Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Like time travellers from the Golden Age of Hollywood studio films, the characters played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in “Allied” (Paramount) don’t allow a little event like the Second World War to muss their elegant coifs.

Whether taking out the German ambassador in Casablanca with their burp guns or having their daughter born outdoors in London during an air raid, this perpetually chic couple keeps matters neat and nice, laundered and pressed.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The overwrought plot — which combines doomed love, purse-lipped Nazis and occasional choruses of chanteuse Rina Ketty’s occupation-resonant hit “J’attendrai” (“I Will Wait”) — has no surprises.

So why not enjoy the journey as a costume drama? Cotillard’s impressive collection of silk negligees and Pitt’s crisp double-breasted suits are their own show.

The downfall of such an approach comes, however, when the duo shed their clothes — as they do more than once — to demonstrate that they are lustily in love. These peeks into the bedroom considerably restrict the appropriate audience for director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight’s drama.

Pitt’s Max, a Canadian wing commander, and Cotillard’s Marianne, a French resistance fighter with a murky past, are first shown as part of an espionage operation in which they have to pass themselves off as husband and wife.

In keeping with the cherished rules of this formula, they hit it off for real, and decide on a hasty wedding in London, despite a warning from Max’s commanding officer, Frank (Jared Harris). “Marriages made in the field,” he admonishes, “never work.”

Oh, but theirs flourishes. At least, it does so until Max is summoned to an underground warren to be informed that British intelligence thinks Marianne, who allegedly took part in a botched mission in Paris, may not be the person she appears to be. In fact, she may be passing secrets to the enemy.

The resulting stakes are nothing short of staggering: If the accusation against Marianne turns out to be true, Max himself will be obliged to shoot her.

At that point, the story finally gains traction as stiff-upper-lip style military duty competes with lush romantic pathos.

The film contains strong sexual content, including brief but graphic premarital sex, upper female and rear nudity, some combat violence, occasional profanity and frequent rough language. 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.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
- — -


By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The same tropical setting that provided the backdrop for the 1949 musical “South Pacific” now lends its exotic flavor to the animated feature “Moana” (Disney).

As for the feminism-friendly story of the movie’s eponymous heroine, well, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovelorn Seabees so famously declared, “There is nothing like a dame.”

The spunky heroine of Disney’s 56th animated film is a 16-year-old Polynesian princess (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) who seeks not a boyfriend but a grand adventure on the high seas, all to save her world from destruction.

There’s no mistaking the entertainment value of “Moana,” gloriously rendered in 3D, with a delightful array of characters and toe-tapping songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Broadway’s “Hamilton.” The film also offers good lessons about family, friendship and the need to be responsible.

In Jared Bush’s screenplay “Moana” presents a view of creation in which a comely goddess named Te Fiti commanded the oceans and brought life to the world.

Te Fiti was joined by a demigod (half -god, half-human) named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson). Maui had a nifty talent of pulling islands up from the sea with his trusty fishhook. But he was greedy, and stole the magical “heart” of Te Fiti. Darkness covered the world, and Maui was banished.

Fast-forward several centuries to the tranquil island of the so-called “Chosen One,” Moana. Since her name means “ocean,” it’s no wonder that Moana is drawn to the open waters beyond her island’s protective reef, despite the warnings of her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison).

“No one goes beyond the reef,” he says. “It keeps us safe.”

But the ocean has a mind of its own, and — in a manner strikingly similar to the animated column of water in 1989’s “The Abyss” — the sea pokes and prods Moana into seeking her destiny. Her quest is to locate Maui, transport him across the sea (demigods don’t swim), and restore Te Fiti’s heart before the encroaching darkness reaches Moana’s island.

Maui is more surfer dude than classical Greek god. He’s also accustomed to adulation, not the commands of a teenager. The tattoos covering his ample girth spring to life, acting either as a voice of approval or an admonishing, Jiminy Cricket-like conscience.

Throw into the mix Moana’s pet, a dimwitted rooster named Heihei (voice of Alan Tudyk), and you have the recipe for a chaotic but amusing journey across the sea.

With previous helming credits like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker represent the aristocracy of Disney animation. Yet “Moana” does feel derivative at times, with echoes of previous films. And storm sequences as well as creature battles may be too intense for younger viewers.

Preceding “Moana” is an amusing animated short called “Inner Workings.” A riff on last year’s “Inside Out,” it tells the story of a man stuck in a dead-end job in the firm of “Boring, Boring, and Glum.” When he imagines doing crazy, potentially risky things like surfing, his brain works overtime to keep him safe, lest he wind up dead (depicted by his gravesite, with a Latin-chanting priest offering a blessing.)

The film contains mildly scary action sequences and occasional bathroom humor. 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.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Fans of British novelist P.G. Wodehouse have a special place in their hearts for one of his most memorable comic creations, a shy and eccentric newt fancier with the immortal name Augustus Fink-Nottle.

Gussie, as his pal Bertie Wooster always called him, turns out to bear some similarity to the protagonist of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (Warner Bros.).

Since the film is primarily a fantasy and not a comedy, however, this resemblance proves a mixed blessing.

Penned by “Harry Potter” scribe J.K. Rowling, and set in 1926 New York, the movie follows the stateside adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an alumnus of Harry’s alma mater, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who specializes in studying and preserving the creatures of the title. As he travels the globe, Newt keeps an entire menagerie of the outlandish critters he’s collected in an ordinary-looking but magical suitcase.

When this valise accidentally falls into the hands of everyday mortal Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the owner of an outwardly identical grip, it’s easy to foresee the fallout. Jacob cluelessly releases the inhabitants of Newt’s portable zoo, thereby creating two interconnected problems for the spell-caster.

First, there’s the danger of setting off a panic as fauna unknown to nature wander the streets of Gotham. The result of such a sensation, moreover, would be to reveal to humans the existence of the whole carefully hidden world of wand-wavers — with persecution and conflict the likely results.

To prevent all this, Newt joins forces with local Ministry of Magic enforcement official Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). While barely able to understand the alternate reality he’s suddenly stumbled into, Jacob, too, lends a hand. Finally, to round things out — and create parallel love possibilities — Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), also joins the chase to retrieve the strays.

As directed by “Harry Potter” veteran David Yates, “Beasts” is visually impressive. And Folger brings off Jacob’s working-stiff persona to droll effect. But, overall, emotional engagement is lacking — perhaps because Redmayne makes withdrawn bashfulness one of his peculiar character’s leading qualities. Thus special effects wind up predominating over human interaction.

The predictable mayhem punctuating the story is thoroughly stylized. So parents may be more concerned to find that a vaguely religious atmosphere surrounds one of the villains of the piece, anti-wizardry crusader Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton).

The film contains considerable action violence with minimal gore and a couple of uses of a slang term some may find vulgar. 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.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

- — -

The Edge of Seventeen
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — A sense of missed opportunities looms over the coming-of-age comedy “The Edge of Seventeen” (STX).

The film features many of its genre’s familiar elements: a precocious, angst-ridden teen girl, awkwardness with the opposite sex, a sense of deprivation despite a loyal friend, a supportive brother and a very compassionate teacher. Yet this is not an update of the old John Hughes formula romances starring Molly Ringwald.

What’s distinct — and disturbing — about “Edge” is that the lead character, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), is a 17-year-old high school junior who’s exceptionally foul-mouthed, obsessed with sex and who eventually finds herself in a situation that may make viewers wonder who the target audience for this movie really is.

Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig would seem to be up against a paradox, having made an R-rated movie that most teen girls — who would presumably be expected to identify with Nadine — can’t see. With the raunchy language and references to sexual acts halved, this might pass muster — just. Instead it’s a verbal onslaught that culminates with creepy action.

Nadine’s issues are rooted in the death of her idolized father, Tom (Eric Keenleyside), back when she was 13. This only receives superficial mentions.

Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), her best friend from elementary school, has always been there to provide emotional support, even when Nadine’s mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), was too busy venturing out on wildly bad dates.

Nadine’s idealized father figure is teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), to whom she confesses all her anxieties.

