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‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ a tedious Lego letdown

September 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Third time lucky? Not for the Lego screen franchise, alas.

Animated characters appear in the movie “The Lego Ninjago Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

In following up on 2014’s “The Lego Movie” and “The Lego Batman Movie” from earlier this year, directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, the latter two also co-writers, along with four others, attempt to blend a children’s feature and an action film. The result, “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” is awkward, noisy and tedious, though the boredom is occasionally relieved by the odd flash of wit.

Bookended by live-action sequences featuring martial-arts icon Jackie Chan as a curio shop owner who becomes the story’s narrator, the cartoon follows the exploits of a schoolboy named Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco), a resident of far-off Ninjago City.

With his home town constantly under attack by his villainous father, Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), Lloyd is an object of scorn and derision to many of his peers. Yet, unbeknown to them or to Garmadon, Lloyd leads a double life, battling his bad dad in the guise of a ninja warrior.

He’s backed up by a quintet of pals and fellow fighters: Cole (voice of Fred Armisen), Nya (voice of Abbi Jacobson), Jay (voice of Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (voice of Michael Pena) and Zane (voice of Zach Woods). Like Lloyd himself, all of them have trained under the tutelage of Master Wu (voiced by Chan), Lloyd’s wise and virtuous uncle (and Garmadon’s estranged brother).

The forgettable series of explosions and other disturbances that follow from this set-up drown out the script’s listless pursuit of themes like the possibility of personal conversion and the value of family reconciliation. A few of the jokes will likely raise a smile. Garmadon, for instance, insists on pronouncing both the L’s in Lloyd. But the demolition quickly recommences.

The dialogue includes some vague mumbo-jumbo about humans harnessing the power of the elements. Thus one of Lloyd’s comrades can deploy fire, another water, a third ice and so on. Though this aspect of the picture never amounts to much more than an excuse to include the hummable 1990 hit “The Power” on the soundtrack, it’s not for the easily confused.

The film contains perilous situations, a bit of mild scatological humor and a couple of mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

     

 

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Ballet fans might jump for joy at ‘Leap!’

August 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film “Leap!” Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled “Ballerina,” this French-Canadian movie, produced by L’Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.

Animated characters Felicie, voiced by Elle Fanning, and Victor, voiced by Nat Wolff, appear in the movie “Leap!” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. . (CNS/Weinstein)

Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colorful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.

The plot centers on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.

The buddies plan their getaway. “We arrived at the same time and we’ll escape at the same time,” says Felicie.

Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).

But destiny will not be denied and, with Victor masquerading as a nun, the merry duo absconds. They make their way to City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.

Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris’ famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.

Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette’s mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine’s bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).

Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in

“The Nutcracker.” Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: “Don’t give up on your dreams. If you never leap you’ll never know what it is to fly.”

The film contains brief scatological humor and a less than flattering representation of women religious. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘All Saints’ celebrates Christian family life

August 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama “All Saints” celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.

Nelson Lee and John Corbett star in a scene from the movie “All Saints.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/AFFIRM Films)

Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tenn. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.

A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia — Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win — begins to change his outlook.

The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.

His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.

Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and
“All Saints,” despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected, is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.

Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.

The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature’ and bland

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Catholic News Service

Much of the action in the animated children’s comedy “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” unfolds at a frenzied pace. Yet, for all the sound and fury, this is in the end a bland film, unlikely to please any but the least discerning viewers.

Animated characters appear in the movie “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Perhaps that’s because the folks behind this sequel were too focused on 3-D special effects to waste time giving their characters much personality. Ironically, those effects turn out to raise the main objection to the picture from a parent’s perspective since, together with the many menacing situations to which the plot gives rise, they may be too scary for little kids.

The less-than-dynamic duo at center stage here is made up of squirrels Surly (voice of Will Arnett) and Andie (voice of Katherine Heigl). They’re obviously destined for each other from the start. But, of course, before true love can prevail there must be a conflict for them to resolve.

