), to stop her heart, then quickly revive her. While she’s deceased, they’ll scan her brain for any lingering activity.

Unsurprisingly, complications arise. These require the hurried intervention of Ray (Diego Luna), the wisest member of Courtney’s circle of friends who, probably for that reason, was not in on the scheme originally. When Courtney does eventually return to the land of the living, she comes back equipped with enhanced skills, impressing even the easily dissatisfied Dr. Wolfson.

As a result, and despite Ray’s disapproval, others decide to give mortality a spin, including Jamie, Sophia and yet another of Courtney’s pals, Marlo (Nina Dobrev). But day-tripping to the great beyond turns out to have a serious downside which even Ray has not foreseen: The revivified soon begin to have eerie hallucinations, all in some way connected to dark secrets from the past.

Director Niels Arden Oplev’s horror-tinged drama has a basically sound moral outlook as far as forgiveness and honesty about past misdeeds are concerned. And at least one plot development can be read as somewhat pro-life.

A couple of liaisons among the future physicians, on the other hand, are not at all what the doctor ordered. That’s especially true of the affection-free encounter with Jamie by which Sophia signals her rebellion against the constraints of her controlling mother (Wendy Raquel Robinson). Lest either Mom or the audience miss the point, the unloving couple makes quite a racket.

While the ensemble’s experiments hardly constitute suicide, they are obviously irresponsible in the extreme, violating the moral obligation under the Fifth Commandment to nurture and preserve good health. The whole premise is so far removed from real life, however, that assessing its ethical standing seems irrelevant. It’s doubtful any viewers will want to try this at home.

The film contains fleeting gory violence, semi-graphic casual sex, partial nudity, mature themes including abortion, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and at least one rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘American Made’ feels too turbulent and bumpy

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Catholic News Service

“American Made,” the wild, fact-based story of airline pilot-turned-gun-runner Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), is far too turbulent for youngsters and even too bumpy for most of their elders.

Tom Cruise and and Alejandro Edda star in a scene from the movie “American Made.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture . (CNS photo/Universal)

That’s a shame because, given a different treatment, this unlikely tale of a man playing several sides against the middle might have made an entertaining slice of recent history for a much wider audience.

Bored with his career ferrying passengers around the country for TWA, Barry reacts enthusiastically when approached by CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) with the offer of a covert mission. It’s the early 1980s and the opening stages of the Reagan administration, and Schafer wants Barry to transport arms to the U.S.-backed contra forces fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

This turns out to be exciting, dangerous but straightforward work. Yet Barry is soon diverted from it by the chance to smuggle cocaine for the leaders of the nascent Medellin drug cartel, Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia).

Discovering, more or less simultaneously, that the contras would rather get rich than fight, Barry develops an elaborate scheme to supply the weapons to the gangsters and the narcotics to the guerrillas, all the while pretending to carry on with his original assignment from Schafer.

The immense wealth Barry amasses as a result delights his loyal wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen). But it also arouses the suspicions of Craig McCall (E. Roger Mitchell), the local FBI agent in the area of Arkansas to which Schafer has relocated the Louisiana-bred Seals, as well as those of their new home town’s Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons).

Director Doug Liman and writer Gary Spinelli revel in the improbability of their tale and the law-flouting skills of their protagonist. But, after further complications set in, they try to have it both ways where the white powder is concerned, condemning government hypocrisy while letting Barry himself off the hook.

Add to this ambivalence their explicit portrayal of the passionate nature of the central pair’s bond and the constant vulgarity that marks the script, and the result is a free-for-all that makes apt fun for few.

The film contains strong sexual content, including graphic scenes of marital lovemaking, a glimpse of full nudity and implied aberrant behavior, some stylized combat and other violence, a drug theme, several uses of profanity as well as 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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‘Friend Request’ is second-rate horror flick for Facebook users

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

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Catholic News Service

Lots of blood and little sense characterize the second-rate horror flick “Friend Request.”

Alycia Debnam-Carey and Liesl Ahlers star in a scene from the movie “Friend Request.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. .(CNS photo/Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

Though director and co-writer Simon Verhoeven’s routine creeper includes a few genuinely jumpy moments, it fails to establish any grounding in logic. The film also becomes ever gorier as it unspools.

In a bid to frighten Facebook users, the plot has popular psych major Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) briefly befriend isolated fellow student Marina (Liesl Ahlers) both online and in person. When odd duck Marina behaves too strangely and gets too clingy, though, Laura dumps her, only to be shaken to learn, shortly afterward, that Marina has killed herself.

End of story? Well, not quite.

Death, it turns out, fails to stop occult-loving Marina. Wreaking revenge from beyond the grave, she targets her erstwhile buddy’s circle of closest pals, including BFF Olivia (Brit Morgan), tech guru Kobe (Connor Paolo), party boy Gustavo (Sean Marquette) and hefty, good-hearted Isabel (Brooke Markham).

Marina also manages to endanger Tyler (William Moseley), the aspiring coroner with whom Laura sometimes cohabits. (If that sounds like a somewhat random career for Verhoeven and his screenplay partners Matthew Ballen and Philip Koch to assign to the young man, bear in mind that having a character with easy access to the morgue can come in handy in this type of movie.)

As her besties drop like flies, Laura also has to grapple with the fact that Marina has taken control of her Facebook account and the folks at Facebook are powerless to help! What are the stabbings, gunshots and defenestration Laura’s unfortunate confidants are facing compared to the horror of that?

The film contains excessive bloody violence, a suicide theme, a premarital situation, some gruesome images, several uses of profanity, occasional rough language and a few crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ a tedious Lego letdown

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

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Catholic News Service

Third time lucky? Not for the Lego screen franchise, alas.

Animated characters appear in the movie “The Lego Ninjago Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

In following up on 2014’s “The Lego Movie” and “The Lego Batman Movie” from earlier this year, directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, the latter two also co-writers, along with four others, attempt to blend a children’s feature and an action film. The result, “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” is awkward, noisy and tedious, though the boredom is occasionally relieved by the odd flash of wit.

Bookended by live-action sequences featuring martial-arts icon Jackie Chan as a curio shop owner who becomes the story’s narrator, the cartoon follows the exploits of a schoolboy named Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco), a resident of far-off Ninjago City.

With his home town constantly under attack by his villainous father, Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), Lloyd is an object of scorn and derision to many of his peers. Yet, unbeknown to them or to Garmadon, Lloyd leads a double life, battling his bad dad in the guise of a ninja warrior.

He’s backed up by a quintet of pals and fellow fighters: Cole (voice of Fred Armisen), Nya (voice of Abbi Jacobson), Jay (voice of Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (voice of Michael Pena) and Zane (voice of Zach Woods). Like Lloyd himself, all of them have trained under the tutelage of Master Wu (voiced by Chan), Lloyd’s wise and virtuous uncle (and Garmadon’s estranged brother).

The forgettable series of explosions and other disturbances that follow from this set-up drown out the script’s listless pursuit of themes like the possibility of personal conversion and the value of family reconciliation. A few of the jokes will likely raise a smile. Garmadon, for instance, insists on pronouncing both the L’s in Lloyd. But the demolition quickly recommences.

The dialogue includes some vague mumbo-jumbo about humans harnessing the power of the elements. Thus one of Lloyd’s comrades can deploy fire, another water, a third ice and so on. Though this aspect of the picture never amounts to much more than an excuse to include the hummable 1990 hit “The Power” on the soundtrack, it’s not for the easily confused.

The film contains perilous situations, a bit of mild scatological humor and a couple of mature references. 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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‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ dressed in unsuitable, gruesome style

September 21st, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Stylish but wayward, director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn’s action sequel “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” spoils its own fun by refusing all hint of restraint.

Channing Tatum and Halle Berry star in a scene from the movie “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS/Fox)

This leads to cartoonish but gruesome mayhem as well as a distasteful bedroom sequence that, together with other over-the-top elements, push the proceedings beyond the boundaries of acceptability.

In following up on his 2015 feature, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” Vaughn and his returning script collaborator Jane Goldman once again focus on Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), the working-class London lad whose transformation into a skilled espionage operative was charted in the original.

Now an established agent of the independent Kingsman service, Eggsy takes on Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a psychopathic international drug trafficker intent on blackmailing the U.S. government into legalizing all narcotics. Early scenes find Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), the group’s tech guru, staggered by Poppy’s murderous assault on their headquarters and on the homes of some of their colleagues.

Following an emergency protocol, the duo discovers the existence of the Kentucky-based American counterpart of their organization, and travels to bluegrass country seeking assistance.

Where the Kingsman, as viewers of the first movie will know, use the eponymous Saville Row tailor shop as a front their operation, their cousins across the water conceal themselves behind the Statesman whiskey distillery. And, just as Kingsman agents use figures from Arthurian legend for their codenames, Statesman spies, including their leader, Champagne (Jeff Bridges), get their monikers from a variety of beverages.

With Champagne’s aid, as well as that of his subordinates, Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Eggsy battles to bring down both Poppy and Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a rejected Kingsman applicant who’s backing her.

Continuing to work from a comic book series by Matt Millar and Dave Gibbons, Vaughn edges Eggsy toward a more committed relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), a Swedish princess he rescued from peril in the first outing. And the screenplay dwells on Eggsy’s ties to his mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), aka Agent Galahad.

Yet, to cite just one instance of the movie’s excesses, the audience watches as characters are fed into a meat grinder. There’s no helping that kind of hamburger.

The film contains persistent, sometimes shocking, bloody violence, a scene of cannibalism, a drug theme, cohabitation, frivolously portrayed casual sex, some sexual humor, a couple of uses of profanity as well as pervasive rough and much crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘American Assassin,’ Rhode Island, specifically

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains a vigilante theme, constant bloody violence, including torture and gunplay, brief upper female nudity, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Evil clown terrorizes children in ‘It’

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Catholic News Service

Moviegoers looking for nothing more than to be unsettled will likely be satisfied with the horror adaptation “It.” However, while director Andy Muschiett’s generally effective screen version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel promotes friendship and fear-conquering solidarity, it also includes some grisly sights that, taken together with other elements, make it suitable for few.

Bill Skarsgard stars in a scene from the movie “It.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Set in a small Maine town in the late 1980s, the novel took place in the 1950s, the film finds an ensemble of middle-school kids being preyed on by a demonic clown called Pennywise (twitchy Bill Skarsgard) and by other manifestations of evil.

The youngsters, led by stutterer Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl with a dark domestic secret, are bound together by their status as outsiders. Thus they christen themselves the Losers’ Club. Other members include overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), bespectacled Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and undersized hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

For Bill, the struggle against Pennywise has a special urgency since he suspects that the malevolent jester was behind the disappearance of his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). The early scene in which Pennywise deploys rows of fangs to bite Georgie’s arm off marks a notable departure from the movie’s generally restrained approach to mayhem.

Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman emphasize the camaraderie uniting the youthful crusaders as they battle their occult opponents. By unwelcome contrast, though, the script ranges virtually all adults on the side of darkness; Beverly’s unnamed father (Stephen Bogaert) is particularly villainous.

Matching Georgie’s dismemberment is a sequence in which Muschietti does to Beverly’s bathroom what Stanley Kubrick did to the elevators of the Overlook Hotel in another Stephen King property, 1980’s “The Shinning,” flooding the place in gallons of gore. Though such moments are rare, they are sufficiently excessive to deter even a large swath of grownups.

Additionally, there’s a nasty undertone to some of the dialogue since the lads of the Losers’ Club revel in exchanging sexual insults, including jibes aimed at one another’s female relatives. An underwear-clad dip in the local quarry also affords the boys a chance to ogle the contents of Beverly’s bra. Though their fascination is played for laughs, it registers as something more than innocent curiosity.

The film contains mature themes, including implied incestuous child sexual abuse, occasional bloody violence and disturbing images, intermittent sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, pervasive rough and frequent crude language and obscene gestures. 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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‘Tulip Fever’ treads clumsily through love and lust

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains frequent premarital, marital and adulterous sex scenes, full nudity, and unflattering references to religion. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Birth of the Dragon’ takes the action out of kung fu

August 28th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

No one goes to a kung fu movie to savor plot nuances. They’re all about tightly choreographed kicks and punches, and pleasing epigrammatic dialogue about near-monastic discipline and self-control, mixed in with a dusting of Asian spice.

Xia Yu and Philip Ng star in a scene from the movie “Birth of the Dragon.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/BH Tilt)

“Birth of the Dragon” — a fictional retelling of a real confrontation between Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) and Chinese martial-arts master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu) in San Francisco in 1964 — hits all these notes, but dully. There’s far more talking than punching, plus a subplot involving Chinese criminals that comes off as stereotyped.

The good intentions and moral core of the film, adapted from an article by Michael Dorgan, are on display, though. Director George Nolfi and screenwriters Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele show Lee — a future martial-arts legend who died at only 32 in a 1973 accident — as cocky and engaging. He teaches his craft to groups, including white men, with the intention of popularizing it while building his nascent screen career.

Lee wants to make kung fu “bigger than the Hula Hoop,” he claims. “Bigger than Coca-Cola.

Most of the screen time, though, is taken up by Lee’s student, Steve (Billy Magnussen). His earnest goofiness ties all the plot threads together, as when he becomes enamored of shy waitress Xiulan Quan (Qu Jingjing) who’s actually a “possession of Auntie Blossom” (Xing Jin), a crime lord who brought her to America.

There aren’t any opium dens here, mostly there are just scowling gangsters throwing punches and making threats. But viewers get the feeling that such ancient Asiatic canards are never far away.

Wong, older and dignified, arrives from China and takes a job as a dishwasher because he’s undergoing some form of penance. He’s suspicious of Lee’s teaching of Westerners, since he believes that all forms of martial arts address one’s soul, and should not be used to procure fame and wealth.

Eventually, Lee, who admires Wong, challenges him to a fight. Bets go down, there’s a big finish as old school takes on new school, and Lee’s legend, like that of a gunfighter, is born.

The relatively restrained language and low level of mayhem in “Birth of the Dragon” probably make it acceptable for at least some mature adolescents.

The film contains much nonlethal 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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