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‘Suburbicon’ home of middle-class depravity

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Catholic News Service

Corruption lurking under the placid surface of life in the suburbs is hardly a new theme.

But the image of universal middle-class depravity presented in the failed black comedy “Suburbicon” is so lurid as to render the movie fundamentally unbelievable. While the filmmakers’ artistic intent is clear, moreover, this nihilistic outlook may make the picture offensive to many viewers of faith.

Alex Hassell, Glenn Fleshler and Jack Conley star in a scene from the movie “Suburbicon.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Paramount Pictures)

Set in the Levittown-like housing development of the title during the early 1950s, the grotesque story is partially told from the point of view of preteen Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe). Placing a child at the center of such a tale proves the first of many questionable artistic and ethical choices involved in this project.

Early on, Nicky is awakened in the middle of the night by his father, Gardner (Matt Damon), and discovers that his family — including his wheelchair-bound mom, Rose (Julianne Moore), and Rose­’s twin sister, Margaret (also Moore) — are the victims of a home invasion.

The duo of brutish intruders (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) who, for reasons unknown, have taken the clan captive then proceed to tie them up and administer chloroform to each deliberately, and fatally, overdosing Rose.

In the wake of this unexplained tragedy, Gardner invites Margaret to move in with him and Nicky, ostensibly to provide Nicky with a female presence in his life. As soon becomes apparent, however, Gardner’s real motives in setting up this arrangement are far less respectable.

Nicky remains confused by what he discovers about Dad and Margaret’s behavior, including his interruption of them in the middle of perverse sex. But their actions strike the police officer (Jack Conley) and insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) assigned to the case as unmistakably suspicious.

Awkwardly intertwined with the main plot is a cautionary tale about intolerance that sees the community’s first black couple, the Meyers (Karimah Westbrook and Leith M. Burke), and their young son, Andy (Tony Espinosa), besieged by angry white mobs intent on driving them out of the neighborhood.

Along with Nicky’s Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba), steadfast, dignified Mrs. Meyers is the only significant adult character who seems to possess any moral values whatsoever.

Director George Clooney, who co-wrote the script with brothers Joel and Ethan Coen and Grant Heslov, paints a perversely dark picture of human nature from which, in the case of Gardner at least, even the most basic positive instincts are absent. His film also displays an elitist disdain for the lives of ordinary people.

In these respects, “Suburbicon” can be contrasted with the Coens’ equally ebony-hued but softer-edged 1996 sendup “Fargo.” While both movies concern bumbling and easily unraveled criminality, the protagonist of the earlier film was more desperate than evil. And his downfall was brought about by an easy-to-laugh-at, yet in many ways admirable adversary.

As bleak as wintry “Fargo” may have been, the spiritual landscape of “Suburbicon” is an unrelieved, and therefore unrealistic, stretch of utter desolation, with two innocent children dangerously lost in its midst.

The film contains a skewed outlook, occasionally shocking violence with considerable gore, some gruesome images, brief aberrant sexual behavior, profanity as well as several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

     

 

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‘Happy Death Day’ is a ‘Groundhog Day’ as murder mystery

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Catholic News Service

With a name like “Happy Death Day,” a sweet, wholesome story is unlikely to unfold.

You can say that again. 

Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard star in a scene from the movie “Happy Death Day.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Universal)

Rather, “Happy Death Day,” directed by Christopher Landon (“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”) is an uneasy mix of horror and humor, a slasher movie with a message of self-improvement that doesn’t go far enough.

Jessica Rothe plays college student Tree, yes, that’s her real name, who awakens on the morning of her birthday, hung over, in the dorm room of fellow student Carter (Israel Broussard), after an apparent one-night stand.

Disgusted, she storms out and starts her daily routine, which essentially means being obnoxious to all and sundry, including her sorority president Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and put-upon roommate Lori (Ruby Modine).

There’s little time for study, of course, since she’s having an affair with Gregory (Charles Aitken), her married professor. Tree also ignores repeated phone calls from her father, David (Jason Bayle), who is anxious to see her on her birthday.

Ah, but this is no ordinary birthday, for at the end of the day, Tree is stabbed to death by an assailant wearing a baby-faced mask.

Taking a page from 1993’s time-loop fantasy “Groundhog Day,” Tree awakens in Carter’s room with a major case of deja vu, as her birthday, make that “death” day, repeats itself. She will continue to relive the same day, with minor variations, always ending with her murder. 

During one loop, Carter (who, it is revealed, was a perfect gentleman), accepts Tree’s story and encourages her to play detective to uncover the killer’s identity.

Much like Bill Murray’s obnoxious weatherman in “Groundhog Day,” Tree comes to see the error of her selfish ways, and each time loop offers the chance for redemption. She takes Carter’s advice to heart: “It’s never too late to change. Each new day is a chance to be someone better.”

That’s an encouraging message, and Tree’s growth is extraordinary. But Scott Lobdell’s script only goes so far. College-age viewers (and younger) may conclude that anything which makes you happy, even aberrant behavior, is a good thing. It’s not.

The film contains moments of violence and terror, sexual banter, brief rear female nudity, a benign view of drug use, pornography, homosexual acts and masturbation, and some rough and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Flatliners’ turns near-death events into tepid horror

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Catholic News Service

Far from heavenly, but not exactly hellish either, the tepid afterlife-focused thriller “Flatliners” is more like a visit to limbo.

Comparisons to a spell spent sitting in your doctor’s waiting room might be equally apt, since this sequel of sorts to the eponymous 1990 film once again involves a group of medical students.

James Norton (left), Ellen Page and Diego Luna star in a scene from the movie “Flatliners.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS photo/Sony)

A link to the original is provided by the presence of one of its stars, Kiefer Sutherland, aka Nelson Wright, now all grown up and teaching med school with an entirely new name, Dr. Barry Wolfson. Those under his tutelage include hard-driving, slightly troubled Courtney (Ellen Page) whose memories of a tragic car accident are shared with the audience by way of vague flashbacks.

Courtney has an interest in near-death experiences. To study the physiology of that situation, she persuades two of her peers, Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), to stop her heart, then quickly revive her. While she’s deceased, they’ll scan her brain for any lingering activity.

Unsurprisingly, complications arise. These require the hurried intervention of Ray (Diego Luna), the wisest member of Courtney’s circle of friends who, probably for that reason, was not in on the scheme originally. When Courtney does eventually return to the land of the living, she comes back equipped with enhanced skills, impressing even the easily dissatisfied Dr. Wolfson.

As a result, and despite Ray’s disapproval, others decide to give mortality a spin, including Jamie, Sophia and yet another of Courtney’s pals, Marlo (Nina Dobrev). But day-tripping to the great beyond turns out to have a serious downside which even Ray has not foreseen: The revivified soon begin to have eerie hallucinations, all in some way connected to dark secrets from the past.

Director Niels Arden Oplev’s horror-tinged drama has a basically sound moral outlook as far as forgiveness and honesty about past misdeeds are concerned. And at least one plot development can be read as somewhat pro-life.

A couple of liaisons among the future physicians, on the other hand, are not at all what the doctor ordered. That’s especially true of the affection-free encounter with Jamie by which Sophia signals her rebellion against the constraints of her controlling mother (Wendy Raquel Robinson). Lest either Mom or the audience miss the point, the unloving couple makes quite a racket.

While the ensemble’s experiments hardly constitute suicide, they are obviously irresponsible in the extreme, violating the moral obligation under the Fifth Commandment to nurture and preserve good health. The whole premise is so far removed from real life, however, that assessing its ethical standing seems irrelevant. It’s doubtful any viewers will want to try this at home.

The film contains fleeting gory violence, semi-graphic casual sex, partial nudity, mature themes including abortion, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and at least one rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘American Made’ feels too turbulent and bumpy

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Catholic News Service

“American Made,” the wild, fact-based story of airline pilot-turned-gun-runner Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), is far too turbulent for youngsters and even too bumpy for most of their elders.

Tom Cruise and and Alejandro Edda star in a scene from the movie “American Made.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture . (CNS photo/Universal)

That’s a shame because, given a different treatment, this unlikely tale of a man playing several sides against the middle might have made an entertaining slice of recent history for a much wider audience.

Bored with his career ferrying passengers around the country for TWA, Barry reacts enthusiastically when approached by CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) with the offer of a covert mission. It’s the early 1980s and the opening stages of the Reagan administration, and Schafer wants Barry to transport arms to the U.S.-backed contra forces fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

This turns out to be exciting, dangerous but straightforward work. Yet Barry is soon diverted from it by the chance to smuggle cocaine for the leaders of the nascent Medellin drug cartel, Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia).

Discovering, more or less simultaneously, that the contras would rather get rich than fight, Barry develops an elaborate scheme to supply the weapons to the gangsters and the narcotics to the guerrillas, all the while pretending to carry on with his original assignment from Schafer.

The immense wealth Barry amasses as a result delights his loyal wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen). But it also arouses the suspicions of Craig McCall (E. Roger Mitchell), the local FBI agent in the area of Arkansas to which Schafer has relocated the Louisiana-bred Seals, as well as those of their new home town’s Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons).

Director Doug Liman and writer Gary Spinelli revel in the improbability of their tale and the law-flouting skills of their protagonist. But, after further complications set in, they try to have it both ways where the white powder is concerned, condemning government hypocrisy while letting Barry himself off the hook.

Add to this ambivalence their explicit portrayal of the passionate nature of the central pair’s bond and the constant vulgarity that marks the script, and the result is a free-for-all that makes apt fun for few.

The film contains strong sexual content, including graphic scenes of marital lovemaking, a glimpse of full nudity and implied aberrant behavior, some stylized combat and other violence, a drug theme, several uses of profanity as well as rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘American Assassin,’ Rhode Island, specifically

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Catholic News Service

The award for the most obvious film title of the year goes to “American Assassin,” an action thriller about, you guessed it, a professional killer from the United States, specifically Rhode Island.

Shiva Negar, Michael Keaton, Neg Adamson and Dylan O’Brien star in a scene from the movie “American Assassin.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/CBS Films and Lionsgate)

This adaptation of the 2010 novel by Vince Flynn opens with a bang and proceeds at a breakneck pace, leaving in its wake a veritable tsunami of bullets, blood and bodies.

It’s a gory revenge fantasy reminiscent of the “Death Wish” films, requiring a strong stomach and extreme patience. But the movie does finally come to its senses, and good triumphs over evil.

The story opens on a happy note before spiraling downhill. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has just proposed to his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega), on a crowded beach in Ibiza. As he strolls off to get celebratory cocktails, gunmen burst onto the sand and open fire, killing just about everyone in sight, including Katrina.

Flash forward two years, and Mitch has transformed himself into a lean, mean, fighting machine, a baby-faced version of Jason Bourne. He is driven by one desire: to avenge Katrina’s death by killing the terrorists responsible. This means learning Arabic, studying the Quran and joining shadowy chat rooms on the internet.

Unbeknown to Mitch, the CIA is watching his every move, and deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) is impressed.

“I like your agenda,” she says. “I know exactly what to do with you.”

And so Mitch is recruited for a new black-ops program to infiltrate Iranian terrorists seeking to unleash nuclear war in the Middle East.

First he must be trained, and that responsibility falls to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a grizzled Cold War veteran. To his credit, Stan tries to temper Mitch’s rage, and the hothead’s belief that “we kill people who need to be killed.”

“We need a higher cause,” Stan counters, discouraging Mitch’s vigilantism. “As soon as it starts feeling good, that’s when you stop being a professional.”

As the Iranian plot unfolds, Batman and Robin, make that Stan and Mitch, join forces with Annika (Shiva Negar), a comely Turkish agent who has her own scores to settle.

Director Michael Cuesta, channeling a Robert Ludlum thriller, keeps the audience guessing and the body count rising as the trio zips across Europe in search of a mysterious ringleader named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who just happens to be an old buddy of Stan’s.

The film contains a vigilante theme, constant bloody violence, including torture and gunplay, brief upper female nudity, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Evil clown terrorizes children in ‘It’

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Catholic News Service

Moviegoers looking for nothing more than to be unsettled will likely be satisfied with the horror adaptation “It.” However, while director Andy Muschiett’s generally effective screen version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel promotes friendship and fear-conquering solidarity, it also includes some grisly sights that, taken together with other elements, make it suitable for few.

Bill Skarsgard stars in a scene from the movie “It.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Set in a small Maine town in the late 1980s, the novel took place in the 1950s, the film finds an ensemble of middle-school kids being preyed on by a demonic clown called Pennywise (twitchy Bill Skarsgard) and by other manifestations of evil.

The youngsters, led by stutterer Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl with a dark domestic secret, are bound together by their status as outsiders. Thus they christen themselves the Losers’ Club. Other members include overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), bespectacled Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and undersized hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

For Bill, the struggle against Pennywise has a special urgency since he suspects that the malevolent jester was behind the disappearance of his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). The early scene in which Pennywise deploys rows of fangs to bite Georgie’s arm off marks a notable departure from the movie’s generally restrained approach to mayhem.

Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman emphasize the camaraderie uniting the youthful crusaders as they battle their occult opponents. By unwelcome contrast, though, the script ranges virtually all adults on the side of darkness; Beverly’s unnamed father (Stephen Bogaert) is particularly villainous.

Matching Georgie’s dismemberment is a sequence in which Muschietti does to Beverly’s bathroom what Stanley Kubrick did to the elevators of the Overlook Hotel in another Stephen King property, 1980’s “The Shinning,” flooding the place in gallons of gore. Though such moments are rare, they are sufficiently excessive to deter even a large swath of grownups.

Additionally, there’s a nasty undertone to some of the dialogue since the lads of the Losers’ Club revel in exchanging sexual insults, including jibes aimed at one another’s female relatives. An underwear-clad dip in the local quarry also affords the boys a chance to ogle the contents of Beverly’s bra. Though their fascination is played for laughs, it registers as something more than innocent curiosity.

The film contains mature themes, including implied incestuous child sexual abuse, occasional bloody violence and disturbing images, intermittent sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, pervasive rough and frequent crude language and obscene gestures. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Tulip Fever’ treads clumsily through love and lust

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Catholic News Service

Horticulture was never as steamy or silly as in “Tulip Fever,” a period drama based on the 1999 novel by Deborah Moggach.

Cara Delevingne stars in a scene from the movie “Tulip Fever.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. . (CNS photo/The Weinstein Company)

Despite a handsome cast, lavish sets and a script by no less than Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”), the film never transcends above a bodice-ripping soap opera, venturing dangerously close to soft-porn territory.

In 17th-century Amsterdam, an orphan named Sophia (Alicia Vikander) lives in a convent run by a crusty old abbess (Judi Dench). The abbess is approached by Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy merchant who seeks a young wife to provide him with a son and heir.

“Love, honor and obey,” the abbess tells Sophia as she heads to the altar.

“The Sound of Music” this is not. Years pass, and despite multiple attempts at conception (all depicted in living color), the union is childless and Sophia is miserable.

But Cornelis is patient, and as a distraction enlists a struggling young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of the supposedly happy couple.

Bad idea. Jan is enchanted by Sophia, who returns his affection, and soon they embark on a torrid affair, unbeknownst to Cornelis.

Meanwhile, below stairs in the Sandvoort household, the saucy maid, Maria (Holliday Grainger), is also in love, make that lust, with the hunky fishmonger, William (Jack O’Connell).

All this randy behavior is set against the frenzied tulip market, think Wall Street, but with flowers, where fortunes are won and lost based on the viability of a single bulb. By chance, William acquires a rare one which may be his ticket out of the fish market. Jan also sees a way to buy his happily-ever-after with Sophia.

If it all sounds confusing and somewhat preposterous, it is, as director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl” juggles multiple story lines including a faked pregnancy. Mercifully, some consciences do prevail in the end and there is welcome redemption.

As the wise abbess, chewing on her clay pipe, growls, “Never underestimate God. He forgets nothing.”

The film contains frequent premarital, marital and adulterous sex scenes, full nudity, and unflattering references to religion. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Good Time’ — The title is ironic

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Catholic News Service

Gritty and intense, the ironically titled crime drama “Good Time” actually charts some very grim hours in the lives of its central characters.

Robert Pattinson stars in a scene from the movie “Good Time.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/A24)

In doing so, the film conducts viewers on a journey through a bleak urban landscape many entertainment-oriented moviegoers may not care to visit.

Robert Pattinson of “Twilight” fame plays petty criminal Connie Nikas. After their attempt to rob a bank goes awry, Connie and his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) make a run for it. Though Connie evades capture, Nick ends up in custody.

Desperate to free his vulnerable sibling, Connie embarks on a nocturnal odyssey through the underworld of New York City. He first tries to get his emotionally unstable girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to loan him bail money.

Later he takes refuge in the home of Haitian immigrant Annie (Gladys Mathon) and her teenage granddaughter Crystal (Taliah Webster) before joining forces with recent parolee Ray (Buddy Duress) in a scheme to make a quick windfall by selling a cache of liquid LSD.

Co-directed by Safdie and his brother Josh (who co-wrote the script with Ronald Bronstein), “Good Time” presents a subtly shaded portrait of its protagonist, aided by an outstanding performance from Pattinson. At once a vicious thug and a relentlessly committed defender of the one person in the world he really cares about, Connie appeals even as he repels.

The picture’s seamy milieu, however, suggests caution even on the part of grownups. This is a slice of life in which the disadvantaged scramble to survive, pursue gratification from narcotics and debased sexuality and, with the notable exception of Connie’s unflagging concern for Nick, seem to aim at nothing higher than cheap thrills.

The film contains much nonlethal violence, including bloody beatings, brief graphic casual sex and an underage bedroom encounter, drug use, several instances of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Annabelle: Creation’ — ‘Whatever you do, don’t unlock that door’

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Catholic News Service

Most of the mayhem wreaked by the figurine-haunting demon at the center of the horror prequel “Annabelle: Creation” is restrained. Yet, as the film progresses, director David F. Sandberg and his collaborators allow their imagery to become briefly but disturbingly graphic.

Stephanie Sigman stars in a scene from the movie "Annabelle: Creation." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Stephanie Sigman stars in a scene from the movie “Annabelle: Creation.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Accordingly, only those grown moviegoers willing to brave flashes of intense gore should say hello to this particular dolly.

This also is not a good fit for those insistent on strict logic or those who expect the characters on screen to behave rationally. As for Catholic viewers, they will likely be both annoyed and distracted by the wildly inaccurate, albeit incidental, portrayal of their faith incorporated into the proceedings.

In 1950s California, a group of female orphans shepherded by kindly nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) have somehow, by circumstances not specified in the script, been displaced from their former dwelling. They’ve been offered refuge, of a sort, at the rambling, spooky home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his invalid wife, Esther (Miranda Otto).

The Mullins are still overcome by grief following the death of their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), in a tragic car accident a dozen years before. So their hospitality is extended in an effort to brighten the tone of their funereal household. The outcome, of course, is quite the opposite.

No sooner has polio-afflicted Janice (Talitha Bateman) been warned by her brooding host to steer clear of Bee’s locked bedroom than she somehow finds herself inside that chamber, mucking about and stirring up trouble.

Discovering a hidden key to the closet in which the toy of the title has until now been confined, Janice unleashes her, much in the manner of Pandora opening her ill-fated box. Cue a reign of terror for nosy Janice, her BFF, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest.

No matter how hair-raising the terrors to which Annabelle and her guiding fiend subject them, they always move toward danger, never away from it. Even allowing for youthful curiosity, this stubborn refusal to learn from experience becomes a tiresome trait.

Even more taxing, however, is a scene in which Sister Charlotte hears Janice’s confession of her disastrous trespass, not in the context of a confidential conversation but in what is clearly meant to be a formal sacramental encounter. Thus Janice kicks things off by requesting, “Bless me, Sister, for I have sinned,” and Sister Charlotte wraps things up by imposing a penance, though no absolution intervenes.

The fact that only bishops and priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation is hardly a bit of inside-baseball religious arcana. The mistake is all the more glaring in a movie that clearly wants to position itself, in some vague way at least, as faith-friendly. Equally out of place in that proposed context is the counter-scriptural concept that infernal beings can somehow steal human souls.

There are some old-fashioned shivers awaiting the restricted audience for which this follow-up to the 2014 original can be labeled appropriate. But lapses in reason, believability and even the most rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism may inspire more frowns than frissons.

The film contains a distorted presentation of Catholic faith practices, stylized but briefly bloody violence, gruesome images and at last one mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Detroit’ visits harrowing moment in U.S. history

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Catholic News Service

A dark chapter of the Motor City’s history is revisited in “Detroit,” a searing period drama.

John Boyega stars in a scene from the movie "Detroit." The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS photo/Annapurna Pictures)

John Boyega stars in a scene from the movie “Detroit.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. .(CNS photo/Annapurna Pictures)

The setting is the summer of 1967, when race riots broke out in several cities across the country. In Detroit, simmering discontent over systemic discrimination and growing unemployment erupted in African-American neighborhoods. As protesters clashed with police, businesses were set afire and looting was widespread.

The crisis, which lasted four days, resulted in 43 dead, over 7,200 arrests, and the destruction of more than 2,000 buildings. “Detroit” zeroes in on one notorious incident of the so-called “12th Street Riot”: the police raid of the Algiers Motel that caused the death of three unarmed men and the brutal beating of several others.

As violence engulfed the city, the hotel became a refuge of sorts, harboring both innocent patrons and shady characters. Among the former are Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), members of an up-and-coming musical group, The Dramatics. Separated from their friends, they seek shelter at the Algiers.

At the hotel pool they meet two giggly prostitutes, Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and Julie (Hannah Murray), white women from Ohio who are making the most of the “Summer of Love.”

Upstairs, 17-year-old Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) decides to show off by shooting blanks from a toy pistol. Turning his attention to the growing police presence outside, he next fires the gun into the crowd.

Suspecting a sniper, the police respond in droves, and a reign of terror descends on the Algiers and its residents, including Greene (Anthony Mackie), a decorated Vietnam vet.

The raid is led by a trigger-happy cop, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), who has a reputation for shooting looters in the back. Krauss rounds up everyone and, with the assistance of fellow officer Flynn (Ben O’Toole), unleashes a ruthless, demeaning interrogation.

A witness to the unfolding horror is Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), a black security guard charged with protecting a nearby grocery store from looters. Dismukes suspects wrongdoing, and inserts himself into the maelstrom at a key moment.

Needless to say, “Detroit” is not for the squeamish. Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), working from a script by Mark Boal, directs at a furious, gut-wrenching pace, placing the viewer in the very center of the fast-moving storm and incorporating real-life news footage to enhance the immediacy.

However, though graphic, the portrayal of police brutality is never gratuitous. Coupled with the subsequent miscarriage of justice, the harrowing events re-enacted in “Detroit” offer a powerful reminder to mature viewers of a sad but significant incident in America’s past.

The film contains intense bloody violence and torture, brief female nudity and pervasive profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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