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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Catholic News Service

Despite its ponderous title, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” turns out to be a flashy but lightweight sci-fi adventure likely to divert those grown viewers content to munch their popcorn and enjoy a break from the heat of summer.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star in a scene from the movie "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/TF1 Films)

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star in a scene from the movie “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/TF1 Films)

Moviegoers seeking something more memorable, by contrast, will be disappointed. And some gritty elements incorporated into the film suggest that even most mature teens should skip this trip to the stars and instead stay safely earthbound.

It’s the 28th century, and devil-may-care intergalactic law enforcement agent Maj. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) finds himself sharing both romantic tension and a series of crime-busting exploits with his more serious-minded partner, Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne). Initially, the latter involve the legacy of the destroyed planet Mul.

Small reptiles from that lost orb, known as Mul Converters, had the power to multiple pearl-like gems that doubled as energy-producing wonder minerals. Now, the last remaining Mul Converter has fallen into the wrong hands, and Valerian and Laureline’s boss, the Minister of Defense (musician Herbie Hancock), dispatches them to retrieve it.

Later phases of the plot concern the fate of Alpha, the titular metropolis. This mega-space station, a gathering place for a wide variety of life forms, is under threat from an unidentified force, and it’s up to our heroes to get to the bottom of the mystery.

In adapting a series of graphic novels by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, writer-director Luc Besson excels at such sequences as an interdimensional chase through an exotic bazaar. Yet his sometimes baroquely overwrought film is longer on style than ultimate impact.

The love story sees playboy Valerian, whose promiscuous past is treated lightheartedly, anxious to mend his ways in favor of marital commitment. And there are incidental religious references in the dialogue, though these are partly offset by equally fleeting lines with a pagan ring to them.

In addition to an early scene in which the main duo canoodle, Valerian’s detour through Alpha’s gritty red-light district — during which he’s momentarily mesmerized by shape-shifting stripper-prostitute Bubble (pop star Rihanna), and also has to deal with her crafty pimp, Jolly (Ethan Hawke), puts the proceedings well out of bounds for youngsters.

Bubble remains at least minimally clad. But some of her ever-changing costumes play on fetishistic fantasies, making this portion of the otherwise mostly inoffensive “Valerian” unsavory even for older viewers.

The film contains gunplay and other stylized violence, a prostitution theme, scenes of sensuality with partial nudity, a mild oath and crude 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.

 

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“Dunkirk” proves a compelling historical drama

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

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Catholic News Service

“Wars are not won by evacuations,” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously observed. As writer-director Christopher Nolan’s compelling historical drama “Dunkirk” demonstrates, however, fine films can be made about them.

Soldiers are shown in a scene from the movie "Dunkirk." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Soldiers are shown in a scene from the movie “Dunkirk.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

May and June 1940 were indeed, in Mel Brooks’ sarcastic phrase, “Springtime for Hitler.” Using blitzkrieg tactics and a surprise attack through the supposedly impassible Ardennes Forest, his forces rapidly defeated and encircled the British Expeditionary Force and its French allies. Eventually hundreds of thousands of troops were left trapped in a small pocket centered on the English Channel port of the title.

Though the Fuhrer called a halt on the land assault and assigned the Luftwaffe the task of finishing off the Allies from the air, the prospects for Britain remained dire. Were the vast bulk of its army to be taken prisoner in France, the outlook for defending against a Nazi invasion of Britain itself would be virtually hopeless.

In picking up the story at this point, Nolan takes an Everyman’s view of the situation. Dividing the action into events on land, sea and air, he apportions story lines among an ensemble cast, with sometimes confusing and dramatically diffuse results.

Representing the cornered forces on the beach is a trio of ordinary soldiers, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles). Among the few officers portrayed in the film are the senior naval representative on the scene, Cmdr. Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and his army counterpart, Col. Winnant (James D’Arcy).

Embodying the many hundreds of British seafaring civilians who answered the call for fishing and pleasure craft to join in the rescue is small yacht owner Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance). Dawson is accompanied by his teen son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and by Peter’s friend, George (Barry Keoghan).

In the middle of the Channel, they rescue an unnamed soldier, played by Cillian Murphy, whose shell-shocked condition and frantic determination not to return, however temporarily, to Dunkirk pose a fresh and distracting challenge for them, with ultimately grim results.

Up in the skies, a duo of RAF Spitfire pilots — Collins (Jack Lowden) and his higher-ranking comrade, Farrier (Tom Hardy) — battle the German fighters and bombers seeking to wreak havoc on both the hapless soldiers and the shipping below.

