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‘Gifted’ is both endearing and well-acted

April 18th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Endearing and well-acted, director Marc Webb’s drama “Gifted” might have been a family-friendly movie.

Elements in screenwriter Tom Flynn’s script, however, make this thoughtful film, which examines the proper balance between cultivating youthful talent and the need for even extraordinary kids to lead a normal life, exclusively suitable for grown-ups and perhaps older teens.

Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans star in a scene from the movie "Gifted." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans star in a scene from the movie “Gifted.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

Facing the issue outlined above is easygoing Florida boat mechanic Frank Adler (Chris Evans). Informally entrusted with the care of his then-infant niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), at the time of her mother’s suicide, Frank has had to adjust his bachelor lifestyle for the sake of stand-in fatherhood (Mary’s real dad has shown no interest in her.)

Frank has also had to come to grips with the fact that Mary, like her mom before her, is a math prodigy.

Believing, as the audience eventually learns, that his sister’s death was at least partially caused by the demands their hard-driving mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), made on her to concentrate only on her studies, at the cost of both friendships and romance, Frank wants something different for Mary. So, after homeschooling her to the age of 7, he enrolls her in the local public school.

Though Mary’s caring teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) soon discovers her gift, and suggests that she would be better off in a more competitive environment, Frank keeps to his plan. He even turns down the possibility of a full scholarship at a private academy.

When British-born Evelyn turns up, though, Frank faces a more formidable challenge to his intentions. Evelyn initiates a lawsuit to win custody, and Mary becomes the prize in a bitter courtroom battle between the two.

The generally wholesome atmosphere of the proceedings is briefly marred by Mary’s exposure to the aftermath of a bedroom encounter and her use of a vulgar expression. Additionally, viewer discernment is required to sort through a conversation Mary and Frank have about religion.

This discussion pits ex-philosophy professor Frank’s somewhat passive agnosticism against the faith that guides his and Mary’s warmly affectionate landlady and neighbor, Roberta (Octavia Spencer). Frank maintains, fairly enough, that no one can know for certain whether there is a God. But Frank is open to belief in general and, when Mary specifically asks about Jesus, Frank encourages her to imitate him.

The dialogue implies that religious ideas are wholly unconnected to reason, an exaggeration of the proper dividing line between what we can perceive with our senses and what transcends them. Yet the fact that this exchange takes place against a glowing sunset suggests that the moviemakers’ sympathies may not be on the side of cold rationalism.

The film contains nongraphic premarital sexual activity, mature references, including a suicide theme, a single rough term and a couple of uses each of crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG, parental guidance suggested.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Fate of the Furious’ found preposterous but lively

April 13th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Grown viewers willing to kick reality to the curb will have fun with the preposterous but lively auto-themed action adventure “The Fate of the Furious.”

Dicey moral values and a high mayhem quotient, however, mean this seventh sequel to 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” is not a film for impressionable youngsters.

Vin Diesel and Charlize Theron star in a scene from the movie "The Fate of the Furious." (CNS photo/Universal)

Vin Diesel and Charlize Theron star in a scene from the movie “The Fate of the Furious.” (CNS photo/Universal)

In a twist on the franchise’s central theme of staunch solidarity among the members of the self-proclaimed family of car racers who populate it, this installment finds their leader, Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) turning on his friends and working against them. He does so, however, only under duress.

Dom is being blackmailed by elusive criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), though the exact nature of her leverage over him remains hidden for quite a while. Since Cipher’s mad cyber skills keep her virtually untraceable, Dom’s erstwhile allies, including his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and former federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), have their work cut out for them in hunting her (and Dom) down.

‘They’re helped by ultimate undercover agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his comically unseasoned sidekick, Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood). Mr. Nobody also brings the team’s former adversary, rogue and now-imprisoned British special forces veteran Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), on board.

Director F. Gary Gray and screenwriter Chris Morgan put loyalty (even under strain) first and safety last as their globetrotting ensemble pursues an opponent so powerful she has her own AWACS-style airplane. (AWACS stands for Airborne Warning and Control System.)

Along with that kind of credulity straining but harmless prop comes a more troubling display of indifference to fact: Early scenes set in Cuba portray that nation as an island paradise, conveniently ignoring the reality that it has been ruled for the past half century and more by a duo of despots.

Doses of humor and clever resourcefulness help to divert attention from the sketchy us-against-the-world ethics that have characterized the whole series. But moviegoers intent on analyzing the picture’s underlying values will wonder whether any personal consideration, even one as weighty as that coercing Dom, can justify aiding a villain in her bid to acquire nuclear weapons and gain (what else?) world domination.

On the other hand, however muddled the moral values on offer may be, they do come tricked out with distinctly Christian detailing. Nor can a movie that ends with a clan-gathering meal over which grace is pronounced, a recurring conclusion in the series, fail to endear itself, at least a little, to viewers of faith.

The film contains frequent gunplay and hand-to-hand combat but with little gore, brief partial nudity, an adultery theme, profanity, and many crude terms 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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‘Going in [cut-rate] Style’

April 13th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Despite its title, there’s nothing very spiffy about “Going in Style.” In fact, this leaden caper comedy feels distinctly cut-rate.

Director Zach Braff’s remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin as former co-workers and longtime best friends driven to desperation by financial woes. The company they used to work for is moving its operations overseas, and being restructured in a way that will eliminate their hard-earned pensions.

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin star in a scene from the movie "Going in Style." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin star in a scene from the movie “Going in Style.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

In response, kindly granddad Joe Harding (Caine), who recently witnessed a bank robbery, cooks up an unlikely scheme. Together with secretly ailing Willie Davis (Freeman) and grouchy pessimist Albert Gardner (Arkin), he’ll stage a similar heist at the same branch, by coincidence, it belongs to the institution financing their ex-employer’s reorganization.

The pals agree to take only the amount they would have been paid if their checks had continued to arrive for what each estimates to be his foreseeable remaining lifespan. Anything above that sum will be donated to charity. They also opt to use only blanks in their guns.

As the aspiring thieves get tips from experienced criminal Jesus (John Ortiz), Albert finds romance with Annie (Ann-Margret), a checkout lady at his local grocery store. The prematurely intimate nature of their relationship becomes a source of admiration and envy for Joe and Willie.

By the time Matt Dillon shows up as FBI Special Agent Arlen Hamer, it’s clear that “Going in Style” amounts to a complete waste of its cast’s considerable gifts.

An especially egregious instance is the squandering of Christopher Lloyd. His minor character, hopelessly senile Milton Kupchak, a denizen of the fraternal lodge where the main trio hangs out, is a crude caricature of Jim Ignatowski, the pixilated cabbie Lloyd memorably played on the TV series “Taxi.”

While this is not a movie from which viewers are likely to draw any real-life moral conclusions, Theodore Melfi’s screenplay does present the oldsters’ actions as justified and ultimately harmless. The folks at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., we suspect, would beg to disagree.

The film contains a frivolous treatment of crime, including drug use, brief premarital bedroom scenes, a scatological sight gag, profanity, and considerable crude and crass talk. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III. adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter — When it’s a demon, who you gonna call?

April 4th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

This year’s crop of demon-possession plots, that hardy stalwart of horror, kicks off in high style with the very adult “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.”

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie "The Blackcoat's Daughter." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/A24)

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/A24)

Although this story gives unusually short shrift to the rite of exorcism, which is portrayed even more casually and inaccurately than is usually the case in such dramas, the filmmakers have at least taken care to show an actual demon. That’s rare these days.

This one has two horns, inhabits a glowing basement coal furnace and, in another retro touch, calls his new best friend through a hallway pay phone. So the film is entrancing for quite a while before the stabbing victims begin to pile up.

Still, writer-director Oz Perkins keeps the gore factor comparatively low, emphasizing instead slow-building psychological horror, spooled out slowly through interlocking, time-shifting plot lines, all centered on a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York in the dead of winter.

There’s a trick ending, which Perkins tips in advance. But, since there’s a generous helping of the demon, that’s no more than an acknowledgment of the audience’s intelligence.

Gloomy freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) has had a vision of her parents’ death in a car crash on their way to pick her up for the school’s winter break. Rose (Lucy Boynton), an older student, fears she might be pregnant, and has arranged for her folks to pick her up on the wrong day so she’ll have time to tell her boyfriend.

These two are supposed to look after each other before the expected parental arrivals. Meanwhile, Kat starts getting and making calls, but not to her parents; she has a new pal in residence who demands murderous sacrifices. The cutlery flashes and heads roll.

In a third subplot, Joan (Emma Roberts), who has broken out of an asylum, desperately tries to return to the campus, utilizing a clueless but well-meaning couple, Bill and Linda (James Remar, Lauren Holly). They turn out to be Rose’s parents.

It eventually falls to kindly Father Brian (Greg Ellwand) to bring some clarity to the mayhem, although the movie is so vested in its deceptive ending, Catholic belief is only pro forma. But hey, at least someone knows how to recognize a demon.

The film contains an occult theme, knife violence with some gore, occasional profanities and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Ghost in the Shell’ caters to Scarlet-robot voyeurs

April 3rd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders’ murky, boring adaptation of a series of comics by Masamune Shirow, offers little beyond glitzy futuristic cityscapes. This live-action version of Shirow’s sci-fi-themed manga, previously the inspiration for two animated features, is also somewhat exploitative.

Scarlett Johansson stars in a scene from the movie "Ghost in the Shell." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Paramount Pictures)

Scarlett Johansson stars in a scene from the movie “Ghost in the Shell.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Paramount Pictures)

Its heroine, Major (Scarlett Johansson), a hybrid warrior whose human brain has been implanted into the body of a robot, has a fondness for fighting in the nude that must have gone down well when the film was being pitched, but puts it off-limits for kids.

The fact that Major’s synthetic skin is something between a patchwork of eggshells and a smoothed over version of Johansson’s physique does tamp down the voyeurism factor for grown-ups, however. They may be more distracted by the seemingly endless mayhem with which the movie is packed.      

Gunplay, explosions and martial arts bravado attend Major’s duel with Kuze (Michael Pitt), an elusive killer who wants to bring down the Hanka Corporation, the company that produced her. She gets backup in her battles from gruff comrade Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and, during her down time, draws emotional support from Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the physician who supervised her creation.

The dialogue occasionally explores the nature of humanity under the threat of encroaching technology. But the script gets muddled by its own materialism, identifying the soul (or “ghost”), for instance, exclusively with the brain.

A vaguely sensual get-together with a woman who may or may not be a streetwalker, the flesh of whose face Major enviously examines, might be meant to show us Major’s alienation from her new “shell.” On the other hand, since an encounter of a more intimate nature might be surmised to follow the scene, though nothing of the sort is actually depicted, this might be of a piece with Major’s tendency to shimmy out of her clothes.

Screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger take a stab at an anti-war message by way of the tension between Hanka executive Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), who sees Major strictly as a weapon, and Ouelet, who insists she amounts to more than just a killing machine. The peace theme fails to hit home, though, if only because the tumultuous action consuming most of the run time is so completely at odds with it.

Similarly, the implicit critique of capitalism underlying the friction between profit-driven Cutter and the more responsible figure of Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), the head of the anti-terrorism squad for which Major works, amounts to no more than a feint. In dealing with all these subjects, Moss and company serve up lines that are meant to sound like pearls of wisdom but land instead like lumps of lead.

The film contains pervasive stylized violence with little gore, torture, a suicide, occasional rear and upper as well as a glimpse of full female nudity in a nonsexual context, crude and crass language, 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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‘The Boss Baby’ proves amusing, if flimsy

March 30th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Fans of Stewie Griffin, the “enfant terrible”of Fox-TV’s “Family Guy,” will know in advance just what effect the folks behind “The Boss Baby” are aiming for with their incongruously mature title character.

Mother, voiced by Lisa Kudrow, Boss Baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin, and father, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel, appear in the animated movie "Boss Baby." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. (CNS photo/DreamWorks)

Mother, voiced by Lisa Kudrow, Boss Baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin, and father, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel, appear in the animated movie “Boss Baby.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. (CNS photo/DreamWorks)

Whether the filmmakers have managed to create a similarly memorable prodigy is, however, another question.

In fact, considered overall, this animated take on the trauma of acquiring a younger sibling can best be described as amusing but flimsy. On the upside, objectionable elements are sufficiently few that all but the very youngest family members can safely enjoy the fleeting fun.

As narrator Tobey Maguire informs us, 7-year-old only child Tim (voice of Miles Bakshi) is a contented lad. He enjoys the undivided attention of his hard-working but solicitous parents (voices of Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), so life is good.

Until, that is, the arrival of the eponymous, and otherwise unnamed, infant (voice of Alec Baldwin) whose disruptive presence promptly turns Tim’’s well-ordered world upside down. Resentful of the newcomer, Tim is also suspicious of such peculiarities as the fact that his brother arrived as the sole passenger in a taxi and that he wears a business suit.

A little investigation proves that this is, indeed, no ordinary babe in arms. Endowed with an adult personality and the ability to speak, he also has a corporate agenda to pursue.

As a representative of the company that manufactures infants, Boss Baby is out to thwart the multiply named Francis Francis (voiced by Steve Buscemi), the head honcho of a pet marketing conglomerate. Francis, we learn, has developed a puppy so irresistible that no one will want to have children once the pooch becomes available. It’s up to Boss Baby to prevent the product launch of this heart-hogging animal.

This is explained with the aid of pie charts showing cuddly dogs eating into the market for youngsters, a satiric point that can be seen as vaguely pro-life.

But a darker tone is introduced as Boss Baby schemes shamelessly and callously threatens Tim with the loss of their parents’ affection. (Once further exposition reveals that success will mean Boss Baby’s permanent return to headquarters, however, Tim becomes his willing collaborator.)

Beyond gentle domestic discord and the caricaturing of executives, a more pressing concern for real-life moms and dads may be the repetition in the dialogue of the question, “Where do babies come from?” The answer is always, of course, a whimsical one, though a whispered exchange between Tim and Boss Baby, inaudible to the audience, briefly hints at the true explanation before both agree in rejecting it.

Along with silly potty and anatomical gags, this is not a movie for those averse to the sight of an animated newborn’s bottom, that’s about all there is to worry about in director Tom McGrath’s ephemeral adaptation of Marla Frazee’s 2010 picture book.

As for Stewie, he’s unlikely to eat his heart out over the debut of his big-screen rival.

The film contains some slapstick violence, mild scatological humor and a religiously themed but not irreverent joke. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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Avoid the ‘CHIPS’

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Get your motor running, spring yourself from a cage out on Highway 9, do whatever it takes to get away from the mind-numbing, motorcycle-bedecked comedy “CHIPS.”

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena star in a scene from the movie "Chips." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena star in a scene from the movie “Chips.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

The humor in this twist on the 1977-1983 NBC-TV drama series quickly skids off the road and into the gutter, where it remains.

Dax Shepard, who also wrote and directed, plays rookie California Highway Patrol officer Jon Baker while Michael Pena portrays Jon’s first partner, and odd-couple counterpart, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. Supposedly a veteran of the force from another part of the state, Ponch is in fact an undercover FBI agent investigating a corruption case.

As Jon makes a nudge of himself and Ponch gripes about it (until of course, the two inevitably bond), the script lurches from one base topic to another. We visit a locker room where the awkwardness of two straight men embracing while dressed only in their underwear is both played for laughs and discussed: Is being uncomfortable with such a gesture symptomatic of homophobia? Yes, no, ha, ha ha.

We stroll through more than one parking lot so that Ponch and the camera can ogle women in yoga pants as they bend over to put something in the trunk. We already know that Ponch is a philanderer since, as the opening sequence has shown us, he has to write down the name of the girl in bed with him lest he forget it in the morning.

That’s not to mention an extended exchange between the two leads on the enthralling question of why Ponch stops to use the bathroom so often.

There’s also a vaguely pro-divorce message to “CHIPS.” Jon, a washed-up extreme-sports motorcyclist, initially becomes a police recruit in an effort to win back his estranged wife, Karen (Kristen Bell), whose dad was a cop. But he eventually discovers, with Ponch’s help, that Karen is so selfish and greedy, he’s better off without her.

Since juvenile potty and bedroom gags must nowadays be rounded out with nauseating visuals, late developments include the decapitation of one character and the loss of four fingers by another. Lavish attention is paid to the bloody stumps as well as to the dismembered digits lying about like so many stubby breadsticks.

Our advice? Let these “CHIPS” fall where they may. And leave them there.

The film contains scenes of gross-out gore, strong sexual content, including brief graphic activity, masturbation and full male and female nudity, much sexual and scatological humor, frequent 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. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Slamma Jamma’ dunk funk

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The well-intentioned sports drama “Slamma Jamma” occasionally comes to tepid life on basketball courts. But a weak script, together with production values indicative of a low budget, keep it hobbled as a story of redemption and Christian faith.

This is a scene from the movie"Slamma Jamma." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

This is a scene from the movie”Slamma Jamma.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

Based very loosely on the life of slam-dunk champion Kenny Dobbs, it stars Chris Staples (a former Harlem Globetrotter in real life), as Michael Diggs, a onetime college basketball star potentially worth millions as a pro.

He’s unable to profit from his talent after an unscrupulous agent takes advantage of him. Coasting on his fame, he gets pulled into the violent armed robbery of a gun store, which earns him a six-year prison term.

Not very adroitly, the film shows Diggs embracing evangelical Christianity behind bars, and, upon release, slowly rebuilding his life by energetically making new contacts while working a series of menial jobs. Since he starts out humble, there’s no big transformative moment and so little in the way of dramatic tension that “Slamma Jamma” becomes almost unwatchable.

Away from the hoops, writer-director Tim Chey, no dab hand at dialogue, comes up with little other than clichéd, if supportive, remarks from Diggs’ ailing mother, Gemma (Rosemary Smith-Coleman), and from a neighborhood minister, Pastor John Soul (Ray Walia).

Diggs eventually gets his life back on track by winning slam-dunk competitions, halftime events, typically, with prizes in the many thousands of dollars. The faith elements are limned only sparingly, making this movie a tough slog even for those inclined to look favorably on religious fare.

The film contains a scene of gun violence and some trash-talking. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Life’ — In this space there is no heaven

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adopt a serious tone in the ensemble sci-fi thriller “Life.”

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie "Life." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. CNS/Columbia)

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie “Life.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. CNS/Columbia)

Together with deft performances and some creative camera work, this unusually thoughtful mood serves to offset the familiarity of the film’s humans-versus-predator premise.

Characters are too busy battling for their lives to engage in much romance, chaste or otherwise. But the bloody details of their conflict with the rampaging alien at the heart of the action are suitable neither for kids nor for the squeamish among their elders.

Said E.T. arrives on an unmanned capsule carrying samples back from Mars that the multiethnic crew of an international space station has been tasked with retrieving.

Besides the vessel’s commander, cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the team includes world-weary physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal); rules-driven disease prevention expert Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson); freewheeling mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds); homesick flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada); and paraplegic British scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare).

Faced with the tricky task of stopping the cargo ship before it speeds past them, the astronauts are delighted when they succeed. They’re even happier once Derry’s research reveals that they’re in possession of the first living organism ever encountered beyond Earth.

Unfortunately for them, however, the initially tiny creature they’ve taken on board turns out to have not only an incredibly rapid growth rate but a murderously aggressive approach to interacting with humans. It’s also devilishly brilliant and resourceful.

Loss of life is treated with an unusual degree of sober reflection in the suspenseful clash of wits and survival skills that follows.

This is in obvious and welcome contrast to the innumerable Hollywood movies in which the bodies of anonymous, mown-down extras seem to pile up like so many chords of wood. It may also serve as a legitimate point of divergence from the movie with which many viewers will inevitably compare “Life” — Ridley Scott’s memorable 1979 franchise-begetter, “Alien.”

Yet, while largely free of callousness in its portrayal of fatal violence, “Life” is so bleak and, at times, darkly ironic, that it can feel nihilistic. Thus, in whole passages of the dialogue discussing bereavement, there’s not a glimmer or hint of faith in an afterlife. As a result, moviegoers may feel as confined in the script’s secular, despairing outlook as the trapped space travelers do within their invaded craft.

The film contains some gory deaths and gruesome images, a few uses of profanity as well as numerous rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Saban’s Power Rangers’ in bad taste despite Krispy Kremes

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — A Saturday morning children’s show gets its third big-screen treatment with “Saban’s Power Rangers.”

Regrettably, unlike the two previous films in the franchise, this latest incarnation of the popular 1990s program (then called “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”) is more suitable for late night TV, because of a preponderance of crass humor, off-color language and inappropriate sexual references.

Ludi Lin, Becky G, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler star in a scene from the movie "Saban's Power Rangers." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.  (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Ludi Lin, Becky G, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler star in a scene from the movie “Saban’s Power Rangers.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Such vulgar updating of a relatively wholesome (if somewhat cheesy) concept is baffling, unless director Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”) and no fewer than five screenwriters were charged with a command to be relevant. That would also explain, in part, why one of the five teen superheroes, Trini (Becky G), aka the Yellow Ranger, is now gay. The subject of Trini’s homosexuality is confined to a single acknowledgement that she prefers girls over boys; she does not act out her inclination.

The bare-bones of the original series, a Japanese invention adapted for American audiences by Saban Entertainment, remain. Five high school students meet in after-school detention, each there for a different reason.

Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is the football star who fell from grace, wrecking several automobiles in the process. He has eyes for comely rebel Kimberly (Naomi Scott), recently cast out of her popular clique at school. Resident nerd Billy (RJ Cyler) is brilliant but often bullied. Zack (Ludi Lin) is a cool dude cast from the James Dean mold. And Trini is a moody loner who throws a mean left hook.

The quintet meets outside class by chance at an abandoned gold mine. There they discover five shiny coins, each a different color. This is no spare change, as the trinkets emit otherworldly powers which begin to transform our teens, a la Spider-Man, into superheroes.

Digging deeper into the mine, they discover an alien spacecraft and with it, their destiny. The disembodied deity Zordon (voice of Bryan Cranston) and his robot sidekick, Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader), have been waiting eons for our teens to take up the mantle of defenders of good over evil, in other words, become the Power Rangers.

So, our ragtag bunch undergoes extensive Ninja-like training to learn how to morph into their armor-clad alter egos, each a distinctive color: red (Jason), pink (Kimberly), blue (Billy), yellow (Trini) and black (Zack).

Their reinvention comes not a moment too soon. Zordon’s ancient nemesis, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), has been revived and is hell-bent on world domination. She has a particular penchant for gold, rampaging countless mall jewelry stores to build a colossal monster that will locate the all-powerful “zeo-crystal.”

If this sounds silly and mindless, it is, and had the film taken a different tack it would have been escapist fun for all ages.

In the end, not even the amusing gag of locating of the zeo-crystal beneath the local branch of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, also an extreme example of product placement, can make up for the film’s excess of bad taste.

The film contains much crude humor, rough language, sexual innuendo and references to homosexuality and masturbation. 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.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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