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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Following in the esteemed paw prints of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie comes Max (Warner Bros.), a heroic canine on a mission to vanquish evil while mending a broken family.

Sprung from the Malinois — or Belgian Shepherd — breed, Max is an official “military working dog” in Afghanistan, trained to locate bombs and weapons.

When his handler, Marine Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), is killed, Max is distraught. Unable to continue working due to post-traumatic stress disorder — animals, it seems, are subject to post-traumatic stress disorder, too — Max is honorably discharged and sent home to Texas.

Under military rules, returning canines can be adopted by the family of their handler. And so Max is delivered to Kyle’s grieving parents, Pamela (Lauren Graham) and Ray (Thomas Haden Church), and his younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins).

Max is immediately drawn to Justin, much to the troubled teen’s annoyance. Justin is a rebel, failing to live up to his father’s high expectations. Disrespecting his parents and their God-centred values, he hangs out with an unsavory crowd. The last thing he wants to do is babysit his late sibling’s dog.

A silver lining arrives in the person of Carmen (Mia Xitlali), a sassy new girl in town who has a way with canines. “Dogs are pretty good judges of character,” she observes.

Carmen lends a hand, as well as her heart, and soon a major boy-dog bond develops — as too does a romance between the two youngsters.

All seems rosy until Tyler (Luke Kleintank), a wayward member of Kyle’s platoon, shows up. Tyler has been illegally sidelining as an arms dealer, a secret Kyle threatened to expose before his demise.

Needless to say, Max is not happy to see Tyler, and before long Justin uncovers a nefarious plot, as well as hidden facts pointing to the truth about his brother’s death.

Despite some mild action violence which may be too intense for the younger set, “Max” is a wholesome — and welcome — family drama. Director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans), who co-wrote the screenplay with former Marine Sheldon Lettich, nicely conveys Justin’s evolution from zero to hero, underscoring the importance of telling the truth and respecting your parents.

Yakin also wrangles some remarkably expressive performances from the half-dozen dogs who alternate in portraying the eponymous star.

The film contains scenes of combat and human peril as well as dog-fighting 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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Ted 2
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Ted 2 (Universal) is another wallow in sexist, racist, stoner vulgarity by Seth MacFarlane.

MacFarlane, who directed, co-wrote the screenplay with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild and voices the potty-mouthed teddy bear as a fuzzy, bawdier version of Peter Griffin from Family Guy, ventures into crude sexual gags and casually expressed racism along with his trademark pop-culture riffs.

This comes off not so much as gleefully exploding taboos, but rather as MacFarlane’s eagerness to cash in by reinforcing old stereotypes. He’s made a film for bigots to clasp to their shrivelled hearts.

The core story to this sequel to the 2013 film is solid enough, dealing with Ted’s quest for legal personhood. At the end of the first film, Ted was best man at the wedding of his childhood owner, Boston native John (Mark Walhlberg). This instalment begins with John sadly divorced for six months while Ted is getting married to grocery cashier Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). It’s a rocky coupling, which they decide to “save” by having a child.

After some lewd adventures attempting to find a sperm donor and learning that Tami-Lynn is infertile, they pursue adoption. The unexpected consequence: The state of Massachusetts decides that the 2-foot-tall Ted is “property,” not a person, and as a result, his marriage is annulled and he loses his grocery store job. This sets John and Ted on a quest for courtroom justice.

Is Ted capable of love? Is he aware of his own consciousness? Does he have empathy? Has he a soul? Well, obviously, but the first trial with his pot-smoking rookie lawyer Sam (Amanda Seyfried) ends in failure.

While this is going on, Ted’s stalker, Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), now working as a janitor at Hasbro, concocts another plot to kidnap the bear and cut him open, so the toy giant, after seeing whether Ted is merely stuffed with fluff or has some magical inside construction, can manufacture many more.

Before the courtroom finale — in which lawyer Patrick (Morgan Freeman) makes their eloquent argument by invoking Dred Scott — John, Sam and Ted go on a raucous road trip to New York City to recruit the barrister. This creates the film’s crudest sexual reference involving a bong.

The film contains casual racist remarks including the N-word, references to aberrant sexual behaviour, fleeting female nudity, pervasive drug use, pervasive crude, crass and profane 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Magic Mike XXL
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Don't let those fancy-looking Roman numerals in its title fool you, the male-stripper sequel Magic Mike XXL (Warner Bros.) isn't just for intellectuals.

In fact, the shallower your thinking, the more at home you're likely to feel, both with the characters and the content of this preposterous return to a subculture of smut.

Cobbling together a series of familiar tropes in lieu of a plot, director Gregory Jacobs gives us a buddy film by reuniting the bump-and-grind alchemist of the title (Channing Tatum) with several members of the trou-dropping group he once headlined. This is followed by a road movie as the mostly restored ensemble -- Matthew McConaughey as the original's club owner (and indecency impresario), Dallas, is a notable absentee -- depart their Tampa, Florida, home base for an annual convention of clothes shedders in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. d

Once there, it's time for a "you-can-do-it-if-you-try" final segment in which the retiring (but not shy) team rack their brains and work their garments off to achieve a memorable farewell performance. Along the way to this payoff, Jacobs pads out the boys' lewd routines -- one of which uses the trappings of a wedding ceremony to degrading effect -- with vacuous reflections on the Zen of masculine burlesque.

Of course, even hearts hidden within layers of beefcake crave romance. So enter Mike's love interest, aspiring photographer Zoe (Amber Heard). The two meet cute when he steps away from a nighttime beach party to relieve himself, and she ambles along and starts taking snaps of the process. Some enchanted evening.

No doubt anxious lest the lady-pleasing ways of Mike and his pals be mistaken for intolerance, screenwriter Reid Carolin has the boys stop off at a drag show, where they enthusiastically join in a campy stage prancing contest for members of the audience. When their portly non-stripper sidekick Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) instantly shuts down all competitors by appearing in a Carmen Miranda outfit, complete with maracas, you know you've been entertained.

The film contains a debased view of human sexuality, including implicit approval of an off-screen casual encounter, brief but nasty irreverence, drug use, frequent scenes of publicly simulated sex acts, some of them aberrant, rear male nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and pervasive 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.

Terminator: Genisys
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Any movie plot that hangs on the ability of an adult character to journey into the past to give vital advice to himself as a child is bound to register as somewhat convoluted.

Add to that the further wrinkle that the film in question is the fifth instalment in a franchise so antique that a sequence set in the year of the series’ first release seems like a visit to an alien culture, and viewers can be forgiven for feeling a bit at sea.

Still, though they may be ruminated on at some length in the dialogue, the riddles of time travel are not really the point of Terminator: Genisys (Paramount). The primary purpose of this easily forgotten latest chapter in a sci-fi action narrative that dates back to 1984’s The Terminator is, rather, to empower its cast to blow things up, fire off weapons and drive with abandon.

There is, accordingly, mayhem aplenty, both before and after that inevitable moment when the original Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, assures us, yet again, that he’ll be back.

What’s behind all this stylized ruckus? The post-apocalyptic conflict between murderous machines and embattled humanity in the world of 2029, that’s what.

The prospects of those fighting on the flesh-and-blood side in this drawn-out battle are looking up, thanks to the work of their Messiah-like leader, John Connor (Jason Clarke). Just as he’s about to achieve a definitive victory, however, John faces a unique threat.

His adversaries, we learn, have used a time machine to send a cyborg (Byung-hun Lee) into the past to eliminate John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), before she can give birth to him. Not to be outdone, John, in turn, dispatches Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), his most trusted lieutenant, to follow the assassin back in time and protect Sarah.

Once safely arrived in the Reagan era, however, Kyle is confused to find that Sarah is already being shielded by another chronology-defying robot (Schwarzenegger) who seems to be fighting on the wrong side.

Kyle’s bewilderment is likely to be shared by those whose memory of the mid-1980s is not sufficiently detailed to explain why or how the new, good Arnold winds up battling the bad Arnold of 30 years ago. And then there’s grown-up Reece’s counsel-bearing encounter with little Reece.

Given the obvious prima-facie appeal of director Alan Taylor’s shoot’em-up to youthful viewers, however, the question confronting parents is much more straightforward.

Despite its relentlessness, the destruction on view carries with it little bloodshed. And the fact that time machine passengers can only be transported in the buff also is treated more as an occasion for smirking jokes than for visual exploitation. Together with the relative absence of obscenity in the dialogue, such restraint may lead at least some parents to consider Terminator: Genisys acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains pervasive action violence with minimal gore, several scenes of partial nudity, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional 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.
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Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops