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Story of Elvis all shook up by ‘The Identical’

September 8th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Although they may be sociologically fascinating, in the cultural scheme of things, Elvis Presley impersonators are not widely deemed to occupy a particularly exalted position.

Blake Rayne stars in a scene from the movie "The Identical." Catholic News Service classification, A-I -- general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may no t be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Katherine Bomboy Thornton, City of Peace Films)

Blake Rayne stars in a scene from the movie “The Identical.” Catholic News Service classification, A-I — general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may no t be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Katherine Bomboy Thornton, City of Peace Films)

Yet no one can deny the enduring appeal of an entertainer who, close to 40 years after his death, still has not only legions of fans but hosts of followers devoted enough to settle for myriad attempts at imitation now that the real thing is no longer around … at least, not officially.

Moviegoers’ attitudes toward the former occupant of Graceland will likely shape their reactions to the reality-related drama “The Identical.”

Director Dustin Marcellino’s film takes its premise from the historical fact that Elvis was a twin. Sadly, though, his brother Jesse was stillborn.

But what if it had been otherwise? In the fictional version of events pursued by screenwriter Howard Klausner’s script, the newborn brothers’ impoverished parents, William (Brian Geraghty) and Helen (Amanda Crew) Hemsley, are in desperate straits as a result of the Depression. So they make the traumatic decision to give one of their sons up for adoption.

They find suitable foster parents in circuit-riding revivalist preacher Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his wife Louise (Ashley Judd). The Wades are a happily married couple whose principal cross in life so far has been their childlessness.

For reasons that are not really made clear, however, the Hemsleys are at pains to conceal this arrangement from the world. Accordingly, they swear the Wades to secrecy and give out a cover story that one of their boys has died. They even hold a funeral for him.

Flash forward to the 1950s and Drexel (Blake Rayne), the lad the Hemsleys kept, is rocketing to musical stardom. His obscure but equally talented lookalike Ryan Wade (also Rayne), meanwhile, is being pressured by his father, now a settled pastor, to follow him into the ministry.

But, in a sort of evangelical riff on the old dilemma Al Jolson faced in “The Jazz Singer,” Ryan prefers belting out tunes to thumping the Scriptures. Eventually, Ryan gets the opportunity to pursue his favored career by impersonating his long-lost counterpart under the moniker of the title. Defied Dad is, needless to say, disappointed.

Wholesome and faith-friendly, “The Identical” is a homespun piece of entertainment with a goodhearted but naive tone that will not be to the taste of city slickers. As for its suitable audience, a single vague reference to the connection between romantic passion and the arrival of babies may debar those who are still members of the stork club.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG, parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

 

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Refresher course: ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’

By

Catholic News Service

Making eexcellent use of 3-D technology, the 2010 animated adventure “How to Train Your Dragon” earned two Oscar nominations and a large payoff at the box office.

Although it may seem like an eternity to eager young fans, four years is not an overly long time to wait for a sequel given the painstaking nature of the animation process, even when fully computerized.

Astrid rides her faithful dragon in a scene from the movie “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Catholic News Service classification, A-I — general patronage. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/DreamWorks Animation)

The team behind “How to Train Your Dragon 2” — which is adapted, like its predecessor, from a series of children’s books by Cressida Cowell — used the interval to create more outstanding visuals. Time spent on the script is less in evidence.

The follow-up is pleasing to the eye, mildly amusing and occasionally poignant. But saddled with promoting an ecologically correct agenda, the dialogue often sounds clumsy.

To recap the original film, after rescuing a wounded dragon whom he dubbed Toothless, Viking teen Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) proved to his fellow residents on the Island of Berk that dragons are not to be feared. Now his community lives in harmony with their former adversaries.

Thus at the outset of the sequel, riders are seen racing the happily domesticated creatures in a game that involves sheep and resembles Quidditch from the “Harry Potter” films.

Twenty-year-old Hiccup does not participate, to the dismay of his father Stoick the Vast (voice of Gerard Butler) who is anxious for his son to succeed him as Berk’s chief. Instead, Hiccup and Toothless are out exploring the world.

Joined by Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), they encounter a dragon trapper named Eret, Son of Eret (voice of Kit Harington) who is helping the malevolent Drago Bludvist (voice of Djimon Hounsou) assemble a dragon army.

The movie kicks into gear during a thrilling sequence in which Hiccup, soaring high above the clouds astride Toothless, sees a masked figure atop its own magnificent mount. This mysterious individual, who turns out to be someone very close to Hiccup, takes him to a secret sanctuary where an array of colorful dragons, many injured or endangered, are protected by a gigantic, ice-breathing alpha dragon.

In due course, Hiccup and his peers must defend both the sanctuary and Berk against the dragons controlled by Drago.

Overseen by writer-director Dean DeBlois, the animation of the various dragon species is worth the price of admission. The wobbly screenplay, which insists, none too subtly, that respect for all creatures is a moral imperative, needs shoring up.

Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill are among the actors asked to deliver lines such as: “We will change the world for all dragons and make it a safer place.” “Dragons are kind, amazing creatures that can bring people together.” And, finally, “You have the heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon.”

As these quotes suggest, the movie comes close to elevating dragons above mankind. We are warmongering brutes, whereas they are innately gentle creatures, incapable of evil.

There’s justification for such a view, including the assumption that dragons, like actual animals, do not possess reason or genuine free will and are not tainted by original sin. And it’s no surprise the movie has an ecological message when it seems as if every family-oriented Hollywood movie must do so in order to get made. Still, the theme is taken so far and is expressed in such bald terms that viewers may find it unsettling.

Conversely, when Hiccup is anointed chief at the end, a medicine woman marks his forehead with a dark, cruciform sign that Catholics can interpret as both a nod to Ash Wednesday and as an instructive reminder of the pagan origins of many more ancillary Christian rituals.

While a “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy is planned, no doubt there will be a wait-and-see period before the third installment gets the final go-ahead. Without compromising their commitment to first-rate animation, the filmmakers would be wise to spend that time honing their script.

Small children may be spooked by some of the imagery, but the episodes in which the dragons behave ferociously are relatively short-lived.

The film contains several scenes with mildly scary fantasy action, one instance of potty language and a single demeaning epithet. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG. Some material may not be suitable for children.

 

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Don’t Be Afraid, ‘Heaven Is for Real’

April 17th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.” Those words, addressed to God in Psalm 8 of the King James Bible, might serve as the tagline for the fact-based drama “Heaven Is for Real.”

Kelly Reilly, Greg Kinnear and Connor Corum star in a scene from the movie “Heaven Is For Real.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage.  (CNS photo/Sony)

Audiences of almost any age will benefit from this intriguing, child-guided glimpse into the afterlife.

As readers of Todd Burpo’s best-selling book (written with Lynn Vincent) will know, this is the story of his young son, Colton. After coming close to death during an operation, the 4-year-old (Connor Corum) startled his Wesleyan minister father (Greg Kinnear) and choir-director mother, Sonja (Kelly Reilly), by announcing that he had visited heaven and met Jesus.

His subsequent description of two deceased relatives, the existence of one of whom was previously unknown to him, lent remarkable credibility to the lad’s claim.

Perhaps because they seemed too literal to be readily accepted, however, Colton’s matter-of-fact statements about paradise stirred controversy in his family’s small-town community of Imperial, Neb. Ironically, they also provoked a crisis of faith for Todd, who was forced to ask himself how genuinely he believed what he had long been preaching.

Director and co-writer (with Christopher Parker) Randall Wallace’s adaptation of Burpo’s account is substantial and moving, thanks in large part to the mature way in which it grapples with fundamental issues of religious belief and doubt. What could have been a hokey, feel-good exercise in Christian cheerleading instead comes across as a sober, though far from humorless, meditation on the reality of death and the virtue of hope.

Those themes are ably personified by Margo Martindale in the role of Burpo family friend Nancy Rawling. A stalwart member of Todd’s congregation, Nancy nonetheless suffers deep, ongoing grief over the loss in combat of her Marine son.

Along with its faith-affirming revelations about the beyond, “Heaven Is for Real” also showcases a tenacious marital bond. Beset by money troubles, illnesses and other worries, Todd and Sonja occasionally quarrel. Yet their underlying commitment to each other is unwavering.

Scenes portraying the medical difficulties the Burpos endure, including a painful baseball injury for Todd, might not be suitable for the littlest moviegoers.

Viewers will particularly appreciate Colton’s takeaway from his celestial journey, a message so simple and liberating that those around him, including believers, were hesitant to accept it: Thanks to the existence of heaven he says, “We don’t ever have to be afraid.”

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Muppets Most Wanted’ a crime and puns of fun

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

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Tina Fey and Kermit the Frog star in a scene from the movie “Muppets Most Wanted.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Disney)

Catholic News Service

Viewers of almost any age will find themselves well rewarded for tracking down “Muppets Most Wanted.”

Some brushes with peril integral to its farfetched story might frighten the very smallest audience members. But this sprightly musical outing for the beloved puppet ensemble created by Jim Henson makes winning, family-friendly entertainment for all others.

It’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn meets “Hogan’s Heroes” as an unlikely plot twist sends the Muppets’ gentle leader, Kermit the Frog, to a Siberian gulag. His imprisonment comes courtesy of Russian gangster, and dead-ringer Kermie look-alike, Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog.”

As part of his plans for a daring jewel heist, Constantine, escaped from the gulag himself, is out to take Kermit’s place on a forthcoming Muppet world tour. Aiding Constantine’s scheme is his smooth talking human confederate Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Dominic, who explains away his telltale last name by asserting that it’s French and therefore pronounced “Bad-gee,” has managed to insinuate himself into the role of the Muppet’s manager.

While Kermit languishes in the arctic under the supervision of his over-the-top principal jailer Nadya (a hilarious Tina Fey), all his old chums except Animal are taken in by the impostor. Part of Constantine’s success rests on his promise to give the Muppets whatever they want, beginning with Miss Piggy, whom the faux Kermit finally and all-too-readily agrees to marry.

The movie combines singing, dancing, innocent humor and entertaining cameos. The resulting treat is then topped off with an endearing message about loyalty to friends. The script also cautions against greed and egotism, sending positive signals for youngsters amid the lively fun.

The film contains some slapstick violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG, parental guidance suggested.

 

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Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman time travel from 1959

By

Catholic News Service

Baby boomers old enough to recall an animated moose named Bullwinkle and his flying-squirrel sidekick, Rocky, will also likely remember the titular characters of “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.”

Mr. Peabody, voiced by Ty Burell, and Penny, voiced by Ariel Winter, appear in a scene from the animated movie “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” (CNS pohoto/Fox)

That’s because, in their original incarnation, the latter duo figured in a series of short cartoons that were shown as part of the TV show “Rocky and His Friends,” which premiered in 1959, and its re-titled successor, “The Bullwinkle Show,” which ran until 1964.

For those outside the hippie-turned-yuppie demographic, introductions may be in order. Mr. Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell) is a hyper-intellectual dog whose many accomplishments include his invention of a time-traveling device called the WABAC machine. Sherman is the perky human son Mr. Peabody adopted as an infant, after finding him abandoned in an alley.

The opening of director Rob Minkoff’s big-screen, 3-D updating finds this unusual pair at an emotional crossroads: Sherman is about to start school for the first time, an event that will remove him from the vigilant supervision Mr. Peabody has always exercised over him.

Sherman’s academic career gets off to a bumpy start when he runs afoul of classmate Penny Peterson. Jealous of Sherman’s superior knowledge of history, gained via the WABAC, Penny taunts him by saying that, since his father is a dog, Sherman must be one as well.

As though to vindicate the charge, Sherman unwisely brings their quarrel to a climax by biting Penny. This transgression places Mr. Peabody’s continued custody of him under threat as well.

During a get-together designed to smooth things over with Penny’s parents (voices of Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert), Sherman, whose antipathy toward Penny masks an unacknowledged attraction, tries to impress her by taking her for an unauthorized spin in the WABAC, with the upshot that she winds up stranded in ancient Egypt.

The path to Penny’s rescue zigzags chronologically from the court of King Tut to Renaissance Florence and back to the city of Troy on the eve of its destruction by the Greeks.

Craig Wright’s screenplay adds a tiresome amount of potty humor to the sometimes groan-inducing puns characteristic of the original material. And a lone adult-themed play on words, though it will certainly fly over youngsters’ heads, still seems jarringly out of place.

But basic history lessons for the youngest moviegoers, together with a worthy message about respecting people of different backgrounds, even if they do happen to be canines, endow this more than usually literate children’s adventure with some countervailing virtues.

The film contains scenes of mild peril, several scatological jokes and sight gags and a double entendre. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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The Catholic News Service review of ‘The Lego Movie’

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

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Catholic News Service

Any film bearing a trademark in its title, and populated by brand-name toys, is bound to fall under suspicion as nothing more than a vehicle for boosting sales of the product line.

Animated characters appear in “The Lego Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Consider, then, the surprising accomplishment of directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”). With their lively 3-D animated adventure “The Lego Movie they not only deliver a diverting eye-catcher for both young and old, they also manage to incorporate a pointed satire of conformist consumerism into the proceedings.

A willing victim of that modern trend, ordinary construction worker Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt) blindly follows the herd in his dull hometown of Bricksburg. He buys overpriced coffee, laughs on cue at a mindless, one-joke sitcom called “Where Are My Pants?” and loves the same upbeat pop tune du jour,
Everything Is Awesome,
as everybody else.

Emmet also trusts implicitly in the local maestro of mediocrity, creativity-loathing CEO President Business (voice of Will Ferrell).

Two closely related events are destined to rock Emmet’s contentedly brain-dead world, however. One is his accidental acquisition of a fabled building block called the Piece of Resistance. The other is his encounter with tough but fetching underground activist Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks), a nonconformist par excellence for whom he instantly falls.

Based on his possession of the Piece of Resistance, for which she herself has been searching, Wyldstyle is convinced that Emmet is a prophesied hero called The Special. His destiny, accordingly, is to lead a crusade against President Business. Unbeknownst to the public, behind the scenes this evil would-be tyrant prefers the title Lord Business, and he has a scheme on foot to control the world, and purge it of all originality, using a secret weapon.

Though convinced that a mistake has been made Emmet reluctantly agrees to do his best.

Joining Emmet and Wyldstyle in their struggle to topple the aspiring dictator is a ragtag team of fighters that includes Wyldstyle’s self-centered boyfriend, Batman (voice of Will Arnett), and Vitruvius (voice of Morgan Freeman), the pixilated mystic who predicted the arrival of The Special in the first place.

Colorful and fast-paced, “The Lego Movie” sails along toward a format-shifting conclusion that adds another asset to the rich mix: a touching sequence promoting family bonds over selfishness.

The film contains cartoon mayhem, some peril and a bit of mild scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I,general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘Frozen’ is a charming Disney tale for the family

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

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Catholic News Service

Don’t let the title fool you, “Frozen” is bursting with enough warmth and charm to defrost even the hardest Grinchy heart.

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” this 3-D animated musical is good-natured, overwhelmingly wholesome fare with something for everyone: Broadway-style show tunes, thrilling adventure, gorgeous visuals, cute-as-a-button characters, and a nice message about the enduring bonds of family.

There are even a few respectful religious overtones likely to please believers.

“Frozen” is a tale of two princesses: Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) and Anna (voice of Kristen Bell). Anna is fun-loving and spirited, while Elsa, destined to be queen of the mythical kingdom of Arendelle, is reserved, harboring a deep secret.

Elsa, it seems, was born with the power to create ice and snow at will. This gift was great fun at playtime when she was a youngster. At least, that is, until Elsa nearly killed Anna in a freak accident. The king (voice of Maurice LaMarche) then decreed Elsa must be hidden away for her own safety, and the palace closed to all outsiders.

Eventually, the princesses become orphans (parents rarely seem to survive in Disney cartoons), and coronation day arrives for Elsa. The new queen is burdened by fears of a disaster; Anna, by contrast, revels in the overdue arrival of an open-door policy.

At the coronation ball, Anna falls fast for Hans (voice of Santino Fontana), a visiting prince, and after a spirited song-and-dance number, they announce their engagement. Queen Elsa won’t give her blessing, the two have just met, after all, and the sisters quarrel. Elsa accidently unleashes her powers and throws Arendelle into a deep freeze.

For everyone’s welfare, Elsa retreats to the forest, entombing herself in a mountaintop ice palace. Anna, the fearless optimist, follows her, desperate to help her sibling and undo the eternal winter.

Joining her odyssey is Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff), an amiable mountain man, and his silent reindeer sidekick, Sven. Together, they encounter a comedic snowman named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad), who knows the express route to Elsa’s hideaway.

Amid Everest-like conditions, and with an abominable snowman and an adorable bunch of trolls thrown into the mix, the sisters head toward an epic showdown.

“Only an act of true love,” warns troll elder Pabbie (voice of Ciaran Hinds), “can thaw a frozen heart.”

Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the screenplay) keep the pace fast and the action lively. Some of the storm sequences may be a bit intense for the youngest viewers, but it is all in good fun.

Preceding “Frozen” is an animated short film, “Get a Horse!” It’s a clever and funny re-creation of a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon.

The movie contains a few mildly perilous situations and a bit of slightly gross humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

 

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