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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.

 

‘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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‘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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‘Going in [cut-rate] Style’

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

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Catholic News Service

Despite its title, there’s nothing very spiffy about “Going in Style.” In fact, this leaden caper comedy feels distinctly cut-rate.

Director Zach Braff’s remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin as former co-workers and longtime best friends driven to desperation by financial woes. The company they used to work for is moving its operations overseas, and being restructured in a way that will eliminate their hard-earned pensions.

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin star in a scene from the movie "Going in Style." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin star in a scene from the movie “Going in Style.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

In response, kindly granddad Joe Harding (Caine), who recently witnessed a bank robbery, cooks up an unlikely scheme. Together with secretly ailing Willie Davis (Freeman) and grouchy pessimist Albert Gardner (Arkin), he’ll stage a similar heist at the same branch, by coincidence, it belongs to the institution financing their ex-employer’s reorganization.

The pals agree to take only the amount they would have been paid if their checks had continued to arrive for what each estimates to be his foreseeable remaining lifespan. Anything above that sum will be donated to charity. They also opt to use only blanks in their guns.

As the aspiring thieves get tips from experienced criminal Jesus (John Ortiz), Albert finds romance with Annie (Ann-Margret), a checkout lady at his local grocery store. The prematurely intimate nature of their relationship becomes a source of admiration and envy for Joe and Willie.

By the time Matt Dillon shows up as FBI Special Agent Arlen Hamer, it’s clear that “Going in Style” amounts to a complete waste of its cast’s considerable gifts.

An especially egregious instance is the squandering of Christopher Lloyd. His minor character, hopelessly senile Milton Kupchak, a denizen of the fraternal lodge where the main trio hangs out, is a crude caricature of Jim Ignatowski, the pixilated cabbie Lloyd memorably played on the TV series “Taxi.”

While this is not a movie from which viewers are likely to draw any real-life moral conclusions, Theodore Melfi’s screenplay does present the oldsters’ actions as justified and ultimately harmless. The folks at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., we suspect, would beg to disagree.

The film contains a frivolous treatment of crime, including drug use, brief premarital bedroom scenes, a scatological sight gag, profanity, and considerable crude and crass talk. 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 Blackcoat’s Daughter — When it’s a demon, who you gonna call?

April 4th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

This year’s crop of demon-possession plots, that hardy stalwart of horror, kicks off in high style with the very adult “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.”

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie "The Blackcoat's Daughter." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/A24)

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/A24)

Although this story gives unusually short shrift to the rite of exorcism, which is portrayed even more casually and inaccurately than is usually the case in such dramas, the filmmakers have at least taken care to show an actual demon. That’s rare these days.

This one has two horns, inhabits a glowing basement coal furnace and, in another retro touch, calls his new best friend through a hallway pay phone. So the film is entrancing for quite a while before the stabbing victims begin to pile up.

Still, writer-director Oz Perkins keeps the gore factor comparatively low, emphasizing instead slow-building psychological horror, spooled out slowly through interlocking, time-shifting plot lines, all centered on a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York in the dead of winter.

There’s a trick ending, which Perkins tips in advance. But, since there’s a generous helping of the demon, that’s no more than an acknowledgment of the audience’s intelligence.

Gloomy freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) has had a vision of her parents’ death in a car crash on their way to pick her up for the school’s winter break. Rose (Lucy Boynton), an older student, fears she might be pregnant, and has arranged for her folks to pick her up on the wrong day so she’ll have time to tell her boyfriend.

These two are supposed to look after each other before the expected parental arrivals. Meanwhile, Kat starts getting and making calls, but not to her parents; she has a new pal in residence who demands murderous sacrifices. The cutlery flashes and heads roll.

In a third subplot, Joan (Emma Roberts), who has broken out of an asylum, desperately tries to return to the campus, utilizing a clueless but well-meaning couple, Bill and Linda (James Remar, Lauren Holly). They turn out to be Rose’s parents.

It eventually falls to kindly Father Brian (Greg Ellwand) to bring some clarity to the mayhem, although the movie is so vested in its deceptive ending, Catholic belief is only pro forma. But hey, at least someone knows how to recognize a demon.

The film contains an occult theme, knife violence with some gore, occasional profanities and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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‘Ghost in the Shell’ caters to Scarlet-robot voyeurs

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

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Catholic News Service

“Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders’ murky, boring adaptation of a series of comics by Masamune Shirow, offers little beyond glitzy futuristic cityscapes. This live-action version of Shirow’s sci-fi-themed manga, previously the inspiration for two animated features, is also somewhat exploitative.

