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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

03/16/2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The third time’s not a charm with “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” (Summit), a ponderous adaptation of the final book of the futuristic trilogy by Veronica Roth.

With no less than four screenwriters in tow, Robert Schwentke returns as director of this sequel to last year’s “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” picking up right where the story left off.

Viewers will recall that our heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley), brought down the wicked faction system that divided families in post-apocalyptic Chicago. In doing so, she unearthed a big secret: The Windy City is a giant petri dish, a 200-year experiment in genetic engineering controlled by beings who live on the other side of the city wall.

Curiosity may kill the cat, but it won’t stop Tris and Four (Theo James), her mentor-lover, from venturing out into the forbidden zone as their city descends into anarchy and former leaders fight for control. Evelyn (Naomi Watts), Four’s mother, arranges show trials and public executions. She is countered by the saintly Johanna (Octavia Spencer), who preaches peace but is not afraid to use her weapon.

So over the Great Wall of China — make that Chicago — they go, Tris and Four along with an ally, Christina (Zoe Kravitz), and two former traitors: Tris’ brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and the wily Peter (Miles Teller).

Our intrepid quintet traverses a radioactive wasteland before being plucked by spaceships and whisked off to a gleaming city on the site of O’Hare International Airport. (“What’s an airport?” Caleb asks.)

This is the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, where a charismatic leader, David (Jeff Daniels), has been overseeing the Chicago experiment, which (surprise!) isn’t going well. He is obsessed with Tris as she is the only person in the whole wide world with healthy genes, and therefore key to correcting the genetic mutations plaguing her fellow Chicagoans.

It’s all rather complicated, and silly, as the action ramps up and David’s true intentions emerge. The old ad slogan “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature” comes to mind.

While “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” is not nearly as violent as its predecessors, it does contain several scenes which may be too intense for younger viewers.

Ardent fans will be delighted to learn this is not the end of the film series: Roth’s final novel has been divided in two, promising yet another sequel.

The film contains intense violence and action, brief rear female nudity, and some 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Miracles From Heaven
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The fact-based drama Miracles From Heaven (Columbia) tells a remarkable story.

Though director Patricia Riggen’s screen version of Christy Beam’s 2015 memoir is clearly designed for believers — and sometimes feels padded — even dedicated skeptics may have trouble dismissing its underlying narrative.

A wife and the mother of three daughters, Christy (Jennifer Garner) is going about her everyday life in the Fort Worth area of Texas when tragedy strikes without warning: Her 10-year-old middle daughter Annabel (Kylie Rogers) develops an unexplained but seemingly unshakable illness.

Alarmed, Christy refuses to accept the series of more or less casually delivered misdiagnoses from unfocused doctors with which she’s presented. And eventually, the grim truth emerges. Annabel’s symptoms are identified as stemming from pediatric chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, or CIPO, a rare, painful and incurable condition that prevents the body from digesting food.

Persistent Christy now focuses on obtaining the care of one of the few specialists in CIPO, Dr. Samuel Nurko (Eugenio Derbez). However, although kindly and caring, Dr. Nurko proves powerless to combat the disease — and Annabel’s death sentence stands.

Although Christy and her easygoing veterinarian husband, Kevin (Martin Henderson), are dedicated churchgoers — John Carroll Lynch plays their good-humored pastor — Christy’s faith crumbles in the face of Annabel’s current torment and impending demise. She finds herself unable to pray. She’s also deeply angered by the misguided notions of some fellow parishioners who seem to entertain a pre-Christian understanding of the connection between sin and misfortune.

Yet a startling, almost inexplicable, turnaround awaits Christy — one which is certainly providential if not indeed miraculous.

Though it may be aimed at a self-selecting audience of the already convinced, screenwriter Randy Brown’s script minimizes neither its protagonist’s crisis of doubt nor the larger mystery of innocent suffering.

The dialogue also takes a wide view of what counts as a divinely inspired marvel, highlighting the above-and-beyond kindness shown to Christy and her clan by an ensemble of secondary characters. The most significant of these is Angela (Queen Latifah), a gregarious waitress who takes an instant — and cheering — shine to Annabel.

While squeaky clean as far as the normal array of objectionable elements is concerned, Miracles From Heaven nonetheless includes both subjects and sights that make it inappropriate for the youngest viewers.

The film contains mature themes as well as potentially upsetting incidents and medical procedures. 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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The Perfect Match
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — In terms of morality and its portrayal of relationships, a better title for The Perfect Match (Lionsgate) would be “A Fine Mess.”

This so-called romantic comedy, directed by Bille Woodruff (Beauty Shop), teeters on the pornographic as it follows the adventures of a cheery lothario named Charlie (Terrence J.).

A successful talent agent and photographer in Southern California, Charlie is a confirmed bachelor interested only in one-night stands with gorgeous women. He’s remarkably successful on that front, and seemingly happy in his shallow approach to life.

“I know how I am with women,” he confesses. “As soon as I have sex with them, all of my interest magically disappears.”

Needless to say, such a mentality — which involves reducing women to nothing more than a means to cheap gratification — is completely at odds with the scriptural understanding of sexuality.

Marriage is the furthest thing from Charlie’s mind, especially as he watches the antics of his committed friends.

Newlyweds Pressie (Dascha Polanco) and Rick (Donald Faison) are trying to conceive a child, putting a strain on their shaky union. Victor (Robert Christopher Riley), engaged to Ginger (Lauren London), is alarmed at his fiancee’s plans for a very costly reception.

As for Charlie’s therapist sister, Sherry (Paula Patton), she’s convinced her brother’s fear of commitment is related to the death of their parents when he was a young boy.

Anyhow, Charlie predictably falls for the mysterious Eva (Cassie Ventura), and begins to think more about this crazy little thing called love. Could Eva be the one to make Charlie grow up and settle down at last?

A Perfect Match contains a few surprises along the way. But none of these really elevates the ethical tone.

Curiously, given his lifestyle, Charlie has an elaborate tattoo covering his shoulder and arm that reads “Proverbs 3:5-6.” The verses in question hardly square with his flouting of biblical norms or with his habit of treating members of the opposite sex as disposable objects. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” the passage instructs, “on your own intelligence do not rely; in all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”

The film contains misguided values, including a frivolous attitude toward promiscuity, semi-graphic non-marital sexual activity with partial nudity, frequent banter, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

10 Cloverfield Lane
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Audacious, witty, intelligent and skillfully made, 10 Cloverfield Lane (Paramount) — a bracing combination of suspense and science fiction — is also refreshingly free of vulgarity.

Even so, it’s not really a family film. But mature adolescents as well as their elders should be able to enjoy this as a deadpan thrill ride, particularly during the second half. Dyed-in-the-wool fans of the 2008 found-footage thriller Cloverfield, though, may be disappointed on finding that this sequel has only a very tenuous connection to its forerunner.

Director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle mash up the tropes of apocalyptic stories with a simple twist: What if all of the scenarios they present happen to be true?

As a result of this approach, the viewer doesn’t feel insulted by a stale bag of “gotcha” tricks and crude references.

Protagonist Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) combines the fearlessness of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the “Alien” franchise with the skill set of TV’s intrepid MacGyver. Her engagement has broken up, and she’s on a lonely nighttime drive toward Lake Charles, Louisiana, when her car is broadsided.

She wakes up chained to a wall in the well-appointed underground bunker of Howard (John Goodman), a survivalist who displays all the smugness of someone who expected trouble from sinister forces, then got it.

“There’s been an attack,” he tells her. “A big one. Down here, we’re safe.” He claims to have rescued her from the crash and from whatever’s been going on outside.

This is not, he insists, insane: “Crazy is building your ark after the flood’s already come!”

His story is confirmed by Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the bunker’s only other resident, who helped Howard build it.

Michelle is frightened, but she’s no dewy-eyed scream queen. The first time she tries to break out, she discovers through an airlock window that something awful — maybe nuclear, maybe chemical — has, in fact, taken place in the wider world.

This leads her to trust Howard for a time. But despite his resolve to operate his bunker as a grumpy but caring paterfamilias, she learns that his teen daughter’s death may not have been an accident.

After several days of domestic calm punctuated by Howard’s outbursts, Michelle and Emmett hatch another escape plan. Now Michelle must decide whether it’s worse to face claustrophobic evil or alien invaders.

The film contains some bloody physical violence, including a shooting death, an intense atmosphere and a single use of rough 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.

 

The Brothers Grimsby
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Written by and starring Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedy The Brothers Grimsby (Columbia) clearly wants to show it has its heart in the right place.

Unfortunately, a sense of taste is nowhere on display as Baron Cohen and director Louis Leterrier pursue gross-out giggles in a chase that takes them far over the line separating the merely awkward from the nauseating.

As a result, the themes of altruism, family love and the inherent value of working-class lives Baron Cohen incorporates into his script sink into a mire of nastiness.

The premise is one of those dopey, only-in-Hollywood setups that might be excusable if the humour it delivered were in the least enjoyable. Bumbling halfwit Nobby Butcher (Baron Cohen) grins his way through a happy-go-lucky existence in depressed Grimsby, the North-of-England equivalent of a Rust Belt town.

