Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Game Night

By John Mulderig MS

NEW YORK (CNS) — Family values and much enjoyable humour are offset by numerous distasteful jokes and an excess of vulgar language in the comedy “Game Night” (Warner Bros.).

The final score? Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s film makes acceptable viewing for at least a few grownups.

Warner Brothers image credit

Competition-loving Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) cherish the frequent game nights they share with fellow couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), bachelor Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Ryan’s date du jour. Though their policeman neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons) and his ex-wife used to be part of the mix as well, his painful divorce has accentuated Gary’s peculiarities, and they now shun him.

The ensemble’s placid evenings of fun are suddenly shaken up by the arrival in town of Max’s suave, domineering brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), a highly successful businessman of whom Max has always been jealous. In lieu of Risk or charades, Brooks arranges for something closer to a murder mystery party: a fake kidnapping that Max, Annie and their friends will have to vie with each other to solve.

As the audience realizes before the characters do, however, something all too authentically criminal soon begins to unfold amid the entertainment.

Though the film’s premise rests on an unlikely coincidence, some of the comedy it facilitates definitely works. Plemons, for instance, is hilarious as the awkward, vaguely sinister Gary. Less welcome is the fact that the often wayward humour includes a few sight gags that are quite gory.

Despite its tendency go astray, though, screenwriter Mark Perez’s script does promote a positive view of marriage and parenthood. Additionally, Brooks’ materialistic lifestyle is shown in a negative light while Ryan’s taste for the company of bimbos is challenged when he invites brainy co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan) to join him on the fateful night and, despite themselves, they begin to fall for each other.

Though bedroom jokes and a surfeit of cuss words make it far too gamy for kids, such redeeming factors keep the movie from being deemed inappropriate fare for anyone.

The film contains considerable, sometimes bloody violence, including gunplay and brawling, much sexual humour, more than a dozen uses of profanity and several milder oaths 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.

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By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Writer-director Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” (Paramount), a blend of sci-fi and horror, starts off promisingly, its understated tone and matter-of-fact dialogue ratcheting up audience dread.

But the payoff fizzles. Along the way, a couple of blood-soaked scenes, though brief, put this off limits for most.

Adapted from the first in a trilogy of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, “Annihilation” centres on soldier-turned-biologist Lena (Natalie Portman). After her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), returns from a secret Army mission and falls mysteriously and critical ill, both spouses are taken into military custody and confined in a Guantanamo Bay-like facility.

As resident psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) eventually informs Lena, the base stands just beyond the edge of an unexplained and ever-growing atmospheric phenomenon called the Shimmer. Kane and his team had been dispatched to explore the territory covered by the Shimmer; Kane alone returned.


In fact, Kane is the only person ever to have reemerged from the Shimmer in the three years since its first appearance. Everyone else attempting to analyze it from within has, like Kane’s comrades, disappeared.

Learning that Ventress plans yet another expedition inside, Lena volunteers to join it, hoping she can identify a cure for what ails Kane. What she and the other researchers on the trek — paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson) and anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny) — discover on their journey involves a series of bizarre animal and plant mutations by turns beautiful and terrifying.

“Annihilation” is often visually striking and sometimes morbidly fascinating. But the movie’s initially strong grip on the audience gradually loosens, and the conclusion toward which it builds ultimately feels like a letdown.

A subplot dealing with an adulterous affair, though portrayed with less discretion than it might be, does present the situation in a negative light, making it a source of guilt for the more prominent of the two characters engaged in it.

The script also touches, in passing, on God and the potentially supernatural nature of the Shimmer. While Lena entertains the idea that the Deity can make mistakes, Kane dismisses this error out of hand. The exchange is so abbreviated and unserious, however, that it’s hard to tell on whose side Garland ranges himself — if he does so at all.

The film contains fleeting but extreme gore, semigraphic adulterous sexual activity, scenes of marital intimacy, partial upper nudity, at least one use of profanity and a milder oath and several rough and crude terms. 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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Every Day

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — It’s not “Every Day” (Orion) that you run into an incorporeal spirit who inhabits the bodies of different people for 24 hours at a time. But such is the unusual nature of the love interest in this strange teen romance.

Every Day

Director Michael Sucsy’s screen version of David Levithan’s novel sends the honourable, if less than original, message that relationships should be about more than surface attraction. But this theme entails a further subtext suggesting that gender differences are an insignificant factor where matters of the heart are concerned.

Taken together with the script’s indication that physical interaction before marriage is a given, and that Christians are devil-fearing fools, that implicit agenda item makes the film unfit for its target audience of adolescents.

Angourie Rice plays Rhiannon, the sympathetic high school student who first encounters the roaming, androgynous sprite when it takes over Justin (Justice Smith), her normally self-absorbed and inattentive dopey-athlete boyfriend. While under the control of A, as the peripatetic soul calls itself, Justin is transformed into the kind of caring companion for which Rhiannon naturally longs.

As A subsequently bounces from one incarnation to another, a phenomenon over which he/she has no sway, Rhiannon falls for him/her. But screenwriter Jesse Andrews’ script tries to have it both ways where cis-less A is concerned.

When Rhiannon asks if A considers him or herself a boy or a girl, the exquisitely politically correct response is, “Yes.” And while A is temporarily occupying a female frame, Rhiannon and she set taboos at naught by necking in the girls’ locker room.

Yet it’s quite predictable that the sequence in which Rhiannon and A first consummate their bond — during a spontaneous weekend getaway to Rhiannon’s uncle’s fireplace-equipped cabin in the woods — finds A in the guise of dreamy Xavier (Colin Ford).

Equally foreseeable is the development that enables A to spend the longest time of any of his visits inside Alexander (Owen Teague), the pretty-good-looking quasi-nerd classmate we all know Rhiannon should have been dating from the start.

A subplot involving Rhiannon’s parents — nervous-breakdown-victim Nick (Michael Cram) and unwilling breadwinner Lindsey (Maria Bello) — affirms the importance of marital fidelity. But when mainstream-Protestant Nathan wakes up after A has departed, he jumps to the conclusion that he’s been possessed by the devil. Oh, those silly religious types!

While in charge of Nathan, be it noted, A pretends to be gay so that he can dance flirtatiously with Rhiannon right in front of Justin. This “not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m just pretending” coyness is another instance of “Every Day” wanting to have its culturally au courant cake and eat it too.

The film contains two off-screen premarital bedroom encounters, an adultery theme, a same-sex kiss, at least one use of profanity and several crude and crass 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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Red Sparrow

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Not one sparrow, so we are assured on the highest authority, falls to the ground without God’s knowledge.

Red Sparrow

In the case of the potentially engaging espionage thriller “Red Sparrow” (Fox), however, such awareness may represent the downside of omniscience.

Twisty and sophisticated, though not without holes in its logic, the film might have offered relatively flavourful entertainment. But gruesome violence and gratuitous sexual content ruin its appeal.

Disabled in an onstage accident, Russian ballet star Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) finds her future endangered once she is no longer of value to the Bolshoi. Not only her salary, but her rent and the medical care provided to her ailing mother, the audience learns, were all included in her lucrative — and now doomed — deal with the famous company.

Dominika’s sudden vulnerability opens her to recruitment by her Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), a highly placed and ruthless intelligence official who wants her to train as a seductress of foreign agents. Through his influence, she’s enrolled in a school — run by jackbooted sourpuss “Matron” (Charlotte Rampling) — perversely dedicated to the purpose.

Dominika’s eventual target is veteran CIA operative Nate (Joel Edgerton) who serves as the contact for an unusually valuable Kremlin mole. But her ultimate loyalty, throughout the zigzagging plot, remains intriguingly uncertain.

Director Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Jason Matthews’ 2013 best-seller, the first volume in a trilogy, leaves nothing to viewers’ imagination.

Over-the-top Matron — Putin’s answer, so it would seem, to “Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS” — relentlessly drills her proteges in amorality. Later, Nate undergoes an unbearable interrogation, the length and intensity of which are wholly artistically unjustified.

Its cruelty and cynicism, alas, will keep this “Sparrow” from finding a nest with any viewer of sensibility.

The film contains excessive graphic violence, including horrific torture, strong sexual content, including explicit brutal activity and full nudity, themes of incest and vengeance, at least one use of profanity as well as numerous rough and a few crude and crass terms. 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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