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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Against all expectations, Walt Disney took a theme park ride, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and turned it into a blockbuster film franchise.

Now the studio has similar hopes for an entire theme park area in “Tomorrowland.”

The result? Disney has done it again. “Tomorrowland” is a delightful science-fiction film and great fun for the entire family.

Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof (TV’s “Lost”), “Tomorrowland” is bursting with optimism and enthusiasm. Its hopeful view of the future is a refreshing contrast to the depressing dystopian vision that has dominated Hollywood films of late.

The film borrows the name but little else from the futuristic-themed section of Disneyland and other Disney parks. Instead, there’s a meticulous recreation of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, which was a showcase of future ideas and innovations.

There Disney created the “It’s a Small World” ride to promote global harmony. In the film, it serves as the gateway to the gleaming utopia that exists, “Twilight Zone”-like, in another dimension.

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, a whiz-kid boy inventor, Frank (Thomas Robinson), takes a detour on the ride into Tomorrowland.

He’s lured there by a mysterious girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy). Her mission is to recruit the best and brightest talent on Earth to learn from a place of peace and promise.

Fast-forward 40 years, and something has gone awry. Earth is fraught with problems, including war and natural disasters. Despair fills the air, and the future is far from bright.

In school, Casey (Britt Robertson) is frustrated by all the gloom and doom. “I get things are bad,” she tells her teacher. “What are we doing to fix it?”

Casey is a dreamer, inspired by her father, Eddie (Tim McGraw), a NASA engineer. But even NASA is being dismantled, along with Casey’s dream of reaching the stars.

Before you can say “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” Athena reappears, looking none the worse for wear, for she is actually a sophisticated (and ageless) robot (mirroring Disney’s skill with animatronics). She recruits Casey for a special mission: to save Tomorrowland. The city has fallen under the spell of a coldhearted bureaucrat called Nix (Hugh Laurie), who is responsible for wreaking havoc on earth.

Why Casey is the saviour is anyone’s guess. With Athena in tow, she looks up Frank, who has aged into the dashing George Clooney. Twenty years ago, Frank was banished from Tomorrowland for threatening to expose the conspiracy.

“Tomorrowland” morphs into a buddy movie as man, girl and robot race against time to, literally, save the future.

The action sequences in the film have a cartoonish quality, but the ray guns and decapitations (of robots) may upset the younger set. Others will be equally amused and enchanted.

In the end, the film takes a cue from a Disney anthem composed for the World’s Fair: “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”

The film contains cartoonish but bloodless action sequences and a few mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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The Water Diviner
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — A father copes with the loss of his three sons during the First World War in “The Water Diviner” (Warner Bros.), a fictional drama inspired by true events.

The story centres on the aftermath of the Battle of Gallipoli, fought in 1915 in the former Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). More than 100,000 soldiers died as the Ottomans defeated the invading Allied troops, including 35,000 from far-off Australia and New Zealand.

The Gallipoli tragedy is deeply felt to this day in these two nations, as resonant as Pearl Harbor has been to Americans.

Against this background, Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut, and also stars as Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer with a unique gift: He can locate water beneath the most barren of landscapes.

At war’s end, Connor receives the personal effects of his three sons who perished together at Gallipoli: Arthur (Ryan Corr), Edward (James Fraser), and Henry (Ben O’Toole). He is determined to travel halfway across the world to retrieve their bodies and bring them home.

His distraught wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie), blames Connor for their sons’ deaths, as he allowed them to enlist in the first place. When she commits suicide, Connor has no reason not to undertake the arduous journey, so they may be buried beside their mother.

He’s also repelled by his nasty parish priest, Father McIntyre (Damon Herriman), who offers little comfort at Eliza’s funeral.

Arriving by boat in Istanbul, Connor meets a rambunctious street boy, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades), who leads him to the family business, a rundown hotel. His mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), is not pleased to meet “the enemy,” especially as her husband fought at Gallipoli and, now missing, is presumed dead.

Connor runs up against more resistance and red tape from military authorities who don’t want a civilian meddling in postwar affairs.

Undeterred, he makes his way to the battlefield. There he finds an unexpected ally in Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a Turkish official who presided over the Gallipoli victory.

Hasan takes pity on Connor, mindful of Turkish losses in the battle. In a gesture of reconciliation, he decides to help the foreigner.

“Why change everything for one father who can’t stay put?” asks the Australian official on duty, Col. Hughes (Jai Courtney).

“Because he is the only father who came looking,” replies Major Hasan.

And so, two former enemies unite in an epic quest, aided by Connor’s uncanny knack for finding hidden things.

In the meantime, back at the hotel, Ayshe’s hard heart softens, and she longs for the handsome foreigner’s safe return.

Crowe’s direction is masterful, and the cinematography stunning. Although the screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastacios strains credibility (bordering at times on the preposterous), “The Water Diviner” nonetheless offers a timely reminder of the ghastly personal cost of war and its lingering impact upon future generations.

The film contains bloody war violence and disturbing images of death. 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Hollywood’s preoccupation with remakes continues with “Poltergeist” (Fox), a reimagining of the 1982 horror film that gave new meaning to the term “haunted house.”

This time, a trio of producers (Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Roy Lee) takes over from Steven Spielberg. Along with a new director, Gil Kenan (“Monster House”), they offer a 3D take on the “ordinary” family suddenly caught in an otherworldly trap.

The result is a sometimes scary but mostly silly tale of suburbia under siege, suitable for mature viewers only.

The Bowen family is the picture of dysfunction. Dad Eric (Sam Rockwell) has lost his job. Mom Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) is distracted and unfulfilled.

Then there are the kids. Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is an obnoxious teen. Sensitive Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is afraid of the dark. And six-year-old Madison (Kennedi Clements), cute as a button, talks incessantly to her imaginary friends.

The family, forced to downsize, moves into a new home on the edge of town. Problem is, the neighbourhood was built atop an old cemetery.

Seems the real estate agent neglected to mention that fact.

Before long, things go bump in the night. “Poltergeist” largely follows the plot of the original film, with Madison talking to the television set, announcing, “They’re here.”

“They” are the spirits of the film’s title. Think really, really angry ghosts who make a really big mess and soon invite Madison to join them inside the closet.

Riding to the rescue is Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), a goofy paranormal expert turned TV personality. Along with his ex-wife, Dr. Claire Powell (Jane Adams), a hand drill, and a whole lotta rope, Burke steps into the breach before it’s too late.

Needless to say, as the mayhem mounts, the house’s resale value plummets.

The film contains scenes of supernatural horror and child peril, and fleeting crude and profane 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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