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‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ back for fifth screen voyage

May 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies

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Catholic News Service

Iconic and eccentric buccaneer Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) hoists the black flag for a fifth time in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The result is a flashy but ultimately unsatisfying journey for the theme park ride-based franchise that first set sail in 2003.

Kaya Scodelario and Johnny Depp star in a scene from the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS/Disney)

Kaya Scodelario and Johnny Depp star in a scene from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Disney)

On the upside, the crowded, overlong proceedings are relatively family-friendly. So parents willing to overlook some adult punning may give mature teens the go-ahead to board.

This time out, Jack joins forces with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a young science scholar whose ahead-of-her-time learning has led her to be charged with witchcraft, and with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), an equally youthful sailor. Henry is the son of Jack’s old associates Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) Turner.

All three main characters are seeking the same magical artifact, the Trident of Poseidon, each for a different reason. They’re pursued along the hunt by the British navy, by the ghost of Capt. Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), one of Jack’s old adversaries, and by living but one-legged freebooter Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

As directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, “Dead Men” is a special effects-driven adventure long on spectacle but short on human interest. The mayhem is almost all stylized, however, and the dialogue is virtually free of vulgarity.

One scene, played for laughs, finds an incidental character, who subsequently turns out to be married, in a compromising (though not directly sexual) situation with Jack.

The humor, such as it is, jokingly reinforces Jack reputation as a womanizer while also deflating the ego of the cheater’s husband, a pompous town official on the island of St. Martin. It’s a frivolous treatment of a serious subject, but the script quickly passes on to other matters.

On the other side of the moral ledger, late plot developments set the stage for a climactic act of self-sacrificing parental love. And Henry and Carina, who are obviously destined for each other, content themselves, once their bickering morphs into love, with kissing.

The film contains much action violence with little blood, brief implications of adultery, a single gruesome image, occasional mature wordplay and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Baywatch’ draws audience into polluted shallows

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

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Catholic News Service

Eye candy and escapism were the draw of the television series from which director Seth Gordon’s action comedy “Baywatch” has been adapted.

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron star in a scene from the movie "Baywatch." The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. (CNS/Paramount)

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron star in a scene from the movie “Baywatch.” The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. (CNS/Paramount)

Whatever success the show, which began on NBC but had a longer life in syndication, may have had back in the 1990s, it takes more than an ensemble of good-looking people running around in bathing suits to sustain a feature film.

And, since neither Gordon nor screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift can seem to decide whether they’re out to make a pop-culture spoof or a crime-solving adventure, their film turns out to be a predictably shallow mess.

Matters are not helped by the absurdly earnest tone in which the conflict at the center of the plot is put forward to the audience. This clash pits newcomer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) against Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), the longtime leader of the lifeguarding team of the title.

A disgraced Olympic swimmer whose selfish ways and fondness for partying cost his team a medal, Matt bucks against Mitch’s ethos of cooperation and mutual concern. As the dialogue heavy-handedly seeks to drive home, however, lives could be endangered if Matt doesn’t learn to collaborate with his new colleagues.

Like the group’s sober-toned effort to foil scheming real-estate developer and possible drug dealer Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), talk about the potentially fatal consequences of Matt’s ego-driven mistakes rings hollow when interspersed with lingering views of barely clad bodies.

The serious sleuthing also jars against the surfeit of low-minded humor in “Baywatch,” much of which displays a preoccupation with male characters’ crotches. This misguided motif reaches a low point with a prolonged sight gag involving the private parts of a cadaver. While the movie’s self-conscious flesh peddling is mostly just tiresome, this effort to reap gross-out giggles from less appealing anatomy registers as degrading.

The film contains some gunplay and physical violence with momentary but extreme gore, strong sexual content, including full nudity and off-screen nonmarital activity, several profanities and a few milder oaths as well as pervasive 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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This trip is a long haul with a scatological wimpy kid

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Catholic News Service 

For better or worse, bathroom-themed gags have long been a staple of kids’ movies. But the family road comedy “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” carries this trend to excess.

Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.(CNS photo/Fox)

Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.(CNS photo/Fox)

Together with a noticeable lack of creative drive, writer-director David Bowers’ reliance on scatological humor blights his adaptation of the eponymous novel by Jeff Kinney, the fourth installment of a screen franchise that began in 2010.

As his family sets off on a cross-country journey to attend his great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, a trip his mother Susan (Alicia Silverstone) hopes will foster family unity, mild-mannered middle schooler Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) worries that being confined together in a car for hours on end will have the opposite effect on his often-quarreling clan.

He also rails against Mom’s ban on the use of electronics during the trip, a prohibition his overworked father, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), likewise finds it difficult to obey. Still, Greg has a plan to turn this unwelcome outing to his own advantage.

Recently shamed by an embarrassing video that went viral, Greg plots with his older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright), to retrieve his reputation by being taped in the company of online celebrity Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover). Digby is scheduled to appear at Player’s Expo, a gaming convention being held not too far off the Heffleys’ planned route.

The event that has made Greg notorious is typical of the excretion-focused humor that’s too often front and center as the film ambles along to little purpose. As the result of a misadventure too involved to recount in detail, Greg winds up with a dirty diaper stuck to one hand. His frantic and unsuccessful efforts to fling it away are captured by a host of cellphone cameras, and infamy awaits.

On the trip, though, Greg suffers other indignities of a similar nature. He winds up concealed behind a shower curtain while the person from whom he’s hiding relieves himself inches away. Later, on the road again and with no exit for miles, Greg is forced to use an empty bottle to answer nature’s call.

It doesn’t take the acumen of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that depending on such incidents for laughs is a symptom either of laziness or an impoverished imagination. Whatever their source, the prominence and frequency of these scenes prevents endorsement of this sometimes queasy sequel for viewers of all ages.

The film contains much distasteful potty humor and brief adult wordplay. 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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Ailing teen rescued from her mother’s quarantine in ‘Everything, Everything’

May 19th, 2017 Posted in Movies, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Cynics beware: The teen-oriented romantic drama “Everything, Everything” bears more than a little resemblance to one of those fairy tales involving a princess locked up in a castle who needs a handsome prince to rescue her.

Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson star in a scene from the movie 'Everything, Everything." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson star in a scene from the movie ‘Everything, Everything.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Anachronistic thinking aside, director Stella Meghie’s adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s young adult novel, which features the genre’s familiar theme of embracing love even at the risk of death, is gentle, tasteful and faithful to the book. A bedroom scene shared by its barely-of-age main couple, however, makes it doubtful fare even for mature adolescents.

Amandla Stenberg is Maddy, a very bright and literate teen who has been told since her earliest years that she has severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID. She’s just like the famous bubble boy, except with the run of an entire hermetically sealed house.

This structure was specially designed for her by her mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose). Visiting nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera) rounds out the isolated household.

One step into the outside world, and any virus or bacteria could prove fatal. Maddy lives the most solitary of lives, but insists to her mom that being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.

Her one melancholy wish is to see the Pacific Ocean, which is just three miles away. Occasionally Pauline still mourns for Maddy’s father and brother, who died in a traffic mishap.

Then handsome, sensitive Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in — right next door! He, of course, turns out to be Maddy’s instant soul mate.

Olly has troubles of his own, though. He sometimes has to protect his mother and sister from his abusive drunken father, who has difficulty holding down a job.

Conveniently, the windows in Maddy and Olly’s rooms are directly across from each other. So, soon enough, they’re not only texting but communicating through placards held up to these panes.

Maddy starts dreaming about the big wide world, having long soulful conversations, and anticipating that all-important first kiss. “I’d rather talk to him than sleep,” she announces.

What could possibly happen now? Will Pauline’s protectiveness turn out to have been excessive? Will true love triumph?

You betcha it will. Aware of the target audience, screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe sustains the romantic fantasy without letting any harsh real-life consequences intrude. In fact, his script displays all the gritty realism of a Gidget movie. Still, to borrow a line from the late Roger Ebert, this is a picture with which only an old grumpypants could find fault.

The film contains brief sensuality as part of a mostly off-screen nonmarital encounter and a single instance of 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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‘Alien: Covenant’ — Everything old is spewed again

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Catholic News Service

Once you’ve seen one vicious extraterrestrial gnaw its way out of a human body from the inside, you’ve seen ’em all. Or so at least the jaded or squeamish moviegoer might be tempted to think.

Yet, the success of the durable “Alien” franchise, which dates all the way back to 1979, and was last added to by the 2012 reboot “Prometheus,” would seem to argue otherwise.

Danny McBride and Katherine Waterston star in a scene from the movie "Alien: Covenant." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Fox)

Danny McBride and Katherine Waterston star in a scene from the movie “Alien: Covenant.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Fox)

For those eager to watch the showcased race of creatures come busting out all over one more time, there arrives the competently shocking “Alien: Covenant.” As before, the watchword remains, to borrow a phrase from Cole Porter, “Don’t Fence Me In.”

When we first meet those whose anatomical bounds are likely to be burst, namely the crew of the titular spacecraft, they’re taking a long cryogenic nap as they speed toward a distant planet on a colonizing mission from Mother Earth. They’re watched over by a so-called “synthetic,” (an android) named Walter (Michael Fassbender).

Naturally, all this is too peaceful to last. So, cue an unforeseen phenomenon that not only badly damages the Covenant but also kills a number of those on board, including the vessel’s commander, Capt. Jacob Branson (James Franco).

As they analyze this incident, Branson’s successor, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), and his colleagues detect a weak audio signal that alerts them to the existence of a much closer and possibly populated world that seems just as suitable for settlement as their original destination. After some debate, Oram orders a change in course.

Those in the imperiled landing party Oram leads, and Walter accompanies, include Branson’s widow, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and Oram’s wife, Karine (Carmen Ejogo).

As director Ridley Scott, who originated the series, unleashes his trademark mayhem, the plot increasingly focuses on a duel between Walter and David (also Fassbender), an earlier model of synthetic who featured in “Prometheus” and who now turns up down on the surface.

Grown viewers with a strong tolerance for gore will note an undeveloped theme concerning Oram’s religiosity. Though the early dialogue highlights his faith-based decision making, and the opposition his beliefs are likely to excite once he takes over, all this fizzles away rapidly as the franchise’s ultimate form of indigestion begins to take hold.

The film contains intervals of gruesome bloody violence, brief graphic marital lovemaking, a same-sex kiss, about a half-dozen uses each of profanity and milder swearing as well as pervasive rough and some 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, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is dim, noisy and ponderous

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Catholic News Service

Early on in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” the audience is treated to the sight of magically generated giant elephants swinging boulder-size wrecking balls at the ramparts of Camelot. It’s an apt visual considering how ponderous this action fantasy turns out to be.

Charlie Hunnman stars in a scene from the movie "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Charlie Hunnman stars in a scene from the movie “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.) 

Rearranging some of the traditional elements of the Arthur legend, which may or may not be rooted in actual history, director and co-writer Guy Ritchie comes up with a sort of “Prince and the Pauper” version of events.

Thus, not long after those lumbering pachyderms depart, toddler Arthur’s father, Uther (Eric Bana), dies as a result of his evil brother Vortigern’s (Jude Law) violent, and ultimately successful, bid to usurp the throne. Arthur evades a similar fate by being set adrift, Moses-like, in a boat which eventually finds its way to a bustling version of medieval London still called by its Roman name, Londinium.

There Arthur, dispossessed of his rights and with no recollection of his real identity, is raised as a brawling street urchin by the inhabitants of a brothel.

Once grown, and now portrayed by Charlie Hunnam, the rightful heir comes almost accidentally into possession of Excalibur, here essentially a weapon of mass destruction so powerful that it mows down Arthur’s opponents by the dozens. Aided by a so-called Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who otherwise goes unnamed, Arthur learns how to wield the super sword and uses it to battle Vortigern for the crown.

Along with the supernatural support of the Mage, Arthur gets human backing from Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), once one of Uther’s advisers, and expert archer “Goose-Fat” Bill (Aidan Gillen).

Together with his script collaborators, Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, Ritchie works the occasional witty exchange into the dialogue. But otherwise his film is a grueling ordeal of nonstop noisy fighting. Like the Dark Ages in which it’s set, the movie is dim, toilsome and beset with mayhem.

Since the dust-ups are mostly gore-free, however, and the only flourishes of sensuality come in the form of occult visions, some parents may consider “King Arthur” acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains pervasive combat and other violence with little blood, a prostitution theme, brief partial nudity, fleeting sexual humor, at least one rough term and occasional 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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‘Snatched’ — Occasionally amusing, often vulgar

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Catholic News Service

There’s a kernel of goodness at the heart of the mother-daughter comedy “Snatched.” But the minority of grown viewers for whom the film is acceptable will have to wade through a veritable cesspool of bad taste to approach it.

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn star in a scene from the movie "Snatched."(CNS photo/Fox)

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn star in a scene from the movie “Snatched.”(CNS photo/Fox)

That’s a pity, because this fast-moving feature is occasionally amusing and marks a welcome return to the big screen for Goldie Hawn as Linda, an overprotective but sensible and loving mom.

Linda never condones the lewd antics of her estranged daughter, Emily (Amy Schumer). Instead she labors patiently for Emily’s redemption from evil and selfishness.

