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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

Woman in Gold
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The so-called “last prisoners of the Second World War” await justice and release in Woman in Gold (Weinstein).

The elegant lady of the title and three other captives profiled in director Simon Curtis’ film aren’t, in fact, human beings but exquisite paintings by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) that were stolen from their rightful owners by the Nazis. The fascinating story of the struggle for their restitution provides the basis for Curtis’ intriguing dramatization.

In 1998, Vienna-bred Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) is living quietly in Los Angeles. The death of her sister, however, prompts Maria to resurrect long-buried issues from her past.

Maria’s well-to-do Jewish family had commissioned several paintings from Klimt, including his 1907 masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. This study of Maria’s aunt — the first of two Klimt would create — was a product of the artist’s “golden phase,” during which he employed not only paint, but silver and gold leaf as well.

Together with other possessions, the portrait was confiscated by Hitler’s minions as part of their persecution of Austria’s Jews. In flashbacks, we watch as the young Maria (Tatiana Maslany) and her husband, Fritz (Max Irons), manage to escape to America, leaving family and friends behind to face humiliation, torture, and, ultimately, death in concentration camps.

Flash forward, and Maria decides it’s time for a reunion with the image of her aunt — and for equity to be served. Trouble is the paintings she seeks to reclaim are hanging in a Vienna museum, and the Austrian government insists they were legally obtained.

Undeterred, Maria enlists the aid of a local attorney, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). Randy is young and green, but shares Maria’s Austrian roots. In fact, his grandfather was the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).

The odds are stacked against this very odd couple, who travel to Vienna to meet with the authorities. There they find an ally in Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Bruhl), a nosy investigative reporter.

Given that it offers a valuable history lesson about wartime atrocities, man’s inhumanity to man and the nature of justice, Woman in Gold can be recommended for mature teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains scenes of wartime violence and a few instances each of profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Monkey Kingdom
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Timely social commentary may seem an unlikely ingredient in a wildlife documentary. Yet it’s hard to miss the implicit human subtext underlying the enjoyable chronicle Monkey Kingdom (Disneynature).

Those looking beyond this film’s placid surface will easily recognize the similarities between its simian heroine, a toque macaque named Maya, and an entire class of economically challenged workers in the world’s more developed economies.

Disadvantaged by her low rank within the rigid hierarchy of her species, sympathetic Maya is forced to struggle both for her own survival and for the welfare of her son, Kip. When the aggression of a rival tribe displaces Maya’s troupe from their bountiful home territory, however, the apparent misfortune turns out to have a silver lining.

Though the group’s resulting exile involves short-term dangers for Maya and Kip, it also presents them with unexpected opportunities. Because the forced move has suddenly thrown the prevailing social structure into flux, Maya has a shot at improving her standing — and, therefore, her lifestyle.

She does so primarily through the rise of Kip’s dad, an outsider to her band whose fighting skills eventually gain him the respect of Maya’s male counterparts.

Co-directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill make the most of their movie’s picturesque setting. Dubbed Castle Rock by the filmmakers, Maya’s jungle dwelling stands amid the ruins of an abandoned city in Sri Lanka. Tall domes and weathered statues of the Buddha in the surrounding landscape moodily evoke ancient glories gone to seed.

Such dramatic scenery, together with pleasant narration by Tina Fey, helps compensate for the low-speed pace of events. So, too, does the fact that Monkey Kingdom provides a rare cinematic refuge for families.

The occasional intrusion of Darwinian conflict, though it exacts only a single fatality, might be unsettling for the very smallest viewers. But this is otherwise a completely comfortable option for parents.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The stout bromides of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (Sony) only serve to make its thin plot and deliberate artlessness more glaring.

Kevin James, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Bakay, returns as the earnest, perpetually suspicious, hypoglycemic security guard first seen in the 2009 original. As before, Blart is a presented as a comically awkward figure — one who’s far more graceful on a Segway than on his own feet.

As the sequel opens, Blart is newly divorced from his second wife and quite sad. He receives a sudden jolt of happiness, however, when he’s invited to a security officers’ conference in Las Vegas. He sets off at once for the fabled oasis, his teenage daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez), in tow.

Once there, both of them get mixed up in a criminal scheme: Gang leader Vincent (Neal McDonough) is plotting to steal valuable artworks from Sin City’s casinos.

Under the direction of Andy Fickman, the humour in the ensuing scenes is supposed to derive from sight gags and from Blart’s frequent intonation of such inspirational mantras as “Integrity is a bewitching gumbo.”

But none of this comes off; the movie is leaden and bereft of laughs. Blart’s fellow watchmen appear only as cruel caricatures of the socially inept.

Blart’s supposedly stirring words as he delivers the convention’s keynote speech are as unobjectionable as most of the content surrounding them. Yet they land on the ear as mawkish cliches.

“If you believe the purpose of life is to help yourself, then your life has no purpose,” he intones. “Help someone today!”

The film contains frequent slapstick violence and mishaps. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Mundane computer screens become conduits for terror in Unfriended (Universal), a teenagers-in-trouble horror film with a cybertwist.

This silly thriller unfolds in the “found footage” style popularized by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Viewers become voyeurs as director Levan Gabriadze shares the “true” story, purportedly as it was seen on the home computers of six high school friends.

Spending far too much time in a video chat room are pals Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Jess (Renee Olstead), Val (Courtney Halverson), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Adam (Will Peltz) and Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm).

The members of this sextet share a dark secret: they mercilessly bullied a fellow student, Laura (Heather Sossaman). When one of them posted a humiliating video of a drunken, unconscious Laura online, the poor girl committed suicide.

That was a year ago. The amigos are still chatting up a storm when — lo and behold — a mystery visitor joins the group, sounding a lot like their deceased victim.

Needless to say, this “Laura” has a few scores to settle, none of them pretty. Try to hang up and stop chatting, Laura warns her persecutors, and someone will die.

Unfriended ramps up the mayhem and bloodshed — as well as a demonic possession theme — as secrets are revealed and our feckless teens learn the hard way that actions have consequences. Lost amid the ensuing slaughter is a potentially valuable message about the harmful effects of online harassment.

While there are only 82 minutes of this nonsense to endure, chances are that audiences will be longing to hit the “ignore” button well before even that brief period has elapsed.

The film contains gory violence and torture, underage alcohol and drug use, some sexual content, graphic scatological images and pervasive profane 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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