Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

08/30/2017

 

Logan Lucky

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Director Steven Soderbergh reinvents his “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy with a backwoods twist in “Logan Lucky” (Bleecker Street), a zany heist caper.

Instead of suave leading men like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who rob casinos with sophistication and flair, Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay presents a band of mismatched misfits from West Virginia who turn to crime in the hope of a better life beyond the trailer park.

The resulting romp is an amusing bit of fluff, a tasty confection that, like cotton candy and other late summer treats, does not linger long in the memory. It’s safest for grownups, but possibly acceptable for mature teens as well.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job as a coal miner. He adores his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his mean ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). With Bobbie Jo planning to relocate out of state, Jimmy is in desperate need of cash to move closer to his daughter.

He concocts a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighbouring North Carolina during a NASCAR race. The racetrack sits atop a series of tunnels which Jimmy helped to excavate, and where he observed the elaborate system of pneumatic tubes that funnels cash from the betting windows and concessions above to the vault below.

A bit too eagerly, Jimmy’s siblings hop on board: his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who makes a mean martini, and his sassy sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a beautician.

All that’s needed is a demolition expert to blow a hole in the vault. Enter the aptly named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, straying very far indeed from his James Bond persona). There’s one catch: This lunatic is in prison.

No worries: Jimmy and Clyde arrange to spring Joe for the heist and have him back in his cell before the guards miss him.

“Logan Lucky” rolls merrily along, introducing more oddball characters than you can wave a racing flag at, including Joe Bang’s dimwit born-again brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), and a smarmy race-team owner with the brilliant name of Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane).

As the climax nears, expect a few curve balls — as well as curvaceous FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). She arrives to investigate the so-called “Hillbilly Heist,” which also goes by the code name “Ocean’s 7-11” (wink, wink).

The film contains drug references and occasional profane and crude 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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Leap!
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film “Leap!” (Weinstein). Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled “Ballerina,” this French-Canadian movie, produced by L’Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.

Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colourful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.

The plot centres on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.

The buddies plan their getaway. “We arrived at the same time and we’ll escape at the same time,” says Felicie.

Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).

But destiny will not be denied and — with Victor masquerading as a nun — the merry duo absconds. They make their way to City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.

Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris’ famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.

Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette’s mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine’s bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).

Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in “The Nutcracker.” Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: “Don’t give up on your dreams. If you never leap you’ll never know what it is to fly.”

The film contains brief scatological humour and a less than flattering representation of women religious. 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

The Glass Castle
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Anyone who’s endured the ignominy of grinding poverty with an alcoholic, out-of- work parent understands that there’s nothing ennobling about the experience.

It’s something to endure, to escape if one can, and it leaves deep psychic scars for which later wealth is weak compensation. It’s not an experience to be sentimentalized.

For all its bitterness toward the Catholic Church, Frank McCourt’s childhood memoir “Angela’s Ashes” — in both book and film — got that much right. But “The Glass Castle” (Lionsgate), the screen version of Jeannette Walls’ 2005 account of her impoverished youth, tries to put a cheery gloss on everything, as if all the excruciating history was somehow not as bad as it seemed at the time.

Jeannette, at age 3, is grotesquely burned when her clothing catches fire from a gas stove. This is portrayed as a character-builder rather than child neglect.

Walls’ memoir was unsparing with her indignities. They included having to use a ditch as a toilet, the constant presence of rats, and a racist paternal grandmother who molested her brother.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, avoids all the most wretched material, however, to invoke some kind of rosy Appalachian glow. As if a Christmastime snowfall makes everything so much better because it temporarily covers up the squalor.

Walls (Ella Anderson, mostly, as a child; Brie Larson from high school on) was one of four children of Rex (Woody Harrelson), a wannabe engineer with almost no formal schooling, and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), a failed artist who never sold a painting.

Like one of playwright Eugene O’Neill’s dreamers, Rex is constantly designing a house for them (the glass castle of the title). But as a result of his boozing, he achieves none of his dreams. He and Rose Mary, though, manage to imbue all their children with vivid imaginations and lots of children’s literature so they can keep reality at bay.

After a peripatetic existence one step ahead of the law and bill collectors, the family ends up in Welch, West Virginia, where Rex had grown up. It’s a rock bottom of several magnitudes. But somehow the children are educated, even when they’ve not eaten for several days. Rex’s only stable job is as a coal miner, but that doesn’t last for long.

Rex is sometimes violent. In reality, that’s always bad. In this film, though, it becomes just another of his quirks, and the father-daughter bond never breaks, even when his homespun “wisdom” sounds like something out of a phony Farmer’s Almanac.

Jeannette, with a ferocious love of writing, eventually becomes a famous celebrity gossip columnist in New York City. But even there her parents turn up, homeless and squatting in an abandoned building on the Upper East Side. She feels the need to keep her previous life secret when she becomes engaged to nebbishy David (Max Greenfield), although both she and her siblings do occasionally meet their parents for dinner.

This becomes the central conflict of the story: How does Jeannette deal with an invented reality for herself that omits her childhood poverty and her somewhat hopeless folks? When does she finally incorporate her past into her present?

That’s typically good stuff in either a drama or comedy. Here, though, it just drags on and on, which is typically the problem in a biopic in which nearly all the characters are very much alive and story lines are quietly sanitized.

There are no moral forces at work here. There’s only the feral ability to survive, as well as a depiction of poverty that’s as dishonest and delusional as Jeannette’s father.

The film contains a brief scene of implied child sexual abuse, physical violence and fleeting profanities and rough 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

All Saints
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama “All Saints” (Sony) celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.

Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tennessee. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.

A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia — Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win — begins to change his outlook.

The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.

His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.

Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and “All Saints” — despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected — is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.

Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.

The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene. 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.
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Birth of the Dragon

By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — No one goes to a kung fu movie to savour plot nuances. They’re all about tightly choreographed kicks and punches, and pleasing epigrammatic dialogue about near-monastic discipline and self-control, mixed in with a dusting of Asian spice.

“Birth of the Dragon” (BH Tilt) — a fictional retelling of a real confrontation between Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) and Chinese martial-arts master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu) in San Francisco in 1964 — hits all these notes, but dully. There’s far more talking than punching, plus a subplot involving Chinese criminals that comes off as stereotyped.

The good intentions and moral core of the film, adapted from an article by Michael Dorgan, are on display, though. Director George Nolfi and screenwriters Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele show Lee — a future martial-arts legend who died at only 32 in a 1973 accident — as cocky and engaging. He teaches his craft to groups, including white men, with the intention of popularizing it while building his nascent screen career.

Lee wants to make kung fu “bigger than the Hula Hoop,” he claims. “Bigger than Coca-Cola.”

Most of the screen time, though, is taken up by Lee’s student, Steve (Billy Magnussen). His earnest goofiness ties all the plot threads together — as when he becomes enamored of shy waitress Xiulan Quan (Qu Jingjing) who’s actually a “possession of Auntie Blossom” (Xing Jin), a crime lord who brought her to America.

There aren’t any opium dens here, mostly there are just scowling gangsters throwing punches and making threats. But viewers get the feeling that such ancient Asiatic canards are never far away.

Wong, older and dignified, arrives from China and takes a job as a dishwasher because he’s undergoing some form of penance. He’s suspicious of Lee’s teaching of Westerners, since he believes that all forms of martial arts address one’s soul, and should not be used to procure fame and wealth.

Eventually, Lee, who admires Wong, challenges him to a fight. Bets go down, there’s a big finish as old school takes on new school, and Lee’s legend, like that of a gunfighter, is born.
The relatively restrained language and low level of mayhem in “Birth of the Dragon” probably make it acceptable for at least some mature adolescents.

The film contains much nonlethal violence and fleeting rough 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Morality is never allowed to get in the way of style as Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds find creative ways to dispatch a host of extras in the excessively mayhem-ridden action flick “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (Summit).

Some dialogue justifying revenge — and flirting with blasphemy — only reinforces the general disregard for life underlying the proceedings.

Jackson plays paid assassin Darius Kincaid. Unlikely as it seems, Kincaid has become the key witness in the international human rights trial of murderous Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (scenery-chewing Gary Oldman). But, as an early ambush scene demonstrates, Interpol is not up to the task of protecting Kincaid as he makes his way from a prison in Manchester, England, to The Hague to testify.