Scarlett Johansson stars in a scene from the movie "Ghost in the Shell." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Paramount Pictures)

Scarlett Johansson stars in a scene from the movie “Ghost in the Shell.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Paramount Pictures)

Its heroine, Major (Scarlett Johansson), a hybrid warrior whose human brain has been implanted into the body of a robot, has a fondness for fighting in the nude that must have gone down well when the film was being pitched, but puts it off-limits for kids.

The fact that Major’s synthetic skin is something between a patchwork of eggshells and a smoothed over version of Johansson’s physique does tamp down the voyeurism factor for grown-ups, however. They may be more distracted by the seemingly endless mayhem with which the movie is packed.      

Gunplay, explosions and martial arts bravado attend Major’s duel with Kuze (Michael Pitt), an elusive killer who wants to bring down the Hanka Corporation, the company that produced her. She gets backup in her battles from gruff comrade Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and, during her down time, draws emotional support from Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the physician who supervised her creation.

The dialogue occasionally explores the nature of humanity under the threat of encroaching technology. But the script gets muddled by its own materialism, identifying the soul (or “ghost”), for instance, exclusively with the brain.

A vaguely sensual get-together with a woman who may or may not be a streetwalker, the flesh of whose face Major enviously examines, might be meant to show us Major’s alienation from her new “shell.” On the other hand, since an encounter of a more intimate nature might be surmised to follow the scene, though nothing of the sort is actually depicted, this might be of a piece with Major’s tendency to shimmy out of her clothes.

Screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger take a stab at an anti-war message by way of the tension between Hanka executive Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), who sees Major strictly as a weapon, and Ouelet, who insists she amounts to more than just a killing machine. The peace theme fails to hit home, though, if only because the tumultuous action consuming most of the run time is so completely at odds with it.

Similarly, the implicit critique of capitalism underlying the friction between profit-driven Cutter and the more responsible figure of Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), the head of the anti-terrorism squad for which Major works, amounts to no more than a feint. In dealing with all these subjects, Moss and company serve up lines that are meant to sound like pearls of wisdom but land instead like lumps of lead.

The film contains pervasive stylized violence with little gore, torture, a suicide, occasional rear and upper as well as a glimpse of full female nudity in a nonsexual context, crude and crass language, 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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‘Life’ — In this space there is no heaven

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adopt a serious tone in the ensemble sci-fi thriller “Life.”

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie "Life." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. CNS/Columbia)

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a scene from the movie “Life.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. CNS/Columbia)

Together with deft performances and some creative camera work, this unusually thoughtful mood serves to offset the familiarity of the film’s humans-versus-predator premise.

Characters are too busy battling for their lives to engage in much romance, chaste or otherwise. But the bloody details of their conflict with the rampaging alien at the heart of the action are suitable neither for kids nor for the squeamish among their elders.

Said E.T. arrives on an unmanned capsule carrying samples back from Mars that the multiethnic crew of an international space station has been tasked with retrieving.

Besides the vessel’s commander, cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the team includes world-weary physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal); rules-driven disease prevention expert Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson); freewheeling mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds); homesick flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada); and paraplegic British scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare).

Faced with the tricky task of stopping the cargo ship before it speeds past them, the astronauts are delighted when they succeed. They’re even happier once Derry’s research reveals that they’re in possession of the first living organism ever encountered beyond Earth.

Unfortunately for them, however, the initially tiny creature they’ve taken on board turns out to have not only an incredibly rapid growth rate but a murderously aggressive approach to interacting with humans. It’s also devilishly brilliant and resourceful.

Loss of life is treated with an unusual degree of sober reflection in the suspenseful clash of wits and survival skills that follows.

This is in obvious and welcome contrast to the innumerable Hollywood movies in which the bodies of anonymous, mown-down extras seem to pile up like so many chords of wood. It may also serve as a legitimate point of divergence from the movie with which many viewers will inevitably compare “Life” — Ridley Scott’s memorable 1979 franchise-begetter, “Alien.”

Yet, while largely free of callousness in its portrayal of fatal violence, “Life” is so bleak and, at times, darkly ironic, that it can feel nihilistic. Thus, in whole passages of the dialogue discussing bereavement, there’s not a glimmer or hint of faith in an afterlife. As a result, moviegoers may feel as confined in the script’s secular, despairing outlook as the trapped space travelers do within their invaded craft.

The film contains some gory deaths and gruesome images, a few uses of profanity as well as numerous rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Shack’ seeks to justify the ways of God

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

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Catholic News Service

“The Shack,” director Stuart Hazeldine’s screen version of William Paul Young’s best-selling novel, represents a serious effort to tackle the problem of evil from a Christian perspective. As such, it will be welcomed by believers.

Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington star in a scene from the movie "The Shack." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington star in a scene from the movie “The Shack.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

While objectionable elements are virtually absent from the film, however, patches of dialogue discounting the value of religion, here implicitly set in opposition to faith broadly speaking, and hinting that God is indifferent to how we worship him mean that impressionable viewers should keep their distance. So, too, does the morally problematic treatment of a dark and long-kept secret.

After his young daughter, Missy (Amelie Eve), is abducted and murdered, previously devout churchgoer Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips (Sam Worthington) has a crisis of faith. But a note from “Papa,” his wife, Nan’s (Radha Mitchell), nickname for God, leads to an encounter with the Trinity near the titular hideout where evidence of Missy’s death was uncovered that alters his perspective.

Octavia Spencer plays an unflappable, warmhearted God the Father, Avraham Aviv Alush a fun-loving Jesus and Sumire a serene Holy Spirit. As Spencer bakes, Sumire gardens and Alush tinkers in his carpentry shed, Worthington learns to see his own tragedy as a spiritual death that offers the prospect of resurrection.

While some may be uncomfortable with the fact that both the Father and the Holy Spirit manifest themselves to the protagonist as women, given that they would be free to do so in whatever guise they chose, this is no real objection, all the more so since Spencer eventually morphs, when it seems advisable, into a paternal Graham Greene.

The narrative’s brief descent from nondenominationalism into outright indifferentism and its suggestion that religion is “too much work” are more substantial defects. While Mack has much to forgive, moreover, he has a shocking crime in his own background that the movie seems to excuse too easily.

Beautiful settings and a sense of humor help to keep the somewhat overlong proceedings from bogging down in sentimentality. But the script, penned by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Cretton, takes on too many weighty subjects, from the suffering of innocents to the need for forgiveness, to treat any one of them in a fully satisfying way.

Still, on the whole, this is an intriguing endeavor to accomplish the same goal British poet John Milton set himself in writing his masterpiece, “Paradise Lost,” namely,” to justify the ways of God to men.”

The film contains scenes of domestic violence and mature themes requiring careful discernment. 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 end is the beginning in ‘Before I Fall’

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

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Catholic News Service

Sound values underlie the conversion story “Before I Fall.” But the path toward its positive conclusion takes twists and turns that will give the parents of targeted teens pause in considering whether their kids should travel it.

Logan Miller and Zoey Deutch star in a scene from the movie "Before I Fall." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS photo/Open Road)

Logan Miller and Zoey Deutch star in a scene from the movie “Before I Fall.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/Open Road)

Early on in the film, its main character, seemingly successful high school student Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), is killed in a car crash. But instead of this being the end of her tale, it turns out to be just the beginning.

Samantha awakens again on the morning of her last day on earth, a period of time, she soon discovers, that she will be forced to relive over and over until she discerns what she needs to change about her life to escape the cycle. The relationships she has to re-evaluate include those with her trio of closest pals, Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahirri).

Additionally, she’ll need to re-examine her bond with her shallow boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley), her treatment of Kent (Logan Miller), the less glamorous but more caring lad who has loved her from afar since childhood, and her persecution of troubled schoolmate Juliet (Elena Kampouris) whom Samantha and her clique relentlessly torment.

Symptomatic of the problem with director Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel for young adults is Samantha’s attitude toward romance and sexuality. This is another area in which her values take a posthumous turn for the better. Yet her starting point on this journey finds her besties celebrating the fact that she is about to lose her virginity, and presenting her with a condom for the occasion.

Together with some of the language in Maria Maggenti’s script, such behavior makes “Before I Fall” a risky proposition for any but grownups.

The time loop conceit inevitably invites comparison with the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day.” For Catholic moviegoers, at least, Samantha’s experience also can be viewed from a theological perspective as representing a sort of purgatory through which she must pass.

The fact that she not only sees through the illusions that have blinded her in the past but reaches a high level of compassion and altruism fittingly fulfills the goal of that cleansing state. So it’s a shame that other aspects of the movie preclude endorsement for the young people at whom “Before I Fall” is clearly aimed.

The film contains semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial nudity, underage drinking, a single use each of profanity and rough language, a mild oath, frequent crude talk and mature references, including to homosexuality. 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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