Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight) is more of a passionate meditation on the nature of a first lady’s fame than a historical drama about Jacqueline Kennedy in the weeks following the 1963 assassination of her husband.

So the mesmerizing performance by Natalie Portman in the title role — it’s one long monologue, really — can’t be measured against other biopics of presidents or their wives.

Director Pablo Larrain and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim focus instead on how Jackie created her own legend by virtually dictating a story about her husband’s last days to reporter and biographer Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life magazine. They strengthen their drama with an expertly created mix of archival footage into which Portman is inserted.

Jackie, shown to be arch and brittle, has complete control over the article, and even commands White not to mention that she smokes. It being the early 1960s, everyone else is smoking, of course.

This feature in Life launched the Camelot legend of the Kennedy years, since Jackie mentioned that she and the president (Caspar Phillipson) used to enjoy listening to the eponymous Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical’s cast album. She knew, in other words, something about myth-making — even in the depths of her grief.

That’s also where the film goes off the rails after its first hour.

Jackie is shown not listening to the record with the president, but rather alone, as she wanders in despair through the stately second-floor rooms of the White House from which she’ll shortly depart.

As the title song of “Camelot” begins, Richard Burton, the original King Arthur, burbles, “It’s true! It’s true!” Discerning history buffs may be tempted to shout back at the screen, “It’s not! It’s not!”

Soon afterward, the president’s brother, Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), announces, “I think you need to talk to a priest.” This leads to a series of conversations about anger and suicide with a scruffy elderly cleric (John Hurt) billed only as the Priest.

Hurt’s character is an amalgam of at least two real-life clergymen, Irish-born Vincentian Father Joseph Leonard, whom Jackie knew from before she was married, and Jesuit Father Richard McSorley, who taught at Georgetown University. Bishop Philip Hannan, the future archbishop of New Orleans, who was then an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, is also known to have counseled the grieving widow.

Jackie is said to have asked Father McSorley “if God would separate her from her husband if she killed herself,” after which he reiterated to her the church’s teaching against suicide.

Although these are quite typical exchanges to have while wrestling with grief, Catholic viewers may wonder whether they’re the result of breaking the seal of confession. It turns out they’re not, although Father McSorley was widely criticized years later for revealing the contents of their talks.

The dramatic thread of the film concerns Jackie’s demand that everyone march in a procession from the White House to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for the funeral. Since this eight-block walk would include foreign dignitaries, her request caused hours of frantic arguments about security concerns. Yet Jackie prevailed, and the cortege is now recalled for its calm, fearless dignity.

“Jackie” may fall short as history. But its attention to detail and its willingness to show grief honestly will make it appealing for many adults.

The film contains an explicit, gory portrayal of assassination and at least one use of rough 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.
- — -
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Why Him?
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The makers of “Why Him?” (Fox) evidently couldn’t decide whether their film should be a raunchy sex comedy or a tamer tale about the clash between established family values and the often bereft behaviour of the untethered newly wealthy.

So they split the difference, resulting in an unpleasant botch that becomes an audience endurance contest.

Bryan Cranston plays family patriarch Ned, the owner of a money-losing commercial printing operation in Michigan. For Christmas, Ned, wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) go to California to visit daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch).

What the visitors don’t know beforehand is that Stephanie is engaged to Laird (James Franco), an immature, nearly feral gazillionaire who makes video games and has a large estate populated by exotic animals on the outside and glassy-eyed beta-testers inside.

That’s it. That’s the entire pretext from director John Hamburg, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jonah Hill and Ian Helfer: stolid Midwestern parents meet wild-eyed, crude-talking, incredibly wealthy man-child.

Laird finds it amusing, among other antics, to teach 15-year-old Scotty how to spout filth and to get Barb high on marijuana-laced brownies. As for Ned, we’re meant to be in suspense about whether Laird will eventually give him a financial bailout.

All the while Stephanie looks on beaming, because she’s in love with her guy and clueless about the negative impression he creates. The blindness of her affection is of a piece with the complete absence of any moral structure in “Why Him?”

The film contains fleeting rear nudity, drug use, crude sexual banter, including references to aberrant acts, scatological humour and pervasive rough 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.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” last year’s promising reignition of the iconic franchise, “The Force Awakens,” gains a worthy — and equally family-friendly — companion.

Interstellar derring-do is once again the order of the day as this latest film in the series provides a rousing prequel to writer-director George Lucas’ 1977 original, subsequently dubbed “Episode IV — A New Hope.”

“A New Worry” might be an apt subtitle for “Rogue One” since its plot is driven by the fact that the evil Empire — served, most prominently, by Grand Moff Tarkin (a computer-generated projection of the late Peter Cushing) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) — is on the verge of deploying a game-changing new weapon, the Death Star.

With its potential to wipe out entire planets, the Death Star could doom the efforts of the gallant Rebel Alliance, headed by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), to resist subjugation.

