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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — The subtitle of the mock documentary “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” (Universal) hints at the banality of certain segments of the pop music world while providing a glimmer of hope that what’s to come will be genuinely witty and fun.

Instead, this lame spoof undercuts itself by making the vanity of music superstars seem too absurd to bother parodying. It’s also vulgar in the extreme.

Andy Samberg stars as inept rap musician Conner4Real, who starts out in the industry as one-third of a hip-hop boy band called Style Boyz. After unceremoniously breaking up the group and launching a solo career, Conner4Real finds he’s not equipped to handle success, or failure, on his own.

Dotted with cameos by a host of musicians including Ringo Starr, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Seal, Mariah Carey, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and Michael Bolton, the movie is more asinine than offensive, which is quite a claim given how much inappropriate material is packed into 86 minutes.

Directors Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone wrote the screenplay with Samberg and also co-star as Lawrence and Owen, Conner4Real’s childhood friends and bandmates. In actuality, Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone grew up together in Northern California and made their mark collaborating on a series of popular digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live” when Samberg was a cast member.

One has to conclude the abbreviated format is a better fit since the trio is unable to find enough material worthy of a feature-length satire. Virtually indistinguishable from its targets, “Popstar” raises the question whether it’s possible for a parody to be too accurate. In any case, audience members will pay a high price for watching this sophomoric loop of comedic cannibalism.

At one point, Conner4Real defensively asserts, “There’s no such thing as selling out any more.” Sadly, he may be right.

The film contains pervasive rough and crude language, full frontal male nudity, upper and rear female nudity, frequent drug use, some non-graphic violence involving canines, frequent toilet humour and explicit banter including degrading song lyrics. 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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John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Me Before You
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The folks behind the grand-scale weepie “Me Before You” (Warner Bros.) clearly intend their audience to come to the multiplex armed with an abundant supply of tissues. Regrettably, though, any tears shed by viewers of faith will turn out to be bitter ones.

What begins as a charming love story with a strong pro-life message veers off course toward a climactic endorsement of behaviour no one committed to scriptural values can accept. That’s a pity, because director Thea Sharrock’s adaptation of the 2012 novel by Jojo Moyes (who wrote the screenplay) initially has a lot going for it: an attractive, talented cast and a poignant Cinderella story that tugs at the heartstrings.

Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a vibrant 26-year-old with a single goal in life: to support her tight-knit family. Her father, Bernard (Brendan Coyle), is out of work, so it’s up to Lou to bring home the bacon in the quaint English town they call home.

Despite her total lack of relevant experience, Lou throws caution to the winds by becoming caretaker and companion to wheelchair-bound local resident Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). Handsome, wealthy and adventurous, Will was on top of the world until he was struck by a motorcycle in an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Now, two years later, he’s become withdrawn, bitter, and cynical. Needless to say, Lou provides a much-needed breath of fresh air. Slowly but surely, she wins her charge over with her quirky style and appealing demeanour.

“I have become a whole new person because of you,” Will says.

Predictably, the couple fall in love, and Lou envisions their future together.

So far so good. Lou’s sincere, tender devotion to Will is exemplary, reminding viewers that life is to be cherished in every circumstance — all the more so where disability has rendered it vulnerable.

Some of the dialogue expresses an equally positive outlook. “You only get one life,” Will admonishes Lou. “It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

With all that to the film’s credit, accordingly, it comes as a perplexing shock when Will, who has already attempted suicide once, persists in a plan to travel to Switzerland where he can “die with dignity” and no longer be a burden to society.

Not everyone, of course, is supportive of Will’s death wish. Lou is devastated, whisking Will off to the tropics in an effort to convince him that life is worth living. Her mother, Josie (Samantha Spiro), calls Will’s plan murder.

Yet Will’s supportive but smothering parents, Stephen (Charles Dance) and Camilla (Janet McTeer), are resigned to losing their son. And the script ultimately puts an unmistakable seal of approval on Will’s blatant rejection of the gift of life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is crystal clear on this topic: “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.” (2280) With an active movement afoot to legalize so-called euthanasia, it’s as distressing as it is surprising that a romantic drama intended as popular entertainment should so flatly contradict that fundamental truth.

The film contains a positive view of assisted suicide and a couple of profanities. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. 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.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Genetic engineering explained so that 13-year-old boys can easily comprehend it is one of the features of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (Paramount).

Deep thoughts about science aren’t the point of this, the second film in the franchise since its 2014 reboot. They’re more like passing considerations as the nocturnal, sewer-dwelling crime-fighting terrapins take on their familiar nemesis, Shredder (Brian Tee).

Shredder has come up with a DNA-altering substance called Purple Ooze, the application of which turns humans into the violent primitive animal to which they’re most closely related.

This way, his henchmen Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) can turn into a giant warthog and rhinoceros. Shredder’s goal, once he joins forces with the slimy Krang (voice of Brad Garrett) and mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), is to create a giant army for world domination, as bad guys like to do.

Michelangelo (voice of Noel Fisher), Donatello (voice of Jeremy Howard), Leonardo (voice of Pete Ploszek) and Raphael (voice of Alan Ritchson) learn that when the ooze is applied to themselves, they can go the opposite direction and transform into at least a semblance of human form. This way, they’ll finally be able to fit into society.

So, a discussion of what it means to be fully human? In a Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? Are you kidding?

We’re not, but director Dave Green and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec sort of are.

The moment of self-doubt flitters by in a minute, then the filmmakers remain faithful to the tropes of action pictures with ramped-up CGI animation.

The green guys, helped as always by their pal April (Megan Fox), return to the importance of teamwork as they resume their hyperkinetic adventures, which include skydiving, racing down highways around New York City, zooming down the Amazon River in search of a missing part needed for a teleportation device, and befuddling human police officers.

This is a film with a clear target audience of adolescent boys. It has no more larger purpose than any thrill ride, video game or bag of candy. No learning will take place.

The film contains intense action sequences, cartoonish violence and a single scatological reference. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating, 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.

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