The Judge
By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Considered in strictly cinematic terms, “The Judge” (Warner Bros.) constitutes an adequate but overextended drama that would have benefited from further editing.

From a moral perspective, however, the inclusion of a seamy subplot, dealt with in an inappropriately offhand manner, mars director David Dobkin’s otherwise mostly warmhearted film. Its presence also calls for mature discretion on the part of viewers.

When his mother’s death brings hotshot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) back to his rural Indiana hometown, his plan is to attend her funeral then bolt back to the Windy City as quickly as he can. Central to his desire to cut his visit short is his chilly relationship with his estranged father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the burgh’s respected magistrate.

But when aging, forgetful Joseph is accused of causing a fatal hit-and-run accident and turns to semi-amateur local attorney C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) to helm his defence, Hank not only sticks around, he becomes increasingly exasperated by C.P.’s timidity. All the more so, since hard-hitting special prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) proves zealous in his efforts to obtain a conviction.

As Hank and Joseph butt heads over how to handle the case, soon-to-be-divorced Hank rekindles his romance with his high-school sweetheart Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga). He also revives his relationship with his two brothers: onetime baseball champ Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) — whose potential career was derailed by an accident — and gentle, developmentally challenged Dale (Jeremy Strong).

Earlier, Hank has shown that Samantha isn’t the only girl in town for whom he has eyes.

The film contains non-graphic casual sexual activity involving unintentional incest, some scatological humour and images, about a dozen uses of profanity and considerable 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
By Joseph McAleer
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Beatles fans will be disappointed to learn that, apart from borrowing the title character’s name, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” (Weinstein) has absolutely nothing to do with the band’s 1966 hit single.

Rather, this is an absorbing and provocative study of grief and its destructive effects on a young married couple.

Written and directed by Ned Benson, the movie is part of a grand filmmaking experiment, a trio of pictures telling the same story about Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) and Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy). “Them” considers both the main characters’ points of view. Each of its accompanying films — “Him” and “Her” — explores one perspective on the same events.

“Them” opens with a shock. Eleanor, a vivacious redhead passionately in love with Conor, jumps off a Manhattan bridge. She survives, but vanishes, slipping out of the city for sanctuary at her childhood home in Connecticut.

There, Eleanor is cocooned by her quirky parents. Her bohemian mother, Mary (Isabelle Huppert), is a free-spirited Frenchwoman who likes her wine.

Her father, Julian (William Hurt), is a buttoned-up psychology professor desperate to help his daughter put her shattered life back together.

“Tragedy is a foreign country,” he admits. “We don’t know how to talk to the natives.”

Soon we learn the reason why Eleanor is so depressed: She and Conor had a son who died. The heartache was overwhelming, driving the duo apart — and Eleanor to suicide.

As a distraction, Eleanor returns to the city to take graduate courses. She strikes up a friendship with her sassy professor, Lillian (Viola Davis), who dispenses no-nonsense advice.

In the meantime, Conor is a mess. He’s desperate to find his wife and save his failing business, a dingy restaurant.

To the director’s credit, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” unfolds at a gentle pace, allowing viewers to appreciate the complexity of the situation. It’s a blend of grand romance and therapy session as Eleanor and Conor seek healing and a path back to their lost love.

Their journey is wrenching. In the end, the audience will sympathize with Conor’s initial plea when he meets his future wife: “There’s only one heart in this body. Have mercy on me.”

The film contains a suicide attempt, adulterous situations, nongraphic sexual activity with brief upper female nudity and some crude language. 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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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Dracula Untold
By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — A positive portrayal of family life, mostly bloodless battle scenes and a script laudably free of vulgar dialogue would seem to make the revisionist horror history “Dracula Untold” (Universal) readily endorsable for youthful viewers.

But director Gary Shore’s awkward attempt to provide the world’s most famous bloodsucker with a makeover also comes with moral ambiguities aplenty and a treatment of religion that’s equally hard to pin down, raising red flags for parents.

Set in the 15th century, the film draws on the connection between novelist Bram Stoker’s character Count Dracula and the historical figure Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia — aka Vlad the Impaler — whose patronymic Stoker chose as his garlic-averse nobleman’s last name.

With his impaling days behind him, formerly savage but now peace-loving Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) is under threat, early on in the movie, from the cruel Sultan of Turkey, Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper). Despite Vlad’s payment of his realm’s usual tribute to Mehmed, the Ottoman ruler has demanded more: a levy of 1,000 boys to be raised as soldiers for his army as well as the handing over of Vlad’s young son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) as a hostage.

Having endured the life of a hostage at the Turkish court himself during his youth, and swayed by the emotional pleas of his beloved wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), Vlad refuses. Lacking an army with which to fight the war that will inevitably follow his rebuff to Mehmed, however, Vlad is facing certain defeat.

So he turns for help to a cave-dwelling vampire (Charles Dance), hoping to share in the outcast’s superhuman strength. The terms of their deal give Vlad the powers he needs temporarily. But, while they last, he will have to resist the desperate urge to drink human blood that accompanies them. If he gives in to the temptation, he will become undead eternally.

Though his alliance with the occult is not without numerous negative consequences, on balance, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’ screenplay implicitly endorses Vlad’s decision to use evil means to accomplish the good ends of protecting his family and his country. And viewers are invited to revel in the stylized mowing down of his enemies — easy stand-ins for contemporary extremists of the same religion?

Vlad himself is all over the map where faith is concerned. At one point, he angrily interrupts his fellow warriors’ prayers, insisting they will do no good. Yet he later visits a chapel and fervently implores God’s help in his struggle to forgo becoming a full-fledged vein-drainer.

Of course, the real point here is the spectacle of Evans holding off a whole army single-handedly and choreographing the movements of a vast swarm of angry bats. Accordingly, moviegoers may be too distracted by special effects — and too bored by the ponderous turns of phrase with which they’re interspersed — to want to probe any deeper.

The film contains pervasive combat violence with occasional gore, some gruesome images and brief nongraphic marital lovemaking. 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.

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

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