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Pointless exercise: ‘A Cure for Wellness’

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Catholic News Service

The Swiss spa that serves as the primary setting for the creepy, but otherwise pointless horror exercise “A Cure for Wellness” operates, it seems, on the Hotel California plan.

Dane DeHaan stars in a scene from the movie "A Cure for Wellness." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Fox)

Dane DeHaan stars in a scene from the movie “A Cure for Wellness.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Fox)

As fans of the Eagles’ 1977 hit will recall, that means, “you can check out anytime you like; but you can never leave.”

The audience may pick up on this unusual policy well before the film’s protagonist, a junior Wall Street business executive the dialogue identifies only by his last name, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), ever does.

Callous young Lockhart has been dispatched to the Alps to convince a higher-ranking colleague called Pembroke (Harry Groener) to break his recently announced resolution to make his stay at the resort permanent. There’s a big merger in the works, and his fellow board members need Pembroke to sign off on it.

Corrupt machinations add urgency to Lockhart’s mission since Pembroke is to be made the fall guy for Lockhart’s own misdeeds in the lead up to the pending deal. Rare is the capitalist who comes off well in a Hollywood movie these days.

Despite the soothing manner of the facility’s director, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart eventually discovers that something is profoundly amiss, and his own chances of ever departing the place are remote.

Working from a script by Justin Haythe, director Gore Verbinski effectively conjures up a sinister atmosphere. But the subtlety with which he initially unsettles viewers is lost as he attempts to ratchet up the tension, in part by subjecting Lockhart to the kind of unpleasant hallucinations the Haight-Ashbury set used to term a bad trip.

Some of these delusions take place in a large complex of steam baths where people for whom the virtue of modesty would be a wise choice wander around in the altogether. The resulting imagery is more reminiscent of the work of British painter Lucien Freud than anything Hugh Hefner ever had in mind.

The mildly unnerving gives way to the gothic as a backstory about the evil nobleman who once owned the land on which the spa stands takes on increased significance. From there, the proceedings become downright lurid via plot developments involving Volmer’s daughter, Hannah (Mia Goth).

By this stage, many moviegoers will wonder why they’ve subjected themselves to this ultimately hellish journey in the first place. In fact, as its logically unsatisfying wrap-up approaches, “A Cure for Wellness” hovers on the border of the offensive. In the judgment of some at least, it may cross that line, despite the relatively respectable overall intentions of its creators.

Either way, why be a prisoner of your own device?

The film contains some gory violence, a scene of torture, strong sexual content including a graphic incestuous assault and masturbation, much nudity in a nonsexual context, a couple of uses of profanity, and about a dozen instances each of 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ presents cartoonish nihilism

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Catholic News Service

The stylized, nearly cartoonish nihilism and resulting high body count in “John Wick: Chapter 2” create most of the apparent appeal of this second drama about a professional assassin.

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie "John Wick: Chapter 2." 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.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie “John Wick: Chapter 2.” 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.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

The rest, as directed by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script, consists of small moments — quite small, since there’s nearly no dialogue — of mordant and questionable humor.

Violently pulled out of retirement, Wick (Keanu Reeves) arrives in Rome for an assignment.

“Are you here to see the pope?” a worried-looking Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the Continental Hotel, asks. Assured that’s not the case, Winston tells Wick that he has a room available to use as a base of operations.

The Continental is also the name of a secret international network of assassins of which Wick is the indisputable star, since he’s acrobatic, amazingly versatile and fearless. He also, in this episode, has a bounty on his head, so when he’s not shooting or committing mayhem in a muscle car, he’s being shot at.

The core story has Wick unwillingly drawn into a plot to seize a seat at the High Table, a criminal enterprise. Italian playboy Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) wants the seat held by his fur-adorned sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). To get it, he orders Wick to treat Gianna with extreme prejudice.

Since a previous life-or-death commitment to Santino leaves Wick with no choice but to accept this mission, he takes to it in the manner of James Bond being equipped by Q. He’ll have to face off against Gianna’s loyal bodyguard, Cassian (Common). And Santino has a large squad of goons who don’t wish to see Wick get away alive.

It’s not a movie that requires concentrated attention. What’s needed instead is a tolerance for — and enjoyment of — elaborately choreographed stunts and chase sequences.

The film contains pervasive action violence with little blood, a suicide and brief full 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.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Weekend flick? ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ an animated treat

February 10th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

In 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff “The Lego Batman Movie,” Arnett’s character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage. Read more »

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Damonds are still a girl’s best friend in ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

February 10th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

To beat or not to beat, that is the question in the sordid sequel “Fifty Shades Darker.” Sensible people won’t care a whip, er, a whit what the answer is.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in a scene from the movie "50 Shades Darker." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Universal)

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in a scene from the movie “50 Shades Darker.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Universal)

Extending a franchise whose appeal seems to be that it offers armchair submissives the erotic equivalent of ordering Fra Diavolo sauce in an Italian restaurant, director James Foley pads out his adaptation of E.L. James’ novel, the second in a trilogy, heaven help us, with nonsexual scenes that range from the boring to the ridiculous. So anyone with a higher interest than mere prurience will be disappointed.

Yearning to revive his relationship with book editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who doesn’t share his interest in dungeon doings, sadist Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) struggles to control his urges. Whether Mr. Kinky Boots can kick the habit is one of the least compelling questions imaginable, however, and so the mind wanders to other matters.

Is it not pretentious for anyone unrelated to the Romanovs to bear the weighty name Anastasia? Why, in this film’s version of the Emerald City, does it only rain when our heroine is depressed? What would Henry James make of E.L.?

The sketchy plot is founded on a dubious backstory. Christian, we are led to believe, acquired his disordered tastes from a combination of childhood physical abuse and the later tutelage of his adoptive mother Grace’s (Marcia Gay Harden) friend, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), whom Christian nicknames Mrs. Robinson. Koo-koo-ka-choo.

We will leave it to the professionals to explain how plausible it is that Christian has switched sides in the bondage game, going from taking punishment at Elena’s hands to dishing it out to a succession of partners. Equally puzzling is the idea that being mistreated by a man early in life would inspire a mania for walloping women. But there it is.

As for Anastasia, presumably in order to keep things frisky, she occasionally takes a walk on the wild side. But the next minute, she’s back to freaking out over Christian’s 31-flavors approach to bedroom behavior.

To give the movie its due, the central duo does move toward acquiring outward respectability and lending permanence to their bond. So, if there’s a moral to be drawn from Anastasia’s saga, perhaps it’s this: A smack on the butt may be quite continental, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend.

The film contains excessive sexual content, including aberrant acts, graphic activity and much nudity, several uses of profanity and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. restricted.  

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Moonlight’ — powerful, compelling and morally offensive

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

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Catholic News Service

Considered as an exploration of the African-American experience in contemporary society, writer-director Barry Jenkins’ powerfully understated drama “Moonlight” makes a compelling statement. 

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali star in a scene from "Moonlight." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS /A24)

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali star in a scene from “Moonlight.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS /A24)

As the film chronicles three stages in the life of an inner-city Miami youth, however, aspects of its main character’s personal story raise complications for viewers of faith.

As a bullied and withdrawn 10-year-old, burdened with a crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), Chiron (Alex Hibbert), derisively nicknamed Little, comes under the surprisingly positive influence of local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan’s gentle girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), becomes a more predictable mentor, taking on the role of a second mom.

One of the few other bright spots in Chiron’s bleak existence is his friendship with schoolmate Kevin (Jaden Piner) who proves much more accepting of Chiron than the lad’s other peers.

Reaching his teens, Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) falls for Kevin (now Jharrel Jerome). Although Kevin boasts (apparently truthfully) of his prowess with women, he willingly participates in a single sexual act with Chiron. But circumstances soon set them cruelly at odds with each other.

Once grown, and now played by Trevante Rhodes, Chiron has himself become a pusher with a grim persona symbolized by his latest moniker, Black. He lives an isolated and shady life until an unexpected reunion opens up emotional possibilities for him.

The relationship at the heart of the film is dealt with in a restrained and thoughtful way, with spiritual affinity far outweighing eroticism and fidelity leading to sexual reserve. Yet the physical expression of the bond is presented as acceptable, making it impossible to endorse “Moonlight” for any age group.

In fact, the temptation to let sympathy blur moral borders is all the more potent here because immensely likable, terribly downtrodden Chiron has the audience rooting for him all the way. So, too, does compassionate Kevin. Yet commiseration needs to be clear-eyed where ethical truths, especially those taught both by Scripture and tradition, are at stake.

The film contains tacit endorsement of homosexual acts, mature themes, including narcotics use and prostitution, a graphic heterosexual and a semi-graphic same-sex encounter, several mild oaths, frequent rough and crude language and some vulgar sex talk. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Comedian’ — Funny as a car crash

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

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Catholic News Service

If a movie’s going to be titled “The Comedian,” and the phrase isn’t intended ironically, since the film is about a stand-up comic, the audience has a right to expect that some mirth awaits therein.

Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito star in a scene from the movie  (CNS/Sony Pictures Classics)

Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito star in a scene from the movie (CNS/Sony Pictures Classics)

But with Robert De Niro as insult comic Jackie Burke, this is where funny has gone to die, cringing the entire way.

Portrayals of sad, bitter comedians chasing fading laughter and applause have been around for decades, notably with Laurence Olivier in “The Entertainer” (1960), Billy Crystal in “Mr. Saturday Night” (1992) and Adam Sandler in “Funny People” (2009).

What makes “The Comedian” unique in this pantheon is that, whenever De Niro grabs a microphone and launches into one of Jackie’s caustic, profane rants, whatever pleasant storytelling flow has existed up to that point suddenly ends in the manner of a car crash.

Jackie’s at a precipice in both his life and career. His fame comes from a starring role in a catchphrase-laden 1980s sitcom, which threatens to pigeonhole him as a nostalgia act.

He has anger issues, too, and one night he attacks a heckler, who quickly puts the assault on YouTube. Viral ignominy finally gives Jackie’s career some heat, but he’s too suspicious and unbending to take advantage of it.

Unable to leave New York City because of his probation and sentenced to community service at a soup kitchen following a stint in jail, Jackie tries to reconnect to humanity through his steady comic patter with the homeless. He also starts a furtive romance with Harmony (Leslie Mann), a mobster’s daughter who’s also doing community service and has temper problems of her own.

Everyone in Jackie’s orbit suffers from his abuse, including his agent, Miller (Edie Falco), brother, Jimmy (Danny DeVito), and sister-in-law, Florence (Patti LuPone).

Director Taylor Hackford and a quartet of screenwriters capture a bickering, yet affectionate, show-business milieu, somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” from 1984. But in Jackie, they have too unpleasant and pointless a character to sustain a compelling narrative.

The film contains references to nonmarital sexual activity, occasional profanity and frequent rough 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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Here’s the third call from ‘Rings’

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

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Catholic News Service

There’s something about being tossed down a well and left for dead that can make a girl really cranky.

Matilda Lutz stars in a scene from the movie "Rings." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS /Paramount Pictures)

Matilda Lutz stars in a scene from the movie “Rings.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS /Paramount Pictures)

Hence, “Rings,” the third film in an American horror franchise based on a 1998 Japanese feature. The series concerns a spooky black-and-white video, viewers of which are doomed to die seven days after watching it. Like a chain letter, it has to be shared and viewed by another person, otherwise Samara (Bonnie Morgan) emerges from her watery grave on video screens to exact her human toll.

Updated for the viral-video and cellphone era since the last installment in 2005, this time the disturbing symbolic images are widely shared by undergraduates involved in malevolent professor Gabriel’s (Johnny Galecki) research into how the soul migrates after death.

One part never changes, of course. After someone watches the video, his or her phone rings, a girl’s voice hisses “Seven days!” and the fate of the person on the other end is sealed.

At this point, there’s not much shock value when Samara surfaces to commence killing. In fact, at this stage the audience is more likely to give her entrance applause as if she were a beloved musical-comedy star.

Recognizing this, director F. Javier Gutierrez and screenwriters David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman turn up the psychological-thriller elements, focusing on the search for Samara’s origins in the quaint, yet evil, hamlet of Sacrament Valley.

Julia (Matilda Lutz) and boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) make efficient use of their seven days to figure out that the birds, ants and so on in the video images are a message from Samara identifying her killers and the people who made her life miserable before that.

The duo set off on a compassionate search that leads them to Samara’s presumed tomb, a deconsecrated church, a story about a flood and rustic plaid-clad locals, all of whom harbor secrets.

Occult overtones or, in this case, ringtones, routinely move this type of film into the adult range. Yet “Rings” is clearly aimed at teens, with gory sights kept mostly in check. So many parents may consider it acceptable for mature adolescents.

The film contains occult themes, some violence but with little blood, brief drug use and references to nonmarital sexual activity. 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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‘Lion’ a hauntingly poignant, uplifting film

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

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Catholic News Service

The incredible true story of one orphan’s 20-year odyssey to find his way back home roars to cinematic life in “Lion.”

Sunny Pawar and Deepti Naval star in a scene from the movie "Lion." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. . (CNS/The Weinstein Company)

Sunny Pawar and Deepti Naval star in a scene from the movie “Lion.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. . (CNS/The Weinstein Company)

Taken from his native India as a boy, Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) grew to manhood in a loving adoptive family in Australia. But he was haunted by his lost childhood and the beloved mother (Priyanka Bose) he left behind. His 2013 memoir (written with Larry Buttrose), “A Long Way Home,” inspired this poignant and uplifting film, directed by Garth Davis.

The story begins in 1986 as a lively tale of two brothers, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older sibling Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Life is hard in rural India, and they scavenge for items to resell so they can buy food for their family.

The brothers adore their mother, Kamala, who ekes out a living as a manual laborer, clearing rocks at a nearby quarry.

One night, Saroo follows Guddu to the railway station in search of work. They become separated, and Saroo, wandering into an empty train car, falls asleep.

When Saroo awakens, the train is moving, and he is locked inside. After 1,500 kilometers, the train finally comes to a stop, in the bustling metropolis of Kolkata (then still called Calcutta).

Saroo is terrified by this unknown place teeming with humanity. Unable to remember his family name and home village, he wanders the streets alone, barely escaping abduction.

Months pass before Saroo comes to the attention of the authorities. They advertise his case to locate his parents, but to no avail. So Saroo is put up for adoption, and heads to Australia in the caring embrace of Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley.

Fast-forward two decades, and Saroo (Patel) is now a well-adjusted and ambitious young man, enrolled in hotel management school along with his cute girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara).

He stands in contrast to his stepbrother, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), whom the Brierleys also adopted from India, shortly after Saroo. Mantosh suffers from mental illness and can be moody, even violent. The patience and unconditional love offered by his foster parents are inspiring.

Meanwhile, Saroo meets peers who are also of Indian descent, and begins to wonder about his earlier life. Curiosity turns to obsession, and with the help of the internet, Saroo sets out to retrace his long-ago train journey and pinpoint his native village.

“I have to find my way back home,” he tells Sue, who is supportive of his quest.

A five-hankie weepie that packs an emotional wallop, “Lion” emerges as a celebration of family. It also sends a strong pro-life message by underscoring the joys and merits of adoption, and showing that a child can be shared and loved equally by two sets of parents.

Unfortunately, Saroo and Lucy’s relationship is portrayed in a manner that precludes endorsement of “Lion” for younger viewers. That’s a shame because teens, at least, might otherwise have profited from this touching movie.

In a postscript, “Lion” highlights the disturbing reality that more than 80,000 children go missing in India each year, with most undoubtedly denied the happy ending Saroo enjoyed.

The film contains mature themes and two brief nongraphic nonmarital sex scenes. 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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‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’

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

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Catholic News Service

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is the sixth and presumably last in a series of video game-based films that began back in 2002.

William Levy stars in a scene from the movie "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Sony)

William Levy stars in a scene from the movie “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Sony)

The movies have always kept their connection to the console on open display. This makes them ideal for those who like their zombies, shootouts and occasionally gory incidents of flesh-eating served up with a minimum of story line or dialogue. For anyone beyond the fan base, though, frustration and a possible headache awaits.

Alice (Milla Jovovich, as ever), squeezes into her famous black tights to battle the undead as well as the evil Umbrella Corporation led by the diabolical Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen). Her sidekick, Claire (Ali Larter), provides occasional assistance.

Director and writer Paul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich’s real-life husband) provides not so much a plot as a goal, as if this were a game level.  Alice has 48 hours to find the airborne antidote to the T-virus. A pandemic of said malady has turned the planet, especially the remnants of Washington, into a dystopian moonscape populated by flesh-craving zombies.

Alice herself had the T-virus. But it seems to have been just her cup of T, since she somehow gained superpowers from her illness.

On this adventure, she fights Dr. Isaacs with whatever weapons come to hand, leads skirmishes against the zombies (who prefer to run in packs), and has occasional encounters with the Red Queen (Ever Anderson), a digitized younger version of herself who provides instructions and reminds the audience what Alice is supposed to be doing.

This series, while well short of classic, has nonetheless proved quite durable. And Jovovich puts in the effort to keep Alice a moral force of a sort. She does, after all, stay grimly focused on the collection of villains she’s up against.

The film contains gun, knife and martial-arts violence with some gore and fleeting foul language. The Catholic News 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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‘Gold’ mines mother lode of vulgarity

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Catholic News Service

Little glitters in “Gold.” To put it another way, there’s a sour taste to this loosely fact-based story that a strong performance from Matthew McConaughey in the lead role fails to dispel.

Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez star in a scene from the movie "Gold." 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. (CNS photo/Weinstein)

Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez star in a scene from the movie “Gold.” 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. (CNS photo/Weinstein)

McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a scrappy prospector in 1980s Reno, Nevada. With the stock of the company he inherited from his father and namesake (Craig T. Nelson) selling for pennies, Wells resolves on a last roll of the dice.

Inspired by a dream, he travels to Indonesia, where he joins forces with sophisticated, but equally down-on-his-luck, geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez). Together, they brave the jungles of Borneo and, after a number of setbacks, including a near-fatal bout of malaria for Wells, claim the largest gold strike of the decade.

But all, of course, is not as it appears. In fact, Wells’ roller-coaster ride of good and bad fortune has only begun.

With his hairline receding and his middle paunchy, Wells, who displays a fondness for hanging out, quite literally, in his tighty whities, embodies the film’s seedy atmosphere. McConaughey endows him with smoldering ambition. Yet, though a striking figure, Wells is not a particularly sympathetic one.

A low moral tone in the boardroom, moreover, is matched by Wells’ ongoing but unhallowed bedroom relationship with his live-in girlfriend, a furniture saleswoman called Kaylene (Bryce Dallas Howard).

She’s meant to be Wells’ ethical compass, warning against the machinations of the numerous Wall Street types, led by the aptly named Bryan Woolf (Corey Stoll), who are just waiting to take advantage of him. Despite her fidelity to Wells, though, neither of them so much as mentions a stroll down the aisle or a visit to the justice of the peace.

Add to those factors the mother lode of vulgarity with which screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman embed their script, and it becomes clear that director Stephen Gaghan’s salute to entrepreneurial grit is unfit for most.

The film contains cohabitation, nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, rear and partial nudity, frequent use of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language and a couple of obscene gestures. 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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