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When words won’t do, ‘The Emoji Movie’

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

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Catholic News Service

Tech savvy viewers will especially enjoy the wacky proceedings of “The Emoji Movie.” But patrons of all stripes will appreciate the film’s themes of loyal friendship and faithful romance.

Set within the smartphone of high school freshman Alex (voice of Jake T. Austin), this lighthearted animated comedy tracks the adventures of a trio of misfits on their quest to reach the internet Cloud.

Alex, voiced by Jake T. Austin, appears in the animated movie "The Emoji Movie." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Sony)

Alex, voiced by Jake T. Austin, appears in the animated movie “The Emoji Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Sony)

Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) is a “Meh” icon meant to express only indifference. But the first time Alex makes use of him, the native enthusiasm of his personality, together with nervousness at making his professional debut, causes him to register a strange mix of emotions instead of the bland apathy he was supposed to convey.

This malfunction immediately makes Gene an outcast and draws the ire of the chief emoji, maniacally cheerful Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph). She condemns Gene to be deleted. So he goes on the run, and joins forces with upbeat hand symbol Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) and rebellious codebreaker Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris).

Once one of Alex’s favorites, Hi-5 has fallen into disuse and longs to regain his former popularity. Jailbreak resents the regulated life she is forced to lead on the phone, and hopes to enjoy much greater freedom by transferring herself permanently to the Cloud.

As the three newfound friends bond, and something more than friendship blossoms between Gene and Jailbreak, the challenges of their journey force them to prove their mutual devotion. Messages about teamwork and putting the interests of others ahead of your own goals balance the emphasis on Gene’s right to break the mold and be himself.

The presence of a minor character named Poop, voiced, amusingly, by no less a personage than Sir Patrick Stewart, typifies the predictable potty humor running through director and co-writer Tony Leondis’ script, penned with Eric Siegel and Mike White. Together with episodes of peril, these jokes may make “The Emoji Movie” a less than ideal choice for the youngest film fans.

The feature is preceded by an eccentric, enjoyable short called “Puppy!” which involves a young lad, a giant, disruptive dog named Tinkles and the boy’s indulgent grandfather, who just happens to be Count Dracula.

The film contains characters in jeopardy, mild scatological humor, a suppressed crude expression and a slightly crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

 

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‘Alice (Now the captain of a ship?) Through the Looking Glass’

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Catholic News Service

The heroine of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is not Lewis Carroll’s curious 7-year-old girl but rather an intrepid sea captain with an entrepreneurial streak.

Anne Hathaway, Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska star in a scene from the movie "Alice Through the Looking Glass." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

Anne Hathaway, Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska star in a scene from the movie “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

A young woman who refuses to bend to the will of a patriarchal society, Alice overcomes obstacles in both the real world and the fantasy realm of Underland thanks to her courage, empathy and appetite for risk.

More compelling in theory than in practice, the central figure in this follow-up to Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” does not contradict Carroll’s vision so much as supplant it. Viewed through a decidedly contemporary prism, presumably to satisfy a modern insistence on gender equality, she conforms to present-day social, political and cultural norms.

It’s no wonder the resulting picture feels forced and mechanical.

Despite exciting visuals, a talented ensemble, and glittery costume and makeup designs, this 3-D fantasy-adventure is inert, managing to feel audacious and tediously familiar at the same time. As for its suitability, there are enough frightening action sequences and examples of cruelty to render it inappropriate for young or impressionable children.

In the swashbuckling opening scene, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is at the helm of a ship named “Wonder,” racing to elude pirates during a fierce storm. The vessel, we learn, belonged to her late father.

Upon returning to London, however, the year is 1875, Alice learns that her former suitor, Lord Ascot (Leo Bill), owner of the rapacious shipping company for which she’s been plying the seas, will evict her mother from their home unless he can take possession of the “Wonder.”

After receiving this ultimatum at the Ascot residence, Alice passes through a mirror into Underland, where she reunites with a gaggle of friends that includes the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, as well as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Her pals are worried about the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who has grown increasingly despondent over reports that his estranged family was killed by the Jabberwocky. Vowing to help Hatter find out precisely what befell his relations, Alice undertakes a dangerous mission that involves time travel and the pilfering of an essential device, the Chronosphere, from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen).

In the course of discovering what happened to the Hatters, Alice learns what caused the rift between the White (Anne Hathaway) and Red (Helena Bonham Carter) Queens. Evidently, the latter’s enormous head and volatile temperament resulted from a traumatic brain injury, an event triggered by the surreptitious consumption of tarts.

After completing her task in Underland (and rousing the Hatter from his morbid depression), Alice re-emerges in Victorian London where she is promptly branded a hysteric and put in an insane asylum. Without the aid of magic, she must find a way to protect her father’s legacy and ensure her mother’s welfare. When last seen, Alice is embarking on a career that combines seafaring and commerce.

Tim Burton serves as producer but has handed over directorial duties to James Bobin. And so, while the movie has dark shadings, it’s not overtly macabre. Nor is it satisfyingly warm and fuzzy, owing in large measure to the two lead performances.

Wasikowska is so adept at projecting stoicism, she keeps sympathy at bay. Alice’s limited interaction with the animated creatures — voiced by the late Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry and Toby Jones, among others — doesn’t soften that impression; and she’s a formidable presence alongside the seasoned actors playing her live-action adversaries, namely Bonham Carter and Cohen (who gets more screen time than his role warrants).

Wasikowska’s most significant hurdle is appearing opposite Mr. Depp’s distractingly mannered Hatter — a creepily simpering, elaborately painted, infantile figure. Anyone would come across stone-faced and emotively challenged next to this fey and feckless chap.

Adding to viewer fatigue, Depp keeps recycling the same character, with only minor variations, in film after film, not counting his Hatter from this franchise’s original.

Screenwriter Linda Woolverton shapes Carroll’s diffuse second book into a relatively sophisticated and fairly lucid story, yet doesn’t adequately convey Carroll’s fascination with logic and wordplay. As much as her script, and other aspects of the production, may gesture toward the bizarre and exotic, moreover, she cannot forgo inserting formulaic epigrams meant to convey salubrious life lessons. It’s unclear if they’re being offered with any sincerity or conviction.

One has similar suspicions regarding the filmmakers’ outlook.

The film contains frequent, moderately intense fantasy action, several instances of cruel behavior, and a couple of mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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

 

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‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’: Shear delight for most of the family

August 6th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Ewe” are bound to have fun watching “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” an endearing and pun-filled animated feature about the madcap adventures of a woolly English flock.

Animated characters Shaun, Slip and Bitzer appear in "Shaun the Sheep Movie." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Lionsgate) See MOVIE-REVIEW-SHAUN-SHEEP Aug. 5, 2015.

Animated characters Shaun, Slip and Bitzer appear in “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Lionsgate) See MOVIE-REVIEW-SHAUN-SHEEP Aug. 5, 2015.

The inventive, stop-action comedy is created by the master clay-crafters at Aardman Animations. They’ve previously given us the “Wallace & Gromit” films as well as “Chicken Run.”

Unusually for a full-length title, “Shaun” is dialogue-free. The cuddly sheep baa and bleat; the mindless humans grunt and growl. But no words are spoken.

Remarkably, none is needed for an entertaining movie that, some questionable jokes aside, makes suitable viewing for most of the family.

The eponymous hero was introduced in the 1995 “Wallace & Gromit” short “A Close Shave” and went on to star in a British TV series of his own that launched in 2007.

Shaun lives with his fellow livestock on Mossy Bottom Farm, where the daily routine is mind-numbingly dull and monotonous. The owner, known simply as “the Farmer,” suffers from severe myopia and extreme cluelessness. Nonetheless, he runs a tight ship, with his trusty sheepdog Bitzer by his side.

Even sheep deserve a day off now and then, though. So Shaun plots with his flockmates to go rogue after coaxing the Farmer back to sleep (by counting sheep, of course) in his camper-van bed. Sedation successful, the domesticated lambs go wild, watching TV, eating junk food and playing games.

The rollicking good times come to an end when Bitzer gets wind of the high jinks and attempts to restore order. But in his haste to wake the Farmer, Bitzer inadvertently sets the camper in motion. The vehicle rolls down a hill and onto the main road, headed inexorably toward the far-off Big City.

Aghast at the sudden absence of their source of food and shelter, the occupants of the barnyard must rally round and mount a rescue operation. Shaun and his buddies don disguises as they catch the next bus bound for the urban jungle.

Once there, the real fun begins as the human and sheep worlds collide in such places as “Le Chou Brule,” a stuffy French restaurant whose name means “The Burnt Cabbage.”

Further complicating matters are the Farmer’s amnesia, the result of a blow to the head, and the wicked ways of an animal warden named Trumper.

Co-writers and co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak prove themselves adept at clever Chaplinesque sight gags and routines in what is essentially a silent movie. Still, a few audible pleasures are in store, including a tuneful baa-bershop quartet.

The film contains some rude bathroom humor and vague innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Seventh Son’ a Saturday-matinee throwback

February 6th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

A throwback to Saturday matinee serials and mid-20th-century action-adventure films, “Seventh Son” aims to captivate moviegoers with an accessible tale leavened by fantasy and anchored by imperfect heroes who battle the forces of evil.

Jeff Bridges and Ben Barnes star in a scene from the movie "Seventh Son." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

Jeff Bridges and Ben Barnes star in a scene from the movie “Seventh Son.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal)

Based on “The Last Apprentice,” Joseph Delaney’s series of young-adult novels, the picture is set in an unspecified place and time, though the overall look is medieval and Eurasian. Combining elements from folk legend, martial-arts flicks, romances and supernatural thrillers, “Seventh Son” represents a half-baked eclecticism, an unoriginal world in which mortals wielding steel swords are pitted against sorcerers able to morph into ferocious creatures, both familiar (bears and leopards) and exotic (dragons and monsters).

It resembles a milder cousin of the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” minus the Byzantine plot saturated in politics and perversity. It might also function as a light repast for viewers lamenting the end of the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Ring” franchises.

While not in the same league as those movies, “Seventh Son” does have an old-fashioned air of derring-do and chivalry. There’s a low probability it will give offense. And it features quality 3-D visuals and stirring, 21st-century special effects that further the story and showcase the natural beauty of the British Columbia scenery.

Russian director Sergei Bodrov is adept at orchestrating thrilling sequences in which live and computer-generated action neatly mesh. The battle scenes are easy to follow and executed with restraint. This facility does not carry over to the Bodrov’s handling of his lead actor, however.

Jeff Bridges’ idiosyncratic turn as Master Gregory, a superannuated yet sneakily agile warrior, is a major distraction. Owing to a peculiar speech pattern, he sounds as if he’s impaired by an ill-fitting dental prosthesis or mouthful of pebbles. Factoring in Bridge’s laid-back aura, it feels as though Bridges’ celebrated character, the Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” has been teleported into this action-fantasy milieu. (Both characters have a fondness for alcohol.) Still, “Seventh Son” is not the type of film that’s easily ruined by a performance.

Gregory is the sole remaining member of the Falcon Knights, an order of men, each the seventh son of the seventh son, dedicated to stamping out a demonic cadre of supernatural assassins led by Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). At the outset, Gregory is seen imprisoning Malkin in a remote cavern. Eventually she escapes thanks to a lunar phenomenon called the Blood Moon. Returning to the mountaintop aerie from which she commands witches, warlocks, monsters and other creatures of the dark, she plans her revenge.

When she kills Gregory’s apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington), he must find another protege, also a seventh son of a seventh son. In short order he locates Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) tending pigs on his family’s farm. Possessing special powers and guided by visions, young Tom is destined to learn from Gregory and vanquish Malkin and her minions.

Malkin sends her niece Alice (Alicia Vikander) to spy on Tom and they fall in love. Secrets are revealed, including one about Tom’s mother (Olivia Williams), and after some internecine intrigue and several violent clashes, the stage is set for a sequel.

Although couched in pagan symbols and magic, the movie’s worldview does not appear to be in direct conflict with Christianity. The idea that the division between good and evil is not clear-cut, championed by the younger generation who resist the knee-jerk hostility between mortals and supernatural beings, is more palatable than the notion that Malkin and her fallen followers behave maliciously primarily because they’ve been persecuted as outsiders.

Tom and Alice’s romance has a sensual dimension, they kiss a number of times, but greater emphasis is placed on their feelings and intellectual compatibility than on their physical attraction. While too scary for children, the material is not morally objectionable.

The film contains frequent strong yet blood-free fantasy violence, much frightening imagery involving monsters and demonic creatures, several uses of crass language, and one instance of toilet humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ a pleasant sequel for kids

July 21st, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Anthropomorphic aircraft take to the skies again in “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” a lively follow-up to last summer’s “Planes.”

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is that rare sequel which surpasses the original in action, adventure, and 3-D animation. That last element is especially vivid and immersive. In fact, the looping aerial scenes may even make some viewers queasy.

Animated characters appear in the movie "Planes: Fire & Rescue."  The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.

Animated characters appear in the movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

The humanless universe that originated with Disney’s “Cars” film series is cleverly expanded, with new autos, boats and trains joining the fun.

Amid the many sight gags and puns, there’s a positive message about personal sacrifice on behalf of those in need, expressed by the fearless air-attack teams and smoke jumpers battling fires deep in the California forest.

Picking up where “Planes” left off, the sequel finds Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook), the humble cropduster-turned-racing-champion central to the first movie, an international celebrity. Life is good, until an accident reveals a deadly secret: Dusty’s gearbox is failing.

For a racer, this spells doom. Unless Dusty slows down, he may never fly again.

An opportunity to switch gears and careers arises in Piston Peak National Park. There an elite firefighting crew, led by veteran rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris), is dedicated to protecting the forest — and the tourists who frequent a new hotel, the Grand Fusel Lodge.

Assisting Dusty in his training regimen are Lil’ Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), a love-struck “super-scooper” aircraft (which carries water or flame retardant), and Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), a heavy-lift helicopter who serves as the park’s resident sage.

When a major fire burns out of control and threatens the hotel, Dusty is put to the ultimate test and witnesses true heroism in action.

Some of the nail-biting action scenes in “Planes: Fire & Rescue” may be a bit intense for the youngest viewers. Additionally, a few double entendres may raise concerns for parents. While these one-liners are likely to pass at well above kids’ heads, their slightly incongruous presence precludes endorsement for all.

Adults, on the other hand, will appreciate the cameo voices and inside jokes. As one depressed car says to a hotel bartender, “She left me for a hybrid. I didn’t even hear him coming.”

The film contains a few perilous situations and some mildly suggestive humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Justin Bieber’s Believe’ harmless entertainment

January 6th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Believe whatever a pop star and those on his payroll tell you” might be a cynic’s take on the title of the amiable documentary “Justin Bieber’s Believe.” Even the harshest skeptic would have to admit, though, that this chronicle of the eponymous star’s second world tour, which began in 2012, provides harmless entertainment.

Ryan Good and Justin Bieber star in a scene from the movie “Justin Bieber’s Believe.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

The young girls who are Bieber’s targeted audience will certainly need no convincing of his latest project’s worthiness. Exhibit A: home-video footage of one teenybopper awash in tears when her Christmas presents include not only a Bieber book, but concert tickets as well. This is cross-cut with old black-and-white footage of teens weeping at their first sight of the Beatles way back in 1964.

Well-paid idoldom is such a tough job: “When you’ve reached a certain point in your life, there are people out there waiting to see you fall,” Bieber intones in the opening voice-over. “Rather than let gravity take you, you have to take matters into your own hands and fly.”

On the other side of the spectrum, in following up on his 2011 feature “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” director Jon M. Chu does include a brief acknowledgement of the wunderkind’s foul-mouthed encounter with a cursing photographer. “I wanted to know what he was saying!” the Canadian-born singer chirps.

“He is an artist searching for validation. Music is his therapy; it’s his release.” So Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, informs us.

All right, already. Stop trying to make all this mean something.

Instead, let true “beliebers” sit back and enjoy the concert footage. They’ll also watch agog as the singer and his producers compose hits, thrill as dancers audition, and chuckle, no doubt, as Bieber directs the video for his 2012 hit “Beauty and a Beat.”

The film contains a single, incomplete instance of crude language and some gyrating dancers. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

 

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‘Black Nativity’ is a rousing musical drama

November 27th, 2013 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

If you’re tempted to bewail the absence of Christ from Christmas these days, you’ll find the Lord right where he belongs, front and center, receiving praise and worship, in the rousing musical drama “Black Nativity.”

Forest Whitaker and Jacob Latimore star in a scene from the movie “Black Nativity.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

In fact, redemption-centered Christian faith pervades the picture to a degree rarely seen in a mainstream movie.

That’s just as well, since the urban setting of this adaptation and updating of poet Langston Hughes’ 1961 song-play surrounds its characters with a host of ills from which to be saved. A case in point: the poverty besetting Baltimore single mother Naima Cobb (Jennifer Hudson).

Facing eviction from the home she shares with her good-hearted but naive son, Langston (Jacob Latimore), named for the author, of course, Naima sends Langston to New York to live with her estranged parents: stern Harlem minister Cornell (Forest Whitaker) and his more sympathetic wife, Aretha (Angela Bassett). Naima hopes the arrangement will only be temporary.

Miserable in his new surroundings, Langston pines for his mom and chafes under the exacting standards of respectability enforced by his grandfather. He’s also plagued by misadventures, one of which lands him in jail for a time.

Tempted to solve Naima’s financial woes by stealing enough loot to get her back on her feet, misguided Langston seems headed for the life of a petty criminal. But the annual holiday pageant Cornell’s church puts on, during which Langston has a vision of the first Christmas, helps him to see the light.

So too does the unexpected intervention of a concerned acquaintance (Tyrese Gibson), a man Langston first encountered during his brief incarceration.

Soulful musical performances, unabashed piety and resoundingly positive values go a long way to smoothing over the rough patches in screenwriter and director Kasi Lemmons’ screen parable. Though not a movie for small children, this heartfelt salute to forgiveness, family unity and the power of religious belief will likely delight most others.

The film contains mature themes and the occasional threat of violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG, parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Mirror Mirror’ features hoodlum dwarfs, wisecracking queen

March 30th, 2012 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Who’s the fairest one of all?” The answer may surprise you in “Mirror Mirror,” a fresh live-action take on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

This go-round, the handsome prince is the center of attention, as the wicked queen and her lovely stepdaughter stage a battle royal for his hand, and the fate of a kingdom hangs in the balance.

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Surprise, ‘John Carter’ is a Confederate officer on Mars

March 9th, 2012 Posted in Movies Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Thanks in no small measure to the magic of movies, Tarzan is the character most closely associated with author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). Yet it’s one of Burroughs’ lesser-known heroes, introduced in his first novel, serially published in 1912, that a group of 21st-century filmmakers have chosen to bring to the screen in a mega-budgeted, sci-fi epic.

A risky and on the whole successful venture, “John Carter” was adapted from “A Princess of Mars,” the first of 11 books Burroughs centered on an ex-Confederate captain who is propelled to the Red Planet where he becomes embroiled in a war between two city states and falls in love with a comely royal.

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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1

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Catholic News Service

Here’s a puzzler wherewith to bamboozle your friendly neighborhood canon lawyer: Is being undead an impediment to marriage? The question arises, of course, because the gothic sequel “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1” (Summit) opens with the nuptials of its by-now iconic but nonetheless ill-assorted central pair.

For the benefit of those who may have been napping in their coffins for the past half-decade or so, we tarry to explain that said couple is composed of courteous bloodsucker Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and 18-year-old mortal Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a freshly minted high school grad.

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