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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

04/20/2016

The Jungle Book
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Forest, fauna and beast never looked as good as they do in “The Jungle Book” (Disney), a lavish retelling of the 1894 collection of stories by British author Rudyard Kipling.

What makes this “live-action” 3D adaptation particularly compelling is that, apart from the “man-cub” Mowgli (Neel Sethi), everything on screen, from the breathtaking jungle landscapes to the meticulously detailed creatures great and small, was created on a computer. A cheeky line at the end of the credits, “Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles,” attests to this surprising fact.

Hence, this “Jungle Book” has much in common with another in-house creation, Disney’s beloved 1967 animated take on the tales. In fact, director Jon Favreau (“Chef”) and screenwriter Justin Marks pay homage to that movie with moments of humour and by incorporating its toe-tapping tunes, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”

A few scary sequences aside (the jungle is a dangerous place, after all), this version makes delightful, good-natured, heartfelt entertainment for the entire family.

Kipling’s basic plot endures: Mowgli, orphaned as a baby, is discovered by a kindly panther, Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley). He brings this child to a pack of wolves which raises him as one of their own, instilling a strict moral code and respect for family and other critters. Fortunately for Mowgli — and the audience — all of the anthropomorphic animals speak perfect English.

But danger lurks in the guise of Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), a menacing tiger who threatens the peaceable kingdom. Man is a threat, he warns, especially the “red flower” he commands — fire.

Shere Khan demands that the wolves surrender Mowgli, now 10 years old, to him for killing. “How many lives is a man-cub worth?” he challenges.

Mowgli decides to leave home to protect his wolf family and, with Bagheera’s help, makes his way toward the distant “man village.” An accident separates the duo, and Mowgli is swept deep into the jungle, where he is threatened by Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), a seductive python.

All hope seems lost until Mowgli encounters a happy-go-lucky bear named Baloo (voice of Bill Murray). An unlikely friendship strikes up, which will serve Mowgli well in a showdown with Shere Khan and another would-be despot, King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), boss of all primates.

“The Jungle Book” barrels to an action-packed conclusion that may frighten the youngest moviegoers. But ultimately it’s all good escapist fun.

Amid the “sturm und drang” generated by most Hollywood blockbusters, “The Jungle Book” presents a welcome opportunity, as Baloo croons, to “forget about your worries and your strife.”

The film contains a few scenes of peril. 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.

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (Universal) is both a prequel and a sequel. As such, it falls between two stools — with a resounding thud.

Positioned to bookend the action of 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” this lavishly staged adventure is well intentioned but dull. It boils down to a derivative mash-up of fantasy films like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Disney’s smash hit “Frozen.”

Everything from the first movie has been doubled-up by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin. In addition to two time frames, there are now a duo of wicked queens, a pair of rival kingdoms and a brace of brave huntsmen.

Noticeably absent, as the title suggests, is Snow White herself. Perhaps she was done in by a happy ending: at the conclusion of the last instalment — in which she was portrayed by Kristen Stewart — she had vanquished her queenly, and thoroughly evil, adversary (Charlize Theron) and been installed as the benevolent ruler of a peaceable kingdom.

No matter, Thor is here — or at least his human embodiment, Chris Hemsworth, is. Hemsworth reprises his role as Eric, the fearless (and, need it be said, hunky) huntsman.

Eric is given a backstory in the prequel part of the film. Kidnapped as a boy, he is raised by Freya (Emily Blunt), the Ice Queen — think Elsa in “Frozen,” but not as sweet — to be the ultimate soldier. His rearing is part of Freya’s drive to conquer neighbouring kingdoms.

Freya, we learn, was not always so mean. In fact, her bad-to-the-bone sister, Queen Ravenna (Theron), puts her in the shade wickedness-wise. As veterans of the first outing will know, Ravenna is the malevolent ruler who will one day face off against Snow White.

A dalliance between Freya and a nobleman, the Duke of Blackwood (Colin Morgan), produces a child. This provokes the usual warnings from that familiar magic mirror about Ravenna’s endangered status as “the fairest of them all.” Wild with jealously, Ravenna has the infant girl killed before Freya can run off with her lover.

Freya’s reaction is unexpected: her profound grief releases a dormant power to control ice and snow. She abandons Ravenna to run her own show and raise an army.

“In my kingdom there is but one law — do not love,” Freya tells her subjects. “It is a sin and I will not have it.”

But romance will not be denied, and soon Eric has pledged his troth and secretly married fellow huntsman (huntswoman?) Sara (Jessica Chastain). When they try to escape, Freya separates the spouses, and Eric is banished.

At this point, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” fast-forwards seven years, jumping over the events of the original. As round two kicks off, all the world seems at peace — at least until Prince William (Sam Claflin) tracks Eric down in the forest.

William has a quest for Eric. To wit, to find that loquacious looking glass — which has disappeared — and destroy it. Eric is joined on this mission by a quartet of dwarf sidekicks, Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) — all of whom provide welcome comic relief.

By now, silliness and tedium rule, and any connection to the Brothers Grimm and their 200-year-old fairy tale has been lost. Suffice it to say that, by the time the filmmakers resort to introducing flying monkeys into the mix, you’ll wish you were back home in Kansas with good old Auntie Em.

The film contains cartoonish action violence, implied premarital sexual activity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and a few crass 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Barbershop: The Next Cut
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “Barbershop: The Next Cut” (Warner Bros.), director Malcolm D. Lee’s third entry in a franchise that began in 2002, is a fundamentally moral film. As scripted by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, it upholds community values and vindicates marital commitment.

Yet some of the distasteful detours their screenplay takes along its path to a respectable wrap-up will necessarily narrow this sequel’s appeal even among grown moviegoers.

A seriocomic portrayal of life on Chicago’s South Side, the picture, like its predecessors, affectionately surveys the area’s strengths and weaknesses from the vantage point of the shop of the title, owned by and named for Calvin (Ice Cube). Long a neighbourhood hangout for men, Calvin’s has now been augmented by the addition of a beauty parlor run by the original proprietor’s new partner, Angie (Regina Hall).

Accordingly, much of the barbed chitchat exchanged among the ensemble of co-workers and friends concerns the battle of the sexes. Leading participants in this back-and-forth include series stalwart Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), the still-playful representative of an older generation, and newcomer Rashad (Common), husband to returning character Terri (Eve).

Terri’s success as a high-profile haircutter has left her overtaxed and neglectful, which opens the way for Calvin’s resident bad girl, Draya (Nicki Minaj), to make a play for Rashad. Responsible dad Calvin, meanwhile, is struggling to keep his 14-year-old son, Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), on the straight and narrow.

What concerns Calvin most is the possibility that Jalen might join one of the gangs whose murderous violence plagues the South Side. The headline-grabbing damage wrought by such groups, and the difficulty of curbing it, leads to earnest but heavy-handed debates among the denizens of Calvin’s. Eventually they strike on the idea of sponsoring a weekend-long truce during which they’ll offer local residents their services for free.

Family unity and civic decency are certainly worthy themes. But, as served up here, they come with a price. Viewers are taxed not only by numerous vulgar jokes, but by a couple of scenes in which female characters degrade themselves by attempting to excite male lust in an almost animalistic way.

These images not only violate the dignity of the characters concerned, they seem to play into racist notions about black sexuality that ought to be dispelled not reinforced.

The film contains some demeaning, though non-graphic, sexual behaviour, much sexual humor, fleeting rear nudity, a handful of profanities, at least one rough term, pervasive crude and crass language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. 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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