This crisis draws the movie’s main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), to centre stage. As the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the brilliant scientist who unwillingly developed the technology behind the Death Star while being held captive, she has reason to believe that the armament can be sabotaged from within.

To prove this, she’ll need the help of intrepid Alliance officer Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as well as that of his mechanical sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). An amusingly straight-talking android, K-2SO is the source of most of the movie’s wry comic relief.

In crafting an exciting epic, director Gareth Edwards keeps the mayhem inherent in his story of armed conflict virtually bloodless. And the script, by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, celebrates altruism while also briefly tackling the morality of obeying some military orders.

“Rogue One” offers old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense: an engaging showdown between plucky goodness and elegant villainy with a bit of delightfully innocent romance thrown in for good measure.

The film contains frequent but thoroughly stylized combat violence and some frightening images including a scene leading up to mental torture. 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.
- — -

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “Sing” (Universal) is a generally amiable but flawed musical cartoon, populated mostly by animals. While the essential values of this show-biz fable are respectable enough, writer-director Garth Jennings incorporates elements into his film that make it unsuitable for youngsters.

With the theatre he owns failing financially, koala bear Buster Moon (voice of Matthew McConaughey) aims to revive his business by staging a singing contest. After some predictably humorous tryouts, a quintet of finalists emerges.

Mike (voice of Seth MacFarlane) is a conceited mouse who croons in a Sinatra-like style. Gifted teenage elephant Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly) suffers from stage fright.

Harried sow housewife Rosita (voice of Reese Witherspoon) has to balance her vocal ambitions against the needs of her overworked husband, Norman (voice of Nick Offerman), and their litter of 25 kids. Johnny (voice of Taron Egerton) is a Cockney gorilla gangster’s son who would rather belt out Elton John tunes than help his dad (voice of Peter Serafinowicz) steal.

And then there’s Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine punk rocker coping with the selfishness of her live-in boyfriend, Lance (voice of Beck Bennett).

Friendship and loyalty are triumphant amid plot complications that include a typo escalating the winner’s prize a hundredfold. Jennings — who also provides the voice of Miss Crawly, the good-hearted but dimwitted lizard secretary — is responsible for that error .

Chosen by Buster to be Rosita’s stage partner, German-accented pig Gunter (voice of Nick Kroll) exudes swishy enthusiasm and favours glitzy leotards. By contrast with emotionally neglectful Norman and narcissistic Lance, who together represent a rather negative image of masculinity, Gunter is grouped with most of the female figures on the credit side of the ledger.

Grown viewers will obviously be well equipped to take such material in stride. And “Sing” is also probably acceptable for mature teens. But the most impressionable viewers, presumably a prime target demographic for the movie, will find it less than harmonious.

The film contains cohabitation, some scatological humour and scenes of peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Collateral Beauty
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “Collateral Beauty” (Warner Bros.) is a strange, pretentious drama about overcoming grief.

While that’s obviously a subject about which a good film — perhaps many of them — might be made, the treatment of it in director David Frankel’s quirky mess of a movie is at once too bizarre and too pat to yield any insights.

The talented cast certainly do their best to redeem the proceedings, though ultimately their effort proves futile. Will Smith plays Howard, a formerly successful advertising executive so emotionally paralyzed by the death of his young daughter that he endangers the future of his firm by his neglect of clients.

In response, Howard’s three principal colleagues — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) — hire a trio of actors, vain Brigitte (Helen Mirren), fetching Amy (Keira Knightley) and skateboarding street kid Raffi (Jacob Latimore), to prove that Howard’s distress has rendered him incompetent. And this is where things get rather squirrelly.

The thespians are to prove that Howard has gone off his rocker by impersonating the three abstractions — death, love and time — to which, as private detective Sally (Ann Dowd) has discovered, Howard has written, and mailed, angry letters. Sally will capture the resulting exchanges on her mobile phone, the players will be edited out of the footage, and Howard will be shown ranting away to himself.

Cuckoo, Q.E.D.

To take the blatantly unethical nature of this manoeuvre on the part of Howard’s partners, who also claim to be his friends, seriously would first require a jumbo-sized suspension of disbelief. The fact that the death-love-time triad also just happens to fit the life situations of these treacherous amigos similarly strains credibility.

The occasional jokes that leaven the dialogue in screenwriter Allan Loeb’s script, moreover, are far outnumbered by fortune-cookie sentiments the audience is clearly meant to receive as nuggets of wisdom. Some of these come from the picture’s moral-compass setter, Madeleine (Naomie Harris). A bereaved mother who leads a therapy group Howard reluctantly joins, Madeleine also shares the anecdote from which “Collateral Beauty” takes its title.

If you’ve ever heard the one about “silver linings,” you pretty much know what the moral of that story is going to be. Those willing to endure the blizzard of cliches of which the eponymous phrase forms but a flake will, however, find a warm endorsement of marital fidelity waiting for them at the wrap.

The film contains an adultery theme, at least one use of profanity as well as several crude and a couple of 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.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service

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