Prairie Messenger Header

Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Anthropomorphism runs amok in the 3D animated comedy-adventure Zootopia (Disney).

As with Disney’s Cars franchise, which presented a world of automobiles with human traits, Zootopia personifies all creatures great and small. They jabber away among themselves as each earns a living in the bustling metropolis of the title.

Inside jokes and clever puns abound. City dwellers shop at Targoat, sip lattes from Snarlbucks, call up a ride from Zuber — and make deposits at the Lemming Brothers Bank.

At the DMV, short for the Department of Mammal Vehicles, the lines are long and all of the employees are three-toed sloths who, true to their name, move at a glacial pace.

The newest arrival in this urban setting, where predators and prey live in apparent harmony, is Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin). A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rabbit from the suburbs, Judy is eager to fulfil her lifelong dream by becoming the first bunny officer of the Zootopia Police Department.

Through grit and perseverance, she succeeds, only to face resentment and prejudice from her peers as well as her boss, the imposing buffalo Chief Bogo (voice of Idris Elba). He assigns Judy to parking duty, while much larger cops (including an elephant and a rhino) take on important criminal cases.

Determined to make the best of it, Judy hops into action. As she racks up the tickets, she encounters wily fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a small-time con artist.

It turns out that Nick is a key witness in a missing “person” case that Judy wants to solve to win the respect of her co-workers. As natural enemies become collaborators and, ultimately, friends, Zootopia morphs into a buddy movie.

Directors Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), together with co-director Jared Bush, keep the action moving at a fast pace. Unfortunately, the film takes a dark turn as the investigation proceeds, exposing the seedier side of Zootopia. Scenes of animal conflict and cruelty could frighten and confuse the younger set.

And that’s not to mention the somewhat paradoxical naturist club where animals shed their clothes.

Parents will smile at references to classic films that will fly over their children’s heads. Particularly amusing is Mr. Big (voice of Maurice LaMarche), a tiny arctic shrew who’s a dead ringer for Don Corleone in The Godfather. As the mobster threatens our furry duo, the wedding reception scene plays out in the background, and before long Mr. Big is dancing with the bride.

Overall, despite its mixed tone, Zootopia offers good lessons in tolerance, hard work and optimism. As Judy reassures Nick, “Life’s a little bit messy. We all make mistakes.”

The film contains occasional mild action violence, including torture, bullying, a naturist theme, and some rude gags. 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.
- — -
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
- — -

London Has Fallen
By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — When North Korean terrorists besiege the White House in 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) leaps into action to save President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart).

In the equally improbable and considerably more pitiless sequel London Has Fallen (Focus), Great Britain’s capital is devastated by insurgents controlled by Pakistani arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul). The co-ordinated onslaught fells landmarks and imperils world leaders gathered for the funeral of the British prime minister, who died suddenly in his sleep.

Not to worry. With Mike at his side brutally dispatching bad guys, President Asher’s odds of survival are pretty good.

Mike’s wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell), may be pregnant with their first child, and he may be on the verge of resigning from the Service. But Mike could never shirk his duty, which, as portrayed here, entails a willingness to switch instantaneously into kill mode.

That may be true to life to a certain extent. Yet Mike’s ruthless treatment of the assailants targeting the leader of the free world seems excessive and even borders on sadism at times. The atmosphere becomes truly noxious when the script tries to find humour in his behaviour.

After watching him stab or shoot scores of individuals, one image of Mike cradling his newborn won’t suffice to soften the character. The barrage of expletives he emits doesn’t help, nor does Butler’s inability to bring lighthearted charm to the cowboy-warrior.

Dashes of gravitas are provided by the return of Angela Bassett as Secret Service head Lynne Jacobs, and of Morgan Freeman, whose was Speaker of the House Trumbull and now serves as Asher’s vice-president. And director Babak Najafi does make an effort to highlight the human relationships in the scenario.

Still, video-game mayhem predominates.

It’s worth noting that the impetus for the London attack was a drone strike on Barkawi’s family compound during his daughter’s wedding. Carried out two years earlier by the United States on behalf of a coalition of western nations, it resulted in the deaths of innocent non-combatants, as does the London melee.

American officials argue the drone strike was a mistake based on faulty intelligence. But overall the movie takes pains to justify the use of lethal force and to tout the righteousness of American values and military might.

Granted, action flicks aren’t the best source for ruminations on the ethics of violence or the efficacy of armed conflict. In fact, one sign of the movie’s belligerent agenda is revealed early on when — even before the drone attack on his home — Barkawi declares, “Vengeance must always be profound and absolute.”

London Has Fallen comes close to undercutting itself by showing that, no matter who seeks it, vengeance can never be large or meaningful enough, that it always leads to more violence, and that it’s rarely the stuff of first-rate entertainment.

The film contains pervasive and often gory scenes of combat, murder and torture, a revenge theme, some 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.
- — -
McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — When a movie’s title is military code for an obscene phrase, potential viewers are likely to wonder what awaits them behind such thinly veiled vulgarity.

In the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Paramount), the answer is a fact-based blend of comedy and drama pervaded by a low moral tone.

Set in the early 2000s, the film tells the story of Kim Baker (Tina Fey), a deskbound reporter who impulsively transformed her life by becoming a war correspondent in Afghanistan. Her new surroundings in Kabul are wildly chaotic, both on the level of physical danger and, perhaps less predictably, on the plane of ethical decision-making as well.

Audiences are clearly supposed to be impressed by Kim’s bold — somehow feminist — revolt against routine. They’re also meant to see how her life is energized by her exposure to mortal risk.

If living on the edge invigorates Kim herself, it does little to add interest to her experiences. Professionally, she’s disappointed to find the Iraq War gobbling up all the headlines back home. Personally, she gradually befriends her guide and translator, Fahim (Christopher Abbott), as well as fellow — or is it rival? — reporter Tanya (Margot Robbie), one of her few female peers.

It’s typical of the film’s gutter-level outlook (and vocabulary) that Tanya asks Kim, during the pair’s very first conversation, whether it’s all right for her to, um, foxtrot with some of the men in Kim’s security detail. To Tanya’s immense relief, Kim has no problem with that. What a pal!

Kim, as we’ve been shown, has left behind a boyfriend. Despite his lackluster personality, she’s determined to stay true to him. But plot developments open the path to a largely commitment-free romance with dashing Iain (Martin Freeman), a photojournalist notorious for his womanizing.

In adapting real-life reporter Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa showcase the oppressive restrictions placed on women in some Muslim cultures. They also highlight the hypocrisy of some of the public officials — personified here by Alfred Molina playing the Afghan attorney general — charged with enforcing such mores.

Yet their film takes for granted the kind of off-kilter ethics that currently prevail in the West — exaggerated, in this context, by the decadence-breeding perils of a combat zone. Thus Robert Carlock’s screenplay gives an amused pass to cocaine-sniffing, drunkenness, alcohol-fuelled promiscuity and even sex with animals.

A taste for porn featuring interspecies intercourse (specifically with donkeys) is treated as the merest foible of one of the script’s background characters. In an obvious bid for gross-out bragging rights, we’re given a glimpse of his favoured fare, a peek clearly aimed to elicit giggles.

There remain at least a few taboos, however, that even a jackass would not wish to see toppled.

The film contains scenes of armed conflict with brief but graphic gore, drug use, a debased view of human sexuality, semi-graphic non-marital bedroom activity, fleeting pornographic images including an act of bestiality, numerous uses of profanity 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.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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