He loves his live-in girlfriend Dawn (Rebel Wilson) — though not enough, apparently, to marry her — and his nine children. He’s also a favourite down at the pub where he entertains his protective community of eccentric slobs by, among other antics, launching fireworks out of his backside.

Nobby has only one source of sorrow in his life: the absence of his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong). So when Sebastian is accidentally located, Nobby loses no time in tracking him down.

As viewers have already been shown, however, Sebastian is a skilled secret agent engaged in a delicate mission with international repercussions. Thus his unexpected reunion with his bull-in-a-china-shop sibling instantly — and predictably — degenerates into a disaster.

Nobby not only compromises Sebastian’s undercover operation, he manages to do so in a way that makes it appear as though Sebastian has turned traitor. Where can Sebastian take refuge long enough to clear his name? Why, among the good folk of Grimsby, of course.

Since the solution to Sebastian’s woes involves defeating a plot to kill off proletarian “scum” like Nobby and his ilk, there’s an anti-snobbery message to the film that can also be read as a Catholic-friendly warning against eugenics. A further subtext makes a satiric target of the kind of worldwide aid agency often regarded with suspicion by those opposed to the cultural imperialism about which Pope Francis has repeatedly warned.

Add to that the screenplay’s (admittedly off-kilter) celebration of self-sacrificing brotherly bonds, and the underlying substance of the picture would seem to be one worthy of applause. But the comic fare closer to the surface of The Brothers Grimsby is so demeaning to human sexuality and so repulsive generally that the task of digging down through it turns out to be a dispiriting exercise in dumpster diving.

The film contains strong sexual content, including graphic acts and full nudity, constant action violence with some gore, drug use, extremely coarse humour, at least one use of profanity and considerable 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.
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The Young Messiah
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — It’s a seemingly glaring omission likely to strike even casual readers of the New Testament as disappointing: With the notable exception of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Gospel writers are entirely silent about their subject’s childhood.

Apart from this single incident, our only canonical information about the years between the Holy Family’s return from exile in Egypt and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry consists of Luke’s general observation that, during this time, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favour before God and man.”

While frustrating for scholars — and a happy hunting ground for those given to wild theories (Jesus in Tibet, anyone?) — this period can, nonetheless, provide a fertile field for speculation if handled in a careful way. A case in point: the engaging dramatization The Young Messiah (Focus).

Director and co-writer Cyrus Nowrasteh’s screen version of Anne Rice’s 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt sensitively explores the mystery of the Incarnation. By remaining faithful to the underlying message of Scripture even as it tackles a topic on which the Bible itself is mute, Nowrasteh’s script, written in collaboration with his wife Betsy, avoids the many theological pitfalls that surround the union of Christ’s divine and human natures.">

The result is an intriguing, devotion-friendly piece of entertainment suitable for viewers of most ages. Families will welcome it as especially appropriate fare for Lent as well as the Easter season.

As the film begins, a combination of both ordinary and supernatural circumstances indicate to Joseph (Vincent Walsh) that the time has come for his family to leave their temporary residence in Alexandria — the only home 7-year-old Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) has ever known — and return to Nazareth. Not for the first time, Joseph and Mary (Sara Lazzaro) are being forced to grapple with the concrete implications of their son’s unique identity.

Together with Jesus’ other close relatives — including his uncle, Cleopas (Christian McKay), and cousin, James (Finn McLeod Ireland) — Joseph and Mary understand, at least partially, that the lad is the promised Messiah and the Son of God. The fact that he possesses miraculous powers is, moreover, becoming apparent even to people outside the family circle.

Joseph and Mary’s dilemma is obvious: How can they properly guide a child who remains, in many ways, a mystery to them? And how are they to answer the many questions he himself keeps raising? As Joseph pointedly asks, “How do we explain God to his own Son?”

In the midst of their bafflement, Joseph and Mary are confronted with an even more urgent priority: keeping Jesus safe from the dangers that surround him. The notoriety resulting from the boy’s superhuman abilities has drawn the attention of corrupt King Herod (Jonathan Bailey) who dispatches a Roman centurion named Severus (Sean Bean) to track and kill him.

Jesus is also being dogged by the figure of Satan (Rory Keenan), though only he can sense the evil adversary’s presence.

While The Young Messiah can be warmly endorsed for a wide range of audiences, the mature elements listed below, although discreetly handled, bar recommendation for all.

The film contains combat violence with slight gore, scenes of crucifixion, an attempted rape and at least one crass term. 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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