Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Ghost in the Shell
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “Ghost in the Shell” (Paramount), director Rupert Sanders’ murky, boring adaptation of a series of comics by Masamune Shirow, offers little beyond glitzy futuristic cityscapes. This live-action version of Shirow’s sci-fi-themed manga — first published in 1989 and previously the inspiration for two animated features — is also somewhat exploitative.

Its heroine, Major (Scarlett Johansson), a hybrid warrior whose human brain has been implanted into the body of a robot, has a fondness for fighting in the nude that must have gone down well when the film was being pitched, but puts it off-limits for kids.

The fact that Major’s synthetic skin is something between a patchwork of eggshells and a smoothed over version of Johansson’s physique does tamp down the voyeurism factor for grown-ups, however. They may be more distracted by the seemingly endless mayhem with which the movie is packed.

Gunplay, explosions and martial arts bravado attend Major’s duel with Kuze (Michael Pitt), an elusive killer who wants to bring down the Hanka Corporation, the company that produced her. She gets backup in her battles from gruff comrade Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and, during her down time, draws emotional support from Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the physician who supervised her creation.

The dialogue occasionally explores the nature of humanity under the threat of encroaching technology. But the script gets muddled by its own materialism, identifying the soul (or “ghost”), for instance, exclusively with the brain.

A vaguely sensual get-together with a woman who may or may not be a streetwalker, the flesh of whose face Major enviously examines, might be meant to show us Major’s alienation from her new “shell.” On the other hand, since an encounter of a more intimate nature might be surmised to follow the scene, though nothing of the sort is actually depicted, this might be of a piece with Major’s tendency to shimmy out of her clothes.

Screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger take a stab at an anti-war message by way of the tension between Hanka executive Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), who sees Major strictly as a weapon, and Ouelet, who insists she amounts to more than just a killing machine. The peace theme fails to hit home, though, if only because the tumultuous action consuming most of the run time is so completely at odds with it.

Similarly, the implicit critique of capitalism underlying the friction between profit-driven Cutter and the more responsible figure of Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), the head of the anti-terrorism squad for which Major works, amounts to no more than a feint. In dealing with all these subjects, Moss and company serve up lines that are meant to sound like pearls of wisdom but land instead like lumps of lead.

The film contains pervasive stylized violence with little gore, torture, a suicide, occasional rear and upper as well as a glimpse of full female nudity in a nonsexual context, at least one use each of crude and crass language, and an obscene gesture. 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.
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The Boss Baby
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Fans of Stewie Griffin, the “enfant terrible” of Fox-TV’s “Family Guy,” will know in advance just what effect the folks behind “The Boss Baby” (Fox) are aiming for with their incongruously mature title character.

Whether the filmmakers have managed to create a similarly memorable prodigy is, however, another question.

In fact, considered overall, this animated take on the trauma of acquiring a younger sibling can best be described as amusing but flimsy. On the upside, objectionable elements are sufficiently few that all but the very youngest family members can safely enjoy the fleeting fun.

As narrator Tobey Maguire informs us, 7-year-old only child Tim (voice of Miles Bakshi) is a contented lad. He enjoys the undivided attention of his hard-working but solicitous parents (voices of Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), so life is good.

Until, that is, the arrival of the eponymous — and otherwise unnamed — infant (voice of Alec Baldwin) whose disruptive presence promptly turns Tim’s well-ordered world upside down. Resentful of the newcomer, Tim is also suspicious of such peculiarities as the fact that his brother arrived as the sole passenger in a taxi and that he wears a business suit.

A little investigation proves that this is, indeed, no ordinary babe in arms. Endowed with an adult personality and the ability to speak, he also has a corporate agenda to pursue.

As a representative of the company that manufactures infants, Boss Baby is out to thwart the multiply named Francis Francis (voiced by Steve Buscemi), the head honcho of a pet marketing conglomerate. Francis, we learn, has developed a puppy so irresistible that no one will want to have children once the pooch becomes available. It’s up to Boss Baby to prevent the product launch of this heart-hogging animal.

All of this is explained with the aid of pie charts showing cuddly dogs eating into the market for youngsters, a satiric point that can be seen as vaguely pro-life.

But a darker tone — in line with the movie industry’s disdain for all other forms of profit making endeavour — is introduced as Boss Baby schemes shamelessly and callously threatens Tim with the loss of their parents’ affection. (Once further exposition reveals that success will mean Boss Baby’s permanent return to headquarters, however, Tim becomes his willing collaborator.)

Beyond gentle domestic discord and the caricaturing of executives, a more pressing concern for real-life moms and dads may be the repetition in the dialogue of the question, “Where do babies come from?” The answer is always, of course, a whimsical one, though a whispered exchange between Tim and Boss Baby, inaudible to the audience, briefly hints at the true explanation before both agree in rejecting it.

Along with some silly potty and anatomical gags — this is not a movie for those averse to the sight of an animated newborn’s bottom — that’s about all there is to worry about in director Tom McGrath’s ephemeral adaptation of Marla Frazee’s 2010 picture book.

As for Stewie, he’s unlikely to eat his heart out over the debut of his big-screen rival.

The film contains some slapstick violence, mild scatological humour and a religiously themed but not irreverent joke. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. 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.


The Blackcoat’s Daughter
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — This year’s crop of demon-possession plots — that hardy stalwart of horror — kicks off in high style with the very adult “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” (A24).

Although this story gives unusually short shrift to the rite of exorcism, which is portrayed even more casually and inaccurately than is usually the case in such dramas, the filmmakers have at least taken care to show an actual demon. That’s rare these days.
This one has two horns, inhabits a glowing basement coal furnace and — in another retro touch — calls his new best friend through a hallway pay phone. So the film is entrancing for quite a while before the stabbing victims begin to pile up.

Still, writer-director Oz Perkins keeps the gore factor comparatively low, emphasizing instead slow-building psychological horror, spooled out slowly through interlocking, time-shifting plot lines, all centred on a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York in the dead of winter.

There’s a trick ending, which Perkins tips in advance. But, since there’s a generous helping of the demon, that’s no more than an acknowledgment of the audience’s intelligence.

Gloomy freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) has had a vision of her parents’ death in a car crash on their way to pick her up for the school’s winter break. Rose (Lucy Boynton), an older student, fears she might be pregnant, and has arranged for her folks to pick her up on the wrong day so she’ll have time to tell her boyfriend.

These two are supposed to look after each other before the expected parental arrivals. Meanwhile, Kat starts getting and making calls, but not to her parents — she has a new pal in residence who demands murderous sacrifices. The cutlery flashes and heads roll.

In a third subplot, Joan (Emma Roberts), who has broken out of an asylum, desperately tries to return to the campus, utilizing a clueless but well-meaning couple, Bill and Linda (James Remar, Lauren Holly). They turn out to be Rose’s parents.

It eventually falls to kindly Father Brian (Greg Ellwand) to bring some clarity to the mayhem, although the movie is so vested in its deceptive ending, Catholic belief is only pro forma. But hey, at least someone knows how to recognize a demon.

The film contains an occult theme, knife violence with some gore, occasional profanities and fleeting crass 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.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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