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Long, loud and dumb: ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’

June 26th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Grown-ups who yearn to connect with their inner 11-year-old boy are given a two-and-a-half-hour window of opportunity to do so in “Transformers: The Last Knight.”

As for the literal preteens who might somehow enjoy this long, loud and dumb production, however, a steady stream of swearing and some muddled supernatural motifs make it inappropriate for them.

Samuel Parker, Isabela Moner, Benjamin Flores Jr., Juliocesar Chavez and Daniel Iturriaga star in a scene from the movie "Transformers: The Last Knight." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Samuel Parker, Isabela Moner, Benjamin Flores Jr., Juliocesar Chavez and Daniel Iturriaga star in a scene from the movie “Transformers: The Last Knight.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13. (CNS photo/Paramount)

The fifth franchise entry for a series based on a line of Hasbro toys, and dating back to 2007’s “Transformers,” director Michael Bay’s ponderous sci-fi action flick, like its immediate predecessor, centers on small-time inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg).

Unlike most humans, Cade distinguishes between the good shape-shifting robots of the title, represented most prominently by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), and their evil counterparts. For those keeping score, the former group are called Autobots, the latter Decepticons.

This time out, Cade is scrambling to save Earth from being destroyed in a collision with the automatons’ home planet, Cybertron. It seems that Quintessa (Gemma Chan), the evil sorceress who created the Transformers, has a scheme to revive their dying orb by desolating ours. She manages to coerce Optimus into switching sides and abetting her based on the rather unanswerable argument that she is his god.

Along with that little nonscriptural nugget, the sinkhole of a plot drags in prehistory, via a set of Dinobots allied with the Autobots, King Arthur (Liam Garrigan), the biblical apocalypse and Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock), an English professor in present-day Oxford who becomes Cade’s antipathy-at-first-sight love interest. Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), a loopy historian, explains all these connections in detail but unconvincingly.

As boredom sets in, viewers may take to counting the number of times Cullen pompously intones “I am Optimus Prime …” Once is too often.

The film contains occult themes, much harsh but mostly bloodless combat violence, at least one use of profanity 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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‘All Eyez on Me’ insightful but offensive

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

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Catholic News Service

Radical politics and the wayward values of hip-hop culture take “All Eyez on Me,” a sometimes intense but overlong and rarely insightful biography of rapper Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.), off course.

Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Kat Graham star in a scene from the movie "All Eyez on Me." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive.  (CNS photo/Codeblack Films)

Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Kat Graham star in a scene from the movie “All Eyez on Me.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Codeblack Films)

Add to these elements a script so laden with obscenities that hardly a sentence of dialogue passes without a visit to the verbal gutter, and the film becomes endorsable for none.

Born into a family of Black Panther activists, Danai Gurira turns in a powerful performance as his mother, Afeni, the future singer and actor confronts the challenges of an inner-city childhood before gaining stardom. Afeni trains him to react to these circumstances partly by educating himself (he eventually becomes a Shakespeare aficionado) but also, more troublingly, through a revolutionary attitude apparently accepting of violence.

Beginning with these early scenes, the script, written by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian, shows a lack of balance both in its wholesale sympathy for the Panthers and in its entirely negative portrayal of the police. It later depicts former Vice President Dan Quayle as a villain and a dunce for questioning the anti-law enforcement tenor of some of Shakur’s lyrics.

Structured around an interview with a fictional, and unnamed, journalist (Hill Harper) during a real stint in prison, the retrospective takes in Shakur’s lifelong friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), his partnership with rage-prone producer Suge Knight (Dominic Santana) and his romance with Quincy Jones’ daughter, Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh).

Before achieving a more or less stable relationship with Kidada, albeit one that involves living together before marriage, Shakur is shown partaking in the decadent lifestyle often associated with celebrity. This includes group and casual sex as well as deviant acts. Although a minor character calls Shakur out on this behavior, overall, the movie’s tone is one of implicit acceptance.

Where narcotics are concerned, “All Eyez” adopts an ambivalent outlook. While Afeni struggles with addiction and Shakur himself consistently refuses hard drugs, smoking marijuana is presented as essentially harmless.

Rampant materialism, exemplified by bling jewelry and private jets, also plays a role in setting director Benny Boom’s dramatization at odds with faith-based values. While viewers will hardly begrudge the once impoverished Shakur the financial success he earned, the need to wear more than one gold Rolex watch at a time can be questioned.

In fact, rivalry for expensive trinkets may have played a role in the tragic end of Shakur’s story, his still unsolved murder on the streets of Las Vegas 21 years ago. As a postscript to the picture points out, Shakur’s brief life, he died aged 25, was at least as much marked by creativity as by controversy. But if there are lessons to be learned from it, they are not to be found in “All Eyez on Me.”

The film contains some violence and gore, strong sexual content, including aberrant behavior, cohabitation and rear and upper female nudity, drug use, about a dozen profanities and relentless rough and 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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‘Rough Night’ is dead on arrival

June 15th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Weekend at Bernie’s” meets “Bridesmaids” in the raunchy comedy “Rough Night.” The result is pure dreck.

Political candidate and bride-to-be Jess Thayer (Scarlett Johansson) joins her four best friends — Aussie ditz Pippa (Kate McKinnon), overeager misfit Alice (Jillian Bell), social justice warrior Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and self-satisfied rich lady Blair (Zoe Kravitz) — for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami.

Zoe Kravitz, Jillian Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, and Illana Grazer star in a scene from the movie "Rough Night." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. .(CNS photo/Sony)

Zoe Kravitz, Jillian Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, and Illana Grazer star in a scene from the movie “Rough Night.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. .(CNS photo/Sony)

After doing shots and snorting cocaine, they summon a stripper (Ryan Cooper) to the house they’ve been loaned. But the fun comes to a screeching halt when Alice, who could afford to go on a diet, accidentally kills burlesque boy by impulsively jumping into his lap, overturning his chair and smashing the back of his head into the corner of a stone hearth.

As the quintet scrambles to hide the evidence, fearing, for barely tenable reasons, that the police will not believe their story, director and co-writer Lucia Aniello’s film runs the gamut of smut. Early on, the script (on which Aniello collaborated with Paul W. Downs, who also plays Jess’ nice-guy fiance, Peter) winsomely tips us off to the fact that, back in college, Frankie and Blair were lovers.

Later the screenplay introduces us to Lea and Pietro (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell), the randy swingers who live next door. Plot developments find Blair forced into an encounter with this duo while Peter, who knows that Jess is in some kind of trouble, dons diapers and chugs Red Bull for a marathon drive to Florida to save the day.

Along the way to the supposedly friendship-affirming conclusion, such inherently hilarious subjects as contraception, venereal disease and personal hygiene are milked for laughs. And, as Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman discovered all those years ago in the first movie referred to above, there’s really no sight gag funnier than propping up a corpse.

The film contains strong sexual content, including aberrant behavior, nudity and a benign view of homosexual acts, cohabitation, drug use, some gory images, constant vulgar humor, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Lovers’ a ‘lyrical’ look at infidelity but not its damage

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Catholic News Service

To the extent that a thoughtful drama about marital infidelity can be considered lyrical, “The Lovers” achieves that. Writer-director Azazel Jacobs carefully structures his plot to minimize any gaping holes in logic. But he also downplays the extensive collateral damage adultery inflicts.

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star in a scene from the movie "The Lovers." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.  (CNS photo/A24)

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star in a scene from the movie “The Lovers.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/A24)

Perhaps he wanted to avoid making anyone a villain. Certainly, no one is ever shown to be really at fault. Lacking a steady moral compass, his characters are buffeted by life’s unpredictability.

The story focuses on Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), two doughy, respectable, middle-age empty-nesters, their son Joel (Tyler Ross) is away at college.

Their marriage has, for reasons not explained, sputtered out. Both have taken on lovers.

They seem to be mutually aware of the cheating, but they’re exceedingly polite to each other and still share the same bed. The lethargy that led to their love’s demise, as well as bland domestic rituals, prevent them from actually splitting.

Mary, her mouth a rictus of pain and confusion, has taken up with handsome, younger Robert (Aidan Gillen). Michael, whose emotional outlet usually consists of giggling, is carrying on with Lucy (Melora Walters), an emotionally fragile ballet teacher.

Jacobs keeps his story sympathetic and free of tawdriness by showing that Mary and Michael, numb in their own lives, aren’t particularly good at adultery, either. Thus they find many ways to be both physically and emotionally unavailable to their paramours.

Why Robert and Lucy regard these two as good catches is mysterious. But eventually they both deliver ultimatums. Whatever goes on, it’s never glamorous.

That, too, is one of Jacobs’ points. Love and physical attraction often make no sense, and eventually Michael and Mary find, to their considerable surprise, that their spark has returned. So, in a series of farcical sequences, they end up “cheating” on their lovers.

This lurches on for a spell until a visit from Joel and his girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula), sets into motion events which reveal the hollowness of the charade.

The film contains an adultery theme, fleeting scenes of marital sexual activity, some of it potentially aberrant, and much profane and 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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A third new paint job for ‘Cars 3’

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

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Catholic News Service

Fasten your seatbelts and start your engines for a wild (and often ear-splitting) ride in “Cars 3,” the latest installment of the family-friendly animated franchise.

Six years after the initial sequel and 11 since the series began with “Cars,” the anthropomorphic autos are back with a vengeance. Director Brian Fee ramps up the racing action (and the roar of the engines) while introducing a fleet of new characters sure to please young viewers, not to mention toy manufacturers.

This is a scene from the movie "Cars 3." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage.  (CNS /Disney)

This is a scene from the movie “Cars 3.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. (CNS /Disney)

Happily, there’s much more than the dizzying blur of NASCAR-like action. Screenwriters Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich inject a nice amount of heart and pathos into the comedic plot, and add winning messages about second chances and the value of mentoring.

The years have been kind to ace racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson). He’s still at the top of his game. But just over his shoulder is a new generation of faster vehicles, like the brash rookie Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer).

“Enjoy your retirement,” Jackson tells Lightning as he whizzes past.

In a flash, Lightning is sidelined by an accident. Disillusioned and depressed, he retreats to his adopted home of Radiator Springs. There he draws on the support of his loyal tow-truck sidekick, Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and comely Porsche sweetheart, Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt).

Sally knows Lightning must look to the future. “Don’t fear failure,” she insists. “Take a chance. Try something new.”

A spiffy fresh paint job by Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin) helps. “It’s so beautiful,” Ramone says of his own work, “it’s like the Sistine Chapel!”

With his spirits buoyed, Lightning heads to the training center run by his sponsor, Rust-Eze, and its new owner, the “businesscar” Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion). His eager young coach, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), is thrilled with her new, if elderly, charge.

“You’re my senior project!” she gushes.

As the bond between veteran racer and rookie wannabe grows, Lightning recalls the wisdom of his dearly departed mentor, Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman). On a whim, he takes Cruz on a road trip to find Doc’s original trainer, a grizzled ’51 Ford named Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper), to recapture some of the old magic.

“You’ll never be the racer you once were,” Smokey intones. “You can’t turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again.”

“Cars 3” is full of surprises, and there’s a nice twist in store well before the finish line.

Preceding “Cars 3” is a short film entitled “Lou.” It’s a charming fable about a playground bully who learns the error of his ways thanks to some enchanted objects in his school’s lost-and-found box.

The film contains a brief, highly stylized crash scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G.

 

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‘Megan Leavey’ and a Marine’s best friend

June 8th, 2017 Posted in Movies, Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Man’s best friend is also a lifesaver in “Megan Leavey,” the inspiring true story of a female Marine corporal and the bomb-sniffing dog she bonded with during the Iraq War.

Kate Mara stars in a scene from the movie "Megan Leavey." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Bleecker Street)

Kate Mara stars in a scene from the movie “Megan Leavey.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Bleecker Street)

Leavey and Rex, her trusty German shepherd, together completed more than 100 combat missions in Fallujah and Ramadi, uncovering roadside bombs and caches of weapons, before an explosion sidelined both in 2006.

It’s a supremely heroic and exciting story that transfers well to the big screen, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite from a screenplay by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt.

We first meet Megan (Kate Mara) before she enlists, and her life does not make a pretty picture. A listless and depressed 20-year-old, she’s mourning the overdose death of her best friend and coping with her parents’ ugly divorce.

Megan lives with her harridan of a mother, Jackie (Edie Falco). Her sensitive father, Bob (Bradley Whitford), provides a refuge from Mom’s persistent nagging.

On a whim, Megan decides to jump-start her life by enlisting in the Marines. It’s a huge leap from her shiftless existence to such a regimented life, and rebellious Megan butts heads often with her superiors.

Caught urinating in public after a night on the town, Megan is nearly expelled. Her punishment is to clean out the cages of the K9 Division, the elite unit of bomb-sniffing dogs headed by Gunnery Sgt. Martin (Common).

It’s dirty work, of course, but Megan perseveres and has an unexpected epiphany. Witnessing the strong bond between the German shepherds and their human trainers, she decides to try her hand. Overcoming cynicism and verbal abuse from her male counterparts, Megan connects with her charge, Rex, and soon both head to Iraq.

On dangerous sorties, the duo proves its mettle, saving countless lives by uncovering land mines and exposing enemy weapons. As her self-confidence grows, Megan opens her heart further and falls for fellow Marine and dog handler Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez).

But fate intervenes during an ambush, when an explosion injures both Megan and Rex. Sent home to recover, Megan is devastated to be separated from her beloved canine, now reassigned.

Suffering from physical injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, Megan decides not to re-enlist. But she is determined to reunite one day with Rex and adopt him as her own.

With its gritty portrayal of the horrors of combat, “Megan Leavey” is a reminder of the personal sacrifices made by those who serve our country, as well as a salute to the enduring rewards of friendship.

The film contains a few scenes of intense wartime violence, off-screen nonmarital sexual activity, several profanities and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

 

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‘The Mummy’ employs mumbo-jumbo and Tom Cruise

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

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Catholic News Service

The clumsily fashioned horror flick “The Mummy” turns out to be anything but tightly wound.

Predictable pagan mumbo-jumbo aside, there’s not much to bother grown viewers in the film. But its globetrotting, from Ancient Egypt to modern-day Iraq and London, eventually feels like a vain search for a better, or at least more focused, story to tell.

The narrative we get, courtesy of director Alex Kurtzman and screenwriters David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, centers on shady American soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise). A fast talker more interested in the black market than the military, Nick, together with his more cautious sidekick, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), capitalizes on the conflict in Iraq by trading in antiquities.

That puts him at odds with archaeologist and cultural adviser to the U.S. forces Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). So, too, does the fact that Nick used a one-night stand the two recently shared to purloin a valuable map from her.

Partly through the use of this chart, and partly from the effects of an Air Force raid Nick and Chris had to call in after they were besieged by enemy combatants, an ancient tomb has been uncovered. Incongruously, it’s an Egyptian structure right in the middle of what used to be Mesopotamia.

As the audience already knows, this is the resting place of evil Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a murderer who was put to death for her crimes in the days of the pharaohs. The people who buried her had good reason to want her corpse far away from their native land. They also took elaborate measures to make sure she stayed put underground once they deposited her there.

All of which precautions Nick undoes in a trice, with just the sort of dire consequences you’d expect. Unleashed, Ahmanet puts a curse on Nick, and gains partial control of his mind as she schemes to recover possession of a ritual dagger, the use of which will enable her old ally Set, the Egyptian god of death, to become incarnate in Nick’s body.

Behind all these diffuse details stands a sketchy but respectable good vs. evil theme. Rather unconvincingly, Jenny has by now fallen for Nick and will become the chief cheerleader for the triumph of his underlying decency and altruism.

Yet, as the eventual injection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) into the plot suggests, there’s a growing note of desperation in these unwieldy proceedings. As the scene shifts across centuries and continents, the script fails to gain traction.

So, by the time they reach the blatant setup for a sequel which precedes the closing credits, moviegoers may be shaking their heads and muttering, “Tut-tut.”

The film contains occult and nonscriptural religious ideas, much harsh violence with fleeting gore, gruesome images, partial nudity, sensuality, occasional sexual references and humor, mild oaths, crude and several crass words. 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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Beware: ‘It Comes at Night’

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

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Catholic News Service

Morality is put to the test and fails in the bleak thriller “It Comes at Night.” Well executed, yet painful to watch, writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ drama plays skillfully on the psychology of fear, working more through subtlety and suggestion than depiction.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars in a scene from the movie "It Comes At Night." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/A24)

Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars in a scene from the movie “It Comes At Night.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/A24)

But maturity is required to grapple with its lifeboat ethics and tacit acceptance of euthanasia in extreme circumstances.

Set in a dystopian version of rural America that’s being ravaged by an unspecified but inevitably fatal plague, the film powerfully conveys the claustrophobic isolation of the family — dad Paul (Joel Edgerton), mom Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) — at the center of its plot.

Since any contact with an infected stranger could mean death, the cooped-up clan is terrified when an intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home in the middle of the night. Though they initially treat him like a prisoner, tying him up and interrogating him, they eventually come to accept Will’s story that he was only looking for supplies and thought the house was empty.

Deciding they would all be better off combining forces, Paul and Sarah invite Will to bring his wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and toddler son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), to live with them. But anxiety and suspicion eventually undermine the good intentions behind this arrangement, with horrifying results.

Given its apocalyptic premise, the movie’s portrayal of the elimination of one of the Black Death-like disease’s victims, specifically, Travis’ grandfather, Bud (David Pendleton), who’s put out of his misery early on, can be taken as having no troubling application to everyday life. And the extremes to which some characters are later driven are a source of dread, not a pattern to be imitated.

However, like Travis’ adolescent sexuality, his attraction to Kim leads him to dream of an encounter with her that shifts abruptly from fantasy to nightmare, these elements of the story, together with the distressing nature of the violence on screen, put “It Comes at Night” out of bounds for youngsters.

Even grown viewers may be unsettled by Shults’ deeply pessimistic view of human nature as a Darwinian struggle for survival takes hold. Neither heroism nor self-sacrifice play any role in his narrative. In fact, even the most basic laws of civilization are breached in the end.

So, although the mayhem of the situation is not handled gratuitously, moviegoers may be left wondering why they subjected themselves to this artful but bitter slice of doom-laden life.

The film contains some harsh gory violence, mercy killing, an adultery theme, scenes of marital intimacy, uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Wonder Woman’ proves to be an enjoyable adventure

June 6th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Close to eight decades ago, William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman. In the years since, the character has become a staple for DC Comics.

She has also had a successful and varied career in other media, including a late 1970s live-action television series that aired on ABC for one season and on CBS (in a revamped version) for two more. While somewhat short-lived, the show, which starred Lynda Carter, exerted a considerable cultural influence.

Gal Gadot stars in a scene from the movie "Wonder Woman." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III,  adults. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Gal Gadot stars in a scene from the movie “Wonder Woman.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Now, embodied by Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot, who also played her in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the familiar superhero holds the spotlight in the enjoyable adventure “Wonder Woman.”

Director Patty Jenkins keeps the mayhem through which Gadot passes mostly free of gore. And the dialogue in Allan Heinberg’s script is unspotted by vulgarity. Yet tinges of sexuality make the film safest for adults, though some parents may deem it acceptable for older teens.

Opening scenes take us to Wonder Woman’s native environment, the picturesque, Aegean-style island of Themyscira. Populated entirely by Amazons, Themyscira is isolated from the rest of the world by an invisible, protective but not impassable shield thoughtfully provided by Zeus.

After chronicling some of Wonder Woman’s childhood (during which she’s played by Lilly Aspell and known as Princess Diana), including her military training under the isle’s chief warrior, Antiope (Robin Wright), the screenplay introduces an outsider in the person of Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).

An American who’s spying for the British during World War I (an event of which the Amazons know nothing), dashing Steve drops from the sky when the German aircraft he purloined in an emergency is shot down. Diana takes his startling arrival as a signal that her race is being called to restore peace to humanity.

Since her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the ruler of Themyscira, disagrees, Diana undertakes the mission on her own. Guided by Steve, and with the support of Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), a high-ranking government official in London, Diana uses her battlefield skills to take on real-life German commander Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), the sinister scientist who runs Ludendorff’s chemical weapons program.

Steve recruits three additional allies for Diana from among his old pals. This gallant but shady trio is made up of Moroccan veteran Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Scottish sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and a Native American black-marketer known only as The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).

The movie’s fundamental values are sound, if not always clearly expressed. Wonder Woman chooses to see the underlying goodness in human nature that the slaughter of the trenches masks. And she consistently strives for concord, though she shortsightedly imagines that this can be achieved by killing the last surviving Olympian, Ares, the god of war.

Believing that Ares has incarnated himself in Ludendorff, Diana is convinced that assassinating him will end the current conflict and prevent any future ones. This sets her at odds with both Steve and Sir Patrick since they believe an armistice is imminent, and fear that the prospect of peace would be ruined by Ludendorff’s death. Despite the tension, however, everyone on Diana’s side seems to be striving to do good.

On a more personal level, Steve and Diana, who have come to be more than mere comrades to each other, are discreetly portrayed as spending a night together, though the camera cuts away shortly after Steve locks the bedroom door behind them. In a more peculiar encounter earlier on, Diana walks in on Steve just as he is emerging from a bath. Incongruously for a man reared a century ago, he makes no effort to cover himself. Instead, he casually stands there while Diana satisfies her curiosity.

It was probably inevitable that “Wonder Woman” would play on the humorous potential of the fact that its heroine has never set eyes a man before, though a subtler approach could certainly have been adopted in doing so. Along the same lines, the situation described above is followed up by some comically awkward wordplay that would not be appropriate for kids.

Together with the pagan details incorporated into the movie’s milieu and backstory, these incidents suggest a cautious attitude on Mom and Dad’s part.

The film contains frequent stylized violence with minimal blood, nonscriptural religious ideas, implied premarital sexual activity, a scene of immodest behavior, some sexual humor, one mild oath and a crass term. 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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‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’

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Catholic News Service

If you can say or even read the name of the planet Uranus without bursting into gales of giggles, then “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” may not be the film for you.

From a giant mechanized toilet running amok to an orchestra of whoopee cushions, this cheerfully silly kids’ cartoon displays an obsession with bodily functions that parents averse to potty humor will not appreciate.

Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. .(CNS/Fox)

Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. .(CNS/Fox)

On the upside, director David Soren’s comedy, adapted from a series of books by Dav Pilkey, is otherwise unobjectionable and briefly showcases some positive values and behavior.

Having long ago bonded over their shared appreciation of the astronomical pun referenced above, fourth-graders and best friends George Beard (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voice of Thomas Middleditch) have, over the years since, pulled off an extended spree of pranks at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. These have drawn the ire of that institution’s strict leader, Principal Krupp (voice of Ed Helms), who now plans to separate the pals by assigning them to different classes.

Fearing that their camaraderie will be broken up if Krupp follows through on this threat, the boys improvise a solution. They hypnotize Krupp, and use mind control to convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the superhero featured in some of the many comic books they have written and drawn together up in their beloved treehouse. (George is the writer; Harold is the artist.)

In this character’s lightly attired guise, his uniform consists of tighty whities and a red cape, Krupp battles Professor Poopypants (voice of Nick Kroll), a wild-haired mad scientist posing as a science teacher at Horwitz. Bitterly resenting the mockery and joking his name inevitably provokes, the professor has come up with a scheme to employ technology to stamp out laughter, especially among kids.

Amid the flying toilet paper and embarrassing sound effects, the happy idiocies of Nicholas Stoller’s script really veer off course only once. In a montage of practical jokes, the lads are shown to have disguised a men’s room at school as a restroom for women. As a result, a lady walks in on Principal Krupp while he’s standing at a urinal. It’s a sight gag that seems better suited to a (bad) teen comedy than one aimed at tykes.

A brief spell of seriousness toward the end of the movie finds the central duo figuring out that some grownups may be mean because they’re lonely. They then do their best to remedy an instance of this problem by bringing together two adults who have previously been too shy to act on their mutual attraction.

It’s a nice wrap-up. But viewers young or old will have to run a gauntlet of relentless, though mild, grossness to reach it.

The film contains pervasive childish scatological humor. 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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