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Drug heist and kidney crisis ‘Collide’

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

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Catholic News Service

As its title implies, “Collide” involves vehicular mayhem.

There’s so much high-speed demolition derby, in fact, that it becomes somewhat more entertaining, just on the basis of sheer volume, to focus on that rather than the thin drug-smuggling plot. But director Eran Creevy, who co-wrote the screenplay with F. Scott Frazier, intends all of this with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

We know this because Geran (Ben Kingsley), who hires Casey (Nicholas Hoult), a young American living in Germany, to hijack a truck smuggling cocaine, keeps calling him “Burt Reynolds.” It’s a 1970s reference, meant to imply that Casey’s just a good ol’ boy.

Casey’s career up to now has involved stealing cars and trucks for Geran. He’s despondent about where his life has taken him.

At a rowdy nightclub, he meets another American, Juliette (Felicity Jones), and their whirlwind romance sets him on a new course working honestly in an auto salvage yard. She’s dazzling, quirky and in desperate need of a kidney transplant for which the German health system will not pay.

Raising that kind of money necessitates a return to crime, an immoral means to a good end. So Casey agrees to participate in the complicated drug heist, which is being led by Hagen (Anthony Hopkins), Geran’s former partner and a leading German kingpin.

What could go wrong? Virtually everything. Casey, accordingly, has to escape Hagen and his torturing henchmen repeatedly, and rescue Juliette after they take her hostage.

Steal something, speed, crash, repeat. Watch the pretty muscle cars rushing by.

The outline for a bare-bones thriller is clearly here. But the story loses quite a bit in the execution, and the characters and dilemmas prove less than compelling.

The film contains gun and physical violence and fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

      Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service

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‘Loving’ — Interracial love story becomes 1967 Supreme Court case

December 5th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Dignity and understatement are usually noble qualities in a film. “Loving,” the fact-based story behind a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, is so restrained and decorous, however, that it nearly obscures the historical significance of the events it recounts.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in a scene from the movie "Loving."  (CNS photo/Focus)

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in a scene from the movie “Loving.” (CNS photo/Focus)

Partly that’s the result of the portrayal of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton). This white Virginia bricklayer, one of the movie’s two main characters, is shown to be taciturn, monosyllabic, almost stone-faced. The only fleeting emotions he expresses are terror whenever strange cars appear on rural two-lane roads and a sense of humor while watching the sentimentalized South on offer in an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Richard’s serene African-American wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga), gets to display considerably more human qualities. It’s she who kicks off their legal crusade, which eventually succeeded in demolishing race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States, by writing to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Inspired by the civil rights movement, which she experiences only on TV, Mildred also understands the need for national news coverage.

The Lovings, who lived in Caroline County, Va., married in Washington in 1958 — thereby evading, temporarily at least, their home state’s law forbidding interracial unions. Such “anti-miscegenation” statutes had their origins in the days of slavery but were reinforced in Southern states after the Civil War; Virginia’s was enacted in 1924.

Shortly after returning to the Old Dominion, the couple was arrested and jailed. Because the commonwealth rejected the validity of their marriage, deputies also hoped to arrest the Lovings on a fornication charge; thus increasing the penalties they would face.

Contemptuous Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) expresses the only flat-out racist sentiment in the movie, ridiculing Loving’s close proximity to black neighbors and telling him, “You were just born in the wrong place, is all.”

A judge gives the duo a one-year suspended sentence, and forbids them to return to Virginia for 25 years. So they move to Washington.

But they don’t take to city life, and when they return to Virginia for the birth of their first child — Richard’s mother, Lola (Sharon Blackwood), is a midwife — they’re arrested again. They eventually move to a neighboring county where law enforcement is less inclined to harass them. But they seek legal relief in order to return to Caroline County, where Richard has promised Mildred he’ll build her a house.

These circumstances must have been extraordinarily stressful, since the Lovings had no way of knowing whether any given nightfall would be the cue for a hate crime. Yet writer-director Jeff Nichols doesn’t allow either Richard or Mildred to be freely emotional.

Occasionally, relatives express their frustrations, but that’s it. Nichols keeps his drama free from the histrionics that surely must have occurred.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, inexperienced but hugely confident in the merits of the case, guide it to the Supreme Court. But even there, their arguments and those from the state, which at least would explain to viewers why all of this matters, are truncated.

So no long monologues for any of the characters. Rather, the dialogue aims to be brief and pithy. When lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) asks Richard what he should say to the justices, for instance, Richard merely grunts, “Tell them I love my wife.”

The cultural impact of the Lovings’ struggle makes this valuable viewing for mature teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains a premarital pregnancy, a couple of crass terms, fleeting racial slurs and two scenes of childbirth. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Incarnate’ is a slow slog through Hell

December 5th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Somewhere in the planning stages of “Incarnate,” someone must have thought it would be a good idea to combine elements of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 tour de force “Inception” with tropes that have been familiar to moviegoers at least since Linda Blair’s head went spinning round in “The Exorcist” way back in 1973.

David Mazouz stars in a scene from the movie "Incarnate." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 . (CNS photo/Universal)

David Mazouz stars in a scene from the movie “Incarnate.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 . (CNS photo/Universal)

The difficulty is that director Brad Peyton’s mostly secular addition to the exorcism subgenre of horror films only suffers by comparison to such memorable predecessors. The low-rent proceedings, moreover, include a portrayal of the Catholic Church that’s marked by lazy cynicism.

Thus, when Vatican official Camilla Marquez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) asks the film’s burned-out protagonist, Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), what he’s got against the church, he responds, “How much time do you have?”

Camilla has sought Seth out in the hope that he can help with a case that has foiled the priests dispatched to deal with it (a circumstance likely to irk Catholic patrons still further). This provides Seth with the chance to express his disdain for a spiritual approach to possession. To him, the foes to be confronted are “entities,” not demons.

Seth’s expertise is based on the fact that, like some of the characters in “Inception,” he can enter the minds of others, in his case the possessed. By rescuing them from the spell each entity casts when occupying someone, he cures them.

But this unusual gift has long made Seth a target for the forces of the underworld. In fact, one entity essentially ruined Seth’s life by causing a car accident that killed his wife and son and left him paralyzed.

Could this be the same evil spirit currently Cameron (David Mazouz), the young boy whose plight Camilla has brought to Seth’s attention? Seth suspects so, and that’s his principal motive for eventually agreeing to see what he can do for the lad.

As scripted by Ronnie Christensen, “Incarnate” feels grim and uninspired even when it’s not antagonizing believers, as it does even by way of its ill-chosen title. There is a bit of a concession to Christian sensibilities during a key confrontation toward the end of the picture. And the bloodletting is kept within appropriate bounds for a mature audience throughout. But it’s still amounts, overall, to a slow slog through Hades.

The film contains occult themes, anti-Catholic sentiments, occasional violence with some gore, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term and several crude and crass expressions. 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 Magnificent Seven’ — A theology of just war?

September 23rd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

A chivalrous parable that showcases self-sacrificing heroism, “The Magnificent Seven” can be seen as illustrating, in microcosm, Catholic theology’s theory of a just war.

Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio and Martin Sensmeier star in a scene from the movie "The Magnificent Seven." (CNS/MGM)

Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio and Martin Sensmeier star in a scene from the movie “The Magnificent Seven.” (CNS/MGM)

Essentially, that teaching holds that, just as an individual has the right to self-defense, so too a community or a nation is justified in using the minimal amount of force necessary to repel unwarranted aggression.

Yet, if director Antoine Fuqua jaunty Western is a tale about righting an egregious wrong, it’s also an exercise in unrestrained and creative death-dealing. As such, its steady stream of mayhem will undercut its pretentions to morality in the eyes of at least some grown moviegoers.

Set in 1879, Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk’s script loses little time in introducing us to a villain we can love to hate or in felling his first innocent victims.

Ruthless gold-mining mogul Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has decided he wants the land on which the frontier town of Rose Creek stands for his own. So, with his private army of thugs at his back, he breaks into the local church, where the citizenry busily debates what to do about him, and the killing in cold blood soon commences. Once it ends, he threatens the survivors with a similar fate unless they sell out to him for a pittance.

Though most of the burgh’s inhabitants see no choice but to buckle under, plucky Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the widow of one of Bogue’s victims, is having none of it. Instead, she hires roving lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to organize resistance. The result is a motley band of skilled gunmen, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are its other most prominent figures, and an extended shoot-’em-up showdown.

The titular grouping is marked not only by the shared outsider status of its members but by their varied ethnicities and backgrounds, despite which, in the ideal American manner, they manage to bond through mutual admiration.

Thus, although he’s an ex-Confederate soldier famed for his exploits at Antietam, Hawke’s character, Goodnight Robicheaux, is also an old friend of Chisolm’s. And Robicheaux’s closest pal is Chinese immigrant Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), whose skill with knives makes him a welcome addition to the pack.

In similar rise-above-it fashion, renowned Indian fighter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) gets to like his newfound Comanche comrade, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As for Pratt’s persona, Josh Faraday, he likes to mock Mexican fugitive Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). But Vasquez gets the better of him with Spanish insults Faraday mistakes for compliments.

Amid the furious action, Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 film of the same title, which was itself, in turn, adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic “Seven Samurai,” pauses occasionally to reflect on the dividing line between justice and vengeance. It also features Christian references and imagery, the burned-out church, for instance, becomes ground zero in the climactic struggle, as well as examples of devotion ranging from the sincere to the eccentric.

Though it’s appealing to find explicit, if nondenominational, Christian faith occupying such a prominent and positive place in a contemporary Hollywood film, at least some believers may view “The Magnificent Seven” as pitting good against evil simply in order to let the bullets fly.

The film contains constant stylized violence with gunplay and explosions but very little blood, several uses of profanity, a couple of mild oaths and numerous crude and crass expressions. 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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‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ hits right notes amid pathos and comedy

August 15th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Like the World War II-era New York socialite it profiles, “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a charmingly eccentric blend of comedy and drama, has its heart in the right place.

Meryl Streep and Simon Helberg star in a scene from the movie "Florence Foster Jenkins." 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/Paramount)

Meryl Streep and Simon Helberg star in a scene from the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins.” 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/Paramount)

Yet moral complications are integral to this fact-based story, and they limit its appropriate audience, as a general matter, to discerning adults.

That’s a shame, because other objectionable elements in director Stephen Frears’ film are few, and this is, overall, a deeply humane tale from which young people might benefit.

Not content with her role as a generous and influential patron of Gotham’s music scene, Foster (Meryl Streep) yearns to take to the stage as a singer. The only difficulty is that she is spectacularly untalented. Not just bad, excruciating to a point that’s unavoidably comic.

Attempting to square this circle, and protecting Foster from the truth about her voice, becomes a full-time job for her husband, failed British actor St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). He shamelessly bribes the city’s newspaper critics, and assiduously restricts ticket sales to a small circle of friends willing to focus on Foster’s sincere enthusiasm rather than the outrageously awful effects she produces.

Bayfield gains an ally in his efforts when sympathetic young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) comes on board as Foster’s new accompanist. But this duo of guardians faces heightened stakes when Foster insists on booking Carnegie Hall for a night.

With characteristic deftness, Streep gets across both the full ridiculousness and the touching pathos of Foster’s situation. But her complex marital arrangement, and Bayfield’s concurrent relationship with his girlfriend, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), whom he maintains in a separate household, require careful sifting.

For reasons not to be revealed for fear of a spoiler, Bayfield is not the straight-out adulterer the description of his lifestyle given above might make him seem. There are circumstances beyond his control that mitigate, though they cannot fully excuse, the guilt of his actions.

In fact, Bayfield’s character evokes just as multifaceted a response from moviegoers as does Foster’s.

While his unusual love for his wife appears genuine enough, viewers are bound to ask themselves to what degree it’s tainted by the desire to share in her wealth. Nicholas Martin’s script and Grant’s performance successfully maintain suspense on this point for much of the running time.

The ethical conflicts at work here invite more compassion than condemnation. So parents willing to make them the starting point for a discussion about the nature of marriage and the vagaries of human love may be inclined to allow especially insightful older teens to attend.

The film contains mature themes, including adultery and venereal disease, a morning-after bedroom scene, vague references to homosexuality, at least one profanity 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-13.

 

 

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‘Cafe Society’ in L.A. and New York is one dimensional

August 8th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

“Love is an emotion, and emotions aren’t rational,” a character muses midway through writer-director Woody Allen’s seriocomic “Cafe Society.”

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg star in a scene from the movie "Cafe Society." 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/Lionsgate)

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg star in a scene from the movie “Cafe Society.” 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/Lionsgate)

This variation on “the heart wants what the heart wants,” a saying ultimately traceable, in a slightly different form, to an Emily Dickinson poem is not a lucid theme here.

Allen’s love triangle, perpetually set in orange sunlight in both its Hollywood and New York settings to evoke nostalgia, whirls its central characters through several painful romantic entanglements.

These men and women are all one-dimensional archetypes, however. Sincerity, moreover, gives way to Allen’s one-liners, and no one becomes any wiser for their experiences.

In 1936, Bronx-bred Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who no longer wants to help out in his father Marty’s (Ken Stott) jewelry store, decides to leave his supportive family to find a job with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a powerful agent out in Tinseltown.

Phil fixes contracts, drops names and solves such dilemmas as “Adolphe Menjou is threatening to walk off the set!” He doesn’t have much beyond menial errands for Bobby. But to help the lad acclimate to his new surroundings, Phil introduces him to his lissome secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart).

Bobby and Vonnie quickly hit it off, although he doesn’t realize that the journalist boyfriend of whom she often speaks is actually Uncle Phil, who wants to leave his wife. No one in Hollywood, including Nebraska-born Vonnie, is the person he or she appears to be, although Vonnie is very clear-eyed about her life choices.

When Bobby learns the truth, he gives up on L.A., returning to Gotham to manage a new nightclub owned by his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll). This leads to more glamorous nightlife and eventually to marriage with shimmering blond heiress Veronica (Blake Lively).

Allen, who provides a lot of needless narration in lieu of plot, stages all the necessary confrontations and arguments. He then brings the whole ensemble together at the end to ponder their decisions and the melancholy they’ve brought on themselves.

Even so, any sustained, serious engagement with topics like marital fidelity gets lost amid Allen’s trademark humor.

The film contains bloodless gun violence, mature themes, including adultery and prostitution, a drug reference, profanity and a crude term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Well-intentioned but dull — ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’

April 20th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is both a prequel and a sequel. As such, it falls between two stools with a resounding thud.

Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain star in a scene from the movie "The Huntsman: Winter's War." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.. (CNS/Universal)

Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain star in a scene from the movie “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.. (CNS/Universal)

Positioned to bookend the action of 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” this lavishly staged adventure is well intentioned but dull. It boils down to a derivative mash-up of fantasy films like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Disney’s smash hit “Frozen.”

Everything from the first movie has been doubled-up by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin. In addition to two time frames, there are now a duo of wicked queens, a pair of rival kingdoms and a brace of brave huntsmen.

Noticeably absent, as the title suggests, is Snow White herself. Perhaps she was done in by a happy ending: At the conclusion of the last installment, in which she was portrayed by Kristen Stewart, she had vanquished her queenly, and thoroughly evil, adversary (Charlize Theron) and been installed as the benevolent ruler of a peaceable kingdom.

No matter, Thor is here or at least his human embodiment, Chris Hemsworth, is. He reprises his role as Eric, the huntsman.

Eric is given a backstory in the prequel part of the film. Kidnapped as a boy, he is raised by Freya (Emily Blunt), the Ice Queen, think Elsa in “Frozen,” but not as sweet, to be the ultimate soldier. His rearing is part of Freya’s drive to conquer neighboring kingdoms.

Freya, we learn, was not always so mean. In fact, her bad-to-the-bone sister, Queen Ravenna (Theron), puts her in the shade wickedness-wise. As veterans of the first outing will know, Ravenna is the malevolent ruler who will one day face off against Snow White.

A dalliance between Freya and a nobleman, the Duke of Blackwood (Colin Morgan), produces a child. This provokes the usual warnings from that familiar magic mirror about Ravenna’s endangered status as “the fairest of them all.” Wild with jealously, Ravenna has the infant girl killed before Freya can run off with her lover.

Freya’s reaction is unexpected: her profound grief releases a dormant power to control ice and snow. She abandons Ravenna to run her own show and raise an army.

“In my kingdom there is but one law, do not love,” Freya tells her subjects. “It is a sin and I will not have it.”

But romance will not be denied, and soon Eric has pledged his troth and secretly married fellow huntsman (huntswoman?) Sara (Jessica Chastain). When they try to escape, Freya separates the spouses, and Eric is banished.

At this point, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” fast-forwards seven years, jumping over the events of the original. As round two kicks off, all the world seems at peace, at least until Prince William (Sam Claflin) tracks Eric down in the forest.

William has a quest for Eric. To wit, to find that loquacious looking glass, which has disappeared, and destroy it. Eric is joined on this mission by a quartet of dwarf sidekicks, Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) — all of whom provide welcome comic relief.

By now, silliness and tedium rule, and any connection to the Brothers Grimm and their 200-year-old fairy tale has been lost. Suffice it to say that, by the time the filmmakers resort to introducing flying monkeys into the mix, you’ll wish you were back home in Kansas with Auntie Em.

The film contains cartoonish action violence, implied premarital sexual activity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘Race’ is a ‘supremely entertaining’ look at Jesse Owens’ Olympic triumph

February 26th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Run, don’t walk, to the nearest multiplex and see “Race,” a supremely entertaining biopic about Olympic track and field legend Jesse Owens (Stephan James).

Stephan James stars in a scene from the movie "Race." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Focus Features)

Stephan James stars in a scene from the movie “Race.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Focus Features)

Eighty years have passed since Owens, an African-American, won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, single-handedly dealing a devastating blow to Nazism and its belief in Aryan supremacy.

Director Stephen Hopkins deftly explores the double meaning of the film’s title, chronicling Owens’ personal struggle against racism and bigotry while celebrating his astounding athletic achievements. What emerges is a valuable history lesson for adolescents as well as their parents, and an inspiring portrait of personal courage, determination, friendship and tolerance.

The film opens in 1933, with Owens’ arrival at Ohio State University. A natural athlete, he is unstoppable on the track and a record-breaker, much to the amazement of his coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Snyder immediately proposes to train Owens for the 1936 Games.

In the meantime, the U.S. Olympic Committee is divided over whether to attend the event. The committee president, Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt), wants the athletes to stay home to protest against the oppressive regime of Adolf Hitler (Adrian Zwicker), glorified in propaganda films directed by Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten).

Mahoney is opposed by Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons), a real estate tycoon and former Olympic athlete. He agrees to fly to Berlin to meet Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat), who envisions the Olympics as an opportunity to legitimize Nazism on the world stage. Brundage strikes a dubious deal with the devil, and Goebbels agrees to allow Jewish and black athletes to compete.

Boycott averted, Owens trains in earnest. As his fame grows, so does the pressure to be a role model for African-Americans (as baseball’s Jackie Robinson would experience, a decade later). He also pines for his fiancee back home, Ruth (Shanice Banton), who cares for their baby daughter.

Running offers a respite from segregation. “Out there ain’t no black and white, there’s only fast and slow,” Owens says. “Nothing matters — not color, not money — not even hate. For those 10 seconds, you are completely free.”

“Race” re-creates the 1936 Games in meticulous detail, capturing Owens’ wonder at the spectacle and his surprise by the non-segregated athletes’ village, where he is treated with respect.

It also portrays his unexpected friendship with a German athlete, Carl “Luz” Long (David Kross), his chief rival in the long jump. Long defied Hitler and Goebbels by congratulating Owens on his gold medal and joining him for a victory lap around the stadium. They remained friends long after the Games ended.

The film contains adult themes, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and occasional crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Choice’ is benign but fails to spark

February 8th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ever since “The Notebook” in 2004, film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’ novels have descended into benign, prepackaged comfort food.

Teresa Palmer and Ben Walker star in a scene from the movie "The Choice." (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Teresa Palmer and Ben Walker star in a scene from the movie “The Choice.” (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

So it is with “The Choice.” In keeping with the Catholic writer’s work overall, the movie tells an agreeably picturesque love story, with likable characters who briefly consider the morality of at least some of their actions. Yet, as directed by Ross Katz from Bryan Sipe’s screenplay, the picture is so intractably bland, straining not to offend, that its plot points lack all emotional tug.

The film retains Sparks’ traditional setting in coastal North Carolina, affording an opportunity for montages of moonlit beaches. There’s also a light wash about religious faith, or at least cosmic forces that control the universe.

Thus, veterinarian Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in the power of love. Hospital intern Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) chooses to believe in something bigger than herself — without, however, giving the entity in question a specific name.

Travis’ widowed father, and fellow vet, Shep (Tom Wilkinson), who’s so kindly that he’ll give a little girl a new lizard rather than tell her that her pet has died, is a more-or-less conventional churchgoer.

Like the geography, the theme will be familiar to Sparks’ fans: “Now pay attention, because I’m about to tell you the secret of life,” Travis announces at the opening. This is followed by, “Every decision you make leads to another choice.”

In reality, there are just two choices. The first is Travis and Gabby’s decision, after a series of miscues, to fall in love, even though both are in longstanding, albeit dull, relationships. That takes up the entire first hour, and is followed by marriage, two children, general bliss and many sunsets. (The couple’s option for sex before vows apparently requires no deliberation.)

The second decision is an ethical one: whether to continue extraordinary means of life support following a car crash on a stormy night. In a better-written drama, this would be the meat. Here, it’s just an excuse to pile on more cheese.

The substance of the decision isn’t shown. There’s not even much of a discussion. Either way, however, there’s no danger that Catholic moral norms concerning medical treatment will be flouted — or that viewers’ sympathy will be elicited in support of their violation.

What we’re really doing is biding our time in the hospital until we can return to the seaside.

The film contains brief semi-graphic premarital sexual activity with partial nudity, at least one mild profanity and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Finest Hours’ depicts daring rescue mission on a grand scale

February 2nd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

The remarkable true story of the most daring small boat rescue mission in Coast Guard history comes to the big screen in “The Finest Hours.”

Casey Affleck and Michael Raymond-James star in a scene from the movie "The Finest Hours." (CNS photo/Disney)

Casey Affleck and Michael Raymond-James star in a scene from the movie “The Finest Hours.” (CNS photo/Disney)

In February 1952, a powerful Nor’easter struck the Massachusetts coast, pummeling shoreline towns and wreaking havoc on ships caught in its deadly path. Among these were two oil tankers bound for Boston, the S.S. Mercer and the S.S. Pendleton.

Beset by 60-foot waves and hurricane-force winds, both vessels broke apart. The Mercer, its bow intact, radioed for assistance and was the focus of a major rescue operation.

The Pendleton was not so lucky. The bow and its radio sunk, stranding 36 sailors in the stern, bobbing like a cork in the mighty sea. With no SOS, who would come to their aid?

By chance, the Pendleton pops up on radar at the Coast Guard station in Chatham, headed by Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). Despite extreme conditions, he orders Boatswains Mate 1st Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to muster three men and set out in a wooden 36-foot lifeboat, certainly no match for the storm conditions.

Duty and honor prevail, as Seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) volunteer for duty.

Fellow officers try to dissuade Webber, calling the rescue a suicide mission. Webber’s newly minted fiancee, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is frantic with worry, compounded by the fact that she is terrified of the water (then why marry a sailor, one wonders?).

“In the Coast Guard they say, ‘You gotta go out,’” Webber reminds his crew. “They don’t say, ‘You gotta come back in.’”

As the lifeboat sets out, a David in search of a Goliath, disaster strikes with the first wave. The craft nearly capsizes, and the onboard compass is lost.

With no navigation aid, Webber must pilot in the blind, relying on faith, instinct and luck to find the wreck.

Meanwhile, aboard the Pendleton, engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) takes command of the crisis situation. The stern section is slowly sinking, so the survivors must improvise a way to buy precious time while they steer the stern toward land.

“The Finest Hours” is old-fashioned moviemaking on a grand scale. Director Craig Gillespie, working from the 2009 novel by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, strikes the right balance between striking renderings of Mother Nature’s fury, and quieter moments, conveying fear and dread among the rescuers and the rescued.

Happily, Gillespie makes time to show the close-knit community joining in prayer, and an individual fingering a rosary.

As for all that water, bring along your sea legs. The storm sequences are intense and immersive, and could have you reaching for the sick bag.

The film contains extreme storm-based action and scenes of peril, and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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