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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The clergy abuse-themed drama Spotlight (Open Road) is a movie no Catholic will want to see. Whether it’s a film many mature Catholics ought to see is a different question entirely.

This hard-hitting journalism procedural — which inescapably invites comparison with 1976’s All the President’s Men — recounts the real-life events that led up to the public disclosure, in early 2002, of a shocking pattern of priestly misconduct within the Archdiocese of Boston. In the process, the equally disturbing concealment of such wrongdoing on the part of high ranking church officials also was laid bare.

One of the picture’s themes is the way in which Beantown’s inward-looking, small-town mentality contributed to the long-standing coverup. For the supposed good of the community, locals suppressed the knowledge of what was happening, subconsciously choosing not to see what was transpiring just behind the scenes.

So it’s appropriate that the whitewash begins to peel away with the arrival of a stranger to the Hub, the newly imported editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Marty’s outsider status isn’t just based on his geographical origins; he’s also Jewish.

Perplexed that his paper has devoted so little attention to the earliest cases in what would become, over time, an avalanche of legal actions against clerics, Marty commissions the investigative unit of the title, which specializes in in-depth investigations of local stories, to dig deeper.

Led by even-keeled Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), the Spotlight team — which also includes tightly wound Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), intrepid Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and relentless research whiz Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) — uncovers a widespread and sickening scandal involving scores of clergymen and hundreds of young victims.

Director and co-writer Tom McCarthy maintains a taut rhythm as he focuses primarily on the dogged professionalism required to breach the walls of secrecy surrounding a respected, and therefore protected, institution. And his script, penned with Josh Singer, apportions blame across a broad spectrum that includes the Globe itself — John Slattery plays veteran editor Ben Bradlee Jr., whose semi-willful blindness to the problem typifies the attitude discussed above.

Like most of his colleagues, Slattery is a former Catholic, distanced from, but not — initially at least — embittered toward, the faith in which he were raised. Witnessing the further fraying of the reporters’ already fragile ties to the church adds to the overwhelming sense of grief Catholic viewers will feel throughout Spotlight. Yet this generally accurate chronicle can provide them with a valuable insight into one of the darkest chapters in ecclesiastical history.

The movie is open to a few criticisms, large and small, however. The portrayal of Boston’s then-archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), is predictably negative. But it also includes details that are subject to interpretation.

Thus Cardinal Law’s gift to Marty of a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is treated as a both a religious and social snub. Yet Cardinal Law played an important role in translating that landmark text into English, so his gift may have been motivated more by a sense of pride in one of the most significant accomplishments of his career than by a desire to cut the newcomer down to size.

More significantly, the screenplay’s uncritical adoption of the results of research conducted by ex-priest A.W. Richard Sipe (a figure heard but not seen) opens its analysis to legitimate questioning.

The thesis that the scandal was the inevitable outcome of the Latin church’s tradition of priestly celibacy — a discipline Sipe maintains is routinely violated by fully half the clergy, thus creating a culture of secrecy among them — could be disputed. To dispute that theory, however, is not at all to downplay the horrifying nature of what unfolds under this otherwise painfully illuminating “Spotlight.”

The film contains mature themes, multiple, sometimes coarse, references to perverse sexual acts, several uses of profanity as well as a few rough and numerous crude 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

The Peanuts Movie
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Anyone familiar with the perennial TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas will know that the Peanuts franchise, which began life as a comic strip penned by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz between 1950 and 2000, has a knack for unabashed but also un-bashing spirituality.

That fine tradition continues with the charming animated comedy The Peanuts Movie (Fox).

Just as blanket-loving Linus succeeds, each year, in pointing small-screen viewers toward the real meaning of Dec. 25 — by the sound method of quoting the Gospel of Luke — so hapless Charlie Brown (voice of Noah Schnapp) teaches moviegoers a lesson about divine providence and the power of prayer at the climax of this latest Peanuts outing.

In extending a feature film legacy that dates back to 1971’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown, director Steve Martino is scrupulously faithful to the understated tone as well as the tried-and-true chemistry of his source material. It’s a wise decision.

What might be called the Zen of Schulz’s world — in which the everyday quirks and travails of children take on a poignant significance when viewed from an adult perspective — has, after all, been delighting audiences across multiple media formats for decades.

And the pleasure endures as Charlie resumes his pining for his fetching classmate, and seemingly unattainable love interest, the Little Red-Haired Girl (voice of Francesca Capaldi).

Charlie’s fantasy-prone beagle, Snoopy — voiced, via recordings, by the late Bill Melendez — is also pursuing romance. The girl of his daydreams turns out to be a World War I-era aviatrix named Fifi. Snoopy crosses Fifi’s path, of course, while battling his perpetual enemy, German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen (“Curse you, Red Baron!”).

The needless incorporation of 3D effects leads to an overemphasis on Snoopy’s airborne adventures during which the mild strain of padding the action out to reach the 90-minute mark becomes apparent. Back on the ground, however, top-notch values — including altruism, honesty and loyalty — prevail in a touching story well calculated to win the hearts of old and young alike.

The film contains imaginary combat and some minor peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — A car chase through St. Peter’s Square and a flippant joke about joining the priesthood aside, the 24th James Bond film, Spectre (Columbia), has predictably little to do with religion. Yet director Sam Mendes’ follow-up to Skyfall, his 2012 reboot of the 007 series, does set its protagonist on an upward ethical path that will please faithful grownups.

As for physical geography, novelist Ian Fleming’s iconic spy, played again by Daniel Craig, covers quite a lot of it. The globetrotting action antics entailed by his battle against the evil organization of the title take him from Mexico City on the Day of the Dead to the shores of the Tiber to the snowy expanses of Austria and on to the deserts of Morocco.

Along the way, Mendes supplies just the sort of satisfyingly large-scale set pieces moviegoers have come to expect from the franchise. And the time zone-defying trail leads on to a straight-from-central-casting Bond baddie. This veritable Aryan beast goes — sometimes, at least — by the name Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

Armed with an intriguing alias and a surprising back story, both of which bind him intimately to our protagonist’s elaborate saga, and arrayed in an immaculate Austrian-style loden jacket, Franz seems to entertain but a single implicit regret. Namely, that he was born too late to be a Nazi.

As if Franz and his allies weren’t enough to keep 007 hopping, he’s also fighting enemies from within, chief among them the new head of British intelligence, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). In fact, assassin-averse Denbigh’s policies are so wrongheaded that they force 007 to go temporarily rogue as he pursues his crusade against Spectre.

Though his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) has been neutralized, for the nonce, by the bureaucratic infighting Denbigh has kicked off, Bond can count on behind-the-scenes help from tech whiz Q (Ben Whishaw) and from M’s secretary, Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).

With their aid, he tracks Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of his old adversary, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). Although White once served Spectre, he has since run afoul of the villainous group — with disastrous results. Bond hopes her dad’s sad fate at the hands of the no-goodniks will motivate Madeleine to assist him in his hunt.

As Bond discovers in the later stages of his cat-and-mouse pursuit, one consequence of operating on his own is the opportunity it gives him to flout not only procedure but law as well. Moviegoers committed to scriptural values will observe his response to this temptation with interest.

They will also note that Bond’s freewheeling sexual mores, typified here by his brief dalliance with Italian sophisticate Lucia (Monica Bellucci), have begun to be tempered by a longing for more lasting romance. As French writer Marcel Proust might put it, he’s headed Swann’s way.

Together with collaborators Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, screenwriter John Logan tries to use the conflict between surveillance-loving Denbigh and mild privacy advocate M to warn against the dangers of an all-pervasive security state. But this political theme comes across as somewhat murky and out of place, a hurriedly tacked on afterthought amid the formula fun.

The film contains much stylized violence, a few harsher scenes involving torture and some gore, non-graphic but glamorized casual sexual activity, partial nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and a handful of crude terms. 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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