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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

09/16/2015

The Perfect Guy
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The stale predictability and slow pacing of The Perfect Guy (Screen Gems) might appeal to people who prefer generic thrillers without twists and turns.

Director David M. Rosenthal and screenwriter Tyger Williams set their plot on a long straightaway.

Leah (Sanaa Lathan), a successful executive in Los Angeles, has a dull and commitment-phobic boyfriend, Dave (Morris Chestnut). She has a solid moral core, and wants to take the next step with marriage and children. He’s seen too many divorces in his own family, so marriage is a nonstarter for him, and they break up.

Soon, she meets handsome and seemingly gallant Carter (Michael Ealy) at a bar, they have a couple of whirlwind dates, and he even impresses her grumpy, suspicious father, Roger (Charles S. Dutton).

Bliss, in these plots, is merely a facade, and after Carter flies into an unexpected rage and beats up a gas station attendant, Leah calls off the relationship.

Carter, of course, can’t deal with that. Having worked as a corporate espionage specialist, he’s skilled at cyberstalking, and on top of that, we’re informed that he’s also bipolar.

The ensuing mayhem consists of him monitoring her phone calls, breaking into her house, installing video cameras, using her toothbrush (It’s supposed to be creepy, but plays like bad comedy), and even stealing Leah’s cat.

Is he in her closet? Under her bed? Does she walk around a lot alone in the dark? Is there a suspicious neighbour? Yep, yep, yep and yep.

Leah goes to the police, gets a restraining order and reconnects with Dave, but according to this formula, none of that has the desired results before the predictably violent ending.

The film contains two implied sexual situations, physical violence 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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The Visit
By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — Humour is not the first thing one associates with an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Since he captivated audiences in 1999 with the supernatural puzzler The Sixth Sense, the writer-director has specialized in deadly serious tales involving paranormal phenomena.

Although a sense of playfulness is detectable in his best efforts, the adjective ponderous springs to mind when considering his body of work.

Which is why it’s so surprising that The Visit (Universal) elicits abundant laughter, most of it by design. As expected, the film is quite spooky, offering ample opportunity for viewers to be startled and shriek. But the comedy is integral and more than a relief valve. Unfortunately, because it triggers a significant amount of unintended laughter as well, Shyamalan’s latest can also feel like a parody of a horror-comedy. Too often viewers will find themselves caught between laughing with the movie and laughing at it.

Thanks to its multiple tones and inability to fully coalesce, The Visit is a head-scratcher, albeit an entertaining one. On the horror side of the equation, while not especially gruesome or graphic, the scares are effective. There’s enough other material to render it inappropriate for most adolescents, however.

Two talented young actors play the lead roles. Olivia DeJonge is 15-year-old Becca, a budding moviemaker who tries to gain insight into her broken family by filming a documentary. Her mother (Kathryn Hahn) left home at 19 after falling for an older man, whom she married and with whom she had two children. After Becca came Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), now an aspiring rapper with a germ phobia. Five years ago, their father took off and their parents subsequently divorced.

Their mother has never reconciled with her parents, but has agreed to send the children for a weeklong visit in the Pennsylvania farmhouse where she was raised. A keen student of film, Becca wants answers and is committed to documenting the trip, with Tyler’s sometimes-reluctant help. Armed with cameras, a laptop computer and other equipment, they meet their grandparents for the first time.

While warm and welcoming, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) exhibit peculiar behaviour from the outset. Nana, who plies them with delicious food and baked goods, is prone to night terrors and sudden mood swings. In addition to hiding something mysterious in his shed, Pop Pop insists the kids avoid the basement and never leave their room after 9:30 p.m.

Attributing their strange conduct to the mental and physical infirmities brought by old age won’t suffice. The atmosphere of dread and menace is heightened by the wintertime locale, the neatness of the colonial-era home, and the existence of a health care facility nearby where Nana and Pop Pop volunteer as counsellors.

Tyler, who has adopted the persona of an inner-city rapper, is responsible for the lion’s share of levity and Oxenbould does an excellent job of mining the wit in Shyamalan’s script. Both actors superbly convey the rapport between the siblings.

Becca’s movie-within-the-movie is not an original device (see The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity series). Yet the jumpy hand-held photography it occasions is well executed and the technical work overall is unimpeachable. If only Shyamalan didn’t try to cover so many bases and focused more on his screenplay. The big twist is functional yet lacks sufficient explanatory power, even allowing for the genre’s low plausibility standards.

In his attempt to avoid presenting a run-of-the-mill horror-comedy, Shyamalan weaves in several weighty themes. The Visit can be read as a mild critique of the dangerous allure of storytelling — of getting so caught up in communicating a narrative that one ignores real life’s actual perils and predicaments. More specifically, he draws attention to our obsession with experiencing life through a lens, screen or other electronic device. Becca is so absorbed in the process of creating her documentary that she’s blind to the fact that something is horribly amiss with her elderly relations.

Shyamalan also tacks on a laudatory message about the power of forgiveness and the necessity of overcoming anger. Nevertheless, any lesson or earnest sentiment is eclipsed by the humour and scare quotients of The Visit. Presumably, that bodes well for its commercial prospects.

The film contains much terrifying behaviour and some non-graphic violence, an instance of rough language and one rough gesture, some crude and crass language, several instances of profanity, brief rear female nudity, a drug reference, a suicidal character, and some sexual banter, mostly contained in rap music lyrics. 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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John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

90 Minutes in Heaven
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — As its title suggests, a trip to the pearly gates and back is the highlight of 90 Minutes in Heaven (Samuel Goldwyn). Writer-director Michael Polish’s drama is based on the true story of a Baptist minister and his near-death experience.

Don Piper lived to tell the story of his celestial journey in a 2004 memoir, which has sold 7 million copies. The screen version of his best-seller underlines the power of Christian spirituality and the rewards of perseverance.

As portrayed by Hayden Christensen (light years removed from his starring turn in the Star Wars prequels), Don is an earnest and sincere pastor. He’s also a loving husband to spouse Eva (Kate Bosworth) and an attentive father to his three children.

In 1989, returning home after speaking at a prayer meeting, Don has his date with destiny. On a rain-swept bridge, an 18-wheeler plows into his car, crushing the vehicle. Don is pronounced dead, and his car — with Don still trapped inside — is covered with a tarp, awaiting removal.

As the eponymous time period passes, Dick Onarecker (Michael Harding), a fellow minister, approaches and asks permission from law enforcement to pray over the body. He proclaims that Don’s sins are forgiven, sings a song of praise over the supposed corpse — and then, inexplicably, Don stirs to life.

Don himself is bewildered and bemused, for he has spent the past hour-and-a-half in ecstasy above the clouds. In keeping with other near-death reports, heaven is portrayed as a place bathed in golden light, where loved ones approach to greet the new arrival. “Heaven was, without a doubt, the greatest family reunion of all,” Don says.

However, just as he is about to pass through the portals of paradise — approached, oddly enough, via a yellow brick road — Don is returned to earth.

What follows is Don’s personal Calvary, a torturous and protracted journey to recovery from devastating injuries. The physical pain is unbearable, and the emotional toll on his family even greater.

Over four months in the hospital and 34 surgeries, Don is wracked by his supernatural experience, telling no one of his vision. “Survival was going to be difficult, because heaven was so glorious,” he admits. He longs to return to the afterlife, rather than stick around on Earth.

It is up to Eva and a support system of family and friends — who organize around-the-clock prayer vigils — to restore Don’s will to live.

A feisty hospital volunteer, Jay (Fred Dalton Thompson), doesn’t mince words. “You’re denying others the right to help,” he tells Don. “Let them in! People are God’s hands to meet your needs and answer your prayers.”

They do, and eventually Don decides to share his “sacred secret.” But here, 90 Minutes departs from a similar faith-based movie, 2014’s Heaven Is for Real.

By contrast with that earlier title’s lively stories concerning four-year-old Colton Burpo and his “visits” with Jesus, we learn precious little of Don’s observations. The mere glimpse of “heaven” given us in this movie is, ultimately, unsatisfying.

Nonetheless, 90 Minutes does offer an inspiring lesson for adults and older teens about faith, hope and persistence. Despite some hints at underlying theological differences, moreover, considered as a whole, the film’s evangelical viewpoint on prayer and the promise of eternal life is mostly consonant with Catholic doctrine.

The film contains disturbing images and some mature themes. 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.

 

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