The perils of the desperate, against-the-odds operation are fully exploited for dramatic tension, with near-death experiences awaiting almost every character. The measures resorted to by some of them in their efforts to survive seem questionable, at least as viewed from a comfortable theater seat.

Yet these ethical lapses are balanced by a general sense of heroic pluck and by incidents in which humane justice and generosity of spirit are upheld. The altruism motivating Dawson and others to risk life and limb for the sake of strangers also elevates the moral tone.

While “Dunkirk” is not for the fainthearted of any age, the movie’s educational value and relative freedom from objectionable content makes it probably acceptable for older teens.

The film contains intense stylized combat violence, brief gore, a couple of uses of profanity and at least one instance each of rough, crude and 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.

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College friends reunite for raunchy ‘Girls Trip’

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Catholic News Service

Buried underneath several layers of crass gags, “Girls Trip,” has a substantial story about loyalty and moral decisions. But libidinous raunch is the evident lure.

Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish star in a scene from the movie "Girls Trip." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Universal Studios)

Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish star in a scene from the movie “Girls Trip.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Universal Studios)

The intended audience for this film is women in groups, eager to vicariously enjoy some road-trip misbehavior that comes with a considerable helping of melodrama. It’s meant to be a bonding experience.

The cast is having a very good time of it, in some cases referencing scenes from the actors’ earlier films. And the physical gags, which almost always involve sexual behavior, are somehow separate from the core story about reconnecting and finding support.

Four women, best friends since college, when they were known as the Flossy Posse, have, in the ensuing years, gone their own ways. Sasha (Queen Latifah) is a perpetually broke former journalist hoping to hit it big with her own celebrity gossip site. Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is divorced with small children and living with her mother.

Dina (Tiffany Haddish), still the live wire of the group, hasn’t settled down, and Ryan (Regina Hall) is a successful self-help author with an NFL star husband, Stewart (Mike Colter). She’s on the verge of receiving a massive investment so she can form “the first black Huffington Post.”

The group re-forms to go to the annual “Essence” Festival, sponsored by the magazine in New Orleans. There Ryan is to give a keynote address as a prelude to a marketing deal.

The event provides a backdrop for a lot of drinking, dancing and sexual talk prompted by Dina, especially after she learns that Lisa hasn’t had sex in years. As directed by Malcolm D. Lee from a script by Kenya Barris, Karen McCullah, Tracy Oliver and Erica Rivinoja, the quartet somehow keep their dignity when sober, but the Crescent City nights give them an excuse to cut loose.

There’s a dramatic center as well: When Sasha learns that Stewart’s been cheating on Ryan with an “Instagram model,” she has to decide whether to sell that information or give Ryan a chance to clean the situation up out of public view. That becomes difficult when Stewart turns up with the model in New Orleans.

Later, Ryan has to decide whether maintaining the illusion of a happy marriage is worth millions of dollars.

There’s a solid structure and wrap-up to the proceedings. But the drunken, and sometimes distasteful, goings-on are certainly not for everyone.

The film contains rear male nudity, scatological imagery, drug use, sexual banter, several descriptions of sexual activity and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Kaiser Wilhelm in exile discovered in WWII spy movie

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Catholic News Service

Historical kitsch applied to World War II espionage doesn’t get more gloriously over the top than in “The Exception.”

Jai Courtney stars in a scene from the movie “The Exception.” 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. (CNS photo/A24 Films)

Jai Courtney stars in a scene from the movie “The Exception.” 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. (CNS photo/A24 Films)

Based on Alan Judd’s 2003 novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” it has, as billed, Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) living out the last year of his exile in the Netherlands before his 1941 death.

Wilhelm is portrayed as a bitter, yet also kindly, twinkly eyed oldster who chops kindling wood and feeds ducks in his endless spare time while he yearns for the grand old days of the Hohenzollern Dynasty in Germany: “After all I’ve done for them, they stabbed me! In za back!”

This being the opening stages of World War II, a royal comeback’s not on the cards. But Adolf Hitler’s regime considers the Kaiser, exiled since the end of World War I, and wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), good for the morale of the Fatherland. So they’re kept on a generous allowance and provided a mansion, along with vague promises of a return.

There’s a new maid, Mieke (Lily James). She’s Jewish. She’s also feeding information to local spy Pastor Hendriks (Kris Cuppens). He, in turn, delivers his reports to a far-off British agent using a beeping telegraph key.

Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is assigned as the Kaiser’s new bodyguard so he can ferret out the spying, after he’s told, “If anything goes wrong, Captain, you’ll be shot!”

He’s so quickly attracted to Mieke that even when she tells him she’s Jewish, he doesn’t care. He’s still haunted by his role in the slaughter of Poles in a botched military operation the year before.

There’s some gratuitous nudity involved in their romantic encounters. But there’s not much of it, and director David Leveaux, working from Simon Burke’s screenplay, quickly returns to the conventions of a historical thriller, and the plot churns along to its overheated conclusion.

We are led to believe that although the Kaiser was anti-Semitic, the plans for the Nazis’ Final Solution, delivered by Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan), sickened him.

The plot is loosely based on real events. Still, the moment when Mieke approaches the Kaiser to tell him, “I heff a message for you, from Winston Churchill!” sounds more like an episode of the 1960s Stalag-set sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” than a plausible piece of history.

Overall, it’s a strange little story involving archetypes, but so exceptionally well-crafted, the stale elements simply fall away.

The film contains brief graphic nonmarital sexual activity with flashes of male and female nudity and fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ deploys Christian imagery

July 14th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Monkey business turns deadly serious in “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the climactic installment of the rebooted film franchise based on the work of French science-fiction author Pierre Boulle (1912-1994).

This is a scene from the movie "War for the Planet of the Apes." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Fox)

This is a scene from the movie “War for the Planet of the Apes.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

This grim, violent 3-D movie picks up two years after the events of 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which presaged a great conflict between the super-sentient simians (rendered remarkably lifelike in CGI) and what’s left of the human race after a devastating epidemic.  

Caesar (Andy Serkis), the erudite ape leader, is battle-scarred and weary. He wants nothing more than to lead his people, Moses-like, to a promised land in the desert, far away from the enemy.

“We are not savages,” he insists.

Unfortunately, the ragtag human army has other plans. Its leader, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), is hell-bent on annihilation. With his bald head, crazy eyes, and messianic complex, he’s a dead ringer for another colonel, Kurtz, in “Apocalypse Now.”

When tragedy strikes the apes’ compound, Caesar is transformed, and not for the better. A personal loss fills him with rage and a desire to seek revenge on the Colonel.

Abandoning his flock, Caesar sets out for the heart of darkness, accompanied by Maurice (Karin Konoval), his trusted orangutan adviser, and Rocket (Terry Notary), his right hand.

Along the way they pick up a mute human girl (Amiah Miller), whom they christen “Nova” (after the former Chevrolet automobile), as well as a manic simian called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who provides welcome comic relief.

Director Matt Reeves, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Bomback, earnestly strives for epic status with grandly staged battle scenes, but is a bit heavy-handed when it comes to religious imagery. In fact, a better title for this film would be “The Passion of the Apes,” especially as Caesar is scourged and hung on a St. Andrew cross while his fellow apes are tortured or killed.

However, the spiritual messages are decidedly mixed, even troubling. While the apes espouse winning Christian values of peace, love, and family, there’s a subtle anti-Christian message in the evil Colonel, who wears a cross around his neck, displays one in his quarters, and gleefully announces that he is waging a “holy war.”

The film contains frequent stylized violence, two uses of profanity, and a subtle anti-Christian message. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘Wish Upon’ presents fatally fulfilled desires

July 14th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The low-budget Faustian fable that is “Wish Upon” has a bullied teen girl fulfilling her earthly desires for vengeance, money, popularity and a surprisingly chaste romance in exchange for maybe her mortal soul.

Joey King and Mitchell Slaggert star in a scene from the movie "Wish Upon." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Broad Green Pictures)

Joey King and Mitchell Slaggert star in a scene from the movie “Wish Upon.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Broad Green Pictures)

Anyway, fulfillment using a mysterious Chinese “wish box” that grants seven of ’em is a double-edged sword. Every time Clare (Joey King) asks for something, she gets it, but someone else close to her has to die. Them’s the terms.

The character as written is hardly morally bereft. Clare is just trying to get along, and she’s still traumatized from having witnessed her mother’s suicide by hanging in the attic, but she’s a little dimwitted, too.

Clare takes a long time to catch on that this enameled box, a music box, is granting her wishes, and by the time it’s explained to her by a Chinese-American pal, she’s already five wishes into the deadly bargain.

Since her mother’s death, Clare’s father, Jonathan (Ryan Philippe), a sometimes musician, has been reduced to working as a trash picker in search of antiques, much to her embarrassment.

One day he brings home said box, for which the provenance is unknown. Clare, who just got into a cafeteria fight with one of her school’s mean girls, holds the box while expressing the hope that this girl should just rot away. Soon enough, the meanie does just that with a sudden case of the necrotizing fasciitis, known as the flesh-eating disease.

The plot meanders along this path for quite a while, with Clare getting her late uncle’s inheritance, and both she and her father achieving that all-important peer-group popularity as others meet their doom in a bathtub, a garbage disposer, an implied impalement and a runaway elevator. On this film’s budget, the splatter factor virtually ceases to be.

Director John Leonetti and screenwriter Barbara Marshall make the best of what they have, but each plot point and its resolution are telegraphed so blatantly, there’s no suspense.

The film contains fleeting gore 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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‘The House’ is for losers

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

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Catholic News Service

Had “The House” been made as a taut, dark comedy about the price of greed, it might have some merit. Instead, director Andrew Jay Cohen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Brendan O’Brien, has produced a sloppy, illogical, cringe-inducing time-waster.

Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas star in a scene from the movie "The House." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas star in a scene from the movie “The House.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as Scott and Kate Johansen are demonstrably stupid about the basics of financial security. But they are aware they’re in over their heads with debt. “We played by the rules and this is where it got us,” Scott complains bitterly.

Everyone’s happy when daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is accepted at Bucknell University. But they were counting on a free-ride scholarship offered by their town, and the town council decides to build an elaborate community pool instead.

The couple’s solution is to go into partnership with their friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to open a gambling den in his home. Frank’s trying to avoid foreclosure and get back with his wife, Raina (Michaela Watkins), who has been asking for a divorce.

Since the gambling house always wins, they figure that this is a foolproof scheme. What they don’t realize, of course, is that they’re complete fools, and that all such criminal enterprises eventually face justice.

Chaos descends quickly, with Frank putting the casino into heavy debt with high-end amenities, and the jollity comes to an abrupt end when Scott, threatening an accused cheater, unintentionally chops off his finger with a hatchet.

Light on the yucks but heavy on the yuk, “The House” becomes an onerous trial of the viewer’s attention span.

The film contains a lengthy gory sequence and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Spider-Man ‘re-spun’ for ‘Homecoming’

July 5th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

There’s much to like about the vibrant comic-book adaptation “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Besides an unslacking pace and a clever central plot twist, there’s the fact that the mayhem on display is kept virtually bloodless.

And the film showcases both loyal friendship and restrained romance.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man stars in a scene from the movie "Spider-Man: Homecoming." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man stars in a scene from the movie “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults.

As detailed below, however, some of the dialogue places this summertime diversion off-limits for the many youngsters who would otherwise likely enjoy it. That said, at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older adolescents.

With 33-year-old Andrew Garfield, star of the last two Spider-Man films, having presumably outgrown the persona of eternally 15-year-old Peter Parker, and with a relatively new collaboration between Sony and Marvel Comics now controlling the character, it’s time for some changes in the longstanding franchise.

So Tom Holland steps into the shoes, make that boots, of the world’s most famous web-slinger, and we start the story afresh.

Some elements of Peter’s familiar saga endure. Thus, he continues to lead a double life in an effort to keep his extra-curricular crime-fighting activities concealed from his easily worried guardian, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

While she provides him with guidance in everyday life, as tipped in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter’s alter ego has acquired a mentor in the person of industrialist Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Peter also has developed a new ambition: he yearns to secure a place among the elite Avengers with whom he mixed in that 2016 outing.

Given his youth and inexperience, Stark urges Peter to focus on thwarting petty neighborhood misdemeanors. But an irresistible target of a very different kind emerges when Peter stumbles across the dangerous schemes of mechanically winged villain Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture (Michael Keaton).

Toomes is busy selling high-tech weapons on the black market, and has no intention of having his commerce interfered with by Spidey.

In between nocturnal battles with the bad guys, Peter prepares to lead his school’s team at an academic decathlon to be held in Washington. Teammates include his best pal, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Liz (Laura Harrier), the senior for whom sophomore Peter pines.

Director and co-writer Jon Watts crafts a lively and satisfying action adventure. But, as typified by the male-body-part nickname taunting fellow student Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) saddles Peter with, and incites a crowd to chant repeatedly, the collaborative script (on which Watts worked with five others) is unfit for kids. That’s too bad since they’ll be missing out on quite a bit of fun.

The film contains much stylized violence, including gunplay and a beating, a gruesome image, brief sexual humor, a couple of mild oaths, a few crude expressions and an obscene gesture. 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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Adults may enjoy taking ‘Baby Driver’ for a spin

By

Catholic News Service

Stylish and energetic, the high-octane crime drama “Baby Driver” blends pop music, dizzying car chases and some dark humor to impressive effect.

Ansel Elgort and Lily James star in a scene from the movie "Baby Driver." The Catholic News Service classification is L, Limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Sony)

Ansel Elgort and Lily James star in a scene from the movie “Baby Driver.” The Catholic News Service classification is L, Limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Sony)

While the film’s basic values are sound, however, late plot developments involve a quantity of bloodletting that will seem excessive to many moviegoers.

Ansel Elgort plays the title character, who prefers the moniker Baby to his real name. An otherwise decent young man, Baby is being forced to serve as the getaway driver in a series of bank robberies to pay off a debt he incurred to callous mobster Doc (Kevin Spacey).

This brings him into contact and collaboration with a series of lowlifes, including Wall Street executive-turned-thief Buddy (Jon Hamm), Buddy’s moll Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and aptly nicknamed psychopath Bats (Jamie Foxx). The better part of Baby’s nature, meanwhile, is expressed in the care he gives his deaf and ailing foster father, Joe (CJ Jones), and in his romance with sprightly diner waitress Debora (Lily James).

Writer-director Edgar Wright earns his paycheck with a production carefully choreographed down to the last gesture, and there’s an amiable and appealing spirit to most of the proceedings. Elgort invites strong sympathy for the orphaned, often silent Baby.

While it can be argued that Wright tries to have it both ways, ethically speaking, a reckoning does eventually arrive, and crime is ultimately punished. Baby and Debora’s relationship, moreover, remains chaste, with nothing more than kisses being exchanged.

Yet, as things begin to wind up, Wright aims for shock value by having some of his bad guys meet spectacular, brutal deaths. This considerably circumscribes the audience for which “Baby Driver” can be endorsed. Forewarned grownups, however, may enjoy taking it for a spin.

The film contains momentary but intense gory violence along with much gunplay, several uses of profanity 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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‘Despicable Me 3’ thins out the reformed-villain series

June 29th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Director Pierre Coffin’s animated comedy “Despicable Me 3” — the second direct follow-up to the 2010 original — turns out to be something of a disappointment, falling short when compared to its predecessors.

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, appears in the  animated movie "Despicable Me 3." (CNS photo/Universal)

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, appears in the animated movie “Despicable Me 3.” (CNS photo/Universal)

There is good news about the film, though, because its weak central plot is offset not only by amusing side stories but by strong values as well.

This time out, Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the once slightly wicked villain who turned thoroughgoing good guy over the course of the first two films, is up against an unlikely opponent. Balthazar Bratt, an ex-child actor whose 1980s TV show, “Evil Bratt,” was abruptly canceled when his voice began cracking and he developed acne, is out to wreak delayed vengeance by destroying Hollywood.

As Gru battles to thwart this plan, he also discovers that he has a brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) that his unnamed mother (voice of Julie Andrews) never told him about. Predictably, the siblings quickly bond, though Dru tries to convince Gru to return to the dark side, citing their father’s career as a criminal as precedent for a family tradition.

Along with the newfound brothers’ mutual affection, clan closeness is also celebrated through scenes of Gru’s interaction with his supportive wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and their shared nurturing of their trio of adopted daughters, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

Jokes riffing on Reagan-era fads and fashions, shoulder pads and the like, generally fall flat. But Agnes’ determination to find and take in a live unicorn, and Gru’s reluctance to tell her the truth about her favorite creatures, are endearing. So too is her bedtime prayer on the subject.

Additionally, the pixilated minions (voiced by director Pierre Coffin) who once carried out Gru’s bidding, and who featured in their own 2015 film, are on hand to get things back on track.

The references to puberty involved in Bratt’s show biz downfall might provoke some uncomfortable questions from little kids. Beyond that, Gru winds up in an embarrassing state of undress at one point and there’s some bathroom and body-parts humor.

Since there’s also some danger portrayed along the way, parents of the smallest, most easily scared tykes may not find this a good cinematic choice. For everyone else, it makes acceptable if not outstanding summer entertainment.

The film contains characters in peril, brief partial nudity played for laughs, mild scatological and anatomical humor and a couple of vaguely crass slang terms. 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.

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      Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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