Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Alien: Covenant

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Once you’ve seen one vicious extraterrestrial gnaw its way out of a human body from the inside, you’ve seen ‘em all. Or so at least the jaded — or squeamish — moviegoer might be tempted to think.

And yet, the success of the durable “Alien” franchise, which dates all the way back to 1979, and was last added to by the 2012 reboot “Prometheus,” would seem to argue otherwise.

For those eager to watch the showcased race of creatures come busting out all over one more time, there arrives the competently shocking “Alien: Covenant” (Fox). As before, the watchword remains — to borrow a phrase from Cole Porter — “Don’t Fence Me In.”

When we first meet those whose anatomical bounds are likely to be burst, namely the crew of the titular spacecraft, they’re taking a long cryogenic nap as they speed toward a distant planet on a colonizing mission from Mother Earth. They’re watched over by a so-called “synthetic,” (i.e., an android) named Walter (Michael Fassbender).

Naturally, all this is too peaceful to last. So, cue an unforeseen phenomenon that not only badly damages the Covenant but also kills a number of those on board, including the vessel’s commander, Capt. Jacob Branson (James Franco).

As they analyze this incident, Branson’s successor, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), and his colleagues detect a weak audio signal that alerts them to the existence of a much closer — and possibly populated — world that seems just as suitable for settlement as their original destination. After some debate, Oram orders a change in course.

Anyone who has ever seen an “Alien” film (and even many who have not) will know what a mistake this turns out to be. Those in the imperiled landing party Oram leads — and Walter accompanies — include Branson’s widow, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and Oram’s wife, Karine (Carmen Ejogo).

As director Ridley Scott, who originated the series, unleashes his trademark mayhem, the plot increasingly focuses on a duel between Walter and David (also Fassbender), an earlier model of synthetic who featured in “Prometheus” and who now turns up — at first, it would seem, providentially — down on the surface.

The film contains intervals of gruesome bloody violence, brief graphic marital lovemaking, about a half-dozen uses each of profanity and milder swearing as well as pervasive rough and some crude 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — For better or worse, bathroom-themed gags have long been a staple of kids’ movies. But the family road comedy “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” (Fox) carries this trend to excess.

Together with a noticeable lack of creative drive, writer-director David Bowers’ reliance on scatological humour blights his adaptation of the eponymous novel by Jeff Kinney, the fourth installment of a screen franchise that began in 2010.

As his family sets off on a cross-country journey to attend his great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration — a trip his mother Susan (Alicia Silverstone) hopes will foster family unity — mild-mannered middle schooler Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) worries that being confined together in a car for hours on end will have the opposite effect on his often-quarreling clan.

He also rails against Mom’s ban on the use of electronics during the trip, a prohibition his overworked father, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), likewise finds it difficult to obey. Still, Greg has a plan to turn this unwelcome outing to his own advantage.

Recently shamed by an embarrassing video that went viral, Greg plots with his older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright), to retrieve his reputation by being taped in the company of online celebrity Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover). Digby is scheduled to appear at Player’s Expo, a gaming convention being held not too far off the Heffleys’ planned route.

The event that has made Greg notorious is typical of the excretion-focused humour that’s too often front and centre as the film ambles along to little purpose. As the result of a misadventure too involved to recount in detail, Greg winds up with a dirty diaper stuck to one hand. His frantic — and unsuccessful — efforts to fling it away are captured by a host of cellphone cameras, and infamy awaits.

On the trip, though, Greg suffers other indignities of a similar nature. He winds up concealed behind a shower curtain while the person from whom he’s hiding relieves himself inches away. Later, on the road again and with no exit for miles, Greg is forced to use an empty bottle to answer nature’s call.

It doesn’t take the acumen of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that depending on such incidents for laughs is a symptom either of laziness or an impoverished imagination. Whatever their source, the prominence and frequency of these scenes prevents endorsement of this sometimes queasy sequel for viewers of all ages.

The film contains much distasteful potty humour and brief adult wordplay. 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.

