Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


Paul, Apostle of Christ

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — In the long history of the church, perhaps no partnership has been more consequential than that between St. Paul the Apostle and his disciple, St. Luke.

Between them, they account for at least 15 of the 27 books of the New Testament, and Luke accompanied Paul on some of the journeys during which the Apostle to the Gentiles sowed the seeds of faith across the Roman Empire.

So the idea of a film exploring the relationship between these two great figures certainly seems promising. With the drama “Paul, Apostle of Christ” (Sony), however, only part of that potential is realized.Paul the Apostle of Christ

Writer-director Andrew Hyatt’s somewhat flawed script fleshes out the bare bones available to us from the canonical sources with believable human details. But it unwisely presents famous verses and, indeed, whole passages of Scripture as deriving from Paul’s spontaneous conversation.

This includes his famous discourse on love preserved in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians — and familiar to wedding guests everywhere.

The story gets off to a sufficiently dramatic start. In the wake of the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64 — which the Emperor Nero notoriously blamed on the followers of Jesus — Christians are being subjected to a massive persecution and Paul (pleasingly sonorous James Faulkner), as their most prominent leader, has been arrested, tried and condemned to death.

Thus Luke (Jim Caviezel) is taking a huge risk when he resolves to return to the Empire’s capital and visit Paul in his cell at the Mamertine Prison. Fortunately, he has the help of two early Christian leaders mentioned in the Bible, husband and wife Aquila (John Lynch) and Priscilla (Joanne Whalley).

The spouses are at loggerheads over whether the believers still under their protection should remain in Rome or flee. Some in the community also yearn to take up arms and avenge themselves on the authorities.

Though Paul rejects any notion of violent resistance, he is reluctant to give orders about whether his fellow Christians should stay or go. Instead, he and Luke eventually strike on the idea of recording Paul’s conversion and their missionary travels together, along with other events, in the text that will become known as the Acts of the Apostles.

This new narrative, they hope, will offer encouragement to those facing possible martyrdom.

For a different reason, Luke’s nascent history is of interest to Paul’s chief jailer, Prefect Mauritius Gallas (Olivier Martinez). An essentially humane man torn between the rigour with which he is expected to deal with his captive and his vague attraction to the transcendent values of the Gospel, Mauritius is perplexed by Luke’s curious behaviour in sneaking into his prison.

Mauritius also is preoccupied by the failing health and possibly impending death of his beloved daughter. But his ambiguous outlook keeps him wavering on the question of whether to reach out to skilled physician Luke for aid. Though his pagan gods are not answering his prayers, he fears angering them by inviting a Christian into his household.

Mauritius is obviously meant to serve as a foil for the two disciples and as a target for persuasion. But the dialogue among them is less than convincing and, with at least one exception, poorly calculated to hold the audience’s attention as well.

“Paul, Apostle of Christ” works better as an easy and enjoyable introduction to its two central figures’ lives and works than it does considered strictly as a piece of cinema. As a valuable resource for catechetical instruction, moreover, the movie makes acceptable and worthwhile fare for teens, despite its unsparing, albeit momentary, presentation of the sufferings to which Paul himself and many of his contemporaries in the early church were subjected.

The film contains scenes of brutality and torture with some gore, a few gruesome images and mature references, including to prostitution. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

- - - -

Tomb Raider

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Way back when, while the century was yet young, Angelina Jolie brought a familiar figure from the world of video games to life in 2001’s critically panned but financially successful “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and 2003’s better reviewed but less lucrative “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.” Tomb Raider

Now Alicia Vikander takes on the role in the murky — if more succinctly titled — adventure “Tomb Raider” (Warner Bros.).

Whether Lara, who is presented in Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons’ script as equally capable of holding her own in a kick-boxing match and quoting Shakespeare off-the-cuff, represents female empowerment or sophomoric male wish fulfilment may be debatable. But the high volume of nasty mayhem along her current path is not.

Equally obvious are the mythological flourishes that will be vaguely distasteful to grown viewers and that contribute to making director Roar Uthaug’s origin story inappropriate for youthful moviegoers.

Seven years after the disappearance of her business tycoon-turned-archeologist father, Richard (Dominic West), Lara continues to prefer life as a London bicycle courier to settling down and enjoying her riches. In part, that’s because cashing in on her status as an heiress would require officially admitting that Richard is dead.

Ironically, once her guardian, Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), finally convinces Lara to sign the sad paperwork, a puzzle Dad provided should be given to her in the case of his death becomes the first clue launching Lara on a hunt to track him down.

Stricken by the death of his beloved wife, Richard, we learn, had embarked on an investigation of the supernatural, hoping to find proof of an afterlife. Instead of a short journey to his local parish, this involved Richard in an extended trip to a metaphysical never-never land.

As a result, we get a lot of hooey about Queen Himiko, an evil goddess who lies buried on an almost uncharted island off the coast of Japan — and who must remain entombed there for the welfare of the world. Realizing that a shadowy organization called Trinity was out to locate and exploit the deity, Richard set off for the isle of her repose.

As Lara follows suit, she gets help on her quest — and, later, in her fight against one of Trinity’s minions, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) — from hard-drinking Hong Kong sea captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). These two remain strictly allies, however, with no romance even implied. So there’s no danger of any wayward sexual behaviour between them or, for that matter, on the part of any of the other characters.

Dustups abound, though, and a couple of minor characters suffer especially unpleasant deaths from weapons or disease. Since the proceedings become tiresomely repetitive, with features that might make gameplay enjoyable failing to work on screen, believers in the audience have plenty of time to wonder why the bad guys have taken the name of the Christian God for their moniker.

The film contains occult themes, much harsh violence with some gore, a few gruesome images, at least one use of profanity and a couple of milder oaths, a stifled rough term and about a half-dozen crude words. 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.

- — -

Love, Simon

By John Mulderig MS

NEW YORK (CNS) — Good-hearted and well-crafted, the gay-themed romantic comedy “Love, Simon” (Fox) is deserving of careful analysis rather than off-hand dismissal.

Love Simon

Though its conclusion veers into crowd-pleasing propaganda, the film mostly promotes values that, if disentangled from the widespread notion that all consensual desires are to be satisfied, viewers of faith might appreciate.

The title character, played by Nick Robinson, is a closeted teen unwilling to come out either to his trio of best friends, Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), or to his sympathetic parents, Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (Josh Duhamel).

When a fellow student from his high school, using a pseudonym, posts online that he is in the same situation, Simon — also employing an alias — strikes up an exchange of emails and gradually falls for his unidentified correspondent. But his furtive life is destined to get still more complicated after callous nerd Martin (Logan Miller) discovers his secret and uses it to blackmail him.

Martin has a crush on Abby, and he compels Simon to find ways to throw the two of them together. The result is just part of the larger tangle of crossed emotional wires that eventually takes in all four of the amigos.

In adapting Becky Albertalli’s 2012 novel for young adults, “Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda,” director Greg Berlanti succeeds in delivering some enjoyable humour as well as moments of genuine pathos. Natasha Rothwell, for instance, is hilarious as Ms. Albright, the drama teacher supervising the school’s production of “Cabaret.”

And there’s a moving scene in which Simon, who fears that acknowledging his sexuality will damage his relationship with his family, including his little sister, Nora (Talitha Bateman), looks on affectionately at their everyday interaction with one another through a window.

Simon has only stepped outside the house long enough to read one of his cherished email messages. Still, this brief physical separation poignantly reinforces for the audience the ongoing sense of emotional isolation he’s experiencing.

Among the topics Simon and Leah discuss during a late-night heart-to-heart, moreover, is the fact that both reject casual romantic ties. They yearn instead to devote themselves, fervently and permanently, to one person alone.

The film contains a benign view of homosexual relationships, same-sex kissing, numerous references to sexuality, several uses of profanity, at least one rough term and considerable crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

- — -

I Can Only Imagine

By John Mulderig MS

NEW YORK (CNS) — Dennis Quaid brings his formidable talent to bear in the faith-driven drama “I Can Only Imagine” (Lionsgate).

His portrayal of Arthur Millard, the abusive father whose conversion to evangelical Christianity inspired his son, Bart (John Michael Finley), to write the eponymous 2001 song — an unprecedented chart topper that became popular even with non-believers — represents the film’s principal asset.

A washed-up high school football star whose gridiron career went nowhere, the elder Millard never loses an opportunity to throw cold water on Bart’s childhood dreams and nascent creativity. And his mistreatment of the lad involves wielding a belt as well as cruel words, though this is implied and discussed rather than seen.

Yet, as Quaid succeeds in conveying, Arthur also is the victim of his own painful frustrations and sense of failure. His eventual repentance, moreover, is shown to be appropriately hard-won.

Directors and brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin’s movie is essentially a biography of Bart, the front man for the group MercyMe.

Besides his turbulent relationship with his dad, the script, which Jon Erwin co-wrote with Brent McCorkle, also traces amiable Bart’s on-again, off-again romance with Shannon (Madeline Carroll), his childhood sweetheart. And it chronicles his struggle to achieve musical success under the guidance of his group’s dedicated manager, Scott Brickell (Trace Adkins).

As its advertising tagline “The song you know. The story you don’t,” suggests the prime audience for “I Can Only Imagine” will be religious pop fans who, like Bart, would be star-struck on meeting genre icons Amy Grant (Nicole DuPort) and Michael W. Smith (Jake B. Miller). Indeed, the lead-up to the scene of the title song’s premiere performance seems calculated to tantalize those especially devoted to it.

Still, with an inspiring real-life story to tell, and a screenplay free of anything at all offensive, the picture offers uplifting entertainment that parents and teens can share without worry.

The film contains mature themes, including marital discord and the physical abuse of a child. 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.

- - -

Sherlock Gnomes

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Fans of 2011’s “Gnomeo and Juliet” may be pleased to discover that James McAvoy and Emily Blunt reprise their voice work as that film’s title players in the animated adventure “Sherlock Gnomes” (Paramount).

Sherlock Gnomes

Alas, they’ll find little else in this busy but flat addition to the franchise to gratify them.

This time out, the couple teams with the movie’s version of Conan Doyle’s famed detective (voice of Johnny Depp) and his sidekick, Dr. Watson (voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor), to stop a spate of garden gnome kidnappings taking place across London that eventually empties the urban backyard the duo now call home of all inhabitants but themselves.

The prime suspect in these crimes is Gnomes’ arch-nemesis, Moriarty (voice of Jamie Demetriou).

Easily satisfied kids may be willing to accept the rudimentary plot and unfocused proceedings that follow this set-up under John Stevenson’s direction. Despite a positive lesson about not taking friends or loved ones for granted, and a momentary nod to empowered women in screenwriter Ben Zazove’s script, however, most others will be unimpressed.

Like the danger in which the sympathetic characters occasionally find themselves, the pair of menacing gargoyles — Reggie (voice of Dexter Fletcher) and Ronnie (voice of Javone Prince) — who guard the mass of abducted figurines may be too frightening for tots. As for parents, they may not find the aptly named Mankini (voice of Julio Bonet) or the equally self-explanatory Barry the Toilet Gnome (voice of Gary Bradbury) much to their taste.

Still, the bathroom humour is restricted to the silly sight of Barry enthroned while the worst of the fittingly cartoonish violence the crime solvers encounter involves one of his adversaries temporarily disabling Holmes by stomping on his leg.

As the cinematic equivalent of the famous dog that didn’t bark in the night — and thereby helped the original Baker Street sleuth solve a crime — “Sherlock Gnomes” won’t keep anyone up at night. But that’s about as much as can be said for it.

The film contains scenes of peril and some mild scatological and anatomical 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

- - -

7 Days in Entebbe

By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — All the tension of a daring military raid has somehow been drained from “7 Days in Entebbe” (Focus).


Based on the 1976 Israeli commando mission that rescued more than 100 hostages from Entebbe Airport in Uganda, the film is the fourth dramatization of that fateful week. It attempts to give a sympathetic gloss to two German leftists who planned the hijacking of an Air France flight — Wilfried Boese (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike).

With a better script and bigger budget, director Jose Padhila and screenwriter Gregory Burke could have made an effective thriller. But neither is in evidence here, nor is there a vital historical or moral context. The result is a simplistic account of mostly bad Palestinians and Ugandan soldiers vs. universally good Israelis, and airplane passengers who might as well be nameless, faceless cattle.

The history: In late June 1976, a small group of Germans affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an Air France jet, with 246 passengers, headed to Paris from Tel Aviv via Athens. They forced the pilot to switch course to Entebbe and separated out the Jewish passengers at a decrepit unused terminal.

They demanded a $5 million ransom and the release of more than 50 Palestinian militants, most of whom were held in Israeli prisons. After buying some time with a promise of negotiations and after half the hostages had been set free, on July 3 and 4, the Israeli government, at huge risk, sent an armed unit to rescue the remainder.

Leading the raid was Yonatan Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni), the older brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The story of how the Israelis flew in massive transport planes at an altitude of no more than 100 feet, to avoid radar, and surprised and overran the hijackers and Ugandan forces is the stuff of legend — and was considered to be an effective retaliation for the murder of the Jewish state’s athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

“7 Days,” however, focuses on Boese and Kuhlmann, both sensitive types who flinch at the optics of Germans holding Jews at gunpoint, and on the internal struggle at the top levels of the Israeli government, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and defence minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) discuss, at great length, whether swift military action should take the place of negotiations.

Occasionally, Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie) in all his air of strutting medaled menace, shows up to alternately greet or threaten the hostages.

Padhila uses rehearsals and a performance by a dance troupe as a sort of framing device to give the goings-on some urgency and rhythm. But this only distracts from the imagery of military planning.

Parallel discussions about the morality of holding Jews hostage to achieve political ends and whether it is ever right for governments to negotiate with terrorists make up the bulk of the dialogue. Since viewers of faith already know the answer to the first question, this leaves only what turns out to be a superficial look at the Israeli political rivalries of the time.

The film contains occasional gun and physical violence, fleeting gore and a single use of 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.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops