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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” These words from poet John Milton’s 17th-century epic Paradise Lost capture at least one theme of the poignant, multifaceted drama Room.

As a tale of confinement and isolation with far-reaching and universal implications, director Lenny Abrahamson’s somber but ultimately hopeful parable might also be said to recall Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe, published a little over 50 years after Milton’s classic work.

In lieu of the shipwrecked sailor Crusoe, screenwriter Emma Donoghue’s script, adapted from her 2010 novel, gives us two characters caught in a more modern form of exile: a five-year-old named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his unnamed mother, known to him — and to us — simply as Ma (Brie Larson).

Two years before Jack was born, Ma was kidnapped by a sexual predator they both refer to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who has kept her locked in a backyard shed equipped with an elaborate security system ever since. Born and raised within this confined space, Jack — whom Ma loves deeply, despite the circumstances of his conception — is confused by tales of an outside world he has only experienced through television.

When an opportunity for escape presents itself, however, Jack must rally his courage to seize the moment.

Donoghue and Abrahamson successfully render everyday life as an alien environment for their youthful, bewildered protagonist, who also narrates. Additionally, their film subtly examines human adaptability, the power of imagination and the ironies underlying what appears, on the surface, to be an all-too-straightforward situation.

Viewers of faith will particularly appreciate the movie’s biblical overtones. Besides the fact that the villain’s moniker has traditionally been used as a nickname for Satan, they’ll notice the implicit parallel drawn between Jack’s never-barbered hair and the unshorn, strength-conveying locks of Samson as described in the Book of Judges.

The ruse by which Jack and Ma hope to obtain their freedom, moreover, involves a form of death, burial and resurrection. But if ordinary reality is, in one sense, the heaven to which they both aspire — a point reinforced by Ma’s quiet rendition of the traditional folk song Big Rock Candy Mountain — it also represents the fallen world into which they are in danger of passing should they abandon the safe parameters of the titular space.

This skillful interplay of apparently contrary ideas — a redemption and liberation that is also, at some level, the surrender of the main characters’ shared Eden — sets Room far above ordinary movie fare. So, too, does the emotional wallop it delivers, thanks in no small measure to Larson’s outstanding performance as well as the deep appeal Tremblay evokes.

Given its moral significance, which also includes an essentially pro-life message affirming Jack’s inherent worth, despite the criminal and tragic nature of his parentage, the picture is probably acceptable for at least some mature adolescents, the elements listed below notwithstanding.

The film contains brief abusive violence, mature themes including serial rape and suicide, an overheard but unseen sexual encounter, a couple of profanities and several rough 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

The Finest Hours
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The remarkable true story of the most daring small boat rescue mission in Coast Guard history comes to the big screen in The Finest Hours (Disney).

In February 1952, a powerful Nor’easter struck the Massachusetts coast, pummeling shoreline towns and wreaking havoc on ships caught in its deadly path. Among these were two oil tankers bound for Boston, the S.S. Mercer and the S.S. Pendleton.

Beset by 60-foot waves and hurricane-force winds, both vessels broke apart. The Mercer, its bow intact, radioed for assistance and was the focus of a major rescue operation.

The Pendleton was not so lucky. The bow and its radio sunk, stranding 36 sailors in the stern, bobbing like a cork in the mighty sea. With no SOS, who would come to their aid?

By chance, the Pendleton pops up on radar at the Coast Guard station in Chatham, headed by Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). Despite extreme conditions, he orders Capt. Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to muster three men and set out in a wooden 36-foot lifeboat, certainly no match for the storm conditions.

Duty and honour prevail, as Seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) volunteer for duty.

Fellow officers try to dissuade Webber, calling the rescue a suicide mission. Webber’s newly minted fiancee, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is frantic with worry, compounded by the fact that she is terrified of the water (then why marry a sailor, one wonders?).

“In the Coast Guard they say, ‘You gotta go out,’” Webber reminds his crew. “They don’t say, ‘You gotta come back in.’”

As the lifeboat sets out, a David in search of a Goliath, disaster strikes with the first wave. The craft nearly capsizes, and the onboard compass is lost.

With no navigation aid, Webber must pilot in the blind, relying on faith, instinct and a whole lotta luck to find the wreck.

Meanwhile, aboard the Pendleton, engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) takes command of the crisis situation. The stern section is slowly sinking, so the survivors must improvise a way to buy precious time while they steer the stern toward land.

The Finest Hours is old-fashioned moviemaking on a grand scale. Director Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm), working from the 2009 novel by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, strikes the right balance between striking renderings of Mother Nature’s fury (even more impressive than 2000’s The Perfect Storm), and quieter moments, conveying fear and dread among the rescuers and the rescued.

Happily, Gillespie makes time to show the close-knit community joining in prayer, and an individual fingering a rosary.

As for all that water, bring along your sea legs. The storm sequences are intense and immersive (especially in 3D), and could have you reaching for the sick bag.

The film contains extreme storm-based action and scenes of peril, and some 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Kung Fu Panda 3
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Kung Fu Panda 3 boosts family values and the importance of teamwork.

The movie has two predecessors, released in 2008 and 2011.

The story finds the hero of the earlier chapters, ungainly but good-hearted panda Po (voice of Jack Black), fully established as the most unlikely of martial arts masters. Yet, though he may have fulfilled his destiny by taking on the role of the prophesied Dragon Warrior, Po still has more to learn.

That point is driven home when his undersized mentor, Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), leaves Po in charge of training the Furious Five, the band of fellow black belts who have aided him in the past. His attempt to instruct this quintet — voiced by Angelina Jolie Pitt, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu — swiftly degenerates into a humbling disaster.

A more promising development comes about when Po is joyfully reunited with his biological father, Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston). Though their fortunate crossing of paths answers the questions about his identity that had preoccupied Po in the last outing, this newfound relationship does nothing to diminish Po’s affection for — or loyalty toward — his kindly adoptive father, dumpling vendor Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong).

The main portion of the film is devoted to Po’s face-off with hulking, power-hungry villain Kai (voice of J.K. Simmons). A sort of Viking on steroids, Kai was originally an ally of Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim), the tortoise who invented kung fu. But his misuse of the life force known as Ch’i has turned Kai into an evil aggressor armed with supernatural powers.

The script promotes a version of self-improvement offering an inward looking scheme of betterment based exclusively on being true to oneself.

The film contains mythological themes, cartoon violence and at least one mildly scatological joke. 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Fifty Shades of Black
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Witless and aggressively foulmouthed, the supposedly comic Fifty Shades of Black (Open Road) ultimately registers as torturous.

Though obviously intended as a rollicking spoof of its “Grey” counterpart, which sought to take sadomasochism mainstream, the movie develops instead into an infernal endurance test of tedium, a device as mortifying as any whip or chain.

The general idea — as scripted, loosely, by Marlon Wayans, who also stars as Christian Black, and co-writer Rick Alvarez — is that all that kinky stuff chronicled in E.L. James’ novel and the 2015 film is a purely Caucasian eccentricity, not engaged in by African-Americans.

Accordingly, director Michael Tiddes’ shoddy flick swaps out the dungeon doings for reams of dirty talk by nearly every character who’s got more than a millisecond of screen time. Kali Hawk joins in the fetid frivolity, largely made up of unfunny sexual set pieces, as Hannah, an intern.

Far from an effective sendup of what we called the “pornographically narrow focus” and “potentially dangerous message” of the original, this would-be satire itself amounts to little more than a smirking survey of body parts and biological functions.

Though less significant — and thus less threatening — than the culturally corrosive attack on marital love it endeavours to mock, this “Fifty Shades” does represent an assault on the fundamentals of comedy — and is a soul-eroding waste of time.

The film contains strong sexual content, including full nudity and lewd banter, occasional drug use 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.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

The Boy
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — A spooky house, an unsettling doll, a youthful baby sitter or nanny left vulnerably on her own. Do those gothic ingredients sound familiar? Of course they do.

Put Chucky inside the Victorian pile Norman Bates shared with his ma and strand Jamie Lee Curtis alone there to mind him, and you’ll end up, more or less, with The Boy (STX).

Still, director William Brent Bell’s reheating of horror-movie leftovers does go easy on the bloodletting. There’s no Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger-style slice-and-dice included in this recipe. So adult viewers can sample the result at will, though elements of a different kind make this dish too spicy for the kids.

On the rebound from an abusive relationship with Cole (Ben Robson), her boyfriend, young Montana native Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) takes a job as a nanny at a remote British mansion. Greta’s attempt at a fresh start takes an unexpected turn, however, when she arrives to discover that her charge is a sinister porcelain doll that her elderly employers, the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), have substituted for their deceased son, Brahms.

With that delightful eccentricity so typical of the English, the Heelshires insist that Greta treat the figurine — as they do — exactly like a real child. When the couple departs for a vacation soon afterward, Greta’s willingness to put up with this charade is put to the test — and quickly found wanting.

She parks faux Brahms in a chair and covers him over, but soon finds that such neglect gives rise to uncanny events. Nobody, it seems, puts this baby in a corner, unless they want to spend the night locked in an attic that’s even creepier than the rest of the Heelshires’ residence.

Greta receives guidance, comfort and eventually love from her sole human contact, the local grocer’s clerk, Malcolm (Rupert Evans). Infatuation increases the frequency of Malcolm’s appearances beyond the weekly deliveries mandated by the Heelshires. That’s just as well, given that Greta is steadily being driven batty by bratty Brahms.

With no one watching them (or so at least they think) the duo tries for a bedroom get-together. Though they’re interrupted — for all his naughtiness, Brahms is puritanical or at least jealous — their thwarted endeavour, along with the odd tawdry term in the dialogue, makes this efficient chiller safest for grownups.

The film contains considerable violence with brief gore, nongraphic premarital sexual activity and occasional profane and 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Dirty Grandpa
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Someone had the idea of putting Robert De Niro in a sexploitation flick, and the result is Dirty Grandpa (Lionsgate).

De Niro plays Dick Kelly, a libido-driven, newly widowed former Special Forces officer who’s taken to Florida by his grandson, Jason (Zac Efron), for a decorous visit to Boca Raton. They wind up instead at spring break in Daytona Beach.

Jason, a straight-laced corporate lawyer, has left his controlling fiancee, Meredith (Julianne Hough), behind to plan their wedding. While in the Sunshine State, however, he realizes that his larcenous former classmate, Shadia (Zoey Deutch), may in fact be the girl of his dreams.

Dick spends most of the movie chasing Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a potty-mouthed coed who has mistaken him for a professor.

Director Dan Mazer and screenwriter John M. Phillips take a “let ‘er rip” approach to the crudest of references to sexual activity and any other body function that comes to mind. The most repellant offering in their smorgasbord of smut is a sequence that attempts to mine laughs out of the suspected sexual abuse of a child.

The film contains strong sexual content, including full male and female nudity and coarse banter, frequent drug use 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.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops