Recently reviewed by Catholic News Service
By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - Once you've seen one vicious extraterrestrial gnaw its way out of a human body from the inside, you've seen 'em all. Or so at least the jaded -- or squeamish -- moviegoer might be tempted to think.
And yet, the success of the durable "Alien" franchise, which dates all the way back to 1979, and was last added to by the 2012 reboot "Prometheus," would seem to argue otherwise.
For those eager to watch the showcased race of creatures come busting out all over one more time, there arrives the competently shocking "Alien: Covenant" (Fox). As before, the watchword remains -- to borrow a phrase from Cole Porter -- "Don't Fence Me In."
When we first meet those whