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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains pervasive combat and other violence with little blood, a prostitution theme, brief partial nudity, fleeting sexual humor, at least one rough term and occasional crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Snatched’ — Occasionally amusing, often vulgar

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains brief upper female nudity, persistent sexual humor and innuendo and pervasive rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Dinner’ doesn’t go down easy

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘How to Be a Latin Lover’

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains brief sensuality and fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Circle’ doesn’t arrive anywhere on Internet privacy

May 1st, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains brief semi-graphic marital lovemaking, some sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term as well as several crude and a couple of crass words. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Phoenix Forgotten’ isn’t memorable

April 27th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The sci-fi-themed horror tale “Phoenix Forgotten” includes little objectionable material, other than some salty language in the dialogue. Yet the lack of any positive seasoning makes this reasonably wholesome dish (for grown-ups, at least) dull to the taste.

Largely as barren as the Arizona desert in which much of its action is set, the movie follows the efforts of Phoenix-bred filmmaker Sophie (Florence Hartigan) to make a documentary about the 1997 disappearance of her older brother, Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts).

This is a scene from the movie "Phoenix Forgotten." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/Allied Integrated Marketing)

“Phoenix Forgotten” isn’t outstanding in the field of sci-fi horror movies, according to Catholic News Service. (CNS/Allied Integrated Marketing)

In the immediate aftermath of the real-life, and widely reported, UFO sighting known as the “Phoenix Lights,” Josh and two friends, Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) and Mark (Justin Matthews), set off for the wilderness in search of clues about that event. Though they vanished without a trace, a video camera with a cassette tape in it was discovered in their abandoned car.

Between Sophie’s rough cuts and the playback of the missing trio’s film, the tired “found footage” conceit is brought to bear. But even the immediacy ideally produced by that device could not alter the fact that the virtually bloodless proceedings in director and co-writer Justin Barber’s feature debut, penned with T.S. Nowlin, fail to intrigue.

The imagery that crops up along the way to a partial explanation of what befell the pals includes the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of interlocking wheels recorded in the first chapter of the Old Testament book named for him.

Any connection to scriptural faith is lacking, however. Instead, the “wheels within wheels” serve merely as a prop meant to establish a tenuous connection to the ancient past such as that sought in Erich von Daniken’s 1968 volume, “Chariots of the Gods?” While idle, the use of this motif is in no way disrespectful.

Some parents may feel that the absence of gore, apart from the sight of some ravaged wildlife , makes “Phoenix Forgotten” acceptable for mature adolescents despite the vulgar vocabulary into which the characters sometimes lapse, especially when frightened.

The film contains at least one profanity and frequent crude and crass language and unsettling images of dead animals. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Promise’ melds love story with historical tragedy

April 21st, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The relatively little-known genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turks 100 years ago is brought into sharp focus by “The Promise.”

Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale star in a scene from the movie "The Promise." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale star in a scene from the movie “The Promise.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Taking his cue from epics like “Doctor Zhivago,” director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Robin Swicord, melds an important history lesson with a tender love story. Viewers will emerge with newfound knowledge of the enormity of the holocaust (1.5 million people killed between 1915 and 1922) while appreciating its profound impact on individuals and families.

The story begins in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in 1914. World War I is on the horizon, and the formerly mighty Ottoman Empire, which once controlled vast areas of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, is crumbling.

Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an idealistic medical student from a small Armenian village in southern Turkey, is entranced by the cosmopolitan city, and especially by Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a vivacious artist and fellow Armenian.

Never mind that Michael has made a promise of marriage to Maral (Angela Sarafyan), who awaits him back home. Nor that Ana is seeing firebrand American journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), who’s in Turkey to document the war.

Michael and Ana fall in love. But their plans for the future are spoiled when Turkey joins the war on the German side, and decides to embark on a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Up to this point, Muslim Turks and Armenian Christians have long lived together in relative harmony. All that changes, surreptitiously at first, as Turkish soldiers force Armenians from their homes. Most are shot outright; some are marched into the desert to prison labor camps.

As Armenians, Michael and Ana are targeted. Chris attempts to report on the killings and inform the world, but is arrested.

“The Promise” follows the travails of each character as the slaughter intensifies. Chris’ plight attracts the attention of the real-life American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau (James Cromwell), who sounds the alarm.

Remarkable courage, perseverance and their unwavering Christian faith sustain the victims against all odds. “Our revenge will be to survive,” Ana tells Michael.

Despite the warnings below, given its potential to raise awareness of a historical tragedy, one that the Turkish government, to this day, has never acknowledged , “The Promise” is probably acceptable for mature adolescents.

The film contains scenes of wartime atrocities and violence, a nongraphic, nonmarital sexual encounter and brief crude language. 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.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Unforgettable’ — unsavory cinematic junk food

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Catholic News Service

The few adult viewers for whom it’s suitable might be tempted to nickname the feverish domestic drama “Unforgettable” “Wifey Dearest.” 

Katherine Heigl and Geoff Stults star in a scene from the movie "Unforgettable." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Katherine Heigl and Geoff Stults star in a scene from the movie “Unforgettable.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

That’s because Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl), the obsessive, perfectionist ex-spouse at the center of the film’s action, continually calls to mind Faye Dunaway’s fuming, rage-prone persona as Joan Crawford in 1981’s “Mommie Dearest.”

It’s not the use of wire hangers that has Tessa seething, though. Rather, it’s the prospect of her milquetoast former husband David’s (Geoff Stults) forthcoming marriage to his live-in girlfriend, Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson).

By purloining Julia’s cellphone, shared custody of young daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) gives Tessa access to the new couple’s household, Tessa conveniently discovers that her rival has an abusive ex-boyfriend named Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides). Impersonating Julia online, she reconnects with the brute, and it’s not long before she’s planning to frame Julia for his murder.

That may sound like a spoiler, by the way. But in fact, the movie opens with a battered and bewildered Julia being interrogated over the crime, then switches to a prolonged “how did we get here?” flashback.

Director Denise Di Novi keeps the pot boiling along the way to a climactic catfight in which hair is pulled, fingernails are deployed and a fireplace poker is brandished. But Di Novi and screenwriter Christina Hodson throw in some unsavory and gratuitous ingredients that limit the appeal of “Unforgettable” even for those with a taste for cinematic junk food.

These include Tessa’s emotionless, and futureless, parking-lot tryst with a good-looking stranger she just met and David and Julia’s escapade in a restaurant bathroom. In another scene, Julia no sooner turns on the taps of her bathtub at home than the experienced moviegoer knows that her silky robe is coming off on screen.

It’s not silk that sells, after all.

The film contains occasional violence with some gore, cohabitation, strong sexual content including graphic scenes of casual and premarital sexual activity and masturbation, brief rear and partial nudity, about a half-dozen uses of rough language, a few crude terms and a mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Gifted’ is both endearing and well-acted

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Fate of the Furious’ found preposterous but lively

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film contains frequent gunplay and hand-to-hand combat but with little gore, brief partial nudity, an adultery theme, profanity, and many crude terms and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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