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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


Bridget Jones’s Baby

By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — Typically, romantic comedies do not revolve around characters our youth-crazed culture tends to dismiss as middle-aged. “Bridget Jones’s Baby” (Universal) is a charming exception.

An over-40 heroine and her two mature suitors prove more than capable of combining love and laughter to life-affirming effect.

Fifteen years after British writer Helen Fielding’s klutzy diarist first popped up on movie screens, she resurfaces in a scenario that renders her endearing indeed. In “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and its 2004 sequel, Bridget’s awkwardness and cringe-worthy antics drove the humour; we were asked to mock and cheer for her at the same time.

Though still quite clumsy — and despite the fact her relative wantonness will make some viewers wince — Bridget is easier to root for now because she’s comfortable in her own skin. Her self-awareness has evolved into self-understanding, which in turn triggers deeper empathy and a more durable feeling of goodwill.

Bridget (Renee Zellweger) has no love interest to celebrate with on her 43rd birthday, and plans with friends have fallen through. But being alone in her London flat does not maker her appear pathetic. Her job producing a major TV news show is a source of satisfaction and she’s enriched by her relationships with work mates and a diverse set of friends. Still, she longs for a husband and family.

At a music festival she meets Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the American founder of a matchmaking website that uses an algorithm to determine compatibility. With minimal ado, they have relations and go their separate ways. Less than a fortnight later, Bridget and her ex boyfriend Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) relight the flame following a christening party. Finding herself pregnant, she has no idea which man is the father.

Esteemed lawyer Mark remains a reserved, emotionally repressed figure. Often wearing a pained expression, Firth brings even more dour haughtiness to the role than before. Yet this works in the movie’s favour by heightening the believability of his feelings when they are revealed. For his part, the effusive Jack has an unrealistic approach to romance, one that relies on a mathematical formula.

Adding to the turmoil, at work a team of hipster media consultants has been brought in to update — read dumb-down — Bridget’s news program. And her mother (Gemma Jones) is campaigning for a local council position on a conservative, family-values platform.

Returning to the franchise after directing the first movie, Sharon Maguire adroitly balances the physical and verbal humor. She wrings the right amount of giggles and feel-good warmth from the plot, which doesn’t offer any startling developments and sags in the middle section before delivering its bundle of happiness. Playing Bridget’s droll obstetrician, Emma Thompson steals every scene she’s in; she also shares credit for the screenplay along with Fielding and Dan Mazer.

The degree of calmness impending motherhood brings to Bridget doesn’t preclude hilarious gaffes and moments of self-doubt, but she’s less susceptible to feeling humiliated. The language is colourful to say the least; and Bridget’s willingness to have premarital sex (modestly depicted) cannot be endorsed. More importantly, however, there’s never the slightest suggestion that she won’t have the baby. She wants to be a mother, and a wife.

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” evinces a healthy desire — a fruitful yearning that takes into account the wisdom and nurturing instincts that develop as one gets older. Thematically, the picture respects tradition while championing tolerance and smart innovation. It favours lived experience and intangible bonds over mathematical abstraction and sparkly veneers. Bridget can distinguish between the inanely modern or progressive — change for change’s sake, if you will — and values that are truly important and lasting.

The film contains recurring crude sexual language and humor, some rough language, two implied sexual encounters, brief upper female and real male nudity, and an instance of toilet humor. 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 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.


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Few figures on the contemporary scene are as controversial as Edward Snowden, the former intelligence officer who, in 2013, revealed to the press the existence of a secret National Security Agency program for the collection of mass data that he considered abusive.

Champion of individual rights against an intrusive government or a traitor to his country? Opinions about Snowden vary between these two extremes but also probably occupy every square inch of the wide philosophical and political territory dividing them.

Riding into this ongoing fray at an enthusiastic gallop comes left-wing stalwart Oliver Stone. As director and co-writer (with Kieran Fitzgerald) of “Snowden” (Open Road), Stone serves up an interesting screen biography, but one that eventually proves both excessively one-sided and overlong.

Holed up in a Hong Kong hotel on the eve of his epochal leak, Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recalls the events of his life, beginning with his service in the Army, for the benefit of documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo). Between the extensive flashbacks that follow, he also strategizes with the two principal reporters, Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), working to publish the documents he’s stolen.

Drawing on a duo of books, “The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding and “Time of the Octopus” by Anatoly Kucherena, Stone initially presents his protagonist as a conscientious man pulled in different directions by his loyalty to the government, his larger sense of duty and his love for his live-in girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Once Snowden determines his eventual course of action, however, a hero-worshipping tone takes hold to a degree that mars the film’s effectiveness.

Indeed, the swelling music and coinlike profile pose with which we take leave of the title figure would not be out of place in a movie about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.

If the script is historically accurate, the intelligence community does have some life-endangering, morally indefensible actions to answer for, as when Snowden becomes involved in a potentially murderous plot to blackmail Middle Eastern banker Marwan al-Kirmani (Bhasker Patel).

But the larger question “Snowden” raises — how to strike the proper balance between security and privacy — remains a prudential judgment about which viewers of faith are free to disagree. Accordingly, adult moviegoers, some of whom may be put off by the picture’s brief but explicit portrayal of sexuality, will have to draw their own conclusions. Those arrived at, and driven home with a heavy hand, by Stone and his collaborators are all too obvious — to the aesthetic detriment of his project.

The film contains a graphic scene of non-marital sexual activity, images of upper female nudity as well as partial nudity in a strip club, a few uses of profanity and frequent rough and crude language. 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.


Blair Witch
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Turning the 1999 ultra-low-budget “The Blair Witch Project” into a franchise has meant turning the saga into a conventional slasher film with little suspense and predictable setups.

Now, it might as well be a drinking game: “Another stick man!” (Chug!)

That’s the problem with “Blair Witch” (Lionsgate), a story of young people camping in the woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland, looking for the fabled centuries-old vengeful witch who slaughters all who enter.

If you go down in the woods today, you’re not sure of a big surprise, because it’s just her again, and she’s gotten to be as boring as poison oak, even though she’s not seen.

Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett don’t even try to do much with the “found footage” conceit of the original, which added considerably to the claustrophobic terror of a single girl armed with only her video camera.

The video technology has improved, and the intrepid campers even have a camera drone. It’s just that the witch outsmarts them at every turn.

It has been 17 years since Heather disappeared in the Black Hills Forest while hunting the Blair Witch. Her brother James (James Allen McCune), convinced that Heather’s still alive, organizes an expedition with college gal pal Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who thinks she can make it a graduate documentary project, and they bring along friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott).

Horror formulas typically involve rustic locals who are true believers in ghosts and witches; here, these are Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry).

Before long, the witch is creating eerie noises and tormenting the campers with her talisman — stick men in the dense foliage. She also, like some form of Special Forces operative, has the additional talent of putting the woods in perpetual darkness.

She starts picking off the terrified campers one by one in the time-honoured manner, but all of this seems more like overripe parody than any serious attempt at horror.

The film contains fleeting gore and fleeting rough and crude language. 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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