Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Veteran filmmaker Wim Wenders respectfully profiles the current successor of St. Peter in the well-crafted, sometimes moving documentary “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” (Focus). Though Wenders also provides some narration, as his title suggests, he largely lets the pontiff speak for himself.

That approach pays off by allowing the audience to hear Francis’ views on a wide variety of topics of interest to believers and non-believers alike. These include the environment, the situation of young people, relations with the Islamic world, economic inequality and the clergy sex abuse crisis. Francis also sets out, in a general way, his vision for the future of the church.

Along with original interviews with the pope conducted at the Vatican, Wenders incorporates footage of his worldwide travels, which have included trips to North and South America, Africa and, closer to home, Greece and the southern Italian city of Naples. We also see Francis answering questions from youngsters and, in a particularly touching scene, offering encouragement to the inmates of a prison.

Francis brings warmth to this grim setting and draws an emotional response from its presumably tough inhabitants by reminding his listeners that Christianity’s very first saint was the Good Thief. Moments like that one give viewers an insight into the personality, thinking and global influence of the first pontiff in the long history of the church to hail both from the New World and from the Society of Jesus.

Wenders also dwells on the significance of another precedent-breaking choice, that of the papal name Francis. Luminous images of Assisi and an outline of the life of its most famous son provide context for what his medieval namesake likely represents to the 21st-century pope.

While Wenders is unstinting in his appreciation of Francis, he sometimes misguidedly attempts to highlight this pope’s qualities by contrasting them, at least implicitly, with what he perceives to be the shortcomings of Francis’ predecessors or of some members of the hierarchy. Thus the lavishly decorated public rooms of the Apostolic Palace are rather naively set out as unspoken evidence that previous popes liked to “live large.”

Overall, nonetheless, this is a work of high quality that can be recommended for a wide range of age groups. Much of the discussion would be over the heads of small children, of course. And they might also be disturbed by the tragic images that accompany Francis’ reflections on one of the subjects closest to his heart, the plight of refugees.

For older kids, by contrast, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” will make educational viewing, whether seen in the company of parents or teachers. And, once released on video, the movie will provide a valuable resource for both schools and parishes.

The film contains mature themes and some potentially upsetting images. 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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Bad Samaritan

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Those few grownups for whom it can be considered acceptable will find the thriller “Bad Samaritan” (Electric Entertainment) intriguing but seamy. Writer Brandon Boyce and director Dean Devlin have created an intricate moral maze of a film. Yet following its ins and outs involves journeying to an underworld of aberrant behaviour many may not wish to visit.

Irish immigrant Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) and his best friend, Derek Sandoval (Carlito Olivero), are a pair of petty wise guys.They use their respectable jobs as valet parking attendants at an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, as a cover for burglarizing some of their clients’ homes while the car owners are busy dining.

The pals get more than they bargained for, however, when Sean breaks into the swanky residence of wealthy businessman Cale Erendreich (David Tennant) only to discover that the tycoon is a brutal deviant and is holding a woman (Kerry Condon) captive as his sex slave. Initially unable to free the prisoner because of the elaborate nature of her bonds, Sean eventually flees for fear of being caught by Erendreich.

When an anonymous call to the police fails to produce results, Sean, filled with remorse, resolves to risk his own his own freedom by alerting the authorities in person. But, as clever as he is perverse, resourceful Erendreich manages to stay one step ahead of Sean in what becomes an elaborate game of cat and mouse.

Boyce’s script explores the ethical shadings of a situation in which there are no straightforwardly good main characters, only the compromised confronting the diabolical. He unflinchingly establishes the thieving duo’s greed-driven indifference to the consequences of their illegal activities, then presents them with the challenge of stumbling across a much deeper form of evildoing.

The experience is ultimately a salutary one for Sean. It not only clarifies and cleanses his outlook but sets him on a path of determined and costly expiation.

Still, with Erendreich deep in the throes of Norman Bates-style madness — based on an obsession that recalls Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play “Equus” — this generally taut nail-biter is obviously not suitable fare for a family outing to the movies.

The film contains much harsh violence with momentary but vivid gore, drug use, glimpses of upper female nudity, some gruesome images, a blasphemous expression, several uses of profanity, an irreverent joke 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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You Were Never Really Here
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Whatever point there might be to “You Were Never Really Here” (Amazon), this adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novella about a stressed-out, self-loathing hitman from writer-director Lynne Ramsay is adrift in a lurid quagmire of immorality.

Joaquin Phoenix plays assassin-for-hire Joe. He’s been traumatized, flashbacks show us, by a violent father during childhood and later by military combat and a stretch as an FBI agent.

Heavily scarred in body and mind and living with his dementia-stricken, unnamed mother (Judith Roberts) in a rundown apartment, Joe barely ekes out a living, always paid in cash through an intermediary, and often contemplating suicide.

There’s one big twist: Joe’s weapon of choice is not a gun, but rather a large ball-peen hammer for smashing heads. Each job sends him to a hardware store for a new one.

His is not the righteous fury of the mythological Thor, however. The novella notes of the hammer: “Left very little evidence, excellent in close quarters, and seemed to frighten everyone.” This is true in the film as well, although Ramsay keeps the splatter factor low.

Most of the run time is taken up with long, slow close-ups of Phoenix’s bearded, tortured face and shots of squalid nighttime streets devoid of hope to show Joe’s isolation and emotional pain.

Joe’s reputation for efficient discretion attracts a New York state senator, Albert Votto (Alex Manette), who is running for governor and trying to avoid scandal and entanglement with the police. Votto’s 13-year-old daughter, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), is said to have been groomed by sexual predators online, and is now captive in a brothel of underage girls.

Any resemblance, past this point, to the plot of 1976’s “Taxi Driver” is superficial as Joe commences slaying, only to find that he’s also put his mother’s life in jeopardy in an unexpected way.

The idea that rescuing Nina through slaughter can somehow bring back the spark of life for Joe and thus represent his redemption is as deplorable as it is twisted.

The film contains much gory physical and gun violence, rear male nudity, mature references, including to suicide and the sexual exploitation of underage girls, and frequent rough 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — No need to throw a lifeline to “Overboard” (MGM), a surprisingly buoyant remake of the 1987 romantic comedy.

The original film is best remembered for the chemistry between its stars, real-life partners Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Unfortunately, however, its plot involved a frivolous treatment of adultery.

Happily, director Rob Greenberg, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bob Fisher, somewhat untangles that aspect of the storyline; this time out, both leads are (at least currently) unattached. Greenberg is also well-served by the pairing of comedians Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez — as well as by the switching of the gender roles, which gives a fresh take on the zany forgotten-identity plot.

Leonardo (Derbez), the spoiled scion of one of Mexico’s richest families, whiles away his days on a luxury yacht, awash in booze and surrounded by lovelies. He dismisses sensible working women like Kate (Faris), a single mother of three trying to make ends meet by holding down several jobs while also studying to be a nurse.

Kate arrives on the yacht to clean the champagne-soaked carpets. She and Leonardo argue over the bill, whereupon he gleefully tosses her overboard, then sails off into the sunset.

Actions have consequences, and that evening, our lothario interrupts his latest bout of casual sex to go above deck in search of a condom. Now it’s his turn to fall overboard, with life-changing results. He washes ashore with amnesia, clueless as to his real identity.

Leonardo’s plight opens the door to two scheming women. In Mexico City, his sister Magdalena (Cecilia Suarez) sees her chance to take control of the family business, and decides to make Leonardo’s disappearance permanent by faking his death.

Closer to home, Kate sees press coverage of Leonardo’s situation and — with the encouragement of her pizza-restaurant boss, Theresa (Eva Longoria) — decides to serve up some “poetic justice.” She arrives at the hospital, claims to be Leonardo’s wife, and takes him home.

“Overboard” descends into slapstick as Leonardo, unaccustomed to poverty and physical labour, abides by Kate’s rules, holding down a construction job by day, and cooking and cleaning the house by night. But a transformation is in store, as Leo discovers a long-buried reservoir of goodness deep inside him that earns him the respect of his newfound family and co-workers.

While the ends never justify the means, and Kate’s abduction and deception are not to be condoned, viewers are hardly likely to have either the opportunity or the inclination to imitate her actions. Taken strictly as a comic fantasy, “Overboard” offers an entertaining parable about redemption.

The film contains fleeting male rear nudity, some sexual banter, occasional crude language and an obscene gesture. 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.

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