Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

11/08/2017

 

Novitiate
By Sister Hosea Rupprecht

NEW YORK (CNS) — Writer-director Margaret Betts takes a stab at a genre that always seems to fascinate people, even those with no religious affiliation: nun movies.

Unfortunately, “Novitiate” (Sony Classics) falls short of presenting a well-rounded picture of what it is — or, in this case, was — like for a young woman to enter religious life and discern whether it’s right for her.

The year is 1964 and the Second Vatican Council is in full swing. Seventeen-year-old Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides to enter the convent after “falling in love” with God. Although she has not been baptized, she has attended Catholic school and found solace and peace in the church’s ritual and prayer.

Cathleen joins the (needless to say, fictional) Order of the Sisters of Blessed Rose where the strict and formidable Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) lords it over her charges with an iron rod. Especially dedicated to silence, Reverend Mother has little tolerance for those young women who cannot toe the line.

This historical drama is also a coming-of-age story, as Cathleen and the other novices undergo training and struggle with questions of faith, sexuality and the changes the church faces in the wake of Vatican II. An artistic film with compelling performances, especially by Leo and Qualley, “Novitiate” nonetheless reveals its creator’s lack of familiarity with Catholicism.

The movie also ultimately takes a stand viewers of faith are bound to reject.

“Novitiate” relies heavily on the “Bride of Christ” metaphor for religious life and speaks, sometimes eloquently, of the love nuns have for their spouse, God. It also presents times past when emphasis was placed on sacrifice and denial of self, especially through a practice known as the Chapter of Faults.

At these group meetings, the novices kneel in a circle on the floor while one of them moves to the middle of the gathering and tearfully confesses her failings to Reverend Mother. Her sisters are then invited to make accusations about any misbehaviour they may have observed on the part of the penitent.

This aspect of monastic life was meant to encourage rigorous morality, and keep the community healthy by cleansing it of festering secrets. Yet, as portrayed here, it will certainly strike even some Catholics as extreme. All the more so, since Reverend Mother manipulates the process to her own ends.

Betts, who admits she never gave religion much thought, was inspired to write “Novitiate” after reading the letters of St. Teresa of Kolkata and learning how intimate the bond between a nun and God actually is — and how much work goes into that relationship. She was also fascinated by the way Vatican II affected religious life and the fact that many nuns chose to leave the convent as the result of its reforms.

Unfortunately, the fact that Betts relied on ex-nuns as her consultants shows in some of the more outrageous aspects of the film.

The movie gets its subject matter wrong on many levels. An unbaptized person, for instance, would never be allowed to enter a convent, no matter how devout or in love with God she might be. And if a nun burst into the dining room naked, railing against the church — as happens at one point here — there would be more than snickering from her sisters in response.

The characterization of the evil, repressed Reverend Mother, moreover, is stereotypical, as is that of Sister Mary Grace, the younger, more open-minded nun who clashes with her, played by Dianna Agron of “Glee” fame.

Additionally, Betts fully, albeit implicitly, partakes of contemporary society’s misguided notion that chastity is both unhealthy and unattainable and that all consensual sexual expression is somehow liberating.

The sight of two sisters violating their vows of chastity — although treated discreetly — is bound to be distasteful to Catholic moviegoers. Even more disturbing, however, is the conclusion one of them draws from the experience. Namely, that there is something greater to be found in this world than the love of God.

The film contains strong sexual content, including full nudity, same-sex kissing, implied masturbation and
lesbian sexual activity, one use of profanity, several instances of rough language and at least one crude term. 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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Rupprecht, a Daughter of St. Paul, is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

For the Prairie Messenger review of the film, please see: http://www.prairiemessenger.ca/17_09_20/Schmitz_17_09_20.html

For the New York Times review of this film please see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/movies/novitiate-review-melissa-leo.html?_r=0

 

Thor: Ragnarok

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s plenty of combat but relatively little bloodletting in the sweeping Marvel Comics adaptation “Thor: Ragnarok” (Disney). So at least some parents may deem this second sequel to the 2011 original acceptable for older teens.

As for adult viewers, they will likely appreciate the healthy dose of humour that keeps the proceedings on the boil. Still, at two hours and 10 minutes, the film does register as a bit overlong.

The sibling rivalry that has long pitted Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the straight-shooting Norse god of thunder, against his ever-wily brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), takes on a new dimension with the emergence of their older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Released from a long captivity by the demise of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Hela aims to dominate the family’s home planet, Asgard.

Worryingly, Hela’s bid for power has the potential to unleash the cataclysm of the title, a prophesied apocalypse that would spell ultimate doom for Asgard. Accordingly, Thor and Loki will have to patch up their differences if they are to defeat Hela’s schemes.

Along with Loki’s shifting loyalties, Thor must also contend with Hela’s destruction of his trademark hammer and with being taken prisoner by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), an Asgardian warrior-turned-bounty-hunter. Embittered by her experiences on Asgard, heavy drinker Valkyrie thinks nothing of handing Thor over to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), the decadent impresario of a series of gladiatorial games.

The mythological elements blended into director Taika Waititi’s superhero adventure — which also features Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk — are not for impressionable kids. But grownups will find relatively little to object to along the path of this spiffy intergalactic quest.

There are also some serious themes underlying the flashy fun. Loki, for instance, remains a morally ambiguous figure, but one more given to mischief than outright evil.

In dealing with him, Thor gradually moves away from trying to win him over to the side of goodness and begins to settle for the potentially more effective strategy of accepting Loki as he is and making what use he can of his brother’s positive qualities.

Banner finds himself in a similarly ambivalent situation. Though he’s anxious to use his alter ego’s fighting prowess for the cause of right, he fears that spending too long in the guise of the Hulk may eventually leave him powerless to return to his human form.

Sakaar, the world over which the Grandmaster presides, is a giant garbage dump inhabited by a diversion-hungry populace whose taste for ritual fighting recalls that of the ancient Romans. Eccentric, effete and indifferent, Goldblum’s Grandmaster conjures up some of Rome’s less reputable emperors as well as the cruelly corrupt spectators of the tournaments from which the “Hunger Games” franchise took its title.

Hela’s wish to ride roughshod over Asgard’s dependent realms echoes the worst instincts of real-world imperialism. The script, penned by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost, contrasts Hela’s destructive attitude with Thor’s vision of enlightened co-operation.

The film contains constant stylized violence with little gore, brief partial nudity, a couple of mild oaths and crude terms, occasional crass language, at least one sexual reference and mature wordplay. 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

A Bad Moms Christmas
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Aggressive vulgarity is the incongruous hallmark of the holiday-themed sequel “A Bad Moms Christmas” (STX).

Like a stocking stuffed full of nasty surprises, the script, as penned by returning screenwriters and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, is a grab-bag of low-minded jokes and sight gags.

The trio of mothers — Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) -– who grappled with the demands of parenting in the 2016 original have a new set of problems to confront this time. Their fresh, wholly unrealistic, difficulties are caused not by their kids but by their own moms when they turn up, with or without an invitation, for Christmas.

Ruth (Christine Baranski), the stiff matriarch of Amy’s family, is an impossible-to-please perfectionist, Kiki’s ma, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), is clingy and intrusive, while Carla’s hippy progenitor, Isis (Susan Sarandon), breezes into and out of her daughter’s life on a whim. All of these characteristics are carried to ridiculous extremes, as when Hines’ character lurks in the dark watching Kiki and her hubby, Kent (Lyle Brocato), become intimate.

The only thing more tiresome than the three leads’ sex-obsessed wisecracking is their self-important resolve to take the feast back and celebrate it in their own fashion. Since that approach includes ogling male strippers dressed as “sexy Santas” — for one of whom, Ty (Justin Hartley), Carla falls — to say they’ve lost touch with the reason for the season is an understatement.

From having Ty and Carla meet cute when he turns up at the spa where she works before his performance to have his private parts shaved to the recurring use by a child actor of the jarringly sacrilegious phrase abbreviated as OMFG, Lucas and Moore scrape the sordid bottom of Hollywood’s long-emptied barrel of bad taste.

Yes, Virginia, you really can stay home instead.

The film contains cohabitation, drug use, strong sexual content including partial nudity and much obscene 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service

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