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The Shack Print E-mail
Written by John Mulderig Catholic News Service   
Tuesday, 07 March 2017 15:01

NEW YORK (CNS) -- "The Shack" (Summit), director Stuart Hazeldine's screen version of William Paul Young's best-selling novel, represents a serious effort to tackle the problem of evil from a Christian perspective. As such, it will be welcomed by believers.

While objectionable elements are virtually absent from the film, however, patches of dialogue discounting the value of religion -- here implicitly set in opposition to faith broadly speaking -- and hinting that God is indifferent to how we worship him mean that impressionable viewers should keep their distance. So, too, does the morally problematic treatment of a dark and long-kept secret.

After his young daughter, Missy (Amelie Eve), is abducted and murdered, previously devout churchgoer Mackenzie "Mack" Phillips (Sam Worthington) has a crisis of faith. But a note from "Papa," his wife, Nan's (Radha Mitchell), nickname for God, leads to an encounter with the Trinity near the titular hideout where evidence of Missy's death was uncovered that alters his perspective.

Octavia Spencer plays an unflappable, warmhearted God the Father, Avraham Aviv Alush a fun-loving Jesus and Sumire a serene Holy Spirit. As Spencer bakes, Sumire gardens and Alush tinkers in his carpentry shed, Worthington learns to see his own tragedy as a spiritual death that offers the prospect of resurrection.

While some may be uncomfortable with the fact that both the Father and the Holy Spirit manifest themselves to the protagonist as women, given that they would be free to do so in whatever guise they chose, this is no real objection -- all the more so since Spencer eventually morphs, when it seems advisable, into a paternal Graham Greene.

The narrative's brief descent from nondenominationalism into outright indifferentism and its suggestion that religion is "too much work" are more substantial defects. While Mack has much to forgive, moreover, he has a shocking crime in his own background that the movie seems to excuse too easily.

Beautiful settings and a sense of humor help to keep the somewhat overlong proceedings from bogging down in sentimentality. But the script, penned by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Cretton, takes on too many weighty subjects -- from the suffering of innocents to the need for forgiveness -- to treat any one of them in a fully satisfying way.

Still, on the whole, this is an intriguing endeavor to accomplish the same goal British poet John Milton set himself in writing his masterpiece, "Paradise Lost," namely, "to justify the ways of God to men."

The film contains scenes of domestic violence and mature themes requiring careful discernment. 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.

The Lego Batman Movie Print E-mail
Written by John Mulderig Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 11:32

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In 2014's "The Lego Movie," Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City's Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff "The Lego Batman Movie" (Warner Bros.), Arnett's character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage.

Despite occupying the spotlight, however, this time out, the Caped Crusader will have to learn some important lessons in humility, teamwork and emotional openness if he's going to meet his latest challenge. That's because his longtime adversary, the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis), is leading an army of bad guys in a bid to prove that he is Batman's most important enemy.

Just as the isolated, relationship-shunning hero insists on working alone to fight crime, so he slaps the Joker down when the Clown Prince of Crime puts himself forward as the Cowled One's indispensable foil.

"You're nothing to me," Batman growls in a scene that cleverly inverts a familiar trope, substituting the Joker's longing to be told he's hated for the more usual goal of exacting a declaration of love. Soon the spurned villain is scheming to destroy Gotham and thus bring his rivalry with Batman to a decisive close.

To vanquish him, Batman will have to accept the help of the trio of supporters who have rallied to his side: would-be adoptive son Dick Grayson, aka Robin (voice of Michael Cera), love interest Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl (voiced by Rosario Dawson), and father figure (as well as butler) Alfred Pennyworth (voice of Ralph Fiennes).

Still burdened by the loss of his parents -- their murder is only hinted at by a childhood photo taken at a moment aficionados of chiropteran lore will recognize as laden with doom -- Bruce Wayne, and therefore his alter ego, finds it difficult to make himself vulnerable again. It will take all of Robin's irrepressible good spirits and Alfred's patriarchal concern, as well as Barbara's head-turning effect on Batman, to break through his barriers.

Fast-paced fun is the order of the day in director Chris McKay's animated treat for viewers of almost every age. Still, scenes of danger and a bit of potty humor as well as a few joking turns of phrase designed for grownups suggest that small fry would best be left at home. The wide remaining audience will find the screen chockablock with good guys, black hats and monsters -- and the dialogue enlivened by sly wit.

The film contains perilous situations, including explosions, and a couple of instances each of vaguely crass language, scatological humor and mature wordplay. 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.

Lion Print E-mail
Written by Joseph McAleer Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 08 February 2017 14:34

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The incredible true story of one orphan's 20-year odyssey to find his way back home roars to cinematic life in "Lion" (Weinstein).

Taken from his native India as a boy, Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) grew to manhood in a loving adoptive family in Australia. But he was haunted by his lost childhood and the beloved mother (Priyanka Bose) he left behind. His 2013 memoir (written with Larry Buttrose), "A Long Way Home," inspired this poignant and uplifting film, directed by Garth Davis.

The story begins in 1986 as a lively tale of two brothers, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older sibling Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Life is hard in rural India, and they scavenge for items to resell so they can buy food for their family.

The brothers adore their mother, Kamala, who ekes out a living as a manual laborer, clearing rocks at a nearby quarry.

One night, Saroo follows Guddu to the railway station in search of work. They become separated, and Saroo, wandering into an empty train car, falls asleep.

When Saroo awakens, the train is moving, and he is locked inside. After 1,500 kilometers, the train finally comes to a stop, in the bustling metropolis of Kolkata (then still called Calcutta).

Saroo is terrified by this unknown place teeming with humanity. Unable to remember his family name and home village, he wanders the streets alone, barely escaping abduction.

Months pass before Saroo comes to the attention of the authorities. They advertise his case to locate his parents, but to no avail. So Saroo is put up for adoption, and heads to Australia in the caring embrace of Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley.

Fast-forward two decades, and Saroo (Patel) is now a well-adjusted and ambitious young man, enrolled in hotel management school along with his cute girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara).

He stands in contrast to his stepbrother, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), whom the Brierleys also adopted from India, shortly after Saroo. Mantosh suffers from mental illness and can be moody, even violent. The patience and unconditional love offered by his foster parents are inspiring.

Meanwhile, Saroo meets peers who are also of Indian descent, and begins to wonder about his earlier life. Curiosity turns to obsession, and with the help of the internet, Saroo sets out to retrace his long-ago train journey and pinpoint his native village.

"I have to find my way back home," he tells Sue, who is supportive of his quest.

A five-hankie weepie that packs an emotional wallop, "Lion" emerges as a celebration of family. It also sends a strong pro-life message by underscoring the joys and merits of adoption, and showing that a child can be shared and loved equally by two sets of parents.

Unfortunately, Saroo and Lucy's relationship is portrayed in a manner that precludes endorsement of "Lion" for younger viewers. That's a shame because teens, at least, might otherwise have profited from this touching movie.

In a postscript, "Lion" highlights the disturbing reality that more than 80,000 children go missing in India each year, with most undoubtedly denied the happy ending Saroo enjoyed.

The film contains mature themes and two brief nongraphic nonmarital sex scenes. 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.

The Founder Print E-mail
Written by Joseph McAleer Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 11:47

NEW YORK (CNS) - In chronicling the early history of McDonald's, "The Founder" (Weinstein) makes compelling food for thought, if not exactly a happy meal.

The drama is based on the true story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the traveling salesman who initially befriended the McDonald brothers, Richard (Nick Offerman) and Maurice (John Carroll Lynch), but eventually steamrolled over them. Robert Siegel's screenplay strives to set the record straight about who was actually responsible for the food service behemoth - which today feeds 1 percent of the world's population, every single day.

The story begins in 1954 in suburban Illinois. Kroc is down on his luck selling milkshake machines to small restaurants. When he visits one of his clients, a hamburger stand in California, he is astonished by the efficiency of the operation, where orders are fulfilled in just 30 seconds.

This form of "fast food" preparation is the brainchild of the McDonald brothers, who designed the "Speedee" service system based on a streamlined kitchen, strict quality control and a strong employee work ethic. Past attempts to expand the business have failed, so the brothers are content to remain a local concern.

Kroc has other ideas, especially when he sees the brothers' new design for a restaurant with two gleaming golden arches as a striking focal point. He returns home to his neglected wife, Ethel (Laura Dern), with big dreams to franchise the McDonald's concept coast to coast.

Eerily prophetic, Kroc predicts that his restaurants will be a gathering place for families, with the golden arches becoming as seductive a symbol as the flag and even the cross.

"McDonald's can be the new American church," he says, "and it ain't just open on Sundays." Ethel quips that he will be known as "Pope Raymond I."

Initially, Kroc works with the McDonald brothers, signing a contract which promises the brothers control of their name and the strictly limited menu of burgers, fries and shakes. Kroc begins opening restaurants in the Midwest, with some success.

In Minneapolis, Kroc meets Rollie Smith (Patrick Wilson), a steakhouse owner interested in bankrolling the franchise. His piano-playing spouse, Joan (Linda Cardellini), catches Kroc's ear - and heart, as she will become his next wife as well as a shrewd business partner.

Is it any wonder their favorite song is "Pennies from Heaven"?

Directed by John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side," "Saving Mr. Banks"), "The Founder" emerges as a cautionary tale about capitalism, greed and the dark side of the American dream. While unlikely to appeal to children, it's probably acceptable for older teens.

"Contracts are like hearts. They are made to be broken," Kroc says, as he embarks on a nefarious scheme to bury the McDonald brothers and establish himself as the mythological "founder" of the business.

It's enough to give an innocent hamburger lover indigestion.

The film contains mature themes, including divorce, and brief profane and 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.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Monster Trucks Print E-mail
Written by Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 12:45

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The action comedy "Monster Trucks" (Paramount) certainly lives up to its title. It has strange creatures mysteriously propelling utilitarian vehicles in the absence of an internal combustion engine. It also sees to it that some bad guys meet justice, as you might expect.

Complex thinking is not what director Chris Wedge's children's film demands. Undoubtedly best appreciated by those who still pronounce the eponymous conveyances "twuks," it does manage to fold in an environmental message as rigs of every sort speed around the oil fields of North Dakota.

As for the monsters, for most of the picture there's just one, a youngster named Creech. He's more or less a combination of shark, octopus and manatee. He's friendly and quite intelligent, along the lines of SpongeBob SquarePants. Instead of a pineapple under the sea, however, Creech's native habitat is found in a dense aquifer.

His preferred food is crude oil, and he can somehow comprehend human speech -- otherwise there'd be no story here.

Tripp (Lucas Till), a high school senior, wants nothing more than the independence that will come with his own set of wheels. So he's been restoring an old pickup truck at the salvage yard where he works. Meanwhile, Terrafex, a profit-focused oil-drilling outfit, has tapped into a nearby aquifer without caring to discover whether its depths are home to any life forms.

There are, of course, and a few creatures explode out of the drilling machinery along with the water. Creech, looking for oil, finds his way to Tripp's garage and crawls under the hood. Creech's tentacles can wrap around the axles and -- although the movie doesn't have the budget to explain this well -- some physiological property allows him to spin them.

Tripp and his tentative girlfriend Meredith (Jane Levy) team up after that for a series of antics, mainly devoted either to crushing other vehicles or to tormenting the drillers. All of these adversaries turn out to be irredeemable except for Jim (Thomas Lennon), a scientist with a conscience.

The many action sequences are unburdened by the logic of consequences. But trucks are merrily racing around, so the target viewers are unlikely to mind.

The film contains a few intense action sequences and a slightly crass sight gag. 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.

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