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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

01/28/2015

Mortdecai
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The action comedy Mortdecai (Lionsgate) tries to evoke the genius of British novelist P.G. Wodehouse while also conjuring up the sort of movies parodied by the Austin Powers series.

But in place of the effervescent satiric champagne the film clearly attempts to supply, viewers get a gulp of flat ginger ale instead.

Director David Koepp’s tone-deaf screen version of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel Don’t Point That Thing at Me centres on eccentric — and somewhat shady — English art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp). While modelled, to some degree at least, on Wodehouse’s immortal upper-class dimwit Bertie Wooster, Mortdecai comes across as an annoyingly mannered ninny whose grating company grows less tolerable with every passing minute.

At the behest of highly placed government spy Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) — with whom he shares a long-standing friendship more than a little tinged with rivalry — Mortdecai gets drawn into a murder investigation that eventually has him tracking a lost masterpiece by Spanish painter Francisco Goya.

Since the hunt also finds Mortdecai fending off such threatening villains as international terrorist Emil (Jonny Pasvolsky) and Russian mobster Romanov (Ulrich Thomsen), it’s just as well that the easily flustered aristocrat can count on the back-up of his burly and resourceful bodyguard, Jock (Paul Bettany). He’s also aided by his devoted but not uncritical wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow).

In a running joke characteristic of the movie’s feeble humour, Johanna spends much of the picture alienated from her spouse due to her intense dislike of his newly acquired moustache. Wodehouse could — and, if memory serves, did — make facial hair a source of amusing dispute between Wooster and his perennially correct manservant, Reginald Jeeves. In screenwriter Eric Aronson’s hands, by contrast, such inflated trivialities quickly wither.

To Aronson’s credit, Mordecai and Johanna’s successful union — which seems strongly rooted enough to withstand not only the lip-foliage flap, but Alistair’s relentless flirtations as well — is front and centre in his script.

The film contains considerable bloodless violence, a brief premarital bedroom scene, frequent sexual and some scatological humour, including a vulgar anatomical sight gag, at least one use of profanity and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



Strange Magic
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The course of true love never did run smooth, as Shakespeare observed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But its progress has never been more confusing than in Strange Magic (Disney), an animated riff on the Bard’s classic comedy to which an overlay of the Leafmen and bugs from the 2013 feature Epic has been added.

The resulting muddle is made even more untidy when the characters break into pop tunes from across the decades, outbursts that do nothing either to reveal inner emotions or advance the plot.

The story is by George Lucas, who has had considerably more success with space aliens than earthbound romances. As for director and co-writer Gary Rydstrom, together with his script collaborators David Berenbaum and Irene Mecchi, he gets completely lost in this not-so-enchanted forest.

Their fantasy landscape includes two realms: the Fairy Kingdom (most have butterfly wings here) and the gnome-heavy Dark Forest. Princess Marianne (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) of the former dominion wants to marry her vain and hunky suitor, Roland (voice of Sam Palladio), until she sees him kissing another gal. This unsettling sight turns her, for a time, into a surly warrior. But Roland wants her back.

So Roland persuades an elf named Sunny (voiced by Elijah Kelley) — who’s smitten with Marianne’s flirtatious sister, Dawn (voice of Meredith Anne Bull) — to go into the Dark Forest, ruled over by the Bog King (voice of Alan Cumming), and obtain a dose of love potion from the Sugar Plum Fairy (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth).

The embittered Bog King wants to prevent anyone falling in love, so he’s imprisoned the Sugar Plum Fairy and has his minions stripping the land of primrose petals, the key ingredient in her amorous brew.

There’s nothing like a few shots of elixir to smooth over plot deficiencies. But Rydstrom insists that everyone get the chance for impassioned American Idol-type solos. Though some impressive dance numbers are tossed in as well, seldom have so many visually pleasing images been yoked to such a leaden presentation.

The film contains some intense action sequences. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


The Boy Next Door
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — As a vehicle for its star, Jennifer Lopez, The Boy Next Door (Universal) is basically a garbage truck.

Although it succeeds in parading her flesh — and that of her male counterpart, Step Up-series veteran Ryan Guzman — director Rob Cohen’s trashy thriller is eye-rollingly inept on every other score.

Lopez plays high school English teacher Claire Peterson. While separated from her unfaithful husband Garrett (John Corbett), Claire finds her lonely world steamed up by the arrival of a new neighbour, hunky teen Noah Sandborn (Guzman).

Showing Claire no mercy from the start, Noah not only works on her car engine wearing a James Dean-style T-shirt, he also changes with the curtains open. Well, after all, just how much can a strait-laced but mildly voyeuristic gal be expected to stand?

So — after a pause only long enough to allow Noah to mention the reassuring fact that he’s 19 and therefore of age — it’s off to bed with both of them.

Gosh darn the luck, though, Noah turns out to be an obsessive maniac who can’t tell the difference between an middle-aged educator’s summertime indiscretion and true love. Sound like a gender-switching variation on the premise of the 1987 hit Fatal Attraction? It is.

Unfortunately for Claire, her ill-chosen paramour has managed to befriend her bullied son, Kevin (Ian Nelson), thus putting the whole family in danger. And, to make things worse, despite being so well-stricken in years, Noah is also on track to join Claire’s class as a transfer student once school starts up again, thereby putting her career in jeopardy as well.

As irresolute Claire dithers, merry prankster Noah gets right to the point, bedecking her classroom with an endless series of photos showing the two of them in flagrante. The sight of Claire’s frantic efforts to clear away this incriminating evidence while her increasingly impatient charges wait outside is as laughable as many other moments in the pulpy proceedings.

The film contains some harsh violence with brief but extreme gore, strong sexual content, including graphic adultery and other immoral acts, a couple of profanities and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Still Alice
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The real depredations of Alzheimer’s disease and its toll on the families of the afflicted are not on display in the flawed drama Still Alice (Sony Classics).

Iris, the 2001 film that starred Judi Dench as British novelist Iris Murdoch, was particularly frank about the effects of the illness, both mental and physical. It also highlighted the special tragedy when someone who has built a career as a communicator falls prey to the affliction.

Still Alice — which stars Julianne Moore as Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howland — should, by contrast, carry the label “Sanitized for your protection.” Everyone involved is highly attractive, articulate, compassionate and virtually devoid of any flaws that would mark them as human.

What’s left is a sensitive and appealing performance by Moore as Alice’s mind fades from early onset Alzheimer’s; her character has just turned 50. As for the rest of the story, adapted by directors and co-writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel, it has plot holes large enough to accommodate a Mack truck.

Quite sensibly, for instance, Alice’s three children undergo genetic testing. Daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) tests positive. That turn in the drama leads — nowhere.

Another daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), seems to be making bad choices both in her romantic life and as a budding stage actress. What happens next? We’re not told.

Husband John (Alec Baldwin) bears every crisis with a preternatural calm, even when he’s planning to pull up stakes from New York and move to a job at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Surely he must have strong emotions about his wife’s illness. But, if so, they’re never shown.

Having always been defined by her intellect and adept use of language, Alice is sometimes reduced to making speeches about her frustration. “Sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them, and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.”

She learns to get by using her cellphone as a reminder of tasks, and the online game Words With Friends to shore up her vocabulary.

Alice has also made a video giving her future self instructions on how to take her own life. Her eventual attempt to do so goes awry. Yet any moral or even dramatic ramifications from this line of conduct are ignored in the movie’s final — and perhaps most glaring — default.

The film contains mature themes, including suicide, a few references to body functions and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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