Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Little glitters in “Gold” (Weinstein). To put it another way, there’s a sour taste to this loosely fact-based story that a strong performance from Matthew McConaughey in the lead role fails to dispel.

McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a scrappy prospector in 1980s Reno, Nevada. With the stock of the company he inherited from his father and namesake (Craig T. Nelson) selling for pennies, Wells resolves on a last roll of the dice.

Inspired by a dream, he travels to Indonesia, where he joins forces with sophisticated, but equally down-on-his-luck, geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez). Together, they brave the jungles of Borneo and, after a number of setbacks — including a near-fatal bout of malaria for Wells — claim the largest gold strike of the decade.

But all, of course, is not as it appears. In fact, Wells’ roller-coaster ride of good and bad fortune has only begun.

With his hairline receding and his middle paunchy, Wells — who displays a fondness for hanging out, quite literally, in his tighty whities — embodies the film’s seedy atmosphere. McConaughey endows him with smouldering ambition. Yet, though a striking figure, Wells is not a particularly sympathetic one.

A low moral tone in the boardroom, moreover, is matched by Wells’ ongoing but unhallowed bedroom relationship with his live-in girlfriend, a furniture saleswoman called Kaylene (Bryce Dallas Howard).

She’s meant to be Wells’ ethical compass, warning against the machinations of the numerous Wall Street types — led by the aptly named Bryan Woolf (Corey Stoll) — who are just waiting to take advantage of him. Despite her fidelity to Wells, though, neither of them so much as mentions a stroll down the aisle or a visit to the justice of the peace.

Add to those factors the mother lode of vulgarity with which screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman embed their script, and it becomes clear that director Stephen Gaghan’s salute to entrepreneurial grit is unfit for most.

The film contains cohabitation, non-graphic non-marital sexual activity, rear and partial nudity, frequent use of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language and a couple of obscene gestures. 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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The Founder
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — In chronicling the early history of McDonald’s, “The Founder” (Weinstein) makes compelling food for thought, if not exactly a happy meal.

The drama is based on the true story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the travelling salesman who initially befriended the McDonald brothers, Richard (Nick Offerman) and Maurice (John Carroll Lynch), but eventually steamrolled over them. Robert Siegel’s screenplay strives to set the record straight about who was actually responsible for the food service behemoth — which today feeds 1 per cent of the world’s population, every single day.

The story begins in 1954 in suburban Illinois. Kroc is down on his luck selling milkshake machines to small restaurants. When he visits one of his clients, a hamburger stand in California, he is astonished by the efficiency of the operation, where orders are fulfilled in just 30 seconds.

This form of “fast food” preparation is the brainchild of the McDonald brothers, who designed the “Speedee” service system based on a streamlined kitchen, strict quality control and a strong employee work ethic. Past attempts to expand the business have failed, so the brothers are content to remain a local concern.

Kroc has other ideas, especially when he sees the brothers’ new design for a restaurant with two gleaming golden arches as a striking focal point. He returns home to his neglected wife, Ethel (Laura Dern), with big dreams to franchise the McDonald’s concept coast to coast.

Eerily prophetic, Kroc predicts that his restaurants will be a gathering place for families, with the golden arches becoming as seductive a symbol as the flag and even the cross.

“McDonald’s can be the new American church,” he says, “and it ain’t just open on Sundays.” Ethel quips that he will be known as “Pope Raymond I.”

Initially, Kroc works with the McDonald brothers, signing a contract which promises the brothers control of their name and the strictly limited menu of burgers, fries and shakes. Kroc begins opening restaurants in the Midwest, with some success.

In Minneapolis, Kroc meets Rollie Smith (Patrick Wilson), a steakhouse owner interested in bankrolling the franchise. His piano-playing spouse, Joan (Linda Cardellini), catches Kroc’s ear — and heart, as she will become his next wife as well as a shrewd business partner.

Is it any wonder their favourite song is “Pennies from Heaven”?

Directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side,” “Saving Mr. Banks”), “The Founder” emerges as a cautionary tale about capitalism, greed and the dark side of the American dream. While unlikely to appeal to children, it’s probably acceptable for older teens.

“Contracts are like hearts. They are made to be broken,” Kroc says, as he embarks on a nefarious scheme to bury the McDonald brothers and establish himself as the mythological “founder” of the business.

It’s enough to give an innocent hamburger lover indigestion.

The film contains mature themes, including divorce, and brief profane and crude 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


A Dog’s Purpose
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — While cats are said to be blessed with nine lives, the clever canine at the centre of “A Dog’s Purpose” (Universal) — voiced by Josh Gad — guides us through his adventures over four eventful lifetimes. Repeatedly reincarnated, he (and, for one stint, she) returns in the guise of various breeds and encounters a range of human caregivers.

Although the non-scriptural concept of recurring earthly existences is kept strictly confined to the world of animals, the New Age-style philosophizing the four-legged protagonist engages in along the way may strike some viewers as a bore. That’s offset, though, by his droll, dog’s-eye view of the world.

During the first of his visits to the planet, as a golden retriever, he’s rescued from a dangerous situation and adopted by 8-year-old Ethan Montgomery (Bryce Gheisar). Ethan’s sympathetic — but unnamed — mom (Juliet Rylance) welcomes this addition to the household, and helps convince his reluctant (and equally nameless) dad, played by Luke Kirby, to accept the pooch, whom Ethan dubs Bailey.

Bailey becomes Ethan’s inseparable companion as the lad grows into a high school football star (KJ Apa) and finds true love with Hannah (Britt Robertson), a girl he meets at a fair. Ethan’s bright prospects are further burnished by winning a college athletic scholarship. But his father’s worsening alcoholism casts a pall over his life — and eventually threatens his future.

While his bond with Ethan proves the most enduring of his relationships with humans, during other intervals Bailey first serves as a police dog called Ellie and later becomes a Corgi named Tino. Ellie does her best to comfort her lonely trainer, widowed Chicago police officer Carlos (John Ortiz), and Tino helps to liven up the stagnant social life of his companion, pining single gal Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Pet lovers will revel in director Lasse Hallstrom’s slight but charming screen version of W. Bruce Cameron’s best-selling 2010 novel. And parents will be pleased to find the movie free of any genuinely objectionable elements — albeit one brief scene may, or may not, imply that Maya and her boyfriend, Al (Pooch Hall), are living together.

Grown guardians also will want to note that some sequences are too potentially frightening for the smallest pups.

Those inclined to be cynical may balk at bucolic scenes vaguely reminiscent of a TV ad for hay fever medicine. Still, a good-hearted romantic wrap-up matching characters played by Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton succeeds in keeping things cuddly for all but the most jaundiced.

The film contains mature themes, including alcohol addiction, some stylized violence with brief gore, scenes of peril and light scatological humour. 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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