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‘Megan Leavey’ and a Marine’s best friend

June 8th, 2017 Posted in Movies, Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Man’s best friend is also a lifesaver in “Megan Leavey,” the inspiring true story of a female Marine corporal and the bomb-sniffing dog she bonded with during the Iraq War.

Kate Mara stars in a scene from the movie "Megan Leavey." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Bleecker Street)

Kate Mara stars in a scene from the movie “Megan Leavey.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Bleecker Street)

Leavey and Rex, her trusty German shepherd, together completed more than 100 combat missions in Fallujah and Ramadi, uncovering roadside bombs and caches of weapons, before an explosion sidelined both in 2006.

It’s a supremely heroic and exciting story that transfers well to the big screen, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite from a screenplay by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt.

We first meet Megan (Kate Mara) before she enlists, and her life does not make a pretty picture. A listless and depressed 20-year-old, she’s mourning the overdose death of her best friend and coping with her parents’ ugly divorce.

Megan lives with her harridan of a mother, Jackie (Edie Falco). Her sensitive father, Bob (Bradley Whitford), provides a refuge from Mom’s persistent nagging.

On a whim, Megan decides to jump-start her life by enlisting in the Marines. It’s a huge leap from her shiftless existence to such a regimented life, and rebellious Megan butts heads often with her superiors.

Caught urinating in public after a night on the town, Megan is nearly expelled. Her punishment is to clean out the cages of the K9 Division, the elite unit of bomb-sniffing dogs headed by Gunnery Sgt. Martin (Common).

It’s dirty work, of course, but Megan perseveres and has an unexpected epiphany. Witnessing the strong bond between the German shepherds and their human trainers, she decides to try her hand. Overcoming cynicism and verbal abuse from her male counterparts, Megan connects with her charge, Rex, and soon both head to Iraq.

On dangerous sorties, the duo proves its mettle, saving countless lives by uncovering land mines and exposing enemy weapons. As her self-confidence grows, Megan opens her heart further and falls for fellow Marine and dog handler Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez).

But fate intervenes during an ambush, when an explosion injures both Megan and Rex. Sent home to recover, Megan is devastated to be separated from her beloved canine, now reassigned.

Suffering from physical injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, Megan decides not to re-enlist. But she is determined to reunite one day with Rex and adopt him as her own.

With its gritty portrayal of the horrors of combat, “Megan Leavey” is a reminder of the personal sacrifices made by those who serve our country, as well as a salute to the enduring rewards of friendship.

The film contains a few scenes of intense wartime violence, off-screen nonmarital sexual activity, several profanities and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

 

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‘The Mummy’ employs mumbo-jumbo and Tom Cruise

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

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Catholic News Service

The clumsily fashioned horror flick “The Mummy” turns out to be anything but tightly wound.

Predictable pagan mumbo-jumbo aside, there’s not much to bother grown viewers in the film. But its globetrotting, from Ancient Egypt to modern-day Iraq and London, eventually feels like a vain search for a better, or at least more focused, story to tell.

The narrative we get, courtesy of director Alex Kurtzman and screenwriters David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, centers on shady American soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise). A fast talker more interested in the black market than the military, Nick, together with his more cautious sidekick, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), capitalizes on the conflict in Iraq by trading in antiquities.

That puts him at odds with archaeologist and cultural adviser to the U.S. forces Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). So, too, does the fact that Nick used a one-night stand the two recently shared to purloin a valuable map from her.

Partly through the use of this chart, and partly from the effects of an Air Force raid Nick and Chris had to call in after they were besieged by enemy combatants, an ancient tomb has been uncovered. Incongruously, it’s an Egyptian structure right in the middle of what used to be Mesopotamia.

As the audience already knows, this is the resting place of evil Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a murderer who was put to death for her crimes in the days of the pharaohs. The people who buried her had good reason to want her corpse far away from their native land. They also took elaborate measures to make sure she stayed put underground once they deposited her there.

All of which precautions Nick undoes in a trice, with just the sort of dire consequences you’d expect. Unleashed, Ahmanet puts a curse on Nick, and gains partial control of his mind as she schemes to recover possession of a ritual dagger, the use of which will enable her old ally Set, the Egyptian god of death, to become incarnate in Nick’s body.

Behind all these diffuse details stands a sketchy but respectable good vs. evil theme. Rather unconvincingly, Jenny has by now fallen for Nick and will become the chief cheerleader for the triumph of his underlying decency and altruism.

Yet, as the eventual injection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) into the plot suggests, there’s a growing note of desperation in these unwieldy proceedings. As the scene shifts across centuries and continents, the script fails to gain traction.

So, by the time they reach the blatant setup for a sequel which precedes the closing credits, moviegoers may be shaking their heads and muttering, “Tut-tut.”

The film contains occult and nonscriptural religious ideas, much harsh violence with fleeting gore, gruesome images, partial nudity, sensuality, occasional sexual references and humor, mild oaths, crude and several 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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‘Passengers’ depicts danger waking a sleeping beauty too soon

December 21st, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Science fiction becomes the springboard for a study of selfishness, sin and the possibility of forgiveness in “Passengers.”

While this tale about a transgression born of desperation will resonate with romantics, it may leave others cold.

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in a scene from the movie "Passengers." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III , adults. (CNS photo/Columbia)

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in a scene from the movie “Passengers.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III , adults. (CNS photo/Columbia)

Engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is one of more than 5,000 passengers on a spaceship bound for a distant colony planet. Since the journey will take 120 years, Jim, along with everyone else on board, has been put into suspended animation.

Instead of waking up shortly before arrival, however, Jim comes to 90 years prematurely. After discovering that there is no way to get back into hibernation, Jim faces the prospect of living out the rest of his life in solitude, his only real companion on the vessel is Arthur (Michael Sheen), an android bartender.

Jim’s loneliness eventually becomes so extreme that he awakens Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), an author whose background and writing he has studied and for whom he has fallen.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts and director Morten Tyldum take a big risk by having their protagonist essentially ruin the life of the woman he loves, then try to keep that fact a secret. But at least some viewers will appreciate the complicated emotions to which this situation gives rise and the skill with which both leads convey them.

Suspense is thrown into the mix as well since the malfunction that victimized Jim turns out not to be an isolated incident.

Predictably, Jim and Aurora’s relationship turns sexual long before we discover whether they will end up walking into the sunset together. And, in a scene played for laughs, Jim takes advantage of his isolation, pre-Aurora, to walk down the hallways with a towel covering him in front but not behind.

On a deeper level, though, opinions will be divided over Jim’s irrevocable trespass against Aurora.

While “Passengers” plays out the consequences intriguingly and warmheartedly, at least some viewers will reject its premise from the start. Moviegoers of faith will have to determine whether the principle that there is no offense too grave to be forgiven, provided the wrongdoer is genuinely repentant, applies on the big screen as well as in real life.

The film contains two premarital encounters, one of them semi-graphic, a couple of glimpses of rear nudity in a nonsexual context, a pair of mild oaths and a single crass term. 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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Nate Turner’s revolt movingly dramatized in ‘The Birth of a Nation’

October 10th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Nat Turner’s Rebellion, an 1831 insurrection among the enslaved people of Southampton County, Va., represented the most serious challenge of its kind ever posed to slavery in the antebellum South.

Gabrielle Union and Colman Domingo star in a scene from the movie "The Birth of a Nation." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

Gabrielle Union and Colman Domingo star in a scene from the movie “The Birth of a Nation.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Fox)

Although brief, the uprising exacted scores of white fatalities while its savage suppression involved the legally sanctioned executions of a roughly equal number of African-Americans, as well as the deaths of many more at the hands of enraged mobs.

Turner’s life is movingly dramatized in “The Birth of a Nation.”

Making ironic use of the title of D.W. Griffith’s technically innovative but otherwise deplorable 1915 film about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, writer-director Nate Parker, who also stars as Turner, presents audiences with an engrossing profile.

Taught to read at an early age, Turner becomes a committed and eloquent preacher. But his gifts are turned to perverse use when his master, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), agrees, for a fee, to let him tour nearby plantations delivering sermons in favor of submission.

Times are hard and local planters, feeling the pinch, have taken measures like reducing rations. The result has been the restlessness and resentment Turner’s exhortations are meant to quell.

Yet the arrangement turns out to have wholly unexpected consequences. As he witnesses the range of inhumanities to which his fellow slaves are routinely subjected, Turner gradually becomes radicalized. And these barbaric acts are soon matched by brutalities that strike closer to home, affecting both Turner himself and his beloved wife, Cherry (Aja Naomi King).

Overwhelmed by this succession of atrocious events, Turner begins to view the message of Scripture in an entirely new light.

Christian faith is obviously central to Parker’s film, his directorial debut. So too are the moral issues raised by the short-lived but bloody revolt he chronicles.

An individual tyrant, for instance, has traditionally been viewed, at least in Catholic theology, as an opponent of the common good against whom violent measures may legitimately be taken. But does the same apply to an entire class of oppressors, including women and children?

Parker handles all this with sensitivity and subtlety while nonetheless presenting Turner in an unequivocally positive light.

The educational value of “The Birth of a Nation” would normally suggest expanding its audience to include at least some teens. Yet the amount of cruel mayhem inherent in this story is so extensive that even many mature viewers will find it difficult to endure.

The film contains strong gory violence, including torture and an off-screen rape, a scene of marital intimacy, upper female nudity, a few uses of profanity and a handful of crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

 

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‘Free State of Jones’ reveals one Confederate’s dissent

June 24th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The ambitious historical drama “Free State of Jones” considers a little-known aspect of the Civil War: armed dissent within the South born of opposition to how the war was being conducted and to the principal reason it began.

Matthew McConaughey and Jacob Lofland star in a scene from the movie "Free State of Jones." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. .(CNS photo/STX Entertainment)

Matthew McConaughey and Jacob Lofland star in a scene from the movie “Free State of Jones.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. .(CNS photo/STX Entertainment)

Earnest and frequently riveting, the movie revolves around Newton Knight, the Mississippi farmer who led a group of runaway slaves and fellow army deserters in a guerrilla campaign against the Confederacy. It also looks at the tumultuous early years of Reconstruction and traces the bitter legacy of slavery and racial segregation into the middle of the 20th century.

Although the material is complex and often harsh, “Free State of Jones” is suitable for mature adolescents. It ought to kindle (or reignite) awareness that precisely because racism in America is an issue fraught with pain and controversy, it warrants responsible treatment in myriad formats. One truth animates this particular effort, written and directed by Gary Ross: the absolute immorality of slavery, plainly expressed through a recitation of the biblical proscription against buying or selling any “child of God.”

Matthew McConaughey is charismatic as Knight, a hero possessing the attributes of an inspirational preacher, brave civil rights activist, and sanguine militiaman. The role gives McConaughey ample opportunity to orate and emote, and he does so with a bridled gusto that proves durable and affecting.

Knight is working as a battlefield medic when his 14-year-old nephew is killed. Already bristling at the war’s inequities — in particular the law exempting the sons of wealthy planters from fighting based on the number of slaves their families own — he deserts.

Back home in Jones County in southeast Mississippi, he sees the degree to which the army exploits the women and children who remain on small farms.

After helping several resist the confiscation of their crops, livestock and provisions, he’s forced to flee and with the help of a handful of runaway slaves takes refuge deep inside local swampland. As the war rages, more and more Confederate soldiers — unwilling to die fighting “a rich man’s war” —go AWOL. Scores from Jones County and environs join Knight. Using the swamp to evade capture, the Knight Company lashes out against the army and plantation owners. Knight becomes a Robin Hood figure who denounces slavery and, in effect, fights for the Union against the South.

After the war, he champions the right of blacks to vote and pushes back against efforts to circumvent the Emancipation Proclamation. Several times during the main action, which takes place between 1862 and 1878, the movie flashes forward to the 1948 trial of Knight’s great grandson, Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), who was prosecuted for violating Mississippi’s laws against mix-race marriage.

Many viewers will be unable to overlook two blots on Knight’s moral character. The first is his savage murder of a Confederate officer, inside a church no less. The second concerns his personal life. When he goes on the lam, his wife, Serena (Keri Russell), has little choice but to leave Mississippi with their son. A slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who once saved his son’s life and who helped Knight when he first fled into the swamp, becomes his common-law wife. They have a son together and when Serena and her boy return at war’s end, they all live together on the same parcel of land.

Filmmaker Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “The Hunger Games”) spent a decade researching the project and consulting with various scholars. He painstakingly provides historical context using screen titles and other slightly less obvious guideposts, which can give the movie a lumbering feel. There’s a sense that every emotional reaction and cognitive response has been calculated in an attempt to craft a rousing, informative Hollywood narrative. As a result, the story doesn’t unfold as organically or artfully as one hopes it might.

That said, the picture hangs together seamlessly enough, and the production values are uniformly good, with first-rate cinematography, music and design work giving it a subdued aura of realism and authenticity.

In an unusual move, Ross has created the companion website freestateofjones.info where, on a scene-by-scene basis, he discusses the historical records that informed his creative decisions, cites his sources and points visitors toward additional information.

No doubt the site will facilitate the pedagogic utility of “Free State of Jones,” but the movie stands on its own as a thought-provoking piece of popular entertainment, not to be mistaken for a great work of art or scholarship.

The film contains frequent graphic war violence including some grisly images, several hangings, the brutal execution of a wounded soldier, off-camera sexual exploitation of a woman, many racial epithets, and one use of crude and one of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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

 

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Christmas quarrels release Anti-Claus in ‘Krampus’

December 7th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Holiday horror reigns in “Krampus,” the story of how one suburban family’s strident quarreling not only quashes the true spirit of Christmas, but unleashes Santa’s evil counterpart as well.

Emjay Anthony stars in a scene from the movie "Krampus." 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/Universal)

Emjay Anthony stars in a scene from the movie “Krampus.” 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/Universal)

As this mythical monster, drawn from Alpine folklore, pursues his goal of annihilating the naughty, mature viewers will be drawn into a nightmarish world of chaotic logic from which they’ll emerge with only scanty rewards.

That’s not to say that in crafting his script with co-writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields, director Michael Dougherty didn’t have his heart in the right place. While avoiding any direct reference to Christianity, he successfully skewers the materialism that mars the season and promotes unity and self-sacrifice in the face of danger.

But such values seem to be checked off by rote. Partly that’s a consequence of sloppy characterizations and the shorthand portrayal of relationships. But the screenplay also suffers from the obvious limits of Hollywood’s generic, and therefore insubstantial, substitute for religion.

We’re shown the disastrous consequences of abandoning belief and surrendering hope. But belief in and hope for what, exactly?

Only those willing to see the presence of the real St. Nicholas in the background of this often haphazard frightfest as a tenuous lifeline connecting moviegoers to a genuine, if half-forgotten, form of faith may grope their way along toward solid footing.

Some shadowy version of the fourth-century bishop of Myra does seem to inhabit the imagination of the film’s protagonist, innocent preteen Max (Emjay Anthony). His trust in St. Nick, inherited from and shared with his good-hearted but melancholy German granny (Krista Stadler), is a source of comfort for the lad as he copes with the unsettling dysfunction that surrounds him.

Max’s parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), have allowed the demands of daily life to drain away their love for each other. His older sister, Beth (Stefania Lavie Owen), prefers the company of her stoner boyfriend to that of her relatives. And the Advent-tide arrival of houseguests on the doorstep in the form of more distant kin only makes things worse.

Max’s Uncle Howard (David Koechner) is a gun-loving red-state lout straight from central casting, while Howard’s wife, Linda (Allison Tolman), is the ineffectual matriarch of a brood of nasty kids (Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel and Maverick Flack). Another aunt, Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), seems never to have met a cocktail she didn’t like or a person she did.

Mocked by his odious cousins, and frustrated by his family’s disarray, Max is driven to renounce his faith in Santa by tearing up his annual letter to the gift giver. The result is a blizzard of epic proportions in which Beth soon becomes lost and that traps the remainder of the ensemble inside. There they make easy prey for the marauding Anticlaus and his minions, the latter typified by a host of malignant gingerbread men.

Max’s trashed note can be read as a sort of prayer in which he requests good for all around him: reconciliation for his parents, restored closeness between him and Beth, even better things for cash-strapped Howard and Linda. And there’s more than a little theological insight in his grandmother’s remark that “St. Nick is what you make of him.”

In fact, Catholic moviegoers of a certain bent may be tempted to see in Stadler’s character, who’s known by the Teutonic diminutive Omi, a kind of homespun, female version of retired Pope Benedict XVI. Omi, who blesses herself at one scary turn, just to let us know she’s Catholic, watches with forlorn dismay as the misguided people around her enable evil and bring their world to ruin.

Whether the former pontiff would indulge in the same twinkling of the eye by which Omi appears to say, “I told you so,” however, is another matter.

Such exalted musings can’t entirely make up for the fact that the picture’s good intentions are largely lost once the title fiend’s retribution begins to be distributed in a loud and lurid manner. By then, viewers may begin to empathize with some of the characters who eventually try to escape the death house, only to find themselves trudging knee-deep through resistant snow.

The film contains brief gory images, considerable stylized violence, a visual drug reference, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a single rough term and occasional crude and crass 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.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘At last, master!’ Igor steals the stormy night spotlight in ‘Victor Frankenstein’

November 25th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Given the number of screen treatments Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus” has received over the years, it’s safe to say that “Victor Frankenstein,” the latest attempt to adapt her novel for the multiplex, is not the worst.

Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy star in a scene from the movie "Victor Frankenstein." 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/Fox)

Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy star in a scene from the movie “Victor Frankenstein.” 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/Fox)

It’s just as certain, however, that director Paul McGuigan’s horror-flecked drama is nowhere near the top of the list.

So Boris Karloff, the monster in both the fine 1931 take and the even more definitive 1935 sequel “Bride of Frankenstein,” can continue to rest in peace. So, too, can the director of that outstanding duo of pictures, James Whale.

The gimmick behind McGuigan’s version has to do with the titular mad scientist’s traditional assistant. As pictured by script writer Max Landis, and portrayed with futile dedication by Daniel Radcliffe, this is not your Dad’s Igor.

Afflicted with a deforming malady, Igor is an abused and despised circus performer in Victorian London who harbors secret, self-taught medical knowledge until his kindly future patron (James McAvoy), recognizing his outstanding intellect, rescues him from virtual captivity. This enables Igor to become both Frankenstein’s partner, in a bow to current egalitarianism, a second fiddle no more, and our narrator.

Under his guidance, we watch free thinker (i.e., scoffing atheist) Frankenstein spar with religiously zealous Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) of Scotland Yard. Turpin is determined to thwart the charismatic but overreaching researcher’s revivification schemes.

In between bouts of enthusiastically aiding his mentor and spells of wanting to slow him down, Igor pursues romance with Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), a trapeze artist-turned-socialite he knewand admired from afar in his days of misery. Lorelei’s liberator from the big top, we’re told in passing, is a gay blade about town who uses her public companionship to disguise his preference for “the company of men.”

The tension between faith and science is one of the themes halfheartedly pursued amid the film’s steampunk-style spectacle. But the representatives of the two sides in the dialogue’s debate are equally unbalanced, Frankenstein is given to spittle flecked rants, while Protestant Turpin, having no rosary to clutch, nervously swings a cross around on a string, and therefore unconvincing.

Though McAvoy matches Radcliffe’s commitment, the movie winds up feeling as cobbled together, lumbering and directionless as the monster that lurches through its climactic scenes.

Still, the chaos is kept bloodless and the vocabulary, with a single exception, respectable. So parents’ decision as to whether mature teens should become viewers will largely depend on their feelings about an off-screen get-together between Igor and Lorelei for which we’re given a very brief set-up as well as a morning after scene that finds Igor smiling broadly in the manner of a satisfied conquistador.

The film contains considerable stylized violence, an implied, but benignly viewed, premarital encounter, a crude term and a few mild oaths.

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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Burnt’ — Movie makes a hash of TV cooking show clichés

October 30th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Can’t get enough of TV cooking star Gordon Ramsay’s trademark rages and rants? Their fictional equivalent is as close as your nearest multiplex, courtesy of the ego-driven culinary drama “Burnt.”

Bradley Cooper stars in a scene from the movie "Burnt." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Weinstein )

Bradley Cooper stars in a scene from the movie “Burnt.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Weinstein )

There’s a pleasant enough dessert awaiting audiences toward the end of director John Wells’ predictable conversion story. But its bad-boy protagonist’s tantrums make for an entree that many will find over-spiced, while some of the film’s thematic side dishes will not agree with palates attuned to traditional values.

Who’s that guy with the motorcycle, the leather jacket and the mad kitchen skills? It’s suave but volatile, make that volcanic, chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper).

Although he well deserves a novelty apron declaring him the World’s Greatest Cook, perfection-hungry Adam is a troubled soul. In fact, as “Burnt” opens, Adam’s alcohol and drug addictions have caused the Paris-trained toque’s once promising career to crash.

After completing a self-imposed penance — the shucking of 1 million oysters, only the last of which he eats in celebration, clean, sober and temporarily celibate (dames, don’t ask!) Adam is ready to return from exile via a well-choreographed comeback.

The first step in his plan is to take over the faltering kitchen of the prestigious London restaurant run by his old colleague from the City of Lights, gifted maitre d’ Tony (Daniel Bruhl).

But Adam’s ultimate goal, once this upscale foothold has been secured, is to use it to ascend to the summit, the pinnacle, the “ne plus ultra” of culinary achievement, a three-star rating from the folks behind France’s Michelin Guide. If the very mention of those venerable red-bound volumes has not caused you to thrash about in uncontrollable ecstasy, then “Burnt” may not be the movie for you.

Unfortunately for those who have to earn their living at Adam’s side, and under his direction – “Yes, Chef!” — his obsessive pursuit of those coveted astronomical, gastronomical symbols is marked by obscenity-laden lectures berating all and sundry. Pommes frites of an imprecise and varying width? Insufferable! A slap in the face of Western civilization! And so forth.

Prominent among the victims of Adam’s ill-tempered outbursts is another old pal from his days in the French capital, Michel (Omar Sy).

New to the scene of Adam’s wrath, but catching her fair share of his flak, is his plucked-from-obscurity sous chef and eventual true love the fetching Helene (Sienna Miller).

Abundantly talented but entirely lacking in tranquility or any semblance of consideration for others, Adam will register with religiously grounded viewers as the embodiment of a familiar type of secular pathology. Absent any consciousness of the real deity, he elevates his craft into an idol before which all must kneel and to the fuming demands of which all must be sacrificed.

Alongside Adam’s impatience, screenwriter Steven Knight serves up a subplot about Tony’s undisguised but unrequited love for the hunky hash-slinger. There’s a complex pathos in the discreet treatment of this subject, with Tony resigned to the impossibility of his desire and to the vaguely comic figure he cuts as a result of it. Ironically, his submission to the absurdity of his situation lends him a certain dignity.

As Adam undergoes his inevitable enlightenment, simultaneously opening up and calming down, we’re subjected to yet another instance of the big-screen maneuver whereby any group of people, in this case, the kitchen staff, can form a family based on shared interests and mutual support. Whatever doubtful savor such a trope may originally have possessed, its flavor has long since gone flat.

The film contains cohabitation, mature themes, including homosexuality, a same-sex kiss, about a half-dozen uses of profanity as well as constant rough and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. 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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Directing, cinematography masterful in ‘The Water Diviner’

May 20th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

A father copes with the loss of his three sons during World War I in “The Water Diviner,” a fictional drama inspired by true events.

Olga Kurylenko and Russell Crowe star in a scene from the movie "The Water Diviner." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Olga Kurylenko and Russell Crowe star in a scene from the movie “The Water Diviner.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

The story centers on the aftermath of the Battle of Gallipoli, fought in 1915 in the former Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). More than 100,000 soldiers died as the Ottomans defeated the invading Allied troops, including 35,000 from far-off Australia and New Zealand.

The Gallipoli tragedy is deeply felt to this day in these two nations, as resonant as Pearl Harbor has been to Americans.

Against this background, Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut, and also stars as Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer with a unique gift: He can locate water beneath the most barren of landscapes.

At war’s end, Connor receives the personal effects of his three sons who perished together at Gallipoli: Arthur (Ryan Corr), Edward (James Fraser), and Henry (Ben O’Toole). He is determined to travel halfway across the world to retrieve their bodies and bring them home.

His distraught wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie), blames Connor for their sons’ deaths, as he allowed them to enlist in the first place. When she commits suicide, Connor has no reason not to undertake the arduous journey, so they may be buried beside their mother.

He’s also repelled by his nasty parish priest, Father McIntyre (Damon Herriman), who offers little comfort at Eliza’s funeral.

Arriving by boat in Istanbul, Connor meets a rambunctious street boy, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades), who leads him to the family business, a rundown hotel. His mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), is not pleased to meet “the enemy,” especially as her husband fought at Gallipoli and, now missing, is presumed dead.

Connor runs up against more resistance and red tape from military authorities who don’t want a civilian meddling in postwar affairs.

Undeterred, he makes his way to the battlefield. There he finds an unexpected ally in Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a Turkish official who presided over the Gallipoli victory.

Hasan takes pity on Connor, mindful of Turkish losses in the battle. In a gesture of reconciliation, he decides to help the foreigner.

“Why change everything for one father who can’t stay put?” asks the Australian official on duty, Col. Hughes (Jai Courtney).

“Because he is the only father who came looking,” replies Major Hasan.

And so, two former enemies unite in an epic quest, aided by Connor’s uncanny knack for finding hidden things.

In the meantime, back at the hotel, Ayshe’s hard heart softens, and she longs for the handsome foreigner’s safe return.

Crowe’s direction is masterful, and the cinematography stunning. Although the screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastacios strains credibility (bordering at times on the preposterous), “The Water Diviner” nonetheless offers a timely reminder of the ghastly personal cost of war and its lingering impact upon future generations.

The film contains bloody war violence and disturbing images of death, and an unflattering portrayal of a Catholic priest. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

 

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‘Taken 3’ — Hero’s friends and relations still targeted for death

January 12th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Will audiences be taken with “Taken 3”? Probably not.

Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace star in a scene from the movie "Taken 3." 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/Twentieth Century Fox)

Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace star in a scene from the movie “Taken 3.” 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/Twentieth Century Fox)

Though director Olivier Megaton tones down the intense violence that marked the previous films in this action series, his lackluster sequel fails to engage viewers sufficiently to make them care much about anyone on screen. That includes the franchise’s front man, Liam Neeson, who reprises his role as former covert agent Bryan Mills.

A veritable Job among retired cloak-and-dagger types, poor old Bryan seems destined never to be left in peace. The first installment in his saga saw his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) abducted by Albanians; the second found no-goodniks of the same ethnicity out to snatch his whole clan.

This time, it’s Russian mobsters doing the dirty work. As led by maniacal, excessively tattooed Afghan-insurrection veteran Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell), moreover, these gangsters’ stock in trade turns out to be murder, not mere kidnapping.

Enter Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) just long enough to express dissatisfaction with her current hubby Stuart (Dougray Scott), and vague notions about a reunion with Bryan, before turning up with her throat slashed in circumstances that point to Bryan as the culprit. So much for a Taylor-Burton subplot.

In the time-honored tradition of framed-up fall guys, Bryan goes on the lam. He’s tracked by Detective Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), the wily investigator assigned to Lenore’s case. Dotzler combines smarter-than-thou suspicions of Bryan’s innocence with rueful admiration for his adversary’s special-ops stylings.

Along with exonerating himself, Bryan is out to protect Kim from becoming Malankov’s next victim. That’s just as well because, as early scenes have revealed, but as Bryan has yet to learn, Kim, now a college student, is dodging bullets for two.

Kim’s situation eventually leads to a brief discussion of the choice she and her barely glimpsed boyfriend are facing. While it’s never made clear whether the decision at hand concerns marriage or the fate of the couple’s child, circumstances move in a morally acceptable direction.

Bryan himself, by contrast, moves at times in the manner of a human cyclone, recklessly endangering pursuing police as well as civilian bystanders in his efforts to evade capture. But then again, what’s a jackknifed truck, a runaway shipping container and a multi-vehicle pileup on the freeway when Bryan’s chance to prove he didn’t slit his beloved Lenore’s jugular is at stake?

The film contains considerable action violence with minimal gore, a premarital situation resulting in pregnancy, adult dialogue including a possible reference to abortion, a half-dozen uses of profanity as well as at least one rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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