Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Blade Runner 2049

By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Misogyny hangs over “Blade Runner 2049” (Warner Bros.) as blithely as the thick yellow fog of the post-apocalyptic Los Angeles it portrays.

While that’s hardly unusual for science-fiction epics with a substantially male core audience, director Denis Villeneuve, working from a script by Hampton Fancer and Michael Green, has made a two-and-a-half-hour film that, in its solemn eagerness to have the audience relish every special effect and linger over every underlined point about artificial life developing authentic human emotions, feels more like four hours.

There’s also an abundance of female nudity and a complicated sexual encounter that may have you thinking about the risk of electrocution.

This is not a remake of Ridley Scott’s 1982 epic, based on a Philip K. Dick novel, about synthetic humans called replicants interacting with, and often threatening, human civilization. It’s the second chapter, set a few decades hence, after an entire breed of replicants revolted in the manner of a slave rebellion.

K (Ryan Gosling), a world-weary police officer, has the job, in his flying car, of locating scattered rebellious androids, putting them out of commission, and retrieving their eyeballs, on which are engraved serial numbers. He’s bossed around by his grumpy chief, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright).

The core plot is a film noir-type murder mystery. Someone killed and buried a female replicant, and when her “bones” are examined, it turns out she had given birth. If these artificial life forms can procreate on their own, they also can control their destinies.

The question of who in the film is a replicant and who is not makes up the rest of the plot. It’s not a question that’s answered, since the intention is to build a sci-fi franchise, and that’s not really the point of the goings-on, anyway.

Along the way, Villeneuve explores the question of whether his holographic pal, Joi (Ana de Armas), whom K purchased as one does a computer app, is just a collection of artificial intelligence or a amorous gal capable of falling in love with a real live boy — in this case, K.

There’s also an evil tech visionary, Niander (Jared Leto), with an equally malevolent aide, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) who manufactures the supposedly more compliant replicants and controls them with lethal force.

K eventually connects with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the hero of the first film, who has surrounded himself with performing holograms of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and is handy with his fists.

There’s a bit of a message here about humankind’s relationship to technology, what we expect out of it, and our ability to truly connect spiritually as humans.

But this existential argument doesn’t go very far, and in lieu of philosophy, some of the building-size street advertisements turn out to be seductive 3D nude ladies. In this future, women exist pretty much only to be evil cardboard cutouts or just to be sexualized.

The film contains female nudity, a discreet sexual encounter involving a holograph melding with a human prostitute, frequent rough language and some profanities. 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.


Battle of the Sexes

By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The early 1970s in all its revanchist sexism, double-knit-fabric garishness and choking cigarette smoke is the setting of the coming-of-age story that is “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight).

That the coming of age arrives for Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) when, as a 29-year-old champion tennis player, she achieved her greatest fame by defeating 55-year-old Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the gaudiest, most-hyped tennis exhibition match of all time in Houston’s Astrodome, makes this no less poignant.

This lightly fictionalized version of history is ultimately more about King than the past-his-prime Riggs, but the script by Simon Beaufoy, as directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, takes pains to show each character’s harsh isolation and crippling doubts leading up to the match.

King, married to the bland Larry (Austin Stowell), copes with her realization that she’s attracted to hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) despite the scandal and loss of income that would have meant then. Cut off from equal prize money by the all-male gatekeepers of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, she seeks equal pay for women on the small Virginia Slims tour. (A cigarette company sponsoring tennis? Welcome to the ’70s!)

Riggs, trapped in a corporate job and a loveless marriage to wealthy socialite Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) and unsuccessfully struggling with a gambling addiction, is desperately trying to make himself relevant in a sport in which he’d excelled decades before, but he has to settle for hustler stunts such as filling the tennis court with livestock.

He finally sees a lucrative opportunity — the chronic gambler’s vision of the ultimate payoff — by promoting himself as the ultimate male chauvinist pig who takes on women to “prove” male superiority in tennis and other matters.

Riggs isn’t entirely serious, but most of professional tennis, which has long spurned his clowning, is on his side, and he knows it all makes for good TV.

King’s other major rival is Australian Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), the only player on the women’s tour with a child, and suspicious of King’s sexuality. “That’s what happens on an all-women’s team,” Court tells husband Barry (James Mackay). “Licentiousness, immorality, sin.”

Well, no. Stone makes King both conflicted and a little prim, and Larry, who knows the score and also Billie Jean’s ultimate fixation only on her game, eventually lectures Marilyn with, “I’m her husband — and we’re just both a phase.”

There is no gay propaganda here. King, who has been a lesbian icon for decades, is portrayed as being as conflicted over her sexuality as her tennis game, and this is presented in a straightforward and non-lurid manner.

Real life is never this neat, of course, but the plot necessarily churns toward the big showdown with all the formula and backstage cliches this requires.

Riggs first takes on Court, and manages to break her confidence as he defeats her before the match with King that drew 90 million TV viewers. King, however, is one tough cookie who polishes her skills while Riggs gulps vitamins and fails to train.

The film contains same-sex kissing and implied adulterous lesbian sexual activity, and fleeting profanities. Catholic News Service classification, L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. 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 Mountain Between Us

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The proverbial call of the wild sounds more like a roar in “The Mountain Between Us” (Fox), a trapped-in-the-wilderness survival drama based on the 2011 novel by Charles Martin.

At an Idaho airport, Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) is desperate. The high-strung photojournalist is getting married in New York the next day, but her flight has been cancelled due to an approaching storm.

She bumps into dashing surgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba), who’s in the same predicament. He’s not heading to the altar, but scheduled to perform life-saving surgery.

Alex decides to charter a propeller plane to Denver, where a flight connection to New York awaits. Ben has misgivings about the bumbling pilot, Walter (Beau Bridges), but decides to throw caution to the wind and share the ride. Bad move.

With storm clouds looming, the trio sets off, joined by Walter’s dog. There’s barely time to admire the gorgeous mountain scenery before Walter has a stroke and the plane goes down, crashing on a remote snowy peak.

Walter is killed, but the passengers — and pooch — survive. Alex is badly injured, but lucky for her Ben is just fine and can heal her wounds.

The outlook is bleak. It’s freezing and they’re in the middle of nowhere, with no food, water, or cellphone service, and as Walter never filed a flight plan, no one knows they are missing.

Ben prefers to stay put inside the airplane wreckage and wait for rescue. Alex insists their only hope is to make their way down the mountain in search of civilization.

And so they set off, dog in tow, battling Mother Nature and Father Time. Weeks pass, and the two strangers get to know each other very well indeed — especially when the predicable romantic sparks fly.

Director Hany Abu-Assad does his best with a screenplay by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe that is more talky than tense, and often borders on the preposterous. But the stunning outdoor cinematography is a welcome distraction, and, mercifully (spoiler alert!), they don’t eat the dog.

The film contains a scary airplane crash, moments of peril, a non-graphic sex scene, and two profane oaths. 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


My Little Pony: The Movie
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Looking for an instant sugar rush but don’t want all those empty calories? Saddle up and lasso “My Little Pony: The Movie” (Lionsgate), a super-sweet animated musical featuring those candy-colored Hasbro toys.

Amid relentless prancing and preening, smiles and squeals, and some toe-tapping tunes, these magical quadrupeds have an important message to convey to their young fans: Friendship is paramount.

For the uninitiated, the mythical land of Equestria is home not only to ponies but unicorns and alicorns, or unicorns with wings. Twilight Sparkle (voice of Tara Strong) is the resident Princess of Friendship, one of four princesses who govern with sweetness and benevolence. She’s busy organizing a gala festival featuring the “mane” event, a musical performance by pop star Serenade (voice of Sia).

Twilight is assisted by her very best friends: Applejack and Rainbow Dash (both voice of Ashleigh Bell), Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy (both voice of Andrea Libman), and Rarity (voice of Tabitha St. Germain).

Everything is sunshine and rainbows until a menacing airship disgorges the dark unicorn Tempest Shadow (voice of Emily Blunt). Tempest has a broken horn — a very bad sign — and a major ax to grind. Bullied as a colt, she now seeks revenge, making a pact with the evil Storm King (voice of Liev Schreiber) to crush Equestria and steal the princesses’ powers.

Twilight and her posse — code name “Mane 6” — manage to escape Tempest’s wrath, and hatch a plan to restore Equestria to its blissful state. Coming to their aid are parrot pirates, sea ponies, and a con artist cat named Capper (voice of Taye Diggs).

Along the way, to reinforce the central message, our heroes warble tunes like “We Got This Together,” “I’m the Friend You Need,” and “Time to Be Awesome.”

Director Jayson Thiessen deserves a great big hug for keeping the adventure moving and juggling multiple characters and personalities. Some of the action scenes may be a bit intense for the youngest of viewers, but not to worry — there’s always a rainbow and a smile just around the corner.

Preceding “My Little Pony: The Movie” is a short film, “Hanazuki: Full of Treasures,” featuring more Hasbro toys as they encounter a friendly monster.

The film contains mild cartoonish action and brief bathroom humour. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. 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.

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