Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Cars 3
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Fasten your seatbelts and start your engines for a wild (and often ear-splitting) ride in “Cars 3” (Disney), the latest instalment of the family-friendly animated franchise.

Six years after the initial sequel and 11 since the series began with “Cars,” the anthropomorphic autos are back with a vengeance. Director Brian Fee ramps up the racing action (and the roar of the engines) while introducing a fleet of new characters sure to please young viewers — not to mention toy manufacturers.

Happily, there’s much more than the dizzying blur of NASCAR-like action. Screenwriters Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich inject a nice amount of heart and pathos into the comedic plot, and add winning messages about second chances and the value of mentoring.

The years have been kind to ace racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson). He’s still at the top of his game. But just over his shoulder is a new generation of faster vehicles, like the brash rookie Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer).

“Enjoy your retirement,” Jackson tells Lightning as he whizzes past.

In a flash, Lightning is sidelined by an accident. Disillusioned and depressed, he retreats to his adopted home of Radiator Springs. There he draws on the support of his loyal tow-truck sidekick, Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and comely Porsche sweetheart, Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt).

Sally knows Lightning must look to the future. “Don’t fear failure,” she insists. “Take a chance. Try something new.”

A spiffy fresh paint job by Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin) helps. “It’s so beautiful,” Ramone says of his own work, “it’s like the Sistine Chapel!”

With his spirits buoyed, Lightning heads to the training centre run by his sponsor, Rust-Eze, and its new owner, the “businesscar” Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion). His eager young coach, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), is thrilled with her new, if elderly, charge.

“You’re my senior project!” she gushes.

As the bond between veteran racer and rookie wannabe grows, Lightning recalls the wisdom of his dearly departed mentor, Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman). On a whim, he takes Cruz on a road trip to find Doc’s original trainer — a grizzled ‘51 Ford named Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper) — to recapture some of the old magic.

“You’ll never be the racer you once were,” Smokey intones. “You can’t turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again.”

“Cars 3” is full of surprises, and there’s a nice twist in store well before the finish line.

Preceding “Cars 3” is a short film entitled “Lou.” It’s a charming fable about a playground bully who learns the error of his ways thanks to some enchanted objects in his school’s lost-and-found box.

The film contains a brief, highly stylized crash scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.


47 Meters Down
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Way back in 1975, Steven Spielberg taught the world just how scary sharks can be with his classic “Jaws.” Apparently the two main characters in the thriller “47 Meters Down” (Entertainment Studios) failed to get the message.

As a result, they face an ordeal that, thanks to its plausibility, audiences may find more frightening than many horror films featuring monsters or knife-wielding maniacs.

While viewers are not entirely spared the graphic outcome of a battle between humans and the ocean’s most efficient killers, the bloodletting is not excessive or exploitative. And the script, penned by director Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, goes easy on the panic-induced cursing. So, although it’s not for the fainthearted of any age, the film is probably acceptable for older teens.

While vacationing in Mexico, sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) take up with a couple of locals, Louis (Yani Gellman) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura). The lads urge their new friends to try shark diving and, since Lisa has just been dumped by her boyfriend back home on the grounds that she is averse to adventure, she reluctantly yields to Kate’s enthusiasm for the idea.

Lisa should have gone with her gut. After only a few minutes in the iron cage designed to protect them from the fatal fish, the cable holding the enclosure snaps, and the siblings plummet to the seabed at the depth of the title.

The resourceful duo must now confront not only the predators they were meant to be observing in safety, but the consequences of a rapidly dwindling supply of oxygen as well. As they struggle to survive, and Taylor (Matthew Modine), the skipper of the boat they were lowered from, tries to organize a rescue, themes of forgiveness and self-sacrificing love are briefly showcased.

But such lofty ideals, of course, are not really the point. What Roberts is aiming for, and mostly achieves — despite occasionally clunky dialogue — is an atmosphere of claustrophobic, nerve-racking terror.

Those disposed to subject themselves to the experience will likely come away satisfied. The timid, by contrast, should stick to the shore.

The film contains some gory and gruesome images as well as a single rough and a couple of crude terms. 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.


All Eyez on Me
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Radical politics and the wayward values of hip-hop culture take “All Eyez on Me” (Summit), a sometimes intense but overlong and rarely insightful biography of rapper Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.), off course.

Add to these elements a script so laden with obscenities that hardly a sentence of dialogue passes without a visit to the verbal gutter, and the film becomes endorsable for none.

Born into a family of Black Panther activists — Danai Gurira turns in a powerful performance as his mother, Afeni — the future singer and actor confronts the challenges of an inner-city childhood before gaining stardom. Afeni trains him to react to these circumstances partly by educating himself (he eventually becomes a Shakespeare aficionado) but also, more troublingly, through a revolutionary attitude apparently accepting of violence.

Beginning with these early scenes, the script — written by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian — shows a lack of balance both in its wholesale sympathy for the Panthers and in its entirely negative portrayal of the police. It later depicts former Vice-president Dan Quayle as a villain — and a dunce — for questioning the anti-law enforcement tenor of some of Shakur’s lyrics.

Structured around an interview with a fictional, and unnamed, journalist (Hill Harper) during a real stint in prison, the retrospective takes in Shakur’s lifelong friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), his partnership with rage-prone producer Suge Knight (Dominic Santana) and his romance with Quincy Jones’ daughter, Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh).

Before achieving a more or less stable relationship with Kidada, albeit one that involves living together before marriage, Shakur is shown partaking in the decadent lifestyle often associated with celebrity. This includes group and casual sex as well as deviant acts. Although a minor character calls Shakur out on this behaviour, overall, the movie’s tone is one of implicit acceptance.

Where narcotics are concerned, “All Eyez” adopts an ambivalent outlook. While Afeni struggles with addiction and Shakur himself consistently refuses hard drugs, smoking marijuana is presented as essentially harmless.

While viewers will hardly begrudge the once impoverished Shakur the financial success he earned, the need to wear more than one gold Rolex watch at a time can be questioned.

In fact, rivalry for expensive trinkets may have played a role in the tragic end of Shakur’s story, his still unsolved murder on the streets of Las Vegas 21 years ago. As a postscript to the picture points out, Shakur’s brief life — he died aged 25 — was at least as much marked by creativity as by controversy. But if there are lessons to be learned from it, they are not to be found in “All Eyez on Me.”

The film contains some violence and gore, strong sexual content, including aberrant behaviour, cohabitation and rear and upper female nudity, drug use, about a dozen profanities and relentless 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.


It Comes at Night
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Morality is put to the test and fails in the bleak thriller “It Comes at Night” (A24). Well executed, yet painful to watch, writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ drama plays skillfully on the psychology of fear, working more through subtlety and suggestion than depiction.

But maturity is required to grapple with its lifeboat ethics and tacit acceptance of euthanasia in extreme circumstances.

Set in a dystopian version of rural America that’s being ravaged by an unspecified but inevitably fatal plague, the film powerfully conveys the claustrophobic isolation of the family — dad Paul (Joel Edgerton), mom Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) — at the centre of its plot.

Since any contact with an infected stranger could mean death, the cooped-up clan is terrified when an intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home in the middle of the night. Though they initially treat him like a prisoner, tying him up and interrogating him, they eventually come to accept Will’s story that he was only looking for supplies and thought the house was empty.

Deciding they would all be better off combining forces, Paul and Sarah invite Will to bring his wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and toddler son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), to live with them. But anxiety and suspicion eventually undermine the good intentions behind this arrangement, with horrifying results.

Given its apocalyptic premise, the movie’s portrayal of the elimination of one of the Black Death-like disease’s victims — specifically, Travis’ grandfather, Bud (David Pendleton), who’s put out of his misery early on — can be taken as having no troubling application to everyday life. And the extremes to which some characters are later driven are a source of dread, not a pattern to be imitated.

However, like Travis’ adolescent sexuality — his attraction to Kim leads him to dream of an encounter with her that shifts abruptly from fantasy to nightmare — these elements of the story, together with the distressing nature of the violence on screen, put “It Comes at Night” out of bounds for youngsters.

Even grown viewers may be unsettled by Shults’ deeply pessimistic view of human nature as a Darwinian struggle for survival takes hold. Neither heroism nor self-sacrifice play any role in his narrative. In fact, even the most basic laws of civilization are breached in the end.

