Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


Summer in the Forest

By Sister Hosea Rupprecht

NEW YORK (CNS) — The documentary “Summer in the Forest” (Abramorama) is filmmaker Randall Wright’s gentle, loving portrait of a man with those same qualities, Canadian advocate for the developmentally disabled Jean Vanier.

Hard to believe as it may be today, there was a time when the people Vanier has spent more than 50 years serving were referred to as “idiots.” Vanier has succeeded in taking very effective exception to that.

In 1964, following his service in the Royal Canadian Navy (his father was a diplomat, army officer and the governor general of Canada from 1959 to 1967), Vanier invited two previously institutionalized men to live with him in Trosly-Breuil, France. From this arrangement, L’Arche (meaning “the Ark”) was born. It grew to become a place where the developmentally challenged and those who care for them dwell together in community.

“Summer in the Forest” takes a long, affectionate look at the blessing L’Arche has been in the lives of many. Through the stories of five residents, Michel, Andre, Patrick, David and Sara, the film makes an important spiritual point about the true nature of happiness. Real fulfillment, it suggests, is not to be found in money or power, but in relationships built on love, respect, humour and human dignity.

Vanier, however, is quick to acknowledge that shared living is not always easy. “It’s not utopia,” he says, “it’s hope.”

Michel is in his 70s and suffers from memories of war. David loves cowboy movies and regards himself as the sheriff of the community. Patrick and Celine met at L’Arche and fell in love. Sara, a resident of L’Arche in Bethlehem, blossoms under the care shown to her in a community made up of Muslims, Christians and Jews.

L’Arche’s approach is simple: Uphold the dignity of every human person, treat all with love and respect, and help them in whatever way is necessary. This philosophy drives the 88-year-old Vanier, as it has for decades, and the success of L’Arche has seen it spread to include 147 communities in 37 countries.

While the film is a moving tribute, it has significant shortcomings. Thus, even though Vanier’s voice-overs tell of his wisdom, Wright fails to interview even a single caregiver to discover what motivates them in their service. He also all but ignores Vanier’s status as an internationally known Catholic philosopher and prolific spiritual author whose work with L’Arche springs directly from his deep faith.

L’Arche was established to be a network of small faith communities with a lifestyle based on the teachings of Jesus — although its residences are open to people of every faith or none. Together with physical life, home, work and friendship, Vanier believes that a spiritual life also is a basic right for everyone.

Despite its flaws, “Summer in the Forest” provides inspiration and a glimpse of what our world could be like if we all practiced just a little more compassion and treated everyone with the consideration they deserve.

The movie will have only limited distribution. To see where it’s scheduled to screen, go to The website also has information on how to bring “Summer in the Forest” to churches or schools.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.
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Sister Rupprecht, a Daughter of St. Paul, is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — On July 18, 1969, commander Neil Armstrong and his crew were hurtling toward the moon aboard Apollo 11 and Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy of Massachusetts seemed to be running on the inside track in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972.

By July 20, the astronauts had made it to their destination while it had suddenly become apparent to many that Kennedy never would.

The incident that so drastically altered the fortunes of the last of the Kennedy brothers gets a sombre but intriguing treatment in the fact-based drama “Chappaquiddick” (Entertainment Studios)

The general outline of the plot will already be familiar to viewers of a certain age. For the benefit of whippersnappers and those who find history a bore, here’s some background.

A year after the assassination of New York senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, his younger sibling hosted a reunion for a group of the slain politician’s staffers who had gone by the affectionate nickname the Boiler Room Girls — a moniker that nowadays would probably be deemed a microaggression. The venue was the small New England island of the movie’s title, just off Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the legislator’s guests was 28-year-old Pennsylvania native Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Shortly after 11 p.m., Kopechne and Kennedy (Jason Clarke) left the cottage where the party was being held and drove off together in the senator’s car. By 1 a.m., this vehicle had lurched off the side of Chappaquiddick’s Dike Bridge, overturned, and was lying submerged in a body of water called Poucha Pond.

Kennedy, of course, managed to extricate himself. His companion did not.

The accident itself was bad enough. But Kennedy’s behaviour in its immediate aftermath was bizarrely irresponsible. Returning to his hotel on the Vineyard, he waited approximately nine hours to report the mishap — by which time the car had been sighted and Kopechne’s body recovered.

Screenwriters Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen and director John Curran portray rather than explain this mysterious callousness. So viewers looking for answers to the riddle of Kennedy’s actions will come away dissatisfied.

Yet Clarke does convey with a quiet intensity the conflicted emotions and sense of isolation Kennedy may have been experiencing — as well as the toll his torturous relationship with his impossible-to-satisfy father, Joseph (Bruce Dern), may have exacted on him. Standing in the shadow of two martyred brothers, Kennedy is understandably ambivalent about following them down the path to the presidency.

While “Chappaquiddick” toys with various possible motivations — did Kennedy, for instance, subconsciously set out to sabotage himself? — its underlying ethical stance is unambiguous. Kennedy cousin and family fixer Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) provides the film’s moral compass. Initially willing to help Ted, he’s outraged when he discovers that so much time has gone by and the duty to alert the authorities has still not been fulfilled.

Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), by contrast, wears the black hat.

He leads a whole troupe of spin doctors who, at patriarch Joe’s request, descend on the Kennedy compound in Cape Cod’s Hyannis Port. There they consistently, and condescendingly, encourage Teddy to control the situation and limit the damage by playing fast and loose with the facts. And the fix, it soon becomes clear, is in thanks to the famous clan’s far-reaching connections and wide-ranging influence.

“Chappaquiddick” is all the more disturbing for its muted tone and straightforward approach, typified by a scene in which Kopechne, a devout Catholic, having found a small pocket of air in the capsized car, recites subdued but desperate prayers as her prospects for survival dim.

The film contains mature themes, a few profanities, about a half-dozen milder oaths, a couple of rough and several 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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A Quiet Place

By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — The compact, stylish horror film “A Quiet Place” (Paramount) might be a parable about resisting tyranny.

Taken strictly on its surface, it’s a story about how strong, trusting family ties can overcome any obstacle — especially if the members of the clan in question are as technically adept as TV’s MacGyver.

The movie presents an apocalyptic world overrun by invading aliens that look like a slimy combination of toothy dinosaurs and insects — and that growl like lions. They can be killed by gunfire, sure, but they’re very fast on their feet, too, and have incredibly acute hearing.

This means that the only way for humans to avoid them and stay alive is to be very, very quiet. No speaking (the film has only 90 lines of spoken dialogue, mostly whispered) and no sound loud enough for the critters to detect. When they do hear a human, they swoop right in for a quick slashing kill.

The story focuses on one rural family, the Abbotts, who have adapted to live in the manner of survivalists and scroungers on their small farm, with an abandoned village store nearby where they pick up occasional supplies and — key to this plot — batteries. Technology is always their friend, and since daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, they all use sign language.

John Krasinski, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, plays Lee, Regan’s father. Together with wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Lee has managed to preserve his family. At least, that is, until the youngest of his three children is killed by an alien because of a beeping toy. Besides grieving this loss, the Abbotts also have to deal with Evelyn’s pregnancy.

How might a woman give birth silently in a bathtub with an alien in the house, and how might a newborn infant be kept quiet in a non-abusive way? The movie illustrates both.

Son Marcus (Noah Jupe) must learn to fight back his fears and believe in his father’s ability to fix all problems. And Regan, who uses her father’s never-effective hearing aids, blames herself for her younger sibling’s death.

Marcus and Regan escape from all manner of close calls, and both parents show themselves capable of intense physical and emotional sacrifice, the price of keeping the family intact.

Aliens with super-hearing and a girl with no hearing make for an unusual showdown. But “A Quiet Place” presumes its audience’s intelligence and avoids distasteful cliches.

The film contains gun and physical violence with fleeting gore, the death of a youngster and a scene of childbirth. 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

The Heart of Nuba
By Sister Hosea Rupprecht

NEW YORK (CNS) — “The Heart of Nuba” (Abramorama), an uplifting documentary directed by Kenneth Carlson and executive produced by Maria Shriver, tells a story that is, by turns, wonderful and horrifying.

The film is a portrait of Dr. Thomas Catena, a man who has devoted his life to helping the people of the Nuba Mountains region of war-torn Sudan. It’s also a study of the community he serves, a diverse society made up of Muslims, Christians, Jews and those with traditional African beliefs, all of whom live together in peace and harmony.

These positive elements of the tale are overshadowed, however, by the suffering inflicted on these same people by their own government, with daily air raids carried out on the orders of the president of Sudan, indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir.

Dr. Tom, as he is lovingly known, boasts an impressive resume: Raised in upstate New York, he was an All-American football player for Brown University, where he studied engineering. Feeling called to a different career, however, he eventually received his medical degree from Duke University, doing a stint in the Navy to help cover the cost of tuition.

Guided by the Catholic faith passed on to him by his devout family, Catena volunteered to serve in Africa through the Catholic Medical Mission Board. Though his initial work was in Kenya, he came to Sudan’s Mother of Mercy Hospital in 2008.

On his arrival there, he became the only doctor available for 200 miles and for a population of almost a million. Thus it’s not surprising that Catena begins his daily routine — during which he sees, on average, 500 patients and may perform as many as 15 surgeries — before dawn.

His morning starts with a visit to Mother of Mercy’s small chapel where he prays the rosary. “This,” he says of the devotion, “is the only thing that gets me through the day.”

The grim backdrop to Catena’s work is the violent oppression of the al-Bashir regime. He keeps a record of the war wounds he treats, including photos he preserves on a flash drive “for al-Bashir’s trial.”

Catena delights in interacting with his patients, teasing the kids and joking with the staff. “These people,” he says of them, “love to be touched, need to be touched. You can say so much with a hug.”

While some would label him a living saint, Catena humbly downplays his own accomplishments, saying he is only doing what he can to help those entrusted to him. He does acknowledge, though, that he’s driven by the conviction that every person has value, no matter where they are.

Remarkably, “The Heart of Nuba,” a copy of which was sent to al-Bashir, may have contributed to the fragile cease-fire that now exists in the region. Carlson, Catena’s classmate at Brown, hopes his film will continue to raise awareness of the situation in Sudan so that ultimately, al-Bashir will be made to answer for his crimes, and Dr. Tom can serve the people he assists in peace.

The film contains graphic medical footage, images of gory wounds and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.
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The Miracle Season

By Sister Hosea Rupprecht

NEW YORK (CNS) — Make sure you have your tissues handy when you go to see “The Miracle Season” (Mirror).

As he did with 2011’s “Soul Surfer,” director Sean McNamara once again brings a tragic, but ultimately inspiring, fact-based sports story to the big screen in a film parents and older children can enjoy together.

Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh), setter and captain of the Iowa City West High School girls’ volleyball team, was the ensemble’s pulse. Having led her teammates to the state championship the previous year, 2011 found Line, now a senior, hyping their prospects for a repeat win.

After they triumph in their first game, her dad, Ernie (William Hurt), hosts a party in the family barn to celebrate. But tragedy strikes when Line dies in a moped accident on the way to visit her terminally ill mom, Ellyn (Jillian Fargey), in the hospital following the get-together.

Even though she’s on screen for such a short time, the audience gets a glimpse into the kind of person Line was. A friend to everyone, her cheerful outlook on life was clearly contagious.

The devastation caused by Line’s death only increases when Ellyn dies the following week. Grief throws the players into near-paralysis.

The team’s coach, Kathy Bresnahan (Helen Hunt), looks to Line’s best friend, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), to step into her pal’s shoes and provide the lacking leadership. Nobody, including Kelly, wants to fill Line’s position. She only agrees to take it over when encouraged by Ernie to do so.

A physician, Ernie is, of course, undergoing his own terrible journey of bereavement. But he tries to be strong for Line’s friends, especially Kelly. In one particularly poignant scene, Ernie tells her, “I may be the surgeon, but you’re the healer out there.”

Ernie even displays sufficient grace in his loss to confide to a friend, with regard to Line, that he “can’t blame God for wanting her back. She’s a keeper.” Oscar-winner Hurt gives the movie’s most authentic performance.

With Kelly taking up the fallen mantle, the team slowly gets its act back together. They decide to “win for Line.” They post a banner with those words on it in the locker room, and touch it on their way to the court. But the pressure to succeed soon takes its toll. It’s only after Ernie delivers his most powerful bit of advice that everyone can move forward.

Unfortunately, screenwriters David Aaron Cohen and Elissa Matsueda delay this positive twist too long to keep the audience engaged, instead dwelling on the preceding tragedy with no redemption yet in sight.

Many viewers will know from the news that the story ends well.

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.


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Contemporary society’s misguided outlook on sex, from which all regard for the Gospel virtue of chastity has seemingly been banished, permeates the low comedy “Blockers” (Universal). The result is a morass of bad morals.

As their prom approaches, high school seniors and pals since childhood Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) form a pact to lose their virginity on the big night.

Julie plans to bed down with her boyfriend of six months’ standing, Austin (Graham Phillips). Kayla will hook up with acquaintance Conner (Miles Robbins), a celebrated stoner with a fondness for baking narcotics-laden cookies and the like.

Sam, the last to agree to the scheme, is more conflicted. Although her theatre-nerd buddy, Chad (Jimmy Bellinger), is more than willing to have a roll in the hay, Sam, a closeted lesbian, only has eyes for Angelica (Ramona Young).

Learning of the agreement, Julie’s clingy single mom, Lisa (Leslie Mann), and Kayla’s macho dad, Mitchell (John Cena), frantically resolve to thwart it. Although he opposes this project as an invasion of the kids’ privacy (a view implicitly endorsed by the script), Sam’s freewheeling pop, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), tags along, hoping to protect Sam, whose secret he has guessed, from being pressured into dabbling in straight sex.

Although their children’s close bonds long ago led the adults to become friends as well, Hunter’s messy divorce from Sam’s mother, apparently brought on by his infidelity, resulted in his being estranged from the other two. Now, in between such adventures as all three accidentally spying on an adult couple having sex and Mitchell consuming beer in a manner likely to entail a visit to the proctologist, the trio begin to repair their frayed relationship.

The ultimate message of director Kay Cannon’s film is that adolescents should only hit the sack together if the circumstances are sufficiently romantic. Thus Kayla bedecks the hotel room where Julie and Austin are headed with flowers and balloons — oh, and a bowlful of condoms as well, of course.

Just as Lisa and Mitchell’s concerns are presented as a quaintly amusing example of woefully outdated parental paranoia, Kayla’s gesture is portrayed as the very model of sweet thoughtfulness. Her reward is to discover that Connor is as adept at aberrant sex as he is at whipping up hallucinatory macaroons.

The film contains skewed values, including a benign view of non-marital sexual activity, homosexual acts and drug use, full nudity, much sexual and some degrading scatological humour, an instance of blasphemy, several uses of profanity, a couple of milder oaths 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.

Ready Player One

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Those who may have wondered what it would be like to be a pinball crashing around inside a machine amid flashing lights and ear-splitting sounds will find that experience approximated in the sci-fi fantasy “Ready Player One” (Warner Bros).

Director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline (who co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn) offers a dizzying immersion into virtual reality, an alternative universe known as the Oasis. There, we are told, “you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone — the only limits are your own imagination.”

Thus, in the dystopian world of the year 2045, everyone straps on a pair of goggles and uses the Oasis to escape their miserable lives and seek whatever form of pleasure they desire. In other words, narcissism reigns supreme.

The Oasis was created by an eccentric scientist named James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a hippie/stoner version of Apple’s Steve Jobs. Obsessed with late 20th-century pop culture, he filled the Oasis with references to films, TV shows, comics and games of the period.

As a result, “Ready Player One” is catnip for baby boomers, who will enjoy spotting the DeLorean car from “Back to the Future,” Atari video games, the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” and the Batmobile, among many other nostalgia-inducing items.

Before he died, Halliday designed a contest for gamers. By following clues and locating three keys, the winner will unlock the location of a golden “Easter egg” and inherit Halliday’s fortune, as well as control of the Oasis.

So the race is on. On one side is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), a wicked CEO who harnesses the resources of his corporation to solve the puzzle. Motivated by greed, his goal is to populate the Oasis with as many pop-up advertisements as possible.

Opposing Sorrento is the standard Spielbergian gaggle of intrepid teenagers, led by Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). Wade is an orphan, living unhappily with his aunt and escaping whenever possible into the Oasis, where he appears as an animated avatar named Parzival.

There he makes a love connection with the comely (and creatively spelled) Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who joins him on the quest for the keys.

No wonder they work well together: Parsifal is the knight of Arthurian legend who sought the Holy Grail, while Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt.

Rounding out a gang of five are muscled mechanic Aech (Lena Waithe) — who is reconstructing the fabled Iron Giant robot from the 1999 film of the same name — and two warrior brothers, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao).

It doesn’t take long to figure out that this movie’s inspiration is another beloved classic, 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Substitute Halliday for Wonka, Wade for Charlie Bucket and a golden egg for a golden ticket, and the picture becomes clear.

“Ready Player One” initially offers relatively wholesome escapist fun as the teens careen around the Oasis, which resembles the Las Vegas Strip on steroids. The film takes a bizarre turn, however, when it re-creates key scenes from Halliday’s favourite movie, 1980’s “The Shining.”

At this point the previously cartoonish and bloodless violence becomes anything but, making “Ready Player One” suitable for mature viewers only.

The film contains some intense violence with gore, much stylized mayhem, brief sensuality and partial nudity, one use of profanity and occasional crude 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.

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