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'Cars 3' Print E-mail
Written by Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 14:30

NEW YORK (CNS) - Fasten your seatbelts and start your engines for a wild (and often ear-splitting) ride in "Cars 3" (Disney), the latest installment of the family-friendly animated franchise.


Six years after the initial sequel and 11 since the series began with "Cars," the anthropomorphic autos are back with a vengeance. Director Brian Fee ramps up the racing action (and the roar of the engines) while introducing a fleet of new characters sure to please young viewers - not to mention toy manufacturers.


Happily, there's much more than the dizzying blur of NASCAR-like action. Screenwriters Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich inject a nice amount of heart and pathos into the comedic plot, and add winning messages about second chances and the value of mentoring.


The years have been kind to ace racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson). He's still at the top of his game. But just over his shoulder is a new generation of faster vehicles, like the brash rookie Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer).


"Enjoy your retirement," Jackson tells Lightning as he whizzes past.


In a flash, Lightning is sidelined by an accident. Disillusioned and depressed, he retreats to his adopted home of Radiator Springs. There he draws on the support of his loyal tow-truck sidekick, Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and comely Porsche sweetheart, Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt).


Sally knows Lightning must look to the future. "Don't fear failure," she insists. "Take a chance. Try something new."


A spiffy fresh paint job by Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin) helps. "It's so beautiful," Ramone says of his own work, "it's like the Sistine Chapel!"


With his spirits buoyed, Lightning heads to the training center run by his sponsor, Rust-Eze, and its new owner, the "businesscar" Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion). His eager young coach, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), is thrilled with her new, if elderly, charge.


"You're my senior project!" she gushes.


As the bond between veteran racer and rookie wannabe grows, Lightning recalls the wisdom of his dearly departed mentor, Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman). On a whim, he takes Cruz on a road trip to find Doc's original trainer -- a grizzled '51 Ford named Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper) -- to recapture some of the old magic.


"You'll never be the racer you once were," Smokey intones. "You can't turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again.


"Cars 3" is full of surprises, and there's a nice twist in store well before the finish line.


Preceding "Cars 3" is a short film entitled "Lou." It's a charming fable about a playground bully who learns the error of his ways thanks to some enchanted objects in his school's lost-and-found box.


The film contains a brief, highly stylized crash scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I - general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G - general audiences. All ages admitted.

'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' Print E-mail
Written by John Mulderig, Catholic News Service   
Friday, 19 May 2017 14:21

NEW YORK (CNS) - Early on in "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (Warner Bros.), the audience is treated to the sight of magically generated giant elephants swinging boulder-size wrecking balls at the ramparts of Camelot. It's an apt visual considering how ponderous this action fantasy turns out to be.

Rearranging some of the traditional elements of the Arthur legend - which may or may not be rooted in actual history - director and co-writer Guy Ritchie comes up with a sort of "Prince and the Pauper" version of events.

Thus, not long after those lumbering pachyderms depart, toddler Arthur's father, Uther (Eric Bana), dies as a result of his evil brother Vortigern's (Jude Law) violent - and ultimately successful - bid to usurp the throne. Arthur evades a similar fate by being set adrift, Moses-like, in a boat which eventually finds its way to a bustling version of medieval London still called by its Roman name, Londinium.

There Arthur, dispossessed of his rights and with no recollection of his real identity, is raised as a brawling street urchin by the inhabitants of a brothel.

Once grown, and now portrayed by Charlie Hunnam, the rightful heir comes almost accidentally into possession of Excalibur -- here essentially a weapon of mass destruction so powerful that it mows down Arthur's opponents by the dozens. Aided by a so-called Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who otherwise goes unnamed, Arthur learns how to wield the super sword and uses it to battle Vortigern for the crown.

Along with the supernatural support of the Mage, Arthur gets human backing from Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), once one of Uther's advisers, and expert archer "Goose-Fat" Bill (Aidan Gillen).

Together with his script collaborators, Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, Ritchie works the occasional witty exchange into the dialogue. But otherwise his film is a grueling ordeal of nonstop noisy fighting. Like the Dark Ages in which it's set, the movie is dim, toilsome and beset with mayhem.

Since the dust-ups are mostly gore-free, however, and the only flourishes of sensuality come in the form of occult visions, some parents may consider "King Arthur" acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains pervasive combat and other violence with little blood, a prostitution theme, brief partial nudity, fleeting sexual humor, at least one rough term and occasional crass 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

The Fate of the Furious Print E-mail
Written by John Mulderig Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 12:26

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Grown viewers willing to kick reality to the curb will have fun with the preposterous but lively auto-themed action adventure "The Fate of the Furious" (Universal).

Dicey moral values and a high mayhem quotient, however, mean this seventh sequel to 2001's "The Fast and the Furious" is not a film for impressionable youngsters.

In a twist on the franchise's central theme of staunch solidarity among the members of the self-proclaimed "family" of car racers who populate it, this installment finds their leader, Dominic "Dom" Toretto (Vin Diesel) turning on his friends and working against them. He does so, however, only under duress.

Dom is being blackmailed by elusive criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), though the exact nature of her leverage over him remains hidden for quite a while. Since Cipher's mad cyber skills keep her virtually untraceable, Dom's erstwhile allies, including his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and former federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), have their work cut out for them in hunting her (and Dom) down.

They're helped by ultimate undercover agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his comically unseasoned sidekick, Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood). Mr. Nobody also brings the team's former adversary, rogue and now-imprisoned British special forces veteran Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), on board.
Director F. Gary Gray and screenwriter Chris Morgan put loyalty (even under strain) first and safety last as their globetrotting ensemble pursues an opponent so powerful she has her own AWACS-style airplane. (AWACS stands for Airborne Warning and Control System.)

Along with that kind of credulity straining but harmless prop comes a more troubling display of indifference to fact: Early scenes set in Cuba portray that nation as an island paradise, conveniently ignoring the reality that it has been ruled for the past half century and more by a duo of despots.

Doses of humor and clever resourcefulness help to divert attention from the sketchy us-against-the-world ethics that have characterized the whole series. But moviegoers intent on analyzing the picture's underlying values will wonder whether any personal consideration -- even one as weighty as that coercing Dom -- can justify aiding a villain in her bid to acquire nuclear weapons and gain (what else?) world domination.

On the other hand, however muddled the moral values on offer may be, they do come tricked out with distinctly Christian detailing. Nor can a movie that ends with a clan-gathering meal over which grace is pronounced -- a recurring conclusion in the series -- fail to endear itself, at least a little, to viewers of faith.

The film contains frequent gunplay and hand-to-hand combat but with little gore, brief partial nudity, a marital bedroom scene, an adultery theme, several uses of profanity, a few milder oaths, a single rough and many crude terms 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.

The Boss Baby Print E-mail
Written by John Mulderig Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:37

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Fans of Stewie Griffin, the "enfant terrible" of Fox-TV's "Family Guy," will know in advance just what effect the folks behind "The Boss Baby" (Fox) are aiming for with their incongruously mature title character.

Whether the filmmakers have managed to create a similarly memorable prodigy is, however, another question.

In fact, considered overall, this animated take on the trauma of acquiring a younger sibling can best be described as amusing but flimsy. On the upside, objectionable elements are sufficiently few that all but the very youngest family members can safely enjoy the fleeting fun.

As narrator Tobey Maguire informs us, 7-year-old only child Tim (voice of Miles Bakshi) is a contented lad. He enjoys the undivided attention of his hard-working but solicitous parents (voices of Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), so life is good.

Until, that is, the arrival of the eponymous -- and otherwise unnamed -- infant (voice of Alec Baldwin) whose disruptive presence promptly turns Tim's well-ordered world upside down. Resentful of the newcomer, Tim is also suspicious of such peculiarities as the fact that his brother arrived as the sole passenger in a taxi and that he wears a business suit.

A little investigation proves that this is, indeed, no ordinary babe in arms. Endowed with an adult personality and the ability to speak, he also has a corporate agenda to pursue.

As a representative of the company that manufactures infants, Boss Baby is out to thwart the multiply named Francis Francis (voiced by Steve Buscemi), the head honcho of a pet marketing conglomerate. Francis, we learn, has developed a puppy so irresistible that no one will want to have children once the pooch becomes available. It's up to Boss Baby to prevent the product launch of this heart-hogging animal.

All of this is explained with the aid of pie charts showing cuddly dogs eating into the market for youngsters, a satiric point that can be seen as vaguely pro-life.

But a darker tone -- in line with the movie industry's disdain for all other forms of profit making endeavor -- is introduced as Boss Baby schemes shamelessly and callously threatens Tim with the loss of their parents' affection. (Once further exposition reveals that success will mean Boss Baby's permanent return to headquarters, however, Tim becomes his willing collaborator.)

Beyond gentle domestic discord and the caricaturing of executives, a more pressing concern for real-life moms and dads may be the repetition in the dialogue of the question, "Where do babies come from?" The answer is always, of course, a whimsical one, though a whispered exchange between Tim and Boss Baby, inaudible to the audience, briefly hints at the true explanation before both agree in rejecting it.

Along with some silly potty and anatomical gags -- this is not a movie for those averse to the sight of an animated newborn's bottom -- that's about all there is to worry about in director Tom McGrath's ephemeral adaptation of Marla Frazee's 2010 picture book.

As for Stewie, he's unlikely to eat his heart out over the debut of his big-screen rival.

The film contains some slapstick violence, mild scatological humor and a religiously themed but not irreverent joke. 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.

Rock Dog Print E-mail
Written by Joseph McAleer Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 10:36

NEW YORK (CNS) -- "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog," Elvis Presley famously crooned six decades ago. That pretty well describes "Rock Dog" (Summit Premiere), a feeble animated comedy about a canine with unlikely musical aspirations.

On Snow Mountain, high in the Himalayas, a Tibetan Mastiff named Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson) is stuck in the shadow of his stern father, Khampa (voice of J.K. Simmons). Their two-dog mission is to guard the village from marauding wolves eager to eat the resident sheep population.

Bodi prefers playing his guitar to sentry duty. When a passing airplane drops a radio from the sky, it's like manna from heaven. Turning the dial to a rock 'n' roll station (reception is remarkably clear), Bodi is entranced by the music of legendary rock-and-roller Angus Scattergood (voice of Eddie Izzard).

The village elder, fittingly named Fleetwood Yak (voice of Sam Elliott), convinces Khampa to let his son leave the village and seek his destiny in the big city.

"It's your life. Make it a happy one," Fleetwood tells Bodi.

And so Bodi hops the bus (mass transit is also surprisingly good), lands in the nearby metropolis -- filled with anthropomorphic species -- and seeks out Angus' heavily guarded compound.

The aging rocker, a hipster cat with a British accent and a sassy robot butler named Ozzie, invites the awestruck fan into his lair, but his motives are not sincere. Angus needs a new hit, and Bodi's fresh talent might be just the ticket.

Meanwhile, the big bad wolf pack, led by Linnux (voice of Lewis Black), is inspired by Bodi's departure to mount a final assault on Snow Mountain. Sporting gangster attire and driving stretch limos, these cool dudes have one goal in mind: feasting on grilled lamb chops.

Director and co-writer (with Kurt Voelker) Ash Bannon keeps the story moving while borrowing heavily from other animated films, including "Zootopia" and "WALL-E."

Despite the dangers characters occasionally face and Angus' mildly intemperate language (he says things like "stupid bloody idiot!"), "Rock Dog" is mindless fare acceptable for all -- except possibly the most easily frightened.

The film contains a few scenes of peril. 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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