Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

09/13/2017

 

Home Again

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Genteel decorum prevails in the romantic comedy “Home Again” (Open Road). At least, it does so everywhere beyond the confines of its protagonist’s bedroom. The result is a morally mixed film in which kindly characters follow the misguided marital and sexual dictates of contemporary society.

Although the movie opens with the aforementioned main character, Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), in tears, her situation turns out to be more tumultuous than tragic.

Recently separated from her British-born, New York-based husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), Alice has returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, her two young daughters, Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), in tow. There they’ve settled into the lavish house in which Alice grew up and which she inherited from her father, John (David Netto), a famous director of 1970s arthouse movies.

While out on a liquor-fuelled spree celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice crosses paths with a trio of promising but broke filmmakers: brothers Harry (Pico Alexander) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) and their pal George (Jon Rudnitsky). Alice and Harry fall for each other at first sight, but he loses his cookies before they have the chance to get physical.

The morning after the night before, the lads — homeless after being turned out of the cheap motel room they were occupying — stick around, charming Alice’s mom, Lilian (Candice Bergen), with their enthusiasm for her series of starring turns in her late husband’s pictures. At Lilian’s behest, and after some hesitation, Alice agrees to let her new friends take up residence, rent-free, in her guest house.

Naturally, the polite and considerate youths bond with Isabel and Rosie and, inevitably, Alice and Harry pick up where nausea had forced them to leave off. But back east, Austen, who has all along wanted to reconcile with Alice, is none too pleased to learn of this novel domestic arrangement — even though he is still in the dark about its sexual aspect.

There’s a gentle spirit to writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s feature debut. In fact, the daytime interaction between Alice and her three tenants sometimes recalls that between Snow White and her seven dwarfs.

But the script presents marital breakup as a form of liberation. And, though it coyly avoids having the romantic leads sleep together within hours of meeting each other by sending Harry off to worship the porcelain idol, Meyers-Shyer obviously takes the duo’s subsequent fling as a given.

Additionally, the girls’ accidental exposure to the relationship — babysitting Lilian unexpectedly shows up with them, just as Alice and Harry are emerging in the morning — is milked for laughs.

Unsound but not obnoxious, “Home Again” (Open Road) will easily be parsed by grownups, for good and ill. The entertainment value of the positive residue, however, is slight at best.

The film contains a benign view of divorce and cohabitation, momentary semi-graphic and brief non-graphic sexual activity, comic brawling, a few uses of profanity and at least one rough and about a half-dozen 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.
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It
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Moviegoers looking for nothing more than to be unsettled will likely be satisfied with the horror adaptation “It” (Warner Bros.). However, while director Andy Muschietti’s generally effective screen version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel promotes friendship and fear-conquering solidarity, it also includes some grisly sights that, taken together with other elements, make it suitable for few.

Set in a small Maine town in the late 1980s — the novel took place in the 1950s — the film finds an ensemble of middle-school kids being preyed on by a demonic clown called Pennywise (twitchy Bill Skarsgard) and by other manifestations of evil.

The youngsters, led by stutterer Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl with a dark domestic secret, are bound together by their status as outsiders. Thus they christen themselves the Losers’ Club. Other members include overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), bespectacled Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and undersized hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

For Bill, the struggle against Pennywise has a special urgency since he suspects (as the audience knows, correctly) that the malevolent jester was behind the disappearance of his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). The early scene in which Pennywise deploys rows of fangs to bite Georgie’s arm off marks a notable departure from the movie’s generally restrained approach to mayhem.

Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman emphasize the camaraderie uniting the youthful crusaders as they battle their occult opponents. By unwelcome contrast, though, the script ranges virtually all adults on the side of darkness — Beverly’s unnamed father (Stephen Bogaert) is particularly villainous.

Matching Georgie’s dismemberment is a sequence in which Muschietti does to Beverly’s bathroom what Stanley Kubrick did to the elevators of the Overlook Hotel in another Stephen King property, 1980’s “The Shinning” — flooding the place in gallons of gore. Though such moments are rare, they are sufficiently excessive to deter even a large swath of grownups.

Additionally, there’s a nasty undertone to some of the dialogue since the lads of the Losers’ Club revel in exchanging sexual insults, including jibes aimed at one another’s female relatives. An underwear-clad dip in the local quarry also affords the boys a chance to ogle the contents of Beverly’s bra. Though their fascination is played for laughs, it registers as something more than innocent curiosity.

The film contains mature themes, including implied incestuous child sexual abuse, occasional bloody violence and disturbing images, intermittent sexual humour, a few uses of profanity, pervasive rough and frequent crude language and obscene gestures. 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.

 

The Good Catholic
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — A self-identified romantic comedy built around a priest’s struggle with his vocation is bound to be doubtful fare for viewers of faith. And so it proves with “The Good Catholic” (Broad Green).

While free of sensationalism, writer-director Paul Shoulberg’s awkward film displays a secular, though not disrespectful, outlook on its subject matter while also betraying a lack of familiarity with clerical life that renders it unconvincing.

One aspect of modern Catholicism the movie does get roughly right is the sad fact that, as he sits in the confessional on a Friday evening, earnest young clergyman Father Daniel (Zachary Spicer) has plenty of time to say his rosary because no one shows up on the other side of the screen. Even when someone does eventually appear, it turns out to be a religiously indifferent young lady with an agenda of her own.

Jane (Wrenn Schmidt), revealed in later scenes to be a vaguely bohemian coffee house singer, starts things off by abruptly announcing that she is terminally ill. But she hasn’t come seeking absolution in preparation for death. Instead, to Father Daniel’s understandable confusion, she solicits funeral arrangement advice from him, e.g., how can she avoid having her mother choose the outfit in which she’ll be buried?

Thus begins a friendship made tense by mutual attraction — a relationship that eventually forces Father Daniel, who was already undergoing a crisis of faith even before he met Jane, to reassess his commitment to the priesthood. (The reports of Jane’s impending death soon turn out to have been greatly exaggerated; chalk it up to her supposedly endearing quirkiness.)

His experienced and by-the-book pastor, Father Victor (Danny Glover), grimly tries to reinforce Daniel’s sense of vocation. By contrast, Father Ollie (John C. McGinley), the mildly eccentric, basketball, junk food and cigarette-loving Franciscan friar who rounds out the rectory household, is mostly on hand to provide comic relief, though little of the humour works.

Having set himself the task of depicting the inner workings of a parish, Shoulberg fails to deliver on even the most basic details. Father Daniel’s church, for instance, is clearly not Catholic. To guess from its layout, it’s more likely an Episcopal or Lutheran sanctuary.

Father Ollie is pleased that the “Sunday school” kids have asked him to speak to them, apparently unaware that Catholics don’t use that term. Even more jarringly, he later jokes about why people come to church, and cites the “free communion wafers” on offer as his own motivation.

Shoulberg’s inspiration for “The Good Catholic” came, in part at least, from his parents’ marital history. His father was an ex-priest, his mother a former religious sister. So it’s even less of a surprise than it might otherwise be that his script portrays celibacy as a burdensome shackle and erotic love as a necessary ingredient in self-realization.

Father Daniel’s background story casts doubt on the legitimacy of his call in the first place. He passively acquiesced, so the dialogue suggests, in his recently deceased dad’s wish to have a priest in the family. On that basis, some Catholic viewers may be accepting of — if hardly comfortable with — the plot’s predictable outcome.

The film contains religious themes requiring mature discernment, at least one rough and several crude and crass terms 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.

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