Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

03/29/2017

 

Life

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adopt a serious tone in the ensemble sci-fi thriller “Life” (Columbia).

Together with deft performances and some creative camera work, this unusually thoughtful mood serves to offset the familiarity of the film’s humans-versus-predator premise.

Characters are too busy battling for their lives to engage in much romance — chaste or otherwise. But the bloody details of their conflict with the rampaging alien at the heart of the action are suitable neither for kids nor for the squeamish among their elders.

Said E.T. arrives on an unmanned capsule carrying samples back from Mars that the multiethnic crew of an international space station has been tasked with retrieving.

Besides the vessel’s commander, cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the team includes world-weary physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal); rules-driven disease prevention expert Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson); freewheeling mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds); homesick flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada); and paraplegic British scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare).

Faced with the tricky task of stopping the cargo ship before it speeds past them, the astronauts are delighted when they succeed. They’re even happier once Derry’s research reveals that they’re in possession of the first living organism ever encountered beyond Earth.

Unfortunately for them, however, the initially tiny creature they’ve taken on board turns out to have not only an incredibly rapid growth rate but a murderously aggressive approach to interacting with humans. It’s also devilishly brilliant and resourceful.

Loss of life is treated with an unusual degree of sober reflection in the suspenseful clash of wits and survival skills that follows.

This is in obvious and welcome contrast to the innumerable Hollywood movies in which the bodies of anonymous, mown-down extras seem to pile up like so many chords of wood. It may also serve as a legitimate point of divergence from the movie with which many viewers will inevitably compare “Life” — Ridley Scott’s memorable 1979 franchise-begetter, “Alien.”

Yet, while largely free of callousness in its portrayal of fatal violence, “Life” is so bleak and, at times, darkly ironic, that it can feel nihilistic. Thus, in whole passages of the dialogue discussing bereavement, there’s not a glimmer or hint of faith in an afterlife. As a result, moviegoers may feel as confined in the script’s secular, despairing outlook as the trapped space travellers do within their invaded craft.

The film contains some gory deaths and gruesome images, a few uses of profanity as well as numerous rough and several crude terms. 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.

 

Slamma Jamma
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The well-intentioned sports drama “Slamma Jamma” (RiverRain Productions) occasionally comes to tepid life on basketball courts. But a weak script, together with production values indicative of a low budget, keep it hobbled as a story of redemption and Christian faith.

Based very loosely on the life of slam-dunk champion Kenny Dobbs, it stars Chris Staples (a former Harlem Globetrotter in real life), as Michael Diggs, a onetime college basketball star potentially worth millions as a pro.

He’s unable to profit from his talent after an unscrupulous agent takes advantage of him. Coasting on his fame, he gets pulled into the violent armed robbery of a gun store, which earns him a six-year prison term.

Not very adroitly, the film shows Diggs embracing evangelical Christianity behind bars, and, upon release, slowly rebuilding his life by energetically making new contacts while working a series of menial jobs. Since he starts out humble, there’s no big transformative moment — and so little in the way of dramatic tension that “Slamma Jamma” becomes almost unwatchable.

Away from the hoops, writer-director Tim Chey, no dab hand at dialogue, comes up with little other than cliched — if supportive — remarks from Diggs’ ailing mother, Gemma (Rosemary Smith-Coleman), and from a neighbourhood minister, Pastor John Soul (Ray Walia).

Diggs eventually gets his life back on track by winning slam-dunk competitions — halftime events, typically — with prizes in the many thousands of dollars. The faith elements are limned only sparingly, making this movie a tough slog even for those inclined to look favourably on religious fare.

The film contains a scene of gun violence and some trash-talking. 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

CHIPS
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Get your motor running, spring yourself from a cage out on Highway 9, do whatever it takes to get away from the mind-numbing, motorcycle-bedecked comedy “CHIPS” (Warner Bros.).

The humour in this twist on the 1977-1983 NBC-TV drama series quickly skids off the road and into the gutter, where it remains.

Dax Shepard, who also wrote and directed, plays rookie California Highway Patrol officer Jon Baker while Michael Pena portrays Jon’s first partner — and odd-couple counterpart — Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. Supposedly a veteran of the force from another part of the state, Ponch is in fact an undercover FBI agent investigating a corruption case.

As Jon makes a nudge of himself and Ponch gripes about it (until of course, the two inevitably bond), the script lurches from one base topic to another. We visit a locker room where the awkwardness of two straight men embracing while dressed only in their underwear is both played for laughs and discussed: Is being uncomfortable with such a gesture symptomatic of homophobia? Yes, no, ha, ha ha.

We stroll through more than one parking lot so that Ponch — and, needless to say, the camera — can ogle women in yoga pants as they bend over to put something in the trunk. We already know that Ponch is a philanderer since, as the opening sequence has shown us, he has to write down the name of the girl in bed with him lest he forget it in the morning.

And that’s not to mention an extended exchange between the two leads on the enthralling question of why Ponch stops to use the bathroom so often.

There’s also a vaguely pro-divorce message to “CHIPS.” Jon, a washed-up extreme-sports motorcyclist, initially becomes a police recruit in an effort to win back his estranged wife, Karen (Kristen Bell), whose dad was a cop. But he eventually discovers, with Ponch’s help, that Karen is so selfish and greedy, he’s better off without her.

Since juvenile potty and bedroom gags must nowadays be rounded out with nauseating visuals, late developments include the decapitation of one character and the loss of four fingers by another. Lavish attention is paid to the bloody stumps as well as to the dismembered digits lying about like so many stubby breadsticks.

Our advice? Let these “CHIPS” fall where they may. And leave them there.

The film contains scenes of gross-out gore, strong sexual content, including brief graphic activity and full male and female nudity, much sexual and scatological humour, frequent profanity and pervasive rough and crude 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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