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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

10/05/2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Director Tim Burton is on his home turf with the gothic fantasy “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (Fox).

While his adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ 2011 novel is mildly entertaining, however, it’s hobbled by an overly complicated premise and by the head-scratching implications of time travel.

Bridging the film’s two settings, present-day Florida and the Britain of the 1940s, is kindly grandfather Abraham ‘Abe’ Portman (Terence Stamp). As a boy during the Second World War, Abe had been sent from his native Poland to a remote island off the coast of Wales where he had found a refuge in the institution of the title.

Though he has a frayed relationship with his son, Frank (Chris O’Dowd), Abe and his grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield), are the best of friends, and Abe delights in regaling Jake with tales of the otherworldly goings-on he experienced at Miss Peregrine’s (Eva Green) establishment. As he gets older, though, Jake becomes skeptical about Abe’s yarns, to the detriment of their bond.

Following Abe’s mysterious death, which seems to be linked to his past, Jake convinces Frank to take him to Wales where he hopes to learn the truth about grandpa’s childhood.

Once there, Jake enters the “time loop” which allows Miss Peregrine and her charges — all of them endowed with paranormal gifts — to live the same day in the fall of 1943 over and over again. Each evening, we learn, they magically reverse time at precisely the moment a Luftwaffe bomb is about to obliterate their Victorian mansion.

As Jake falls for Emma (Ella Purnell), a girl who can float through the air, and battles an eyeless villain named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), familiar Hollywood tropes about the value of being different from everyone else and substituting a self-selected family for an inadequate biological one are trotted out yet again. Jake discovers that he, too, is a “peculiar,” and receives from Miss Peregrine and her kids the love and attention good-hearted but ineffectual Frank has always failed to deliver.

While too scary for tots — one scene shows Barron and his evil cohorts feasting on gouged-out eyeballs — “Miss Peregrine” is generally well suited for their older siblings, many of whom will likely appreciate its macabre elements. There’s mayhem aplenty, but it’s almost all bloodless. Accordingly, only the occasional touch of slightly vulgar language, together with a couple of lapses where the Second Commandment is concerned, will raise a red flag for parents.

The film contains much stylized violence with minimal gore, some disturbing images, at least one use of profanity, a milder oath and a few crass terms. 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.

 

Deepwater Horizon
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Audiences of the 1970s were fed a steady diet of fictional disaster movies. Ocean liners capsized, skyscrapers burned and planes were imperiled.

Whatever the nature of the threat, endangered characters, whether plucky or pusillanimous, tried to see it through in the conviction that (to quote the popular theme song of 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure”), “There’s got to be a morning after.”

Such films often provided campy fun, even if they rarely boasted either high aesthetic quality or much staying power. “The Swarm,” anyone?

Quite the reverse is the case with the forceful but grim, fact-based chronicle of calamity “Deepwater Horizon” (Summit). Peter Berg’s dramatization of familiar recent events is an admirable and well-crafted spectacle for grownups — with the background assets of a solid, positively portrayed marriage and some incidental religious elements. Nonetheless, it’s not an easy picture to watch.

Drawing on a New York Times article by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul about the 2010 loss of the Deepwater, screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand fix their focus on a quartet of principals led by Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), the vessel’s chief electronics technician.

Kate Hudson plays Felicia, Mike’s worried wife back on shore; Kurt Russell is Jimmy Harrell, aka “Mr. Jimmy,” the craft’s respected crew commander; and Gina Rodriguez fills the role of Andrea Fleytas, the young officer responsible for keeping the vast, free-floating structure in position.

The tense opening scenes find visiting corporate executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) pushing back against the safety concerns expressed by both Mike and Mr. Jimmy — only to find himself, in short order, caught up in one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history. Following the “blowout,” the race for survival against shooting flames, sudden explosions and deadly flying debris is fuelled by self-sacrificing heroism and courage.

The bloody wounds and wrenching situations to which viewers are exposed along the way are no doubt faithful to reality, but they involve some harrowing sights. Compensation takes the form of compelling acting from both Wahlberg and Rodriguez, each portraying an ordinary person suddenly forced to cope with destruction on a titanic scale.

Mike is shown blessing himself as he starts the helicopter ride that will bring him out to the rig for his three-week shift. There’s an irony in this since the dangers of flying turn out, of course, to be the least of his worries. Additionally, the movie’s wrap-up includes a spontaneous recitation of the Our Father by all the survivors.

Between these two faith-tinged moments, however, we’re reminded that people facing imminent death tend to use the S-word a lot.

The film contains pervasive, sometimes gory, disaster violence, a scene of non-graphic marital lovemaking, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and frequent crude and crass 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

Masterminds
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — It seems obvious that bank robbery, especially in real life, makes a better subject for drama than for comedy.

And nothing in the Zach Galifianakis vehicle “Masterminds” (Relativity) — a comic recounting of the 1997 “hillbilly heist” from an armored-car firm in North Carolina — does anything to undermine that easily-arrived-at conclusion.

While the film is at least remarkably free of vulgarity, especially given the low-minded cast of so much screen comedy these days, it’s still marred by a few lapses into crassness.

Director Jared Hess and screenwriters Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey take as their premise the idea that Southerners with dead-end jobs who live in trailer parks are inherently funny. They evidently left it up to the actors — many of them from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — to work out their own character quirks, with highly uneven results.

Galifianakis spends a lot of time ridiculing himself, targeting his hirsute appearance, squeaky manner and juvenile personality. He’s variously compared to one of the Twelve Apostles, TV critic Gene Shalit and the love child of Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins. All this is intermingled with slapstick chases and the occasional gross-out gambit.

As for the main business at hand, that famous theft, names have not been changed to protect the guilty. David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a vault supervisor for Loomis Fargo & Co., grabbed $17.3 million in bundled cash from the company’s facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. Although that still ranks as the second-highest dollar amount ever stolen in the United States, Ghantt was tripped up at every turn by his own ineptness and that of his co-conspirators.

Ghantt had a girlfriend, Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), who talked him into committing the crime with the help of her friend, Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson). The plan was for Ghantt to take off for Mexico with a small amount of the loot, with Campbell and Chambers to join him some time later. Their highly questionable calculation was that federal investigators would eventually lose interest in the case.

The movie gives Ghantt a harridan fiancee, Jandice (Kate McKinnon), as a further inducement to head south of the border. The real Chambers, believing that the FBI was only interested in Ghantt, hired a hit man, Michael McKinney (Jason Sudeikis), to eliminate Ghantt in the belief that he’d never be suspected of his partner’s murder — another dubious assumption.

In a bid for both laughs and pathos, McKinney is portrayed as being so stupid that he believes he and Ghantt, who used McKinney’s identity to cross into Mexico, are long-lost twin brothers.

Ghantt, Campbell and Chambers were, from all accounts, dimwitted and boorish criminals. They quickly called attention to themselves through lavish spending, including the purchase of a mansion for Chambers that featured — yes, this is the iconic comedy moment — a framed portrait of Elvis Presley on black velvet.

Justice eventually catches up with the miscreants thanks to the work of a deadpan FBI agent named Scanlon (Leslie Jones). A series of jokes about her appearance were apparently meant to be edgy; they register instead as crudely racist.

The film contains light sexual banter and some crude humour. 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.

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