That’s no easy goal to achieve, and their relationship is put to a further test when Emily persuades her mother to join her on a getaway to Ecuador.

Emily intended to go with her rocker boyfriend, Michael (Randall Park), but he dumps her on the eve of their departure. With a nonrefundable vacation package, and no friends willing to go, Emily takes pity on her mother.

Linda is a free spirit and homebody, caring for her cats and her agoraphobic son, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz). Afraid of her own shadow, she’s an unlikely candidate for a South American adventure.

“Help me put the ‘fun’ in ‘nonrefundable,’” Emily pleads.

So off they go to a fancy resort on the edge of the Ecuadorian jungle.

Linda is content to sit by the pool and read her book. But Emily seeks romance, and soon hooks up with handsome stranger James (Tom Bateman).

This Mr. Wrong lures Emily and Linda into the jungle with the promise of waterfalls and rainbows. It’s a setup, and mother and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom by the treacherous Morgano (Oscar Jaenada).

“Snatched” wastes no time with the perils of these Paulines, piling on the slapstick (and vulgarity) as they escape into the bush. Help comes from a mysterious guide named Roger (Christopher Meloni), and fellow resort guests Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack).

As directed by Jonathan Levine from a screenplay by Katie Dippold, “Snatched” is a slapdash, cliche-ridden send-up of exploitation movies. It’s only redeemable feature is a message about a mother’s unconditional love and the enduring family bond, which manages to shine through a very dirty exterior, as indicated by the warnings below.

The film contains brief upper female nudity, persistent sexual humor and innuendo and pervasive 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, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Dinner’ doesn’t go down easy

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

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Catholic News Service

“The Dinner,” a trenchant morality tale about the nature of evil and mankind’s savage underpinnings, turns out to be as infuriatingly dense and labyrinthine as Dutch author Herman Koch’s 2009 novel.

Richard Gere stars in a scene from the movie "The Dinner." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS/The Orchard)

Richard Gere stars in a scene from the movie “The Dinner.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/The Orchard)

It’s not meant to be comfortable viewing, though, any more than the book was meant to be a tranquil read. It addresses moral challenges straight on, and when is that ever soothing?

Director Oren Moverman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Koch, has Americanized the settings. But he has kept intact the central conflict between Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) an ambitious congressman planning to run for governor, and his brother, Paul (Steve Coogan), a schizophrenic and embittered high school history teacher with a particular obsession about the Battle of Gettysburg.

One evening, Stan invites Paul and wife Claire (Laura Linney) to join him and his new spouse, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), for a very expensive dinner. The venue is one of those Beaux Arts mansions in which the dining experience is tightly choreographed theatre with overly fussy dishes.

The goal, in Stan’s words: “We’re gonna talk tonight. We’ll put it all on the table.”

But the night is about far more than long-simmering sibling resentments. Each couple has a teen son, and together the cousins (Charlie Plummer and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who are also friends, have participated in the horrific abuse and murder of a homeless woman, setting her on fire.

No one’s been charged. But a video of the woman set ablaze is now online and there’s been a blackmail threat.

All this, as well as Paul’s illness, is shown in a long series of flashbacks.

Neither brother is quite the person outward appearances suggest, and as their spouses discuss the crime and the destruction it will wreak on their respective families and aims, their lack of empathy quickly widens in unexpected directions.

This, of course, allows for long, angry monologues, diatribes which the actors, shot in close-up, obviously relish. But these tirades are not especially edifying for viewers trying to keep up with the plot or with details like which nefarious lad belongs to which set of parents.

Perhaps the closest recent parallel to this film is Michael Haneke’s 2009 “The White Ribbon,” which showed German children descending, years before World War II, into feral cruelty without a smidgen of guilt.

So this isn’t escapist fare, but neither does it preach. The script recognizes that humans are complicated, never more so when parents are confronted by the worst thing they could discover about their children.

The film contains physical violence, mature themes and some profane and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘How to Be a Latin Lover’

May 2nd, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

There are so many plot threads going in “How to Be a Latin Lover,” they never quite come together. Rather, the film becomes a scattershot comedy wavering uncertainly between warm family fare and a sex farce.

Kristen Bell and Eugenio Derbez star in a scene from the movie "How to Be a Latin Lover." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. .(CNS photo/Pantelion Films)

Kristen Bell and Eugenio Derbez star in a scene from the movie “How to Be a Latin Lover.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. .(CNS photo/Pantelion Films)

The uneven tone, together with long stretches of exposition that wind up being deadly dull for the audience, make the movie a difficult slog, even though it’s weighted toward a moral lesson about the value of work for its protagonist.

Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) decided in childhood, after the death of his hardworking father, that the easiest way to financial security would be to find a rich lady to take care of him. This he has achieved through his 25-year marriage to the elderly Peggy (Renee Taylor), who indulges his every materialistic whim, so much so that his only means of mobility around her vast estate consists of hoverboards.

This inverted Chaplinesque arrangement ends abruptly when Peggy has an affair and decides the union is over. Maximo, penniless because of a prenuptial agreement, moves in with his estranged sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), an industrious widow with a 10-year-old son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro).

This is where the pathos and life lessons are presumably supposed to begin, as Maximo, now flabby and graying, tries to figure out how to get any kind of a job and from there, learns the value of having strong family ties as well as a moral core.

Instead, director Ken Marino and screenwriters Chris Spain and Jon Zack chart a zigzagging course between crass gags, as Maximo instructs Hugo on how to land Arden (McKenna Grace), the girl he has had his very shy eye on, and Maximo’s instruction and inner change as he learns how fundamentally decent Sara and Hugo can be.

He has not given up his gigolo ways, however. His main goal with his newfound work, even on a tiny income, is to gain the attention of, and ultimately wed, Celeste (Raquel Welch), an even wealthier heiress who just happens to be Arden’s grandmother.

Celeste has two prosthetic arms, a fact which is perhaps supposed to be symbolic but, in the end, only becomes the source for a tasteless sight gag.

This formula demands, and gets, a happy ending for all. Yet the plot’s many fits and starts make the journey to the contented wrap-up torturous.

The film contains brief sensuality and fleeting crude and crass 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 Circle’ doesn’t arrive anywhere on Internet privacy

May 1st, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

Big Brother is watching you, and he has nothing to do with the government. Such, at least in part, is the message of the confused cautionary tale “The Circle.”    

Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and Patton Oswalt star in a scene from the movie "The Circle." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS /STX Films)

Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and Patton Oswalt star in a scene from the movie “The Circle.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS /STX Films)

While perfectly acceptable for a wide swath of grown-ups, director James Ponsoldt’s adaptation of his co-writer Dave Eggers’ novel includes a crucial scene that probably puts it over the line for all but the most mature teens.

Emma Watson plays San Francisco office worker Mae Holland. Bored with her job at a traditional firm, Mae is thrilled when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), an employee of the titular company, the world’s leading social media outfit, gets her an interview there.

Once on the inside, however, Mae finds herself conflicted about her new environment.

She’s drawn to the charismatic figure of Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), the most visible of the Circle’s three founders (Patton Oswalt portrays Tom Stenton, Eamon’s more subdued collaborator at the top). And she’s grateful when the Circle’s in-house medical staff arrange to have her parents, Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and Vinnie (Bill Paxton), added to her health insurance plan. Since Vinnie suffers from multiple sclerosis, this is a real boon.

But Mae also quickly discovers that the Circle’s corporate culture is unsettlingly cult-like. And her initial enthusiasm is also dampened by her encounters with Ty (John Boyega) the now-marginalized, and disenchanted, third creator of the firm.

The Circle’s stated goal of enlisting every person on the planet as a member is obviously problematic since it raises troubling issues about privacy and the power of big business. Yet, although overworked Annie recognizes this, Mae does not.

Instead, taking her cue from Eamon, she buys into such Circle slogans as “Secrets Are Lies.” Mae even suggests that the government should make membership in the Circle a prerequisite for voting.

Though already awakened to the Circle’s dark side, Mae still has enough ardor to agree to go fully “transparent,” that is, to have her life made totally available online 24/7 to be witnessed and commented on by millions of Circle subscribers. This experiment in privacy denial soon has negative consequences for Bonnie and Vinnie and even worse ones for Mae’s would-be boyfriend, gadget-shy woodcarver Mercer (Ellar Coltrane).

As all of this suggests, Mae never seems to come down on one side or the other of the movie’s philosophical divide. Even after a climactic crisis, and a gotcha plot twist, her stance remains unclear.

So it’s hard to guess what the ultimate takeaway is meant to be. And the fact that the proceedings are lacking in energy throughout leaves the audience with little motive to exert themselves trying to solve this thematic puzzle.

The film contains brief semi-graphic marital lovemaking, some sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term as well as several crude and a couple of 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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