Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Spider-Man: Homecoming

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s much to like about the vibrant comic-book adaptation “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Columbia). Besides an unslacking pace and a clever central plot twist, there’s the fact that the mayhem on display is kept virtually bloodless.

And the film showcases both loyal friendship and restrained romance.

As detailed below, however, some of the dialogue places this summertime diversion off-limits for the many youngsters who would otherwise likely enjoy it. That said, at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older adolescents.

With 33-year-old Andrew Garfield, star of the last two Spider-Man films, having presumably outgrown the persona of eternally 15-year-old Peter Parker, and with a relatively new collaboration between Sony and Marvel Comics now controlling the character, it’s time for some changes in the longstanding franchise.

So Tom Holland steps into the shoes — make that boots — of the world’s most famous web-slinger, and we start the story afresh.

Some elements of Peter’s familiar saga endure. Thus, he continues to lead a double life in an effort to keep his extra-curricular crime-fighting activities concealed from his easily worried guardian, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

While she provides him with guidance in everyday life, as tipped in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter’s alter ego has acquired a mentor in the person of industrialist Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Peter also has developed a new ambition: he yearns to secure a place among the elite Avengers with whom he mixed in that 2016 outing.

Given his youth and inexperience, Stark urges Peter to focus on thwarting petty neighbourhood misdemeanors. But an irresistible target of a very different kind emerges when Peter stumbles across the dangerous schemes of mechanically winged villain Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture (Michael Keaton).

Toomes is busy selling high-tech weapons on the black market, and has no intention of having his commerce interfered with by Spidey.

In between nocturnal battles with the bad guys, Peter prepares to lead his school’s team at an academic decathlon to be held in Washington. Teammates include his best pal, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Liz (Laura Harrier), the senior for whom sophomore Peter pines.

Director and co-writer Jon Watts crafts a lively and satisfying action adventure. But — as typified by the male-body-part nickname taunting fellow student Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) saddles Peter with, and incites a crowd to chant repeatedly — the collaborative script (on which Watts worked with five others) is unfit for kids. That’s too bad since they’ll be missing out on quite a bit of fun.

The film contains much stylized violence, including gunplay and a beating, a single gruesome image, brief sexual humour, a couple of mild oaths, two implied but unspoken rough terms, a few crude and several crass expressions 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.


Despicable Me 3

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Director Pierre Coffin’s animated comedy “Despicable Me 3” (Universal) — the second direct followup to the 2010 original — turns out to be something of a disappointment, falling short when compared to its predecessors.

There is good news about the film, though, because its weak central plot is offset not only by amusing side stories but by strong values as well.

This time out, Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the once slightly wicked villain who turned thoroughgoing good guy over the course of the first two films, is up against an unlikely opponent. Balthazar Bratt — an ex-child actor whose 1980s TV show, “Evil Bratt,” was abruptly cancelled when his voice began cracking and he developed acne — is out to wreak delayed vengeance by destroying Hollywood.

As Gru battles to thwart this plan, he also discovers that he has a brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) that his unnamed mother (voice of Julie Andrews) never told him about. Predictably, the siblings quickly bond, though Dru tries to convince Gru to return to the dark side, citing their father’s career as a criminal as precedent for a family tradition.

Along with the newfound brothers’ mutual affection, clan closeness is also celebrated through scenes of Gru’s interaction with his supportive wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and their shared nurturing of their trio of adopted daughters, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

Jokes riffing on Reagan-era fads and fashions — shoulder pads and the like — generally fall flat. But Agnes’ determination to find and take in a live unicorn — and Gru’s reluctance to tell her the truth about her favourite creatures — are endearing. So too is her bedtime prayer on the subject.

Additionally, the pixilated minions (voiced by director Pierre Coffin) who once carried out Gru’s bidding — and who featured in their own 2015 film — are on hand to get things back on track.

The references to puberty involved in Bratt’s show biz downfall might provoke some uncomfortable questions from little kids. Beyond that, Gru winds up in an embarrassing state of undress at one point and there’s some bathroom and body-parts humour.

Since there’s also some danger portrayed along the way, parents of the smallest, most easily scared tykes may not find this a good cinematic choice. For everyone else, it makes acceptable if not outstanding summer entertainment.

The film contains characters in peril, brief partial nudity played for laughs, mild scatological and anatomical humour and a couple of vaguely crass slang terms. 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.


The House
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Had “The House” (Warner Bros.) been made as a taut, dark comedy about the price of greed, it might have some merit. Instead, director Andrew Jay Cohen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Brendan O’Brien, has produced a sloppy, illogical, cringe-inducing time-waster.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as Scott and Kate Johansen are demonstrably stupid about the basics of financial security. But they are aware they’re in over their heads with debt. “We played by the rules and this is where it got us,” Scott complains bitterly.

Everyone’s happy when daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is accepted at Bucknell University. But they were counting on a free-ride scholarship offered by their town, and the town council decides to build an elaborate community pool instead.

The couple’s solution is to go into partnership with their friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to open a gambling den in his home. Frank’s trying to avoid foreclosure and get back with his wife, Raina (Michaela Watkins), who has been asking for a divorce.

Since the gambling house always wins, they figure that this is a foolproof scheme. What they don’t realize, of course, is that they’re complete fools, and that all such criminal enterprises eventually face justice.

Chaos descends quickly, with Frank putting the casino into heavy debt with high-end amenities, and the jollity comes to an abrupt end when Scott, threatening an accused cheater, unintentionally chops off his finger with a hatchet.

Light on the yucks but heavy on the yuk, “The House” becomes an onerous trial of the viewer’s attention span.

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