In this case, it concerns the fact that Surly, his unspeaking sidekick Buddy the rat and the rest of the gang from nearby Liberty Park have long been living off the abundance of an abandoned nut shop. Andie considers this a lazy and unnatural way of life, and is pleased when the negligence of one of her fellow animals causes an explosion that destroys the derelict building.

Trooping back to their original habitat, the critters suddenly find themselves pitted against their city’s corrupt, never-named Mayor (voiced by Bobby Moynihan). Hizzoner plans to bulldoze Liberty Park and turn it into a profit-making amusement concern.

As Surly organizes the resistance to this greed-driven project, huge earthmoving machines bear down on the small creatures. Later, an unmoored Ferris wheel lumbers through the Mayor’s creation, “Liberty Land,” rapidly and spectacularly destroying his handiwork. Grownups with jittery tykes in tow, take note.

Amid all the chases and the animal-human combat, the movie makes respectable, if hardly original, points about protecting the environment and the value of friendship and teamwork. It’s all perfectly acceptable for a wide swath of age groups.

Still, to paraphrase an old candy bar ad, sometimes you feel like a nut; this time, not so much.

The film contains cartoon violence, including explosions, recurring peril and mild gross-out and scatological jokes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Despicable Me 3’ thins out the reformed-villain series

June 29th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Director Pierre Coffin’s animated comedy “Despicable Me 3” — the second direct follow-up to the 2010 original — turns out to be something of a disappointment, falling short when compared to its predecessors.

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, appears in the  animated movie "Despicable Me 3." (CNS photo/Universal)

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, appears in the animated movie “Despicable Me 3.” (CNS photo/Universal)

There is good news about the film, though, because its weak central plot is offset not only by amusing side stories but by strong values as well.

This time out, Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the once slightly wicked villain who turned thoroughgoing good guy over the course of the first two films, is up against an unlikely opponent. Balthazar Bratt, an ex-child actor whose 1980s TV show, “Evil Bratt,” was abruptly canceled when his voice began cracking and he developed acne, is out to wreak delayed vengeance by destroying Hollywood.

As Gru battles to thwart this plan, he also discovers that he has a brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) that his unnamed mother (voice of Julie Andrews) never told him about. Predictably, the siblings quickly bond, though Dru tries to convince Gru to return to the dark side, citing their father’s career as a criminal as precedent for a family tradition.

Along with the newfound brothers’ mutual affection, clan closeness is also celebrated through scenes of Gru’s interaction with his supportive wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and their shared nurturing of their trio of adopted daughters, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

Jokes riffing on Reagan-era fads and fashions, shoulder pads and the like, generally fall flat. But Agnes’ determination to find and take in a live unicorn, and Gru’s reluctance to tell her the truth about her favorite creatures, are endearing. So too is her bedtime prayer on the subject.

Additionally, the pixilated minions (voiced by director Pierre Coffin) who once carried out Gru’s bidding, and who featured in their own 2015 film, are on hand to get things back on track.

The references to puberty involved in Bratt’s show biz downfall might provoke some uncomfortable questions from little kids. Beyond that, Gru winds up in an embarrassing state of undress at one point and there’s some bathroom and body-parts humor.

Since there’s also some danger portrayed along the way, parents of the smallest, most easily scared tykes may not find this a good cinematic choice. For everyone else, it makes acceptable if not outstanding summer entertainment.

The film contains characters in peril, brief partial nudity played for laughs, mild scatological and anatomical humor and a couple of vaguely crass slang terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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      Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’

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Catholic News Service

If you can say or even read the name of the planet Uranus without bursting into gales of giggles, then “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” may not be the film for you.

From a giant mechanized toilet running amok to an orchestra of whoopee cushions, this cheerfully silly kids’ cartoon displays an obsession with bodily functions that parents averse to potty humor will not appreciate.

Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. .(CNS/Fox)

Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. .(CNS/Fox)

On the upside, director David Soren’s comedy, adapted from a series of books by Dav Pilkey, is otherwise unobjectionable and briefly showcases some positive values and behavior.

Having long ago bonded over their shared appreciation of the astronomical pun referenced above, fourth-graders and best friends George Beard (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voice of Thomas Middleditch) have, over the years since, pulled off an extended spree of pranks at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. These have drawn the ire of that institution’s strict leader, Principal Krupp (voice of Ed Helms), who now plans to separate the pals by assigning them to different classes.

Fearing that their camaraderie will be broken up if Krupp follows through on this threat, the boys improvise a solution. They hypnotize Krupp, and use mind control to convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the superhero featured in some of the many comic books they have written and drawn together up in their beloved treehouse. (George is the writer; Harold is the artist.)

In this character’s lightly attired guise, his uniform consists of tighty whities and a red cape, Krupp battles Professor Poopypants (voice of Nick Kroll), a wild-haired mad scientist posing as a science teacher at Horwitz. Bitterly resenting the mockery and joking his name inevitably provokes, the professor has come up with a scheme to employ technology to stamp out laughter, especially among kids.

Amid the flying toilet paper and embarrassing sound effects, the happy idiocies of Nicholas Stoller’s script really veer off course only once. In a montage of practical jokes, the lads are shown to have disguised a men’s room at school as a restroom for women. As a result, a lady walks in on Principal Krupp while he’s standing at a urinal. It’s a sight gag that seems better suited to a (bad) teen comedy than one aimed at tykes.

A brief spell of seriousness toward the end of the movie finds the central duo figuring out that some grownups may be mean because they’re lonely. They then do their best to remedy an instance of this problem by bringing together two adults who have previously been too shy to act on their mutual attraction.

It’s a nice wrap-up. But viewers young or old will have to run a gauntlet of relentless, though mild, grossness to reach it.

The film contains pervasive childish scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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This trip is a long haul with a scatological wimpy kid

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Catholic News Service 

For better or worse, bathroom-themed gags have long been a staple of kids’ movies. But the family road comedy “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” carries this trend to excess.

Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.(CNS photo/Fox)

Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.(CNS photo/Fox)

Together with a noticeable lack of creative drive, writer-director David Bowers’ reliance on scatological humor blights his adaptation of the eponymous novel by Jeff Kinney, the fourth installment of a screen franchise that began in 2010.

As his family sets off on a cross-country journey to attend his great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, a trip his mother Susan (Alicia Silverstone) hopes will foster family unity, mild-mannered middle schooler Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) worries that being confined together in a car for hours on end will have the opposite effect on his often-quarreling clan.

He also rails against Mom’s ban on the use of electronics during the trip, a prohibition his overworked father, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), likewise finds it difficult to obey. Still, Greg has a plan to turn this unwelcome outing to his own advantage.

Recently shamed by an embarrassing video that went viral, Greg plots with his older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright), to retrieve his reputation by being taped in the company of online celebrity Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover). Digby is scheduled to appear at Player’s Expo, a gaming convention being held not too far off the Heffleys’ planned route.

The event that has made Greg notorious is typical of the excretion-focused humor that’s too often front and center as the film ambles along to little purpose. As the result of a misadventure too involved to recount in detail, Greg winds up with a dirty diaper stuck to one hand. His frantic and unsuccessful efforts to fling it away are captured by a host of cellphone cameras, and infamy awaits.

On the trip, though, Greg suffers other indignities of a similar nature. He winds up concealed behind a shower curtain while the person from whom he’s hiding relieves himself inches away. Later, on the road again and with no exit for miles, Greg is forced to use an empty bottle to answer nature’s call.

It doesn’t take the acumen of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that depending on such incidents for laughs is a symptom either of laziness or an impoverished imagination. Whatever their source, the prominence and frequency of these scenes prevents endorsement of this sometimes queasy sequel for viewers of all ages.

The film contains much distasteful potty humor and brief adult wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Slamma Jamma’ dunk funk

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

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Catholic News Service

The well-intentioned sports drama “Slamma Jamma” occasionally comes to tepid life on basketball courts. But a weak script, together with production values indicative of a low budget, keep it hobbled as a story of redemption and Christian faith.

This is a scene from the movie"Slamma Jamma." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

This is a scene from the movie”Slamma Jamma.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

Based very loosely on the life of slam-dunk champion Kenny Dobbs, it stars Chris Staples (a former Harlem Globetrotter in real life), as Michael Diggs, a onetime college basketball star potentially worth millions as a pro.

He’s unable to profit from his talent after an unscrupulous agent takes advantage of him. Coasting on his fame, he gets pulled into the violent armed robbery of a gun store, which earns him a six-year prison term.

Not very adroitly, the film shows Diggs embracing evangelical Christianity behind bars, and, upon release, slowly rebuilding his life by energetically making new contacts while working a series of menial jobs. Since he starts out humble, there’s no big transformative moment and so little in the way of dramatic tension that “Slamma Jamma” becomes almost unwatchable.

Away from the hoops, writer-director Tim Chey, no dab hand at dialogue, comes up with little other than clichéd, if supportive, remarks from Diggs’ ailing mother, Gemma (Rosemary Smith-Coleman), and from a neighborhood minister, Pastor John Soul (Ray Walia).

Diggs eventually gets his life back on track by winning slam-dunk competitions, halftime events, typically, with prizes in the many thousands of dollars. The faith elements are limned only sparingly, making this movie a tough slog even for those inclined to look favorably on religious fare.

The film contains a scene of gun violence and some trash-talking. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Weekend flick? ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ an animated treat

February 10th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

In 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff “The Lego Batman Movie,” Arnett’s character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage. Read more »

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Pet-lovers will revel in charming ‘A Dog’s Purpose’

January 26th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

While cats are said to be blessed with nine lives, the clever canine at the center of “A Dog’s Purpose,” voiced by Josh Gad, guides us through his adventures over four eventful lifetimes. Repeatedly reincarnated, he (and, for one stint, she) returns in the guise of various breeds and encounters a range of human caregivers.

Dennis Quaid stars in a scene with a dog named "Buddy" in the movie "A Dog's Purpose." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. .(CNS photo/Universal)

Dennis Quaid stars in a scene with a dog named “Buddy” in the movie “A Dog’s Purpose.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. .(CNS photo/Universal)

Although the concept of recurring earthly existences is kept strictly confined to the world of animals, the New Age-style philosophizing the four-legged protagonist engages in along the way may strike some viewers as a bore. That’s offset, though, by his droll, dog’s-eye view of the world.

During the first of his visits to the planet, as a golden retriever, he’s rescued from a dangerous situation and adopted by 8-year-old Ethan Montgomery (Bryce Gheisar). Ethan’s sympathetic, but unnamed, mom (Juliet Rylance) welcomes this addition to the household, and helps convince his reluctant (and equally nameless) dad, played by Luke Kirby, to accept the pooch, whom Ethan dubs Bailey.

Bailey becomes Ethan’s inseparable companion as the lad grows into a high school football star (KJ Apa) and finds true love with Hannah (Britt Robertson), a girl he meets at a fair. Ethan’s bright prospects are further burnished by winning a college athletic scholarship. But his father’s worsening alcoholism casts a pall over his life and eventually threatens his future.

While his bond with Ethan proves the most enduring of his relationships with humans, during other intervals Bailey first serves as a police dog called Ellie and later becomes a Corgi named Tino. Ellie does her best to comfort her lonely trainer, widowed Chicago police officer Carlos (John Ortiz), and Tino helps to liven up the stagnant social life of his companion, pining single gal Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Pet lovers will revel in director Lasse Hallstrom’s slight but charming screen version of W. Bruce Cameron’s best-selling 2010 novel. Parents will be pleased to find the movie free of any genuinely objectionable elements.

Grown guardians also will want to note that some sequences are too potentially frightening for the smallest pups.

Those inclined to be cynical may balk at bucolic scenes vaguely reminiscent of a TV ad for hay fever medicine. Still, a good-hearted romantic wrap-up matching characters played by Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton succeeds in keeping things cuddly for all but the most jaundiced.

The film contains mature themes, including alcohol addiction, possible cohabitation, some stylized violence with brief gore, scenes of peril and light scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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