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s a kernel of goodness at the heart of the mother-daughter comedy “Snatched” (Fox). But the minority of grown viewers for whom the film is acceptable will have to wade through a veritable cesspool of bad taste to approach it.

That’s a pity, because this fast-moving feature is occasionally amusing and marks a welcome return to the big screen for Goldie Hawn as Linda, an overprotective but sensible and loving mom.

Linda never condones the lewd antics of her estranged daughter, Emily (Amy Schumer). Instead she labours patiently for Emily’s redemption from evil and selfishness.

That’s no easy goal to achieve, and their relationship is put to a further test when Emily persuades her mother to join her on a getaway to Ecuador.

Emily intended to go with her rocker boyfriend, Michael (Randall Park), but he dumps her on the eve of their departure. With a nonrefundable vacation package, and no friends willing to go, Emily takes pity on her mother.

Linda is a free spirit and homebody, caring for her cats and her agoraphobic son, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz). Afraid of her own shadow, she’s an unlikely candidate for a South American adventure.

“Help me put the ‘fun’ in ‘non-refundable,’ ’’ Emily pleads.

So off they go to a fancy resort on the edge of the Ecuadorian jungle.

Linda is content to sit by the pool and read her book. But Emily seeks romance, and soon hooks up with handsome stranger James (Tom Bateman).

This Mr. Wrong lures Emily and Linda into the jungle with the promise of waterfalls and rainbows. It’s a setup, and mother and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom by the treacherous Morgano (Oscar Jaenada).

“Snatched” wastes no time with the perils of these Paulines, piling on the slapstick (and vulgarity) as they escape into the bush. Help comes from a mysterious guide named Roger (Christopher Meloni), and fellow resort guests Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack).

As directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), from a screenplay by Katie Dippold, “Snatched” is a slapdash, cliche-ridden send-up of exploitation movies. It’s only redeemable feature is a message about a mother’s unconditional love and the enduring family bond, which manages to shine through a very dirty exterior — as indicated by the warnings below.

The film contains brief upper female nudity, persistent sexual humour and innuendo and pervasive 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.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Early on in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (Warner Bros.), the audience is treated to the sight of magically generated giant elephants swinging boulder-size wrecking balls at the ramparts of Camelot. It’s an apt visual considering how ponderous this action fantasy turns out to be.

Rearranging some of the traditional elements of the Arthur legend — which may or may not be rooted in actual history — director and co-writer Guy Ritchie comes up with a sort of “Prince and the Pauper” version of events.

Thus, not long after those lumbering pachyderms depart, toddler Arthur’s father, Uther (Eric Bana), dies as a result of his evil brother Vortigern’s (Jude Law) violent — and ultimately successful — bid to usurp the throne. Arthur evades a similar fate by being set adrift, Moses-like, in a boat which eventually finds its way to a bustling version of medieval London still called by its Roman name, Londinium.

There Arthur, dispossessed of his rights and with no recollection of his real identity, is raised as a brawling street urchin by the inhabitants of a brothel.

Once grown, and now portrayed by Charlie Hunnam, the rightful heir comes almost accidentally into possession of Excalibur — here essentially a weapon of mass destruction so powerful that it mows down Arthur’s opponents by the dozens. Aided by a so-called Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who otherwise goes unnamed, Arthur learns how to wield the super sword and uses it to battle Vortigern for the crown.

Along with the supernatural support of the Mage, Arthur gets human backing from Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), once one of Uther’s advisers, and expert archer “Goose-Fat” Bill (Aidan Gillen).

Together with his script collaborators, Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, Ritchie works the occasional witty exchange into the dialogue. But otherwise his film is a gruelling ordeal of nonstop noisy fighting. Like the Dark Ages in which it’s set, the movie is dim, toilsome and beset with mayhem.

Since the dust-ups are mostly gore-free, however, and the only flourishes of sensuality come in the form of occult visions, some parents may consider “King Arthur” acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains pervasive combat and other violence with little blood, a prostitution theme, brief partial nudity, fleeting sexual humour, at least one rough term and occasional crass 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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