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‘Loving’ — Interracial love story becomes 1967 Supreme Court case

December 5th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Dignity and understatement are usually noble qualities in a film. “Loving,” the fact-based story behind a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, is so restrained and decorous, however, that it nearly obscures the historical significance of the events it recounts.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in a scene from the movie "Loving."  (CNS photo/Focus)

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in a scene from the movie “Loving.” (CNS photo/Focus)

Partly that’s the result of the portrayal of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton). This white Virginia bricklayer, one of the movie’s two main characters, is shown to be taciturn, monosyllabic, almost stone-faced. The only fleeting emotions he expresses are terror whenever strange cars appear on rural two-lane roads and a sense of humor while watching the sentimentalized South on offer in an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Richard’s serene African-American wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga), gets to display considerably more human qualities. It’s she who kicks off their legal crusade, which eventually succeeded in demolishing race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States, by writing to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Inspired by the civil rights movement, which she experiences only on TV, Mildred also understands the need for national news coverage.

The Lovings, who lived in Caroline County, Va., married in Washington in 1958 — thereby evading, temporarily at least, their home state’s law forbidding interracial unions. Such “anti-miscegenation” statutes had their origins in the days of slavery but were reinforced in Southern states after the Civil War; Virginia’s was enacted in 1924.

Shortly after returning to the Old Dominion, the couple was arrested and jailed. Because the commonwealth rejected the validity of their marriage, deputies also hoped to arrest the Lovings on a fornication charge; thus increasing the penalties they would face.

Contemptuous Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) expresses the only flat-out racist sentiment in the movie, ridiculing Loving’s close proximity to black neighbors and telling him, “You were just born in the wrong place, is all.”

A judge gives the duo a one-year suspended sentence, and forbids them to return to Virginia for 25 years. So they move to Washington.

But they don’t take to city life, and when they return to Virginia for the birth of their first child — Richard’s mother, Lola (Sharon Blackwood), is a midwife — they’re arrested again. They eventually move to a neighboring county where law enforcement is less inclined to harass them. But they seek legal relief in order to return to Caroline County, where Richard has promised Mildred he’ll build her a house.

These circumstances must have been extraordinarily stressful, since the Lovings had no way of knowing whether any given nightfall would be the cue for a hate crime. Yet writer-director Jeff Nichols doesn’t allow either Richard or Mildred to be freely emotional.

Occasionally, relatives express their frustrations, but that’s it. Nichols keeps his drama free from the histrionics that surely must have occurred.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, inexperienced but hugely confident in the merits of the case, guide it to the Supreme Court. But even there, their arguments and those from the state, which at least would explain to viewers why all of this matters, are truncated.

So no long monologues for any of the characters. Rather, the dialogue aims to be brief and pithy. When lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) asks Richard what he should say to the justices, for instance, Richard merely grunts, “Tell them I love my wife.”

The cultural impact of the Lovings’ struggle makes this valuable viewing for mature teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains a premarital pregnancy, a couple of crass terms, fleeting racial slurs and two scenes of childbirth. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Incarnate’ is a slow slog through Hell

December 5th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Somewhere in the planning stages of “Incarnate,” someone must have thought it would be a good idea to combine elements of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 tour de force “Inception” with tropes that have been familiar to moviegoers at least since Linda Blair’s head went spinning round in “The Exorcist” way back in 1973.

David Mazouz stars in a scene from the movie "Incarnate." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 . (CNS photo/Universal)

David Mazouz stars in a scene from the movie “Incarnate.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 . (CNS photo/Universal)

The difficulty is that director Brad Peyton’s mostly secular addition to the exorcism subgenre of horror films only suffers by comparison to such memorable predecessors. The low-rent proceedings, moreover, include a portrayal of the Catholic Church that’s marked by lazy cynicism.

Thus, when Vatican official Camilla Marquez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) asks the film’s burned-out protagonist, Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), what he’s got against the church, he responds, “How much time do you have?”

Camilla has sought Seth out in the hope that he can help with a case that has foiled the priests dispatched to deal with it (a circumstance likely to irk Catholic patrons still further). This provides Seth with the chance to express his disdain for a spiritual approach to possession. To him, the foes to be confronted are “entities,” not demons.

Seth’s expertise is based on the fact that, like some of the characters in “Inception,” he can enter the minds of others, in his case the possessed. By rescuing them from the spell each entity casts when occupying someone, he cures them.

But this unusual gift has long made Seth a target for the forces of the underworld. In fact, one entity essentially ruined Seth’s life by causing a car accident that killed his wife and son and left him paralyzed.

Could this be the same evil spirit currently Cameron (David Mazouz), the young boy whose plight Camilla has brought to Seth’s attention? Seth suspects so, and that’s his principal motive for eventually agreeing to see what he can do for the lad.

As scripted by Ronnie Christensen, “Incarnate” feels grim and uninspired even when it’s not antagonizing believers, as it does even by way of its ill-chosen title. There is a bit of a concession to Christian sensibilities during a key confrontation toward the end of the picture. And the bloodletting is kept within appropriate bounds for a mature audience throughout. But it’s still amounts, overall, to a slow slog through Hades.

The film contains occult themes, anti-Catholic sentiments, occasional violence with some gore, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term and several crude and crass expressions. 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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Coal for Christmas or punch in the face wold be better than ‘Bad Santa 2’

November 30th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

As soul-deadening as its squalid urban setting, “Bad Santa 2,” attempts to mine laughs out of human degradation.
As he did in the 2003 original, Billy Bob Thornton’s alcoholic safe-cracker Willie somehow manages to desecrate more Christmastime traditions than might seem possible.

Billy Bob Thornton and Christina Hendricks star in a scene from the movie "Bad Santa 2." (CNS/Santamax Distribution)

Billy Bob Thornton and Christina Hendricks star in a scene from the movie “Bad Santa 2.” (CNS/Santamax Distribution)

He’s again on the loose with his partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), and hopelessly naive hanger-on Thurman (Brett Kelly), the only person who actually loves and trusts him. This time out, Willie is also joined by his con-artist mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates).
The plot involves a plan to rob a corrupt Chicago charity that ostensibly helps the needy. The fact that this concern somehow hires ex-convicts as sidewalk Santas gives Willie, Marcus and Sunny the means to don holiday costumes and execute the heist.
When he’s not too busy planning this rancid caper, Willie, who has just enough self-awareness to realize his misery, lashes out continuously at his companions.
All women in this scenario are cynical, nearly brainless and alternate between having sex and loudly discussing it. Joyless fornication provides Willie with the only thing approaching a real connection to humanity.
The movie goes far beyond the tropes of dark comedy to give a sour portrayal of hell on earth. Several hard punches to the face are likely to feel more entertaining.
The film contains some gun violence, strong sexual content, including aberrant acts, full nudity and low-minded banter, and pervasive profane, rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Rules Don’t Apply’ includes anti-religious plot

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Catholic News Service

Warren Beatty wrote, directed and stars in “Rules Don’t Apply,” a loosely fact-based tale set within the secretive world of eccentric industrialist Howard Hughes.

Warren Beatty stars in a scene from the movie "Rules Don't Apply." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Twentieth Century Fox)

Warren Beatty stars in a scene from the movie “Rules Don’t Apply.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Twentieth Century Fox)

Part romantic comedy, part biopic, the film suffers from an unstable tone. Additionally, Beatty’s script adopts a mostly negative attitude toward the influence of Christian faith in the personal lives of his two principal characters.

Small-town beauty queen and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) finds herself a cultural fish out of water when she becomes one of the many fetching would-be stars summoned to 1950s Hollywood by Hughes (Beatty), whose holdings then included RKO Pictures. Like her peers, she’s housed in style and assigned a chauffeur, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). Part of Frank’s job is to report any misbehavior with men he might observe.

Despite strict rules against fraternizing, the two young people fall for each other. But the looming, though often invisible, presence of their increasingly unhinged employer complicates matters in unexpected ways, threatening to thwart their happiness.

Religion plays a prominent part in the film. As we learn early on, both Marla and Frank have been hired by Hughes in part because they are devout mainline Protestants. He’s a Methodist, and she belongs to the Baptist Church in which Beatty himself was raised. Beatty’s slightly sneering script portrays the duo’s faith-based sexual mores as naive and repressive and their eventual loss of innocence as at least partially liberating.

There’s a good deal of moral confusion along their path to supposed sophistication: a hidden love affair, an unexpected pregnancy, an engagement that’s called off almost as soon as it’s made. but not before it’s used as a green light for sex. Along with the movie’s anti-religious undercurrent, all these plot twists call for careful assessment by mature viewers.

And then there’s the artistic imbalance. Frank and Marla’s love story sits uncomfortably beside the awkwardly humorous spectacle of a brilliant billionaire slowly going bonkers. Nor is Hughes’ mental decline always played for laughs. His obsession with his dead father involves a painful sense of loss and disappointment while the fact that no one is willing to defy him, even for his own good, feels tragic.

The film contains an ambivalent depiction of Christian faith, semi-graphic scenes of premarital sex, some distasteful visual humor, mature themes, including abortion, several profanities, at least one use each of rough and crude language and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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No mistaking the entertainment value of ‘Moana’

November 23rd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The same tropical setting that provided the backdrop for the 1949 musical “South Pacific” now lends its exotic flavor to the animated feature “Moana.”

Characters are shown in a scene from the animated movie "Moana." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

Characters are shown in a scene from the animated movie “Moana.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

As for the feminism-friendly story of the movie’s eponymous heroine, well, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovelorn Seabees so famously declared, “There is nothing like a dame.”

The spunky heroine of Disney’s 56th animated film is a 16-year-old Polynesian princess (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) who seeks not a boyfriend but a grand adventure on the high seas, all to save her world from destruction.

There’s no mistaking the entertainment value of “Moana,” gloriously rendered in 3-D, with a delightful array of characters and toe-tapping songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Broadway’s “Hamilton.” The film also offers good lessons about family, friendship and the need to be responsible.

But Christian parents may be concerned to find that Jared Bush’s screenplay is steeped in indigenous mythology. “Moana” presents a view of creation at odds with the biblical account, and could confuse impressionable minds. Well-catechized teens, however, will likely slough these elements off as mere fantasy.

As “Moana” tells it, in the beginning was not God but a comely goddess named Te Fiti, who commanded the oceans and brought life to the world.

Te Fiti was joined by a demigod (half -god, half-human) named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson). Maui had a nifty talent of pulling islands up from the sea with his trusty fishhook. But he was greedy, and stole the magical “heart” of Te Fiti. Darkness covered the world, and Maui was banished.

Fast-forward several centuries to the tranquil island of the so-called “Chosen One,” Moana. Since her name means “ocean,” it’s no wonder that Moana is drawn to the open waters beyond her island’s protective reef, despite the warnings of her father, Chief Tui.

“No one goes beyond the reef,” he says. “It keeps us safe.”

But the ocean has a mind of its own, and — in a manner strikingly similar to the animated column of water in 1989’s “The Abyss” — the sea pokes and prods Moana into seeking her destiny. Her quest is to locate Maui, transport him across the sea (demigods don’t swim), and restore Te Fiti’s heart before the encroaching darkness reaches Moana’s island.

Maui is more surfer dude than classical Greek god. He’s also accustomed to adulation, not the commands of a teenager. The tattoos covering his ample girth spring to life, acting either as a voice of approval or an admonishing, Jiminy Cricket-like conscience.

Throw into the mix Moana’s pet, a dimwitted rooster named Heihei (voice of Alan Tudyk), and you have the recipe for a chaotic but amusing journey across the sea.

With previous helming credits like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker represent the aristocracy of Disney animation. Yet “Moana” does feel derivative at times, with echoes of previous films. And storm sequences as well as creature battles may be too intense for younger viewers.

The film contains nonscriptural religious ideas, mildly scary action sequences and occasional bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

 

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Pitt, Cotilliard play spies with great sense of fashion in ‘Allied’

November 23rd, 2016 Posted in Movies

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Catholic News Service

Like time travelers from the Golden Age of Hollywood studio films, the characters played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in “Allied” don’t allow a little event like World War II to muss their elegant coifs.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in a scene from the movie "Allied." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Daniel Smith, Paramount)

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in a scene from the movie “Allied.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Daniel Smith, Paramount)

Whether taking out the German ambassador in Casablanca with their burp guns or having their daughter born outdoors in London during an air raid, this perpetually chic couple keeps matters neat and nice, laundered and pressed.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The overwrought plot, which combines doomed love, purse-lipped Nazis and occasional choruses of chanteuse Rina Ketty’s occupation-resonant hit “J’attendrai” (“I Will Wait”), has no surprises.

So why not enjoy the journey as a costume drama? Cotillard’s impressive collection of silk negligees and Pitt’s crisp double-breasted suits are their own show.

The downfall of such an approach comes, however, when the duo shed their clothes, as they do more than once, to demonstrate that they are lustily in love. These peeks into the bedroom considerably restrict the appropriate audience for director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight’s drama.

Pitt’s Max, a Canadian wing commander, and Cotillard’s Marianne, a French resistance fighter with a murky past, are first shown as part of an espionage operation in which they have to pass themselves off as husband and wife.

In keeping with the cherished rules of this formula, they hit it off for real, and decide on a hasty wedding in London, despite a warning from Max’s commanding officer, Frank (Jared Harris). “Marriages made in the field,” he admonishes, “never work.”

Oh, but theirs flourishes. At least, it does so until Max is summoned to an underground warren to be informed that British intelligence thinks Marianne, who allegedly took part in a botched mission in Paris, may not be the person she appears to be. In fact, she may be passing secrets to the enemy.

The resulting stakes are nothing short of staggering: If the accusation against Marianne turns out to be true, Max himself will be obliged to shoot her.

At that point, the story finally gains traction as stiff-upper-lip style military duty competes with lush romantic pathos.

The film contains strong sexual content, including brief but graphic premarital sex, an aberrant act, upper female and rear nudity, some combat violence, occasional profanity and frequent 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..

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Your ears might ‘Bleed for This’ dialogue

November 22nd, 2016 Posted in Movies

By

Catholic News Service

No boxing movie can ignore the fact that inflicting and enduring physical damage is an essential part of the sport.

Ciaran Hinds, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in a scene from the movie "Bleed For This." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Ciaran Hinds, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in a scene from the movie “Bleed For This.” The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

The question is whether and how a particular film succeeds in finding drama in and thus teasing out meaning from the bodily harm that inevitably occurs.

As its title suggests, “Bleed for This” doesn’t try to gloss over boxing’s inherent brutality and violence. Fortunately, it doesn’t wallow in it either, and is not excessively graphic.

In telling the story of real-life pugilist Vinny Pazienza, nicknamed “The Pazmanian Devil,” it strikes a balance between truthfully depicting the physical suffering and making inflated claims about what it might signify.

Yet, while the film’s visuals are kept within the bounds of taste, the dialogue is another matter. The preponderance of offensive language is such that it disqualifies this aesthetically impressive movie from receiving approbation.

Hailing from Cranston, Rhode Island, Pazienza (Miles Teller) was a champ in the super lightweight division during the mid-1980s. But by 1988, when the movie begins, his career has stalled.

After his manager drops him, he joins forces with down-and-out trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). Rooney moves him up in weight class and the results are excellent.

Then, tragically, Vinny breaks his neck in a car accident and faces the prospect of never walking again, let alone returning to the ring.

While mounting an incredible comeback, Pazienza is supported by his tight-knit, Italian-American family, in particular by his father, Angelo (Ciaran Hinds), a gym owner who has guided his son’s career. The ordeal will test the limits of their bond, as well as Vinny’s relationship with the alcoholic Rooney.

Using a spare script and unadorned visual style, writer-director Ben Younger boils Vinny’s story down to its essentials. He doesn’t sugarcoat, intellectualize or emotionalize. And he refrains from offering a psychological analysis or a technical study of boxing.

If Younger had shown similar restraint in choosing the words he puts into the mouths of his cast, his gritty but artistic character study might have been endorsable for at least some adults.

The film hinges on the phenomenal performance of Miles Teller, a fast-rising actor who is no stranger to playing figures driven to physical and mental extremes — his role in 2014’s “Whiplash” springs immediately to mind. In addition to convincingly embodying Pazienza’s brawling, go-for-broke fighting style, Teller adeptly communicates the quiet, interior side of his struggles.

For six months following his accident, Vinny wears a Halo, a medical contraption designed to prevent his spinal cord from severing. The Christian symbolism of the device is difficult to ignore, though for Vinny it’s more like a crown of thorns than a saint’s nimbus. Yet Younger leaves it to the viewer to consider the implications, if any.

This refusal to probe too deeply beneath the surface or speculate about motives has a plus side when it comes to the Catholic faith of Vinny’s mother, Louise (Katey Sagal). Unable to bear watching him fight, during his bouts she prays the rosary while sitting at home in a small nook filled with votive candles and other devotional objects.

Many contemporary filmmakers would handle this with condescension or humorous derision. Younger treats it matter-of-factly and without judgment.

Not pretty or glamorous, the movie gains authenticity through exacting period details (costumes, cars and decor) as well as the liberal use of actual footage from news programs and other coverage of Pazienza’s story. The sound design is also highly evocative.

Rooted in respect for the so-called “sweet science,” for Vinny’s grit and fortitude, and for the blue-collar milieu he came from, “Bleed for This” doesn’t shy away from showing flaws. Younger is willing to let his protagonist’s achievement speak for itself.

The film contains considerable nonlethal violence, upper female and partial nudity, a few harrowing medical procedures, excessive rough language, much profanity and crude banter. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

 

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‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

By

Catholic News Service

Fans of British novelist P.G. Wodehouse have a special place in their hearts for one of his most memorable comic creations, a shy and eccentric newt fancier with the immortal name Augustus Fink-Nottle.

Katherine Waterston, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler star in a scene from the movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS /Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Katherine Waterston, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler star in a scene from the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS /Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Gussie, as his pal Bertie Wooster always called him, turns out to bear some similarity to the protagonist of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Since the film is primarily a fantasy and not a comedy, however, this resemblance proves a mixed blessing.

Penned by “Harry Potter” scribe J.K. Rowling, and set in 1926 New York, the movie follows the stateside adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an alumnus of Harry’s alma mater, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who specializes in studying and preserving the creatures of the title. As he travels the globe, Newt keeps an entire menagerie of the outlandish critters he’s collected in an ordinary-looking but magical suitcase.

When this valise accidentally falls into the hands of everyday mortal Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the owner of an outwardly identical grip, it’s easy to foresee the fallout. Jacob cluelessly releases the inhabitants of Newt’s portable zoo, thereby creating two interconnected problems for the spell-caster.

First, there’s the danger of setting off a panic as fauna unknown to nature wander the streets of Gotham. The result of such a sensation, moreover, would be to reveal to humans the existence of the whole carefully hidden world of wand-wavers with persecution and conflict the likely results.

To prevent all this, Newt joins forces with local Ministry of Magic enforcement official Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). While barely able to understand the alternate reality he’s suddenly stumbled into, Jacob, too, lends a hand.

Finally, to round things out and create parallel love possibilities, Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), also joins the chase to retrieve the strays.

As directed by “Harry Potter” veteran David Yates, “Beasts” is visually impressive. And Folger brings off Jacob’s working-stiff persona to droll effect. But, overall, emotional engagement is lacking, perhaps because Redmayne makes withdrawn bashfulness one of his peculiar character’s leading qualities. Thus, special effects wind up predominating over human interaction.

The predictable mayhem punctuating the story is thoroughly stylized. So parents may be more concerned to find that a vaguely religious atmosphere surrounds one of the villains of the piece, anti-wizardry crusader Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton).

The film contains considerable action violence with minimal gore and a couple of uses of a slang term some may find vulgar. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Shut In’ — ‘Just put the ax down’

November 14th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

When a film’s dramatic highlight is the wonderful line “Just put the ax down so we can talk,” and it’s not, say, a drama about Canadian lumberjacks, the story may be in a little trouble.

Naomi Watts and Charlie Heaton star in a scene from the movie "Shut In." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/EuropaCorp)

Naomi Watts and Charlie Heaton star in a scene from the movie “Shut In.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/EuropaCorp)

Such is the case with “Shut In,” a weak and sometimes confusing psychological thriller that unfortunately blurs the line between mental illness and murderous activity, reviving a stereotype that should have expired decades ago.

Naomi Watts plays Mary Portman, a widowed psychologist with a home practice in rural Maine. Her husband died in a car wreck while taking Stephen (Charlie Heaton), his troubled son from a previous marriage, to a boarding/reform school.

Stephen survived as a nonverbal quadriplegic. So now Mary takes care of him, inexplicably, by herself. In reality, of course, this highly unlikely situation is demanded by, and complies with, an all-too-familiar formula for the genre.

Being the sole caretaker is stressful, naturally, and there comes a time when Mary dreams about drowning Stephen in the bathtub. Less desperately, she also has discussions about moving him into full-time nursing care.

As though she didn’t have enough to cope with already, Mary decides to take in Tom (Jacob Tremblay), a deaf boy with psychological issues of his own. Tom goes missing one night and is presumed to have died of exposure. In short order, Mary starts having elaborately terrifying dreams and thinks she’s seeing Tom’s ghost.

Director Farran Blackburn and screenwriter Christina Hodson try to give the story a fresh twist. But their ideas are all as cold as the movie’s snowy setting.

The film contains brief partial nudity and fleeting rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Mesmerizing and dreamlike ‘Arrival’ inspires awe

November 11th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Mankind has an extended encounter with aliens from outer s pace in “Arrival.”

This unusually intimate science-fiction drama finds profundity on a human scale as well as in the cosmos. Hypnotic and melancholy, the trenchant film probes the human capacity for awe and the benefits of being vulnerable and brave at the same time.

Forest Whitaker stars in a scene from the movie "Arrival." (CNS photo/Paramount Pictures)

Forest Whitaker stars in a scene from the movie “Arrival.” (CNS photo/Paramount Pictures)

Based on a Ted Chiang short story entitled “Story of Your Life,”

“Arrival” is both vividly realistic and mesmerizingly dreamlike. At its center is Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist mourning a personal loss, who is enlisted to communicate with extraterrestrials that have descended upon Earth in a dozen ovoid spacecraft.

One of these charcoal-hued vessels hovers above a Montana field and the U.S. government, represented by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) of Military Intelligence, enlists Banks and a physicist named Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to determine what its occupants want and, most urgently, whether they pose an existential threat to mankind.

Step one is to find a means of communication and somehow decipher their language — either the sounds they make or, more probably, the symbols they produce. Basically it’s a code-breaking exercise, albeit one that requires Banks and Donnelly to enter the spaceship and come face-to-face with their potential interlocutors.

Although we’re only privy to the American efforts, experts from the 11 other countries where the ships have alighted attempt similar projects. Not surprisingly, the advent of the otherworldly visitors has triggered panic and significant geopolitical instability. Eventually, several nations led by China abandon the slow process of establishing meaningful contact and, fearing annihilation, threaten to attack the aliens pre-emptively.

Interlaced throughout the film are snippets of Banks’ personal life — ethereal flashbacks to moments when she’s conversing with her young daughter.

These transfixing scenes evoke the recent films of director Terrence Malick, especially “The Tree of Life.” And because they ultimately dovetail with Banks’ interaction with the aliens on both a material and metaphysical plane, they give “Arrival” a pronounced mystical quality.

Revealing anything more about the plot or the aliens could spoil viewing. But the film deploys elements commonly found in science-fiction tales in a novel and ultimately uplifting, if decidedly somber, way.

Director Denis Villeneuve and his cohort of designers and craftsmen do a splendid job of generating an alternately frazzled and eerily calm atmosphere. Without diminishing any of their technical, behind-the-scenes work however, Amy Adams’ performance leaves the most lasting impression.

Tough, tender and intelligent, she translates the dramatic cadences of the story in gripping fashion and will surely win accolades, including, quite possibly, her first Oscar after five previous nominations.

It’s difficult to assess whether the science underlying the narrative holds water or makes complete sense from a logical point of view. What’s clear is that the film coheres artistically and emotionally.

The same can be said about whether the science meshes with Christianity and Catholic thought. Certain aspects, particularly with regard to the concept of time, seem to conflict with a theological understanding of the universe. Yet in vital respects the values evinced by “Arrival” are consonant with a Catholic worldview.

Specifically, the movie proffers a message about the necessity of accepting pain and sorrow in order to enter a more enlightened state of being. And it highlights the wisdom of not succumbing to fear by letting our bellicose instincts override our capacity for open communication and acceptance.

As a bonus, there’s no sexuality or violence — and only one lapse into vulgar language — in “Arrival.” Accordingly, most parents will probably consider this fundamentally moral work acceptable for mature adolescents.

The film contains some potentially frightening scenes 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.

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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