So, although the mayhem of the situation is not handled gratuitously, moviegoers may be left wondering why they subjected themselves to this artful but bitter slice of doom-laden life.

The film contains some harsh gory violence, including mercy killing, an adultery theme, scenes of marital intimacy, sexual sound effects, a couple of uses of profanity, frequent rough language 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.


The Lovers
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — To the extent that a thoughtful drama about marital infidelity can be considered lyrical, “The Lovers” (A24) achieves that. Writer-director Azazel Jacobs carefully structures his plot to minimize any gaping holes in logic. But he also downplays the extensive collateral damage adultery inflicts.

Perhaps he wanted to avoid making anyone a villain. Certainly, no one is ever shown to be really at fault. Lacking a steady moral compass, his characters are buffeted by life’s unpredictability.

The story focuses on Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), two doughy, respectable, middle-age empty-nesters — their son Joel (Tyler Ross) is away at college.

Their marriage has, for reasons not explained, sputtered out. Both have taken on

They seem to be mutually aware of the cheating, but they’re exceedingly polite to each other and still share the same bed. The lethargy that led to their love’s demise, as well as bland domestic rituals, prevent them from actually splitting.

Mary, her mouth a rictus of pain and confusion, has taken up with handsome, younger Robert (Aidan Gillen). Michael, whose emotional outlet usually consists of giggling, is carrying on with Lucy (Melora Walters), an emotionally fragile ballet teacher.

Jacobs keeps his story sympathetic and free of tawdriness by showing that Mary and Michael, numb in their own lives, aren’t particularly good at adultery, either. Thus they find many ways to be both physically and emotionally unavailable to their paramours.

Why Robert and Lucy regard these two as good catches is mysterious. But eventually they both deliver ultimatums. Whatever goes on, it’s never glamorous.

That, too, is one of Jacobs’ points. Love and physical attraction often make no sense, and eventually Michael and Mary find, to their considerable surprise, that their spark has returned. So, in a series of farcical sequences, they end up “cheating” on their lovers.

This lurches on for a spell until a visit from Joel and his girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula), sets into motion events which reveal the hollowness of the charade.

The film contains an adultery theme, fleeting scenes of marital sexual activity, some of it potentially aberrant, and much profane and 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Rough Night
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “Weekend at Bernie’s” meets “Bridesmaids” in the raunchy comedy “Rough Night” (Columbia). The result is pure dreck.

Political candidate and bride-to-be Jess Thayer (Scarlett Johansson) joins her four best friends — Aussie ditz Pippa (Kate McKinnon), overeager misfit Alice (Jillian Bell), social justice warrior Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and self-satisfied rich lady Blair (Zoe Kravitz) — for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami.

After doing shots and snorting cocaine, they summon a stripper (Ryan Cooper) to the house they’ve been loaned. But the fun comes to a screeching halt when Alice, who could afford to go on a diet, accidentally kills burlesque boy by impulsively jumping into his lap, overturning his chair and smashing the back of his head into the corner of a stone hearth.

As the quintet scrambles to hide the evidence, fearing — for barely tenable reasons — that the police will not believe their story, director and co-writer Lucia Aniello’s film runs the gamut of smut. Early on, the script (on which Aniello collaborated with Paul W. Downs, who also plays Jess’ nice-guy fiance, Peter) winsomely tips us off to the fact that, back in college, Frankie and Blair were lovers.

Later the screenplay introduces us to Lea and Pietro (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell), the randy swingers who live next door. Plot developments find Blair forced into an encounter with this duo while Peter, who knows that Jess is in some kind of trouble, dons diapers and chugs Red Bull for a marathon drive to Florida to save the day.

Along the way to the supposedly friendship-affirming conclusion, such inherently hilarious subjects as contraception, venereal disease and personal hygiene are milked for laughs. And, as Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman discovered all those years ago in the first movie referred to above, there’s really no sight gag funnier than propping up a corpse.

The film contains strong sexual content, including aberrant behaviour, nudity, cohabitation, drug use, some gory images, constant vulgar humour, several uses of 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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