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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Can’t get enough of TV cooking star Gordon Ramsay’s trademark rages and rants? Their fictional equivalent is as close as your nearest multiplex, courtesy of the ego-driven culinary drama Burnt (Weinstein).

There’s a pleasant enough dessert awaiting audiences toward the end of director John Wells’ predictable conversion story. But its bad-boy protagonist’s tantrums make for an entree that many will find over-spiced — while some of the film’s thematic side dishes will not agree with palates attuned to traditional values.

Who’s that guy with the motorcycle, the leather jacket and the mad kitchen skills? It’s suave but volatile — make that volcanic — chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper).

Although he well deserves a novelty apron declaring him the World’s Greatest Cook, perfection-hungry Adam is a troubled soul. In fact, as Burnt opens, Adam’s alcohol and drug addictions have caused the Paris-trained toque’s once promising career to crash.

After completing a self-imposed penance — the shucking of 1 million oysters, only the last of which he eats in celebration — clean, sober and temporarily celibate (dames, don’t ask!) Adam is ready to return from exile via a well-choreographed comeback. The first step in his plan is to take over the faltering kitchen of the prestigious London restaurant run by his old colleague from the City of Lights, gifted maitre d’ Tony (Daniel Bruhl).

But Adam’s ultimate goal, once this upscale foothold has been secured, is to use it to ascend to the summit, the pinnacle, the “ne plus ultra” of culinary achievement, a three-star rating from the folks behind France’s Michelin Guide. If the very mention of those venerable red-bound volumes has not caused you to thrash about in uncontrollable ecstasy, then Burnt may not be the movie for you.

Unfortunately for those who have to earn their living at Adam’s side, and under his direction — “Yes, Chef!” — his obsessive pursuit of those coveted astronomical, gastronomical symbols is marked by obscenity-laden lectures berating all and sundry. Pommes frites of an imprecise and varying width? Insufferable! A slap in the face of western civilization! And so forth.

Prominent among the victims of Adam’s ill-tempered outbursts is another old pal from his days in the French capital, Michel (Omar Sy). Although Adam betrayed Michel in spectacular fashion during the course of his booze- and narcotics-fuelled downward spiral, the two have since reconciled.

New to the scene of Adam’s wrath, but catching her fair share of his flak, is his plucked-from-obscurity sous chef — and eventual true love — the fetching Helene (Sienna Miller).

Abundantly talented but entirely lacking in tranquility or any semblance of consideration for others, Adam elevates his craft into an idol before which all must kneel — and to the fuming demands of which all must be sacrificed.

Alongside the irritating curry of Adam’s impatience, screenwriter Steven Knight serves up a subplot about Tony’s undisguised but unrequited love for the hunky hash-slinger. There’s a complex pathos in the discreet treatment of this subject, with Tony resigned to the impossibility of his desire and to the vaguely comic figure he cuts as a result of it. Ironically, his submission to the absurdity of his situation lends him a certain dignity, a pre-Stonewall sort of pride not to be found among clamouring protesters.

As Adam undergoes his inevitable enlightenment, simultaneously opening up and calming down, we’re subjected to yet another instance of the big-screen manoeuvre whereby any group of people — in this case, the kitchen staff — can form a “family” based on shared interests and mutual support. While all natural clans encountered at the movies these days appear to be dysfunctional, these ersatz families always seem to get along swimmingly.

Whatever doubtful savour such a trope may originally have possessed, its flavour has long since gone flat.

The film contains cohabitation, mature themes, including homosexuality, a same-sex kiss, about a half-dozen uses of profanity as well as constant rough and occasional crude language. 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.
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Our Brand Is Crisis
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — An unstable mix of cynicism and simplistic idealism corrodes the entertainment value of director David Gordon Green’s loosely fact-based political comedy, Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Bros.).

As for the film’s appropriate audience, interludes of sleazy wordplay and bawdy visual humour make it fit for grownups only.

Drawing on filmmaker Rachel Boynton’s eponymous 2005 documentary, Green presents a fictionalized — and satiric — version of events surrounding the presidential election in Bolivia three years earlier. Unbeknown to most Americans, that race was certainly affected, and perhaps tilted, by the involvement of skilled spin doctors imported from the United States.

Here, one such image-maker is Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock). Embittered by her previous forays onto the political battlefield — her volatile personality and distinctly mixed record of results have earned her the unenviable nickname “Calamity Jane” — emotionally fragile Bodine is living in self-imposed seclusion when we first encounter her.

But a duo of fellow operatives, earnest Ben (Anthony Mackie) and casually callous Nell (Ann Dowd), is out to change all that. They arrive on Jane’s doorstep with an invitation to join them on the campaign staff of a former occupant of Bolivia’s top office named Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida).

Currently a senator, Castillo is an aloof conservative out to recapture the presidency despite the bloody street violence that marred his first tenure — and that continues to make him highly unpopular. His bid is going nowhere.

Though largely indifferent toward the outcome of the far-off contest, Jane has a very personal reason for abandoning her rural lifestyle and re-entering the fray. The aspirant leading the Bolivian pack is being supported by yet another American consultant, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a man with whom Jane has a long-running — and bitter — rivalry.

By securing an unlikely victory for Castillo, whether by fair means or foul, devious Jane hopes to win the latest round in her blood feud against the even more unscrupulous Candy.

Despite an obviously acerbic flavour, all this would be diverting enough if served up as straightforward humour. Bullock ably balances Jane’s latent decency against her far more apparent ruthlessness while Thornton’s vinegary persona, though it sometimes descends into vulgarity, generally has the appeal of a tart apple.

Yet the fate of the populous, at least in the short term, is at stake, as Peter Straughan’s screenplay dutifully reminds us, primarily through the figure of a naive Castillo supporter called Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco). Not only does this spoil what might, in the abstract, be considered the “fun” of Jane’s story, it also introduces real-world political values that will not sit well with all viewers.

Thus brutality and betrayal are shown to be the tactics of the right, while Eddie’s thirst for justice, so the story implies, will only be satisfied by a countervailing triumph of the left. In reality, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, for whom Castillo serves as a stand-in, was succeeded in 2006 by socialist stalwart Evo Morales.

Morales has proved, it’s safe to say, to be a leader not untouched by controversy. Catholics will readily recall his gift to Pope Francis of a crucifix in the shape of a hammer and sickle — a curious item when regarded in the light of history.

At any rate, the amusement that might be derived from the movie’s free-for-all jockeying, were it shown in isolation, loses out to a very specific agenda. The picture’s real — and rather tiresome — purpose, it turns out, is to denounce institutions like the International Monetary Fund and to reinforce Hollywood’s uncritical acclaim of leftist policies at home and abroad.

That goal puts Our Brand Is Crisis fundamentally at odds with itself in a way moviegoers can hardly miss.

The film contains brief rear nudity, occasional sexual references, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language and a couple of obscene gestures. 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.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Whatever its other defects — and they are legion — the blood-soaked horror spoof Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (Paramount) does at least boast an accurate and descriptive title.

In other words, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Surely you knew, going in, that what awaited you in director Christopher Landon’s disposable free-for-all would be no more than a smirking exercise in sophomoric excess? Could you have doubted the unleashing of a tide of gore, the launch of a parade of merry dismemberment?

Perhaps you thought you would escape gross-out visuals involving undead breasts and other body parts? If so, the more fool you.

Plot, you ask? Well, that’s in the title, too: A trio of teenage Boy Scouts who also are best friends — good-hearted Ben (Tye Sheridan), smart aleck Carter (Logan Miller) and overweight nebbish Augie (Joey Morgan) — battle their way through the eponymous crisis using the skills that have earned them their badges as well as such improvised but effective weapons as a weed whacker. Zombie no like.

The pals are aided by Kendall (Halston Sage), a gun-slinging, nerd-positive dropout from their high school who now makes her way in life as a stripper. To put that character description more briefly, she’s the Coolest Chick Ever!

Theme, you wonder? Um, well, the lads go on a heroic quest to save the attendees of a school dance who apparently don’t realize they’re liable to have their flesh uncomfortably munched on at any moment.

Oh, and it was wrong of Ben and Carter to ditch Augie so they could go to a cool-kids gathering to which he, poor schlub, had not been invited. Loyalty being, you see, more important than the desire to fit in with life’s winners.

As for commentary on society in general, that’s pretty well restricted to such weak gambits as Cloris Leachman’s pop-up in the role of Miss Fielder, the neighbourhood’s resident cat lady from hell.

You did know, by the way, that you’d be following Augie into the bathroom after he ate those campfire-warmed baked beans. Yeah, just checking.

The film contains pervasive gruesome violence, a debased view of human sexuality, upper female and rear nudity, much obscene and some scatological humour, several uses of profanity and frequent 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.
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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