The first crisis emerges when Nadine finds her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), in bed with Krista, an event that snaps her bonds with both. She explores the beginning of a dating relationship with the shy and equally awkward Erwin (Hayden Szeto). But she also pines after Nick (Alexander Calvert), a scruffy bad boy who has only one thing on his mind.

This sets up the second crisis, when Nadine sends Nick a sexually explicit text by mistake. Complications ensue, falling just short of sexual violence.

The goal here would seem to be to have audiences empathize with Nadine, thinking, “Yeah, we’ve all been there.” But this “there” gives off a strong whiff of exploitation.

The film contains a semi-graphic sexual assault, implied non-marital sexual activity, underage drinking and pervasive rough, crude and crass 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.
- — -
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Bleed for This
By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — No boxing movie can ignore the fact that inflicting and enduring physical damage is an essential part of the sport.

The question is whether and how a particular film succeeds in finding drama in — and thus teasing out meaning from — the bodily harm that inevitably occurs.

As its title suggests, “Bleed for This” (Open Road) doesn’t try to gloss over boxing’s inherent brutality and violence. Fortunately, it doesn’t wallow in it either, and is not excessively graphic.

In telling the story of real-life pugilist Vinny Pazienza, nicknamed “The Pazmanian Devil,” it strikes a balance between truthfully depicting the physical suffering and making inflated claims about what it might signify.

Yet, while the film’s visuals are kept within the bounds of taste, the dialogue is another matter. The preponderance of offensive language is such that it disqualifies this aesthetically impressive movie from receiving approbation.

Hailing from Cranston, Rhode Island, Pazienza (Miles Teller) was a champ in the super lightweight division during the mid-1980s. But by 1988, when the movie begins, his career has stalled.

After his manager drops him, he joins forces with down-and-out trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). Rooney moves him up in weight class and the results are excellent.

Then, tragically, Vinny breaks his neck in a car accident and faces the prospect of never walking again, let alone returning to the ring.

While mounting an incredible comeback, Pazienza is supported by his tight-knit, Italian-American family, in particular by his father, Angelo (Ciaran Hinds), a gym owner who has guided his son’s career. The ordeal will test the limits of their bond, as well as Vinny’s relationship with the alcoholic Rooney.

Using a spare script and unadorned visual style, writer-director Ben Younger boils Vinny’s story down to its essentials. He doesn’t sugarcoat, intellectualize or emotionalize. And he refrains from offering a psychological analysis or a technical study of boxing.

If Younger had shown similar restraint in choosing the words he puts into the mouths of his cast, his gritty but artistic character study might have been endorsable for at least some adults.

The film hinges on the phenomenal performance of Miles Teller, a fast-rising actor who is no stranger to playing figures driven to physical and mental extremes — his role in 2014’s “Whiplash” springs immediately to mind. In addition to convincingly embodying Pazienza’s brawling, go-for-broke fighting style, Teller adeptly communicates the quiet, interior side of his struggles.

For six months following his accident, Vinny wears a Halo, a medical contraption designed to prevent his spinal cord from severing. The Christian symbolism of the device is difficult to ignore, though for Vinny it’s more like a crown of thorns than a saint’s nimbus. Yet Younger leaves it to the viewer to consider the implications, if any.

This refusal to probe too deeply beneath the surface or speculate about motives has a plus side when it comes to the Catholic faith of Vinny’s mother, Louise (Katey Sagal). Unable to bear watching him fight, during his bouts she prays the rosary while sitting at home in a small nook filled with votive candles and other devotional objects.

Many contemporary filmmakers would handle this with condescension or humorous derision. Younger treats it matter-of-factly and without judgment.

Not pretty or glamorous, the movie gains authenticity through exacting period details (costumes, cars and decor) as well as the liberal use of actual footage from news programs and other coverage of Pazienza’s story. The sound design is also highly evocative.

Rooted in respect for the so-called “sweet science,” for Vinny’s grit and fortitude, and for the blue-collar milieu he came from, “Bleed for This” doesn’t shy away from showing flaws. Younger is willing to let his protagonist’s achievement speak for itself.

The film contains considerable non-lethal violence, upper female and partial nudity, a few harrowing medical procedures, excessive rough language, much profanity and some crude banter. 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.
- — -
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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