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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

04/15/2015
Danny Collins
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — A flat, vaguely fact-based blend of comedy and drama, Danny Collins (Bleecker Street) has nothing new to say about the corrosive effects of fame and vast wealth.

As for the saccharine dialogue through which writer-director Dan Fogelman tries to convey his film’s tired message, it’s likely to set viewers’ teeth on edge.

Aging rock stars have it tough, it appears. Take, for example, Danny (Al Pacino), a Neil Diamond-esque singer whose fame peaked in the early 1970s.

Danny has been through three marriages, and is currently paired up with cheating girlfriend Sophie (Katarina Cas). He has a palatial mansion, a private jet and a steady flow of antic energy fuelled by a combination of booze and cocaine. Though he still makes lucrative tours that satisfy his senior-citizen fan base, Danny hasn’t recorded an original song for 30 years.

On Danny’s birthday, his manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer), presents him with a life-altering gift: a framed 40-year-old letter from John Lennon that went astray when initially dispatched. The note offered young Danny advice about surviving celebrity.

“Being rich and famous doesn’t corrupt you,” the former Beatle advised. “Only you can corrupt yourself.” (The real-life Lennon penned similar sentiments to youthful musician and vocalist Steve Tilston in a 1971 missive that met an analogous fate to that of its screen counterpart.)

Bereft at his failure to live up to the model of a true artist, Danny — now in full-blown identity crisis mode — adopts the letter as his totem. He dumps Sophie, along with his cocaine, and sets out on a time-honoured Hollywood-style odyssey of self-discovery and redemption.

This is where Fogelman starts hitting potholes. Danny temporarily forsakes Los Angeles for leafy Woodcliff Hills, New Jersey, where he checks into the local Hilton. He flirts with hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening), who becomes his age-appropriate moral compass, and attempts to reconnect with his estranged adult son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

Afflicted with leukemia, Tom is also struggling in his construction job and with his daughter Hope’s (Giselle Eisenberg) hyperactivity. On the upside, he’s blessed with an understanding wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner).

Initially, Danny’s wealth helps heal all wounds, as he gets Hope into a special school for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and pays for Tom’s health care. Augmenting his repertoire by writing and performing a new, heartfelt ballad, though, turns out to be considerably more challenging.

Sincere and affecting performances can’t disguise this picture’s inability to scratch together some inventiveness — or to convey realistic human emotion.

The film contains brief upper female nudity, a scene of drug use, a few instances of profanity as well as fleeting crude and crass 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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The Longest Ride
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Though it’s likely to prove a crowd pleaser, the romantic drama The Longest Ride (Fox) amounts to little more than a sentimental soap opera.

Reliant on contrived methods of dramatization, director George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Catholic author Nicholas Sparks’ novel also includes late plot developments that send an ambiguous signal about marital fidelity.

Amid lush rural scenery and a glorification of contemporary cowboy culture such as might be featured in a pickup truck commercial, Wake Forest University senior Sophia (Britt Robertson) falls for professional bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood). Shy Sophia has only to witness Luke’s cattle-subduing stamina during what is literally her first time at the rodeo for love to start bucking her world.

The ride home from Sophia and Luke’s initial get-together takes an unusual turn when they stop to rescue 90-year-old Ira (Alan Alda) from the roadside wreckage of his car, thereby saving his life. At Ira’s feebly voiced behest, Sophia also retrieves a wicker box that turns out to contain a series of letters young Ira (Jack Huston) wrote to the girl of his dreams, Ruth (Oona Chaplin).

What better way to pass Ira’s stint in the hospital than for Sophia to read these epistles aloud to him? Screenwriter Craig Bolotin can certainly think of none, so we get Ira’s back story.

Ruth was a vibrant Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Vienna whose exile in Greensboro, North Carolina, was softened by her budding relationship with Ira. But Ira’s battlefield heroism during World War II shortly after the two became engaged led to a problem that threatened their impending marriage.

When she’s not providing Ira with the opportunity to narrate his saga, Sophia agonizes over the barriers that seem to obstruct her own path to happiness. These include the fact that she’s soon to depart the Tar Heel State for far-off New York City where she’s landed a prestigious internship at an art gallery — but whither her beau, alas, will not be following.

Worse yet, homespun Luke, it seems, don’t cotton to Kandinsky and such.

The device of using Ira’s letters to Ruth to tell their story has a fatal flaw: Unlike the audience, after all, Ruth would presumably not have needed Ira’s elaborate written explanations to understand events she herself had just experienced. On the other hand, touches of humour do keep things moving along.

Circumstances between Ira and Ruth take a turn that can be read either as undercutting or supporting nuptial faithfulness. Though the outcome is a morally positive one, steps along the way to it suggest that wedding vows can legitimately be set aside if they seriously impede a spouse’s self-fulfiment.

The film contains brief combat violence with mild gore, a few scenes of semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial nudity, a couple of instances of profanity and a smattering of crude 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.

Furious 7
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — True to form, exotic settings, stale dictums and always-murky moral values characterize Furious 7 (Universal), the latest instalment in the Fast and Furious series.

In this go-round, cross-necklaced Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), still the putatively Catholic paterfamilias, sets out to avenge the death of his old friend, Han (Sung Kang), killed off in a previous episode.

He also reunites with his amnesia-stricken longtime love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) — whose memory is gradually returning — as well as his rough-and-ready colleagues Brian (Paul Walker), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson).

Musclebound federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), by contrast, doesn’t rejoin the proceedings until the final showdown.

Director James Wan and screenwriter Chris Morgan dispense with the subplots explaining how the crew of underground car racers was reassembled. Instead, they provide scenes of the happy family lives some — Brian, especially — must leave behind to fight the forces of evil.

“This time,” Dom explains, “it ain’t just about being fast.”

By that, he means there’s far less road driving. Instead, the speedsters’ cars drop out of planes and fly off cliffs. One even crashes through the windows of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper. The laws of physics, as per usual, are ignored in order to display breathtaking special effects — accompanied, of course, by fistfights and shootouts.

Dom and gang are aided by amiable, mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). He wants to get his hands on a cutting-edge tracking program called God’s Eye, which allows its owner to access every surveillance camera on the planet.

To operate it, he’ll need the help of Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a glamorous hacker who is also the only person around who knows how to make the software work.

The plot is bogged down by a lengthy, elegiac ending designed to be a tribute to Walker, who died during filming. Naturally, though, fans of the star — or of the franchise — won’t mind a bit.

The film contains a vengeance theme, nearly non-stop gun and physical violence, a few uses of profanity and fleeting 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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