So, while on the lam with Kincaid after the sneak attack, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) turns to Michael Bryce (Reynolds), a once highly regarded but now down-on-his-luck security specialist — who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend — to shield her charge. What she fails to reckon on is the fact that the gunman and his proposed guardian are old and bitter enemies.

Kincaid mouths off and Bryce fumes as their mutual aversion inevitably blossoms into a bromance. Along the way, Kincaid hardly ever completes a sentence without accusing his interlocutor of having engaged in an especially egregious form of incest.

Director Patrick Hughes and screenwriter Tom O’Connor use odd-couple humour to pace the mounting body count. But they fail to disguise their real agenda as a succession of ex-Soviet republic heavies are blown up, gunned down or strangled till bug-eyed. By the time a busload of Italian nuns get thrown into the mix, viewers of faith in particular will find their patience at the breaking point.

Half-hearted attempts to justify Kincaid’s career — his victims, so we’re meant to conclude, all needed shooting — only aggravate the glaring ethical indifference by which a killing spree across Northern Europe is transformed into a demonstration of manliness for the characters and a source of fun for the audience.

The film contains constant violence with much gore, cohabitation, 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

Good Time

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Gritty and intense, the ironically titled crime drama “Good Time” (A24) actually charts some very grim hours in the lives of its central characters.

In doing so, the film conducts viewers on a journey through a bleak urban landscape many entertainment oriented moviegoers may not care to visit.

Robert Pattinson of “Twilight” fame plays petty criminal Connie Nikas. After their attempt to rob a bank goes awry, Connie and his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) make a run for it. Though Connie evades capture, Nick ends up in custody.

Desperate to free his vulnerable sibling, Connie embarks on a nocturnal odyssey through the underworld of New York City. He first tries to get his emotionally unstable girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to loan him bail money.

Later he takes refuge in the home of Haitian immigrant Annie (Gladys Mathon) and her teenage granddaughter Crystal (Taliah Webster) before joining forces with recent parolee Ray (Buddy Duress) in a scheme to make a quick windfall by selling a cache of liquid LSD.

Co-directed by Safdie and his brother Josh (who co-wrote the script with Ronald Bronstein), “Good Time” presents a subtly shaded portrait of its protagonist, aided by an outstanding performance from Pattinson. At once a vicious thug and a relentlessly committed defender of the one person in the world he really cares about, Connie appeals even as he repels.

The picture’s seamy milieu, however, suggests caution even on the part of grownups. This is a slice of life in which the disadvantaged scramble to survive, pursue gratification from narcotics and debased sexuality and — with the notable exception of Connie’s unflagging concern for Nick — seem to aim at nothing higher than cheap thrills.

The film contains much non-lethal violence, including bloody beatings, brief graphic casual sex and an underage bedroom encounter, drug use, several instances of profanity and pervasive rough and 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.

 

Kidnap

By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The compact thriller “Kidnap” (Aviron) has Halle Berry’s expressive face going for it, but not a whole lot else. The film is less a story about a mother’s enduring love and sacrifice for her young son than it is a long drive in an amazingly durable minivan.

Berry is Karla, a divorced waitress who’s mom to 6-year-old Frankie (Sage Correa). She’s about to get into a custody battle with her ex-husband when Frankie is abducted from a park by two cretinous goons, Margo and Terry (Chris McGinn and Lew Temple).

For what purpose Frankie has been snatched is a bit murky. Police in New Orleans issue an Amber Alert, but Karla takes off in pursuit, managing to keep the kidnappers always in view while speeding down highways — occasionally knocking aside bystanders and the odd police officer like so many bowling pins.

Director Luis Prieto and screenwriter Knate Lee have no interest in character development and motivation. There’s a mother and child, the kid is taken, Mama reverts to primeval maternal-warrior instinct, and the race is on.

Karla has a few interactions with the kidnappers, who are adept at lying about whether they’ll take her money instead of her son.

“Wherever you go, I will be right behind you — no matter what,” she vows. Ah. Got it. And so she is, although her chase, when it’s not veering into melodrama, often includes unintentional comedic moments meant to induce audience cheering.

The film contains gun and physical violence, considerable vehicular mayhem as well as fleeting profanity 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.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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