Gone Girl
By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — A jaundiced view of marriage permeates the abrasive drama “Gone Girl” (Fox).

In fact, director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel presents the married state as a claustrophobic cage in which disillusioned spouses are left to tear away at each other like a pair of angry weasels.

The seemingly inevitable misery that results from exchanging vows, moreover, is at least implicitly contrasted, in Flynn’s screenplay, with the bliss afforded by the kind of fully sexual but as yet uncommitted relationship that today so often precedes a trip down the aisle.

Such, at least is the experience of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) Dunne. This apparently happy suburban couple’s dark post-nuptial secrets begin to be revealed after Amy disappears and all clues seem to suggest that Nick has murdered her.

Fortunately for Nick, Detective Boney (Kim Dickens), the lead investigator on the case, is reluctant to jump to conclusions. And Nick’s twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), is steadfast in her support for him, despite the mounting negative evidence.

“Gone Girl” features some fine acting — especially the agile mood-swings registered by Pike (who nonetheless occasionally strays into campy excess) — and a series of clever plot twists. It also gets in some telling jabs at the manipulative influence of the media, especially via the character of self-righteous, perpetually outraged TV host Ellen Abbot (Missi Pyle).

At the same time, however, the movie showcases seedy sexual behaviour in an exploitative manner. And the proceedings become blood-soaked during a climactic scene — not to be described for fear of a spoiler — that’s played for shock value.

The film contains considerable violence with brief but extreme gore; strong sexual content, including graphic adulterous and aberrant sexual activity as well as upper female and rear nudity; at least one use of profanity; pervasive rough and much 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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Left Behind
By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Catholic viewers will likely feel left out by “Left Behind” (Freestyle).

In part, that’s a good thing, since, in bringing the first in a series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins to the big screen, director Vic Armstrong has steered clear of the anti-Catholicism that characterized the overall saga’s print version.

What remains, however, is a low-rent drama based on an interpretation of the Apocalypse at odds with church teaching on the subject. That, by itself, makes this inappropriate fare for youngsters — or poorly catechized adults for that matter.

Like a previous set of films based on LaHaye and Jenkins’ works, and starring Kirk Cameron, this reboot rests on — and exists to promote — rapture theology. As portrayed here, that’s the notion that there will be stages to the Second Coming of Christ, the first of which will be the sudden gathering up to heaven of all true believers.

Those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the situation of the title will then face a period of tribulation characterized by the famines and earthquakes Jesus prophesied in Chapter 24 of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Not surprisingly, the spontaneous disappearance of millions of people — many of them driving cars or even airplanes at the time — triggers all manner of catastrophe. And the low morals of those rejected by the Lord mean that shoplifting and other forms of social chaos are bound to commence tout de suite.

Observing all this is the movie’s trio of main characters: airline pilot Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage), his daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), and Chloe’s newfound crush, famed journalist Cameron “Buck” Williams (Chad Michael Murray). Conveniently for all concerned, Chloe met and fell for Buck at the airport, just as he was about to board a London-bound flight helmed by none other than you-know-who.

Halfway across the ocean, the rapture kicks in, and panic breaks out among the unrighteous.

Those at the centre of the story can’t say they weren’t warned, though. Chloe’s mom, Irene (Lea Thompson), was a fervent convert who served as a Christian Cassandra to all around her.

As for Buck, a woman back at the airport made a nuisance of herself asking if he didn’t recognize the divine plan behind all those disasters he’d been covering lately. But would he listen? If he had, there’d be nothing left of him on earth but his clothes and wristwatch.

In the end, “Left Behind” amounts to little more than a 1970s-style disaster movie with a tedious overlay of misguided messaging.

The film contains themes requiring a solid grounding in faith, pervasive mayhem with brief gore, drug use and a single crude term. 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.

By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Demon-possessed dolls are a sturdy bunch.

Take the googly-eyed star of “Annabelle” (Warner Bros.), who likes to interfere with anything electrical while plotting to steal a baby’s soul for Satan, known in this film simply as “the Ram.” Try tossing her in the garbage and she’ll sneak back in a mover’s box. And don’t smack her around. That angers the Ram.

“Annabelle” delivers a reliable series of horror-genre frights under the direction of John R. Leonetti from Gary Dauberman’s script. It’s a sort-of prequel to 2013’s “The Conjuring,” which featured the exploits of real-life, self-styled exorcists and “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Though there’s a “real” Annabelle in a glass case at the Warren’s house, so we’re informed, the cabinet-dwelling counterpart turns out to be a decidedly mundane-looking Raggedy Ann.

In this go-round, neither the Warrens nor the rite of exorcism are portrayed. Alas, this being a demon tale, Catholic faith is still the background. Leonetti and Dauberman aim to duck most cliches, though, so there’s no brandishing of crucifixes, nor are faith practices portrayed as ancient superstition.

However, kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) proves less vital to the machinations than Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), the owner of a bookstore specializing in the paranormal.

Father Perez, who gets punched around a bit by the forces of evil, mostly speaks in aphorisms about Christian faith with the occasional New Testament quotation, and limns the all-important theme of sacrificial mother-love.

He’s comforting but ineffectual. Instead, Evelyn, who lost her young daughter years before, is the moral centre.

“Demons. What do they want?” asks Mia (Annabelle Wallis), whose infant daughter is being threatened by the Evil One.

“A soul,” Evelyn replies. “And they won’t stop until they get one.”

The story is set in Southern California in 1970, a year after the Manson Family killings. While Mia is still pregnant, she and her next-door neighbours are attacked by members of a cult known as the Disciples of the Ram. One cultist, Annabelle Higgins, is the neighbours’ daughter.

Mia’s surgeon husband, John (Ward Horton), and the police shoot down the attackers. But Mia, you see, collects large antique dolls. Wouldn’t you know it, Annabelle’s soul enters the largest of them, the baby is born, all doors begin to creak, and the skittering around begins.

The film contains occult themes, two scenes of bloody knife violence and intense action sequences. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. 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.

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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