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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

Project Almanac
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Teens should avoid taking on Project Almanac (Paramount).

Though obviously aimed at adolescents, this sci-fi fantasy showcases behaviour and dialogue that responsible parents would not want their youngsters either to absorb or imitate.

The well-worn theme of time travel gets trotted out once again as MIT-bound high school senior — and science prodigy — David (Jonny Weston) stumbles across the top-secret mechanism his deceased father was developing for the government at the time of his death in a car accident a decade back.

Together with Jesse (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the girl of his dreams, his sister Christina (Virginia Gardiner) and his two best pals, Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), David overcomes a series of obstacles to get the device in working order.

As long as David and company stick to short-term chronology-hopping and relatively small-scale wish fulfilment, their magical gadget seems like a windfall. But pushing the boundaries reveals the disastrously negative impact their reality-altering visits to the past can have on the present.

Director Dean Israelite’s uneven film works well enough while its generic ensemble of characters is puzzling over the nuts and bolts of Dad’s mysterious apparatus. Once they master its secrets, though, the complications become increasingly confusing, and the plotting ever choppier, while the movie’s tone shrills to an annoying crescendo.

The result for viewers might be described as the temporal equivalent of seasickness.

Among the contingencies explored in writers Andrew Deutschmann and Jason Pagan’s screenplay is a possible physical relationship between two characters that would not only predate any thought of marriage but also might anticipate either or both of the participants’ legal majority.

Along the same lines, the whole gang celebrates the success of one of their excursions by merrily downing a round of beers. Yet age 21 is clearly a long way off for any of them.

Throw in the fact that each shock or surprise the youthful pioneers encounter seems to be met with a familiar but unwelcome exclamation that likewise begins with an “s,” and it becomes apparent that this “Almanac” is not a suitable resource for the young.

The film contains a non-marital and possibly underage sexual situation with a scene of sensual intimacy, teen drinking, some sexual humour, a few uses of profanity, at least one instance of the F-word as well as pervasive crude and occasional 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Black or White
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Large-scale issues of race and addiction are examined in microcosm in writer-director Mike Binder’s fact-based drama Black or White (Relativity).

Though its avoidance of stereotypes and easy answers is admirable, the film provides only modest entertainment for those grownup viewers able to appreciate its moral shadings.

After a car accident suddenly leaves him a widower, prosperous white lawyer Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) struggles to continue raising his half-African-American granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell). Buttoned-up Elliott finds it difficult to compensate for the absence of his nurturing wife, with whom he had raised Eloise since the girl’s mother, their daughter, died in childbirth.

Additionally, Elliott’s newly developed reliance on alcohol, which he uses to excess to assuage his grief, raises fundamental questions about his fitness as a solo guardian.

In response, Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer), sues for custody. A successful entrepreneur in South Central Los Angeles, Rowena is also motivated by her concern that Eloise’s life in one of the city’s upscale suburbs has isolated the child from her black heritage.

Since Elliott blames Eloise’s dad, Reggie (Andre Holland), a narcotics-dependent ne’er-do-well, for seducing his underage daughter and contributing to her needless demise, family antagonisms fuel the legal conflict.

So too do racial tensions: another of Rowena’s children, hotshot attorney Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), to whom his mom naturally entrusts her case, is determined to portray Elliott as a racist. Elliott’s colleagues, led by his protege, Rick Reynolds (Bill Burr), are equally resolved to play up Reggie’s criminal record. They also deplore the appointment of black Judge Cummins (Paula Newsome) to try the matter.

With personal strengths and weaknesses equally balanced among the characters on both sides, moviegoers’ sympathies are sufficiently divided to keep the proceedings interesting. And some valuable questions are implicitly raised along the way. Why, for instance, should Elliott’s abusive use of booze be legally sanctioned — in his favour, he does habitually avoid driving while drunk — whereas Reggie’s crack smoking inevitably lands him in prison?

Yet, though Black or White makes for an intelligent interlude, it fails to register a lasting impact. Perhaps that’s because its generally appealing characters are primarily deployed not as engaging individuals but as stand-ins for recognizable social groups and tendencies.

The film contains brief bloodless violence, a drug theme, mature references, several uses of profanity, at least one rough term and frequent crude and 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops