Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Sound fundamental values underlie the spirited sci-fi followup “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (Disney). But thematic elements demanding discernment, together with some less than family-friendly dialogue, make this return to the stars best for grownups.

That’s a shame because, in continuing to adapt a series of Marvel comics, writer-director James Gunn not only maintains the jaunty atmosphere of the 2014 original but adds an interesting allegory about the dangers of selfishness from which younger viewers might have profited.

This parable takes shape after the hero of the first film, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) encounters his long-lost — and previously unidentified — father, the “celestial” or demi-god Ego (Kurt Russell). The creator and ruler of his own paradise-like planet, Ego, seems to have a lot to offer Peter, and the two quickly bond.

In one scene, for instance, they play a game of catch that, for all its apparent simplicity, nonetheless manages to highlight both this sequel’s positive and more challenging aspects. On the plus side, the incident is touching because we know that, as a child, Peter yearned to share this iconic experience with his unknown dad.

The fact that Ego has taught Peter how to create things out of thin air, however, and that Peter has just used this inherited ability to bring the ball of light they’re tossing around into existence suggests why impressionable moviegoers might be led astray. Adults, on the other hand, can choose to see Ego and Peter’s semi-divine status as an exaggerated version of human free will, with its attendant potential for good or evil.

In the long run, initial appearances turn out to be deceptive, and Peter and Ego eventually find themselves at odds. Family troubles also dog Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the alien Peter would like to make his girlfriend, as she pursues her longstanding rivalry with her scheming sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).

In between these clan conflicts, the Guardians — their membership rounded out by tactless musclebound extraterrestrial Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket the racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and undersized tree-like creature Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) — do battle with an array of adversaries.

One band of their opponents is led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned space pirate who raised Peter after his human mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock), died. Yondu ostensibly valued Peter for his ability to steal things by getting into small spaces. Yet, as is the case with Nebula, further disclosures reveal that Yondu is not the callous villain he seems.

The film contains mostly stylized combat violence with little gore, some sexual humour, a few mild oaths and occasional crude as well as more frequent crass talk. 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.


The Dinner
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — “The Dinner” (The Orchard), a trenchant morality tale about the nature of evil and humankind’s savage underpinnings, turns out to be as infuriatingly dense and labyrinthine as Dutch author Herman Koch’s 2009 novel.

It’s not meant to be comfortable viewing, though, any more than the book was meant to be a tranquil read. It addresses moral challenges straight on, and when is that ever soothing?

Director Oren Moverman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Koch, has Americanized the settings. But he has kept intact the central conflict between Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) an ambitious congressman planning to run for governor, and his brother, Paul (Steve Coogan), a schizophrenic and embittered high school history teacher with a particular obsession about the Battle of Gettysburg.

One evening, Stan invites Paul and wife Claire (Laura Linney) to join him and his new spouse, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), for a very expensive dinner. The venue is one of those Beaux Arts mansions in which the dining experience is tightly choreographed theatre with overly fussy dishes.

The goal, in Stan’s words: “We’re gonna talk tonight. We’ll put it all on the table.”

But the night is about far more than long-simmering sibling resentments. Each couple has a teen son, and together the cousins (Charlie Plummer and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who are also friends, have participated in the horrific abuse and murder of a homeless woman, setting her on fire.

No one’s been charged. But a video of the woman set ablaze is now online and there’s been a blackmail threat.

All of this, as well as Paul’s illness, is shown in a long series of flashbacks.

Neither brother is quite the person outward appearances suggest, and as their spouses discuss the crime and the destruction it will wreak on their respective families and aims, their lack of empathy quickly widens in unexpected directions.

This, of course, allows for long, angry monologues, diatribes which the actors, shot in close-up, obviously relish. But these tirades are not especially edifying for viewers trying to keep up with the plot — or with details like which nefarious lad belongs to which set of parents.

Perhaps the closest recent parallel to this film is Michael Haneke’s 2009 “The White Ribbon,” which showed German children descending, years before the Second World War, into feral cruelty without a smidgen of guilt.

So this isn’t escapist fare, but neither does it preach. The script recognizes that humans are complicated — never more so when parents are confronted by the worst thing they could discover about their children.

The film contains physical violence, mature themes and some profane and 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.


Free Fire
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The premise of “Free Fire” (A24) is that a single extended gunfight can sustain an entire film, provided the participants in the showdown keep making incongruously funny and mordant remarks.

This is the genre of the siege movie, somewhat in the style of 1976’s “Assault on Precinct 13.” Plot and character development are ignored in favour of the presumed enjoyment of watching villains working out their issues by blasting away at each other in a decaying Boston factory.

The setup involves a deal to buy assault rifles that quickly goes bad. So, the two sides spend the rest of the run time pulling their triggers and reloading while attempting to retrieve a briefcase loaded with cash.

Think of it as an extended pie fight, but with bullets. It would work out better were the movie actually comedic. But director Ben Wheatley, who co-wrote the screenplay with Amy Jump, is instead completely vested in choreographing these scruffy, amoral characters as they pop up from hiding places to fire off a few rounds. He also has them crawl around painfully after receiving flesh wounds.

There are occasional funny moments for viewers willing to detach the violent proceedings from real life. Thus, a soothing John Denver ballad — from an 8-track tape in a battered van — plays in the background at one ominous moment. And would-be gun buyer Justine (Brie Larson) says of arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley), “He was misdiagnosed as a child genius and he never got over it.”

But Wheatley also goes for the obvious in a ham-handed manner. This is an old umbrella factory, but no one has one when the sprinklers go off.

This being 1978, the characters have to rely on a single landline phone, and duck a fusillade of bullets if they want to call anyone on the outside for reinforcements.

The buyers, in addition to Justine, are Chris (Cillian Murphy), an Irish Republican Army operative, Frank (Michael Smiley), Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley). Selling, besides Vernon, are Martin (Babou Ceesay) Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor). The unctuous Ord (Armie Hammer) attempts to be the middleman.

Eventually, Wheatley runs out of wisecracks and has most of the characters die in a variety of gruesome ways. But there’s no resolution to the mayhem. “Free Fire,” accordingly, ends up a claustrophobic exercise in mindless conflict.

The film contains pervasive gun and physical violence, fleeting gore, drug use, occasional profanities and constant 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.


Copyright (c) 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops