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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The gunfire and car crashes that dominate the second hour of the soul-swapping thriller Self/less (Focus) are sure signs that this ponderous property has run out of ideas.

Yet director Tarsem Singh’s Faustian fable about selling one’s soul to Satan in exchange for immortality begins on a potentially intriguing note.

Wealthy, ruthless industrialist Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is dying of cancer. Damian has always hedged his emotional bets. But he now hopes to repair his relationship with his estranged, idealistic daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery).

Better yet, Damian thinks he may have found an escape hatch from his fate thanks to Phoenix Biogenetics, a mysterious corporation that dabbles in a real-world technological movement called Transhumanism.

Through a process colloquially known as “shedding” and, of course, for a vast fee, Phoenix — headed by its amoral CEO, Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode) — will transfer a client’s consciousness into a handsomer, younger body. Though Phoenix uses the cover story that these bodies are grown in a lab, the company is, in reality, paying people in tragic circumstances to vacate them.

There are, accordingly, unpleasant side effects to the trade, including so-called “hallucinations” that are actually the scrambled memories of the physique’s previous occupant tugging on the mind of its new tenant. A drug is supposed to hold these flashbacks at bay.

Logic having flown the coop by this point, Damian, in the body of handsome Mike (Ryan Reynolds), speedily picks up on these visions, and sets off for Mike’s former home in rural Missouri. There he reconnects, so to speak, with wife Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and cancer-stricken daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).

Damian’s long-neglected moral core is touched when he realizes that Mike sacrificed his life to pay for Anna’s medical treatment.

Besides sketchy subplots intended to show the pervasive, controlling nature of the evil conglomerate, all that remains after this revelation are lengthy chase sequences fuelled by Damian/Mike’s eagerness to dispatch pursuing bad guys.

The film contains frequent gunplay and other violence, a non-graphic bedroom scene with partial nudity, at least one use of profanity and occasional 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Fillet it how you will, Minions (Universal) is a rare treat.

This bright 3D animated comedy traces the history of the yellow, capsule-shaped creatures whose endearing presence in the background contributed to the success of both 2010’s Despicable Me and its rather unimaginatively titled 2013 sequel, Despicable Me 2.

In hauling these sweetly bumbling beings to the fore, and providing them with an ever upbeat — though not always tightly crafted — adventure of their own, co-directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda avoid any genuinely objectionable material. Only a few scenes of combustive mayhem and a couple of mildly out-of-place visuals may give some parents pause.

After an origins story that reaches all the way back to the primordial ooze, the proceedings settle down in the swinging London of the 1960s. There, motivated by their natural inclination is to serve a villainous master, the central trio of minions — Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all voiced by Coffin) — assist famed criminal Scarlet Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock) and her mad scientist husband Herb (voice of Jon Hamm) in their wild scheme to steal the British crown from Queen Elizabeth II (voice of Jennifer Saunders).

Narrated by Geoffrey Rush, and interspersed with familiar hippie-era musical standards, the freewheeling plot that follows pursues its own logic down curious courses, some of which feel like detours. But the underlying morality is sound enough.

In contrast to Gru, the supposed bad guy of the earlier outings, Scarlet is a truly negative character given to selfishness, greed and disloyalty. Her evil tendencies, which carry straightforward consequences, are all the more obvious when compared to the virtues consistently displayed by Kevin and his pals — an appreciation for one another and a sensitivity to the common good prominent among them.

The climactic conflict might prove too much for small fry. In the buildup to it, a few possible irritants for vigilant grownups also appear, including a sumo wrestler’s frequently glimpsed backside and the brief presence of a mustachioed bystander whose enthusiasm for Scarlet leads him to dress exactly like her. While treated comically, his quirky behaviour may not sit well with some adults.

The film contains occasional cartoonish violence, fleeting anatomical sight gags and a touch of scatological humour. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


The Gallows
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — As if the average high school weren’t a scary enough venue already, The Gallows (Warner Bros.) adds a ghost to the mix. Though little blood flows as this noose-toting specter stalks the locker-lined halls, there’s not much brainpower on display, either.

Still, with vulgarity as well as gore mostly held back, parents can feel reasonably comfortable allowing real-life secondary students, at least mature ones, to sign up for this inept panic-fest.

Co-writers and directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff certainly don’t earn high points for originality by presenting their tale as a collection of found footage. And the logical trap they’re thereby setting for themselves should be obvious.

Teens in the age of YouTube and the selfie may be all too addicted to their handheld devices —and to the belief that no moment, however trivial, should go undocumented. Yet, when pursued by a homicidal wraith, would their natural response truly be to run, scream and keep shooting?

That’s the strategy that keeps us up to date with the quartet of youngsters at the heart of these proceedings. Much to the annoyance of his snide teammate Ryan (Ryan Shoos), football jock Reese (Reese Mishler) has turned temporary thespian in an effort to win the heart of drama maven Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Watching it all from the sidelines, perhaps with an interest in Ryan — or is it Reese? — loiters cheerleader Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford).

Realizing that he’s no Olivier, Reese allows Ryan to convince him, on the eve of opening night, that the best way to forestall humiliation would be to sneak into school after hours and wreck the set. Overhearing this plan, Cassidy insists on tagging along. Inconveniently, Pfeifer also turns up just as the sabotage is getting under way.

What all four have apparently failed to take into account, however, is the fact that the play in which Reese and Pfeifer are due to star has a troubling history. Exactly 20 years ago, a student at their school suffered a violent and mysterious death during a performance of this costume drama when a prop version of the titular scaffold worked all too well, leaving the poor lad, well, hanging.

So the lights go out and there are loud footsteps and inexplicable noises, and a mocking invocation of the name of the deceased turns out to be a dangerous as well as tasteless pastime. All of which adds up, in the end, to a degree of tedium some moviegoers may not have experienced since their last algebra class.

The film contains considerable stylized violence, some gruesome images, at least one use each of profanity and rough language as well as occasional crude and crass terms. 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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