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‘Sleepless’ is awash in blood and silliness

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Catholic News Service

There’s little chance of catching a quick nap during “Sleepless,” a noisy, vulgar, and highly violent police drama.

Michelle Monaghan and Jamie Foxx star in a scene from the movie "Sleepless." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Open Road Films)

Michelle Monaghan and Jamie Foxx star in a scene from the movie “Sleepless.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Open Road Films)

Based on the 2011 French film “Nuit Blanche” (“Sleepless Night”), this tense thriller, directed by Baran bo Odar, involves a complex game of cat-and-mouse between law enforcement and drug dealers on the mean streets of Las Vegas.

“This city is crawling with dirty cops,” declares Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), an internal affairs investigator for Sin City’s police department. Badly beaten while trying to break up a narcotics ring, she suspects her fellow officers were behind the attack.

The dirtiest cops may be Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) and his partner, Sean Cass (rapper T.I.). Both are dealing cocaine on the side, supplying Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), a smarmy casino owner, as well as the local drug lord, Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy).

When a delivery goes awry, Novak’s henchmen are killed, and Cass runs off with the cocaine, Rubino plots his revenge. He kidnaps Downs’ son, Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson), and holds him hostage until Downs can deliver the goods.

Despite being stabbed in the chest, Downs races against the clock (and fends off sleep) to retrieve the drugs and rescue his son, all the while pursued by Bryant and her partner, Doug Dennison (David Harbour).

Added to the mix is Downs’ ex-wife (and Thomas’ mom) Dena (Gabrielle Union), an emergency room nurse who just happens to be handy with a pistol.

Andrea Berloff’s script, awash in blood (and silliness), tries to keep viewers guessing until the very end as loyalties shift and true identities are revealed. The last-minute message that crime doesn’t pay barely retrieves this gritty vigil from being ruled out for all.

The film contains relentless graphic violence, including gunplay and torture, and pervasive crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Patriots Day’

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Catholic News Service

While “Patriots Day” is an effective dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its violent aftermath, the film is also an unsparing portrayal of those events. Thus it can only be recommended for the sturdiest adult viewers.

Mark Wahlberg stars in a scene from the movie "Patriots Day." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS /CBS Films)

Mark Wahlberg stars in a scene from the movie “Patriots Day.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS /CBS Films)

Director and co-writer Peter Berg approaches his daunting subject from multiple perspectives, predominantly that of fictional police Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg). Stationed at the finish line of the race, held annually on the holiday of the title, Saunders is among the first responders to the chaos unleashed by radicalized Muslim brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) Tsarnaev.

Other strands of the story, scripted by Berg in collaboration with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, involve lead FBI investigator Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), and his local counterpart, Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman).

Among the victims profiled are young husband and wife Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) as well as Chinese-born app designer Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) whom the murderous siblings carjacked and kidnapped. Meng’s courage and quick thinking helped foil the Tsarnaevs’ plans to carry out a further attack in New York’s Times Square.

Berg ratchets up the suspense as authorities scramble to identify and capture the fugitives before they can claim more casualties. And “Patriots Day” is clear about the need to oppose evil with love and decency, an outlook most forcefully expressed through a powerfully delivered monologue from Wahlberg’s Everyman character.

Yet, although the treatment of it never descends to the exploitative or manipulative, the bloody carnage caused by the duo’s series of assaults is not kept off-screen. The grim sights from which Berg refuses to avert his gaze or ours are not meant to evoke a visceral or vengeance-hungry response in the audience. They are, rather, an unflinching presentation of reality.

Taken together with the dialogue’s torrent of tension-induced swearing, however, this visual realism makes “Patriots Day” suitable fare for only a few. Still, serious minded grownups will find positive values prevailing amid the many losses.

The film contains disturbing and sometimes gruesome images of terrorist mayhem, considerable gore, drug use, a marital bedroom scene, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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Morality play shot down in volley of bullets in ‘Live by Night’

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Catholic News Service

The glossy crime drama “Live by Night” traces the rise of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, who also wrote and directed), a Boston-bred gangster in the Florida of the 1920s and ’30s. Though not exactly a hoodlum with a heart of gold, Coughlin is presented as a sympathetic figure in Affleck’s serious-minded adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel.

Zoe Saldana and Ben Affleck star in a scene from the movie "Live by Night." The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS/Warner Bros.)

Zoe Saldana and Ben Affleck star in a scene from the movie “Live by Night.” The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS/Warner Bros.)

Mature viewers, accordingly, will need to bring discernment to bear as plot developments test the limits of Coughlin’s ruthlessness. Given that style trumps substance throughout the mayhem-driven proceedings, however, such an effort is likely to be no more than modestly rewarded.

Disillusioned by his experience of military service during World War I, Coughlin returns from overseas determined never to have to follow orders again. Seeing lawlessness as a form of freedom, he embarks on a career of low-level thievery that puts him at odds with his father, Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), a high-ranking police officer.

As he gains some notoriety, Coughlin resists the pressure to join forces with, and therefore knuckle under to, either of the Hub’s leading underworld figures, Irish-American kingpin Albert White (Robert Glenister) and Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone).

Things become dangerously complicated, though, when Coughlin falls for White’s alluring moll, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). The resulting conflict has near-fatal consequences, and leaves Coughlin thirsting for revenge.

Allying himself with Pescatore, Coughlin relocates to the outskirts of Tampa where, with the assistance of longtime friend Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), he supervises his new boss’ rum-running racket. This brings him into contact with a fresh love interest, Graciela Suarez (Zoe Saldana), the elegant scion of a wealthy but shady Cuban family.

Coughlin’s plans to cap the mounting success of his enterprise by building a lavish casino — prohibition, he realizes, won’t last forever — draws the opposition of an unlikely adversary, local evangelist Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning).

Morality, social commentary and Christianity of the revival meeting variety are all part of the mix here. But the faith on display is tattered, the ethics muddled and any consistent message gets lost amid the climactic hail of bullets.

Is it acceptable to kill some people, e.g., Ku Klux Klansmen, but not others, like our Aimee Semple McPherson stand-in? Was the WASP establishment to blame when the immigrants they systematically held down turned to criminality?

These are some of the moral rapids Affleck attempts to navigate, only to get distracted by an overstuffed story and the urge to move on to the next shootout. The result is a scenic but not very satisfying voyage.

The film contains questionable values, frequent violence with some gore, semi-graphic premarital sex, upper female nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘A Monster Calls’ — but not for children

January 9th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The first thing to know about “A Monster Calls” is that, although it’s based on a children’s novel, it’s definitely not for kids.

Lewis MacDougall confronts The Monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, in the movie "A Monster Calls." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.   (CNS photo/Focus Features)

Lewis MacDougall confronts The Monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, in the movie “A Monster Calls.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Focus Features)

Even many adults will find its mawkish treatment of death and its supply of blithe answers to life’s struggles difficult to handle. While the film is probably acceptable for mature and literate adolescents, “mature” is the vital term here.

Like all books, Patrick Ness’ award-winning 2011 work can be absorbed slowly, put aside and reflected on. The movie, by contrast, sustains unrelenting horror in the manner of a cult film.

The intent of J.A. Bayona, who directed from Ness’ own script, appears to have been to make a faithful adaptation, with mordant observations on the need to accept the inevitability of life’s passages. What the filmmakers ended up with, though, is an uncompromisingly dark melodrama, somewhere beyond gothic.

Its protagonist, Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a young adolescent who lives in a British country village, is one very sad and angry boy. There is no respite from his grief.

He’s bullied at school and tortured by the knowledge that his divorced mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), is slowly dying of cancer. His father (Toby Kebbell) has moved to America and begun a new family. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is emotionally distant, and there are no compassionate adults to guide him through all this.

Like his mom, Conor is a skilled artist with an active imagination. He suffers from a vivid recurring nightmare involving a crumbling church and his mother’s plunge into the depths as the cemetery surrounding it becomes a sinkhole.

Coming to his “rescue” is a benevolent giant (voice of Liam Neeson) formed from the bark and roots of the graveyard’s ancient yew tree and with a voice as deep as a coal mine. His centuries of observing human behavior and ability to dispense slightly off-kilter fables are supposed to bring gruff instruction, if not exactly comfort.

Initially, this puts the story on a par with benign and occasionally funny tales such as “Pete’s Dragon,” “The Iron Giant” and “The BFG.” But only for a moment.

The giant promises Conor that, on successive nights, he’ll tell three stories, after which Conor has to tell him a fourth. The first two, elaborately animated as watercolors, involve a handsome prince who’s not the murderous villain he seems to be and a grouchy medieval apothecary who is far more moral than others might think. especially when compared to the pious clergyman who wants to drive him out of business,

Conor, whose fears don’t extend to his new friend, notices these discrepancies right away, leading the giant to reflect, “Many things that are true feel like a cheat.”

The giant never gets to finish his third tale — which begins “There was once an invisible man who had grown tired of being unseen”— because by now, Conor is in the midst of a destructive emotional breakdown, well past the point at which any form of fantasy might still help him cope.

But he’s never punished for his resulting misbehavior. His grandmother and school principal understand the sources of his rage, and when he asks about retribution, both respond, “What could possibly be the point?”

Conor finally obtains wisdom, if not exactly peace, by confronting his nightmare in the midst of a turn-on-all-the-faucets tableau. “In the end, it’s not important what you think,” the monster advises him. “It’s important what you do.”

The film contains some physical violence, several discussions of death and intense emotional scenes. 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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‘Underworld: Blood Wars’

January 9th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The sanguinary subtitle of the action-horror sequel “Underworld: Blood Wars” proves unpleasantly appropriate as the amount of butchery on screen eventually goes off the charts. By the time the film’s protagonist, in a climactic scene, uses her bare hands to rip the entire spine out of the back of one of her adversaries, the suitable audience for all of this slaughter has dwindled to nil.

Kate Beckinsale stars in a scene from the movie "Underworld: Blood Wars."  The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Sony)

Kate Beckinsale stars in a scene from the movie “Underworld: Blood Wars.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Sony)

Along the way to its grisly conclusion, director Anna Foerster’s fifth installment in a franchise that reaches back to 2003’s “Underworld” recounts the latest travails of recurring main character Selene (Kate Beckinsale). A skilled warrior now alienated from both sides in the long-standing conflict between her fellow vampires and a race of werewolves known as Lycans, Selene starts this chapter on the lam.

With the power of the Lycans waxing under the hard-driving leadership of new alpha wolf Marius (Tobias Menzies), however, the bloodsuckers need Selene, whose exploits have earned her the apparently coveted title Death Dealer, to train their raw recruits. So coven leader Semira (Lara Pulver) reaches out with an offer of amnesty for Selene’s perceived misdeeds of the past.

Since shifting loyalties and outright betrayals aplenty lie ahead, Selene can count on at least two steady allies: influential elder Thomas (Charles Dance) and his son, David (Theo James). Not only is David a tenacious fighter, which is bound to come in handy, he also has a soft spot for Selene to help ensure his fidelity.

Along with potential romance, Selene’s pining for the absent daughter she was forced to send into hiding for the child’s own safety is meant to add an emotional dimension to the labored proceedings. It does no such thing.

The film contains occult themes, rampant gory violence, some of it gruesome, a scene of aberrant sexual behavior, semi-graphic marital lovemaking, partial nudity, a same-sex kiss, at least one rough term and a mild oath. 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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Space-age racism brought to light in ‘Hidden Figures’

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

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Catholic News Service

The struggles of the civil rights era provide the backdrop for the appealing fact-based drama “Hidden Figures.” Along with a personalized insight into the injustices that still prevailed in American society in the early 1960s, director Theodore Melfi’s adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, which centers on three extraordinarily gifted mathematicians working for NASA, successfully re-creates the tension of the Cold War space race.

Janelle Monae stars in a scene from the movie "Hidden Figures." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

Janelle Monae stars in a scene from the movie “Hidden Figures.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

For all their genius, this trio of colleagues and close friends faced an uphill professional fight. That’s because they were not only women in a field dominated by men, but African Americans living and working in pre-integration Virginia.

Their story is told primarily from the perspective of Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a “computer” (as the number crunchers were then known) whose career gets a boost when she’s assigned to the prestigious unit tasked with working out the logistics of manned space flight. There she gradually wins the respect of her well-meaning but initially unenlightened boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner).

Both of Katherine’s pals, meanwhile, have challenges of their own to confront. Manager Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) does all the work of a department supervisor but enjoys neither the title nor the salary of that position. And Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) has set her sights on an engineering degree, but will have to obtain a court order to be allowed to take the necessary courses.

Besides the social changes slowly unfolding, and the suspense of the effort to catch up with the Russians post-Sputnik, “Hidden Figures” also gives viewers a glimpse of the early age of mechanical computers.

As representatives from IBM set up a massive device at NASA headquarters, Dorothy masters the programming language Fortran, already foreseeing that she and her co-workers will need to shift from making calculations on their own to entering data instead. (The textbook Dorothy uses to learn Fortran is purloined from a local library, but only because she’s not allowed to take it out, as a white person would be.)

Melfi uses scenes detailing the main characters’ personal lives to showcase family values and Christian piety. He also works in some wholesome romance by chronicling widowed Katherine’s blossoming relationship with National Guard Col. Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali).

Given the positive morality on display as well as the historical understanding to be gained from “Hidden Figures,” many parents may consider it suitable for older teens, despite screenwriter Allison Schroeder’s occasional resort to light swearing for rhetorical emphasis.

The film contains at least one use of profanity, milder oaths and a vague sexual reference. 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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‘La La Land’ dreams big in Hollywood

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

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Catholic News Service

Though it’s set in present-day Los Angeles, the comedy-drama “La La Land” takes a spirited stab at reviving the musicals of Hollywood’s golden age.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in a scene from the movie "La La Land." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in a scene from the movie “La La Land.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Writer-director Damien Chazelle dreams big in this over-the-top fantasy where drivers exit their cars on a freeway overpass and burst into song, and lovers float in the air amid the projected stars in a planetarium.

Beautifully shot in CinemaScope, “La La Land” is a unique and self-indulgent film, to say the least. But it tends to lose its way when song and dance take over. Fortunately, that’s largely made up for by Chazelle’s engaging script, a cast of first-rate actors, and superb jazz music.

In the city where dreams are manufactured, two star-crossed lovers meet: Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist. Each is driven toward a singular goal. Mia wants to be a movie star, while Sebastian hopes to open his own club.

Their gooey romance bubbles over into a series of numbers worthy of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. In this context, the corny dialogue is utterly appropriate, even charming:

“It’s pretty strange that we keep running into each other,” Mia tells Sebastian.

“Maybe it means something,” he replies.

And how!

Needless to say, the path to success is rocky, and perseverance is sorely tested. Mia suffers one humiliating audition after another. Sebastian, broke, joins a rock band led by his newfound friend Keith (John Legend), and heads out on the road, sacrificing his craft for a paycheck.

Separation frays the relationship, and conflict ensues. As the music swells and Mia warbles tunes like “The Fools Who Dream,” the power of love to conquer all seems momentarily in doubt.

The film contains an implied premarital relationship, rough terms and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Portrait of a crushed soul: ‘Manchester by the Sea’

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Catholic News Service

At the center of filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan’s drama “Manchester by the Sea” lays a crushed soul flawlessly embodied by actor Casey Affleck.

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck star in a scene from the movie "Manchester by the Sea."  (CNS photo/Roadside)

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck star in a scene from the movie “Manchester by the Sea.” (CNS photo/Roadside)

Affleck’s character, Lee Chandler, is a janitor in several Boston-area apartment buildings. A terse yet proficient handyman, he has little interest in conversing with tenants or in social interaction of any kind. He seems numbed, almost to the point of appearing robotic. Even when he gets drunk and picks fights with random bar patrons, his belligerence is mechanical. Evidently, something terrible has prompted Lee to wall himself off from the world and other people.

The cause of his suffering isn’t revealed until roughly halfway through this gently paced film, well after Lee is summoned to Manchester, his hometown on the coast of Massachusetts, where his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), the owner of a fishing boat, has succumbed to a heart attack. Joe’s poor health was not a surprise, but Lee is startled to learn his brother has named him the guardian of his 15-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Although Lee’s bond with Joe and Patrick has withstood his absence and the tragedy that precipitated it, he’s reluctant to take responsibility for raising his nephew, not least because he dreads living in Manchester where everybody knows what transpired. Nevertheless, he takes his duty seriously and tries to do right by Patrick, a popular, outgoing teen who plays hockey for his school and lead guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll band, in addition to juggling two girlfriends.

Employing a flashback structure, writer-director Lonergan (“You Can Count On Me”) gradually doles out plot points and relevant information. This narrative technique is extremely effective at triggering wrenching emotional responses; and Lonergan’s screenplay is flecked with dark humor, along with flashes of compassion and understanding. Against a lovely backdrop provided by the Cape Ann region of Massachusetts, a carefully manicured yet naturalistic portrait of a shattered individual emerges.

Lonergan also is able to elicit tremendous performances. As Patrick, Hedges holds his own opposite Affleck, who plumbs Lee’s anguish without being showy or ever appearing to strain. Patrick’s openness and youthful vitality are the perfect counterpoint to his uncle’s hollowness and lethargy. The pathos Michelle Williams brings to the role of Lee’s ex-wife, Randi, puts Lee’s inability to express his feelings in stark relief.

“Manchester by the Sea” is suitable for adult moviegoers, many of whom will be put off by the amount of bad language and the movie’s frank treatment of Patrick’s love life. That said, the tone is never nasty, sordid or depraved.

Lee’s failure to change or grow to an appreciable extent is a more interesting hurdle. Expecting his guardianship of Patrick to be a panacea is unrealistic. But the recognition that Lee ends up only slightly better off then when we first meet him leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. He remains incapacitated by guilt and an eviscerating sense of loss. When he declares, “I can’t beat it,” you believe him. For now at least, redemption is not in the cards.

This would be easier to accept, and the movie would be less wintry, if Lee took steps to improve his situation by, for instance, confronting his reliance on alcohol or by seeking counseling. There’s something masochistic about how he continues to punish himself for making one, albeit grave, mistake. It means the healing process cannot begin.

The movie’s major aesthetic deficiency parallels this aspect of Lee’s psychology. Rather than create an inspirational metamorphosis for Lee, and thus a more optimistic sense of closure for the audience, Lonergan lets the story peter out and the dramatic urgency wane. As it becomes clear Lee’s struggle to recover is just beginning, the picturesque shots of Manchester’s harbor and environs that Lonergan inserts between scenes strike one as quaint distractions from the profound human issues being raised. Eschewing an implausibly upbeat ending is not the problem. It’s the impression that Lonergan, daunted by the choices facing his characters, has gone into avoidance mode.

The film contains much rough language, some explicit banter, several adolescent sexual encounters, a suicide attempt, fistfights, and a partial glimpse of lower female nudity. 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.

McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Pulitzer-prize winning ‘Fences’ finally on film

December 28th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Suffering is a leitmotif in any of August Wilson’s plays, but there’s also brutal honesty and joy in unexpected moments, as well as the musical cadence of his language to enjoy.

That’s what enlivens “Fences,” the film adaptation of Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work from 1983. Moral decisions, and the consequences of immoral ones, lurk at every turn in the plot as well.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in a scene from the movie "Fences." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/Paramount)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in a scene from the movie “Fences.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Paramount)

Denzel Washington, who also directed (from Wilson’s own screenplay, finished before his 2005 death), plays Troy Maxson, an embittered ex-ballplayer, ex-convict and self-centered Pittsburgh garbage collector.

It’s the mid-1950s, and Troy has constructed a respectable, almost-middle-class existence for himself and wife Rose (Viola Davis). Partly that’s the result of his unyielding labor, but Troy also takes advantage of brother Gabe’s (Mykelti Williamson) disability payout from brain damage suffered in World War II combat.

Troy is bold enough to have become the city’s first black garbage-truck driver simply by asking his supervisor why Pittsburgh had no such drivers. He takes pride in being the noisy and coarse family patriarch, even if he is often a monster who takes no pleasure in the accomplishments of his children.

Older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), the offspring of a previous marriage, lives outside the home, supports himself as a jazz musician, and sometimes stops by for a short-term loan just to demonstrate to his father that he can repay it.

Younger son Cory (Jovan Adepo) has a chance to attend college on a football scholarship. But Troy interferes with that, insisting, “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway.”

Troy also likes to drink and trade boasts with his friend Bono (Stephen Henderson).

Churchgoing Rose is the compassionate and understanding moral center. She’s on the receiving end of everyone’s decisions for most of the story until she encounters Troy’s cruelest betrayal. Even in the face of that, she sacrifices her own happiness to carry on.

While both sons have lives circumscribed by racism, hard luck and sometimes Troy’s selfishness, they’re also unrelentingly stoic and accepting.

The toughest stretches for viewers will be the long speeches characteristic of Wilson’s style. Although they tend to show actors to good advantage — Davis is particularly fine — Wilson’s dramas are not cinematic, and Washington hasn’t found a way to solve that problem. “Fences,” accordingly, requires a committed attention span.

The title refers to Troy’s plan to build a high wooden fence in his backyard so he can keep death at bay: “I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See? You stay over there until you’re ready for me.”

Death, of course, is on its inevitable path, but Wilson refuses to give it the last word, instead choosing to display the resiliency of the human soul.

The movie’s focus on ideas and their consequences makes it acceptable for mature adolescents.

The film contains references to adultery, frequent use of the n-word and instances profanity and 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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‘Silence’ is dramatically powerful and theologically complex

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Catholic News Service

Directed and co-written (with Jay Cocks) by Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is a dramatically powerful but theologically complex work best suited to viewers who are prepared to engage with serious issues.

Liam Neeson stars in a scene from the movie "Silence." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Liam Neeson stars in a scene from the movie “Silence.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Paramount)

Those willing to make such an intellectual investment, however, will find themselves richly rewarded.

In adapting Catholic author Shusaku Endo’s 1966 fact-based historical novel, a project in the works since the late 1980s, Scorsese finds himself in Graham Greene territory. As fans of that British novelist know, he had a fondness for stretching and twisting fundamental issues of faith and morality, and Endo’s plot shows the same tendency. So this is also not a film for the poorly catechized.

The movie’s primary setting is 17th-century Japan, where persecution is raging against the previously tolerated Christian community.

Shocked by rumors that Christavao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), their mentor in the priesthood, has renounced the faith under torture, two of his fellow Jesuits, Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), volunteer to leave the safety of Europe for the perils of the Land of the Rising Sun. Their twin goals are to find their role model and to minister to the underground Japanese church.

What follows is a long, sometimes harrowing battle between doubt and human frailty on the one hand and fidelity on the other. Earthly compassion is set against faithfulness and an eternal perspective, with both divine and human silence contributing to the appropriateness of the title.

Scorsese has crafted an often visually striking drama that’s also deeply thought-provoking and emotionally gripping. The performances are remarkable all around. But the paradoxes of the narrative demand careful sifting by mature moviegoers well-grounded in their beliefs.

Those lacking such a foundation could be led astray, drawing the conclusion that mercy toward the suffering of others can sometimes justify sin. While Catholics who are blessed with the freedom to practice their faith in peace are hardly in a position to judge those facing martyrdom, the principle that circumstances can mitigate guilt but not transform wrong into right remains universally valid.

In the end, “Silence” movingly vindicates a certain form of constancy. That may, in a roundabout way, match the historical record: There is edifying, though inconclusive, evidence that the real person behind one of the three main characters in the picture not only rejected his previous apostasy, but ultimately surrendered his life for the faith.

The film contains religious themes requiring mature discernment, much violence, including scenes of gruesome torture and a brutal, gory execution, as well as rear and partial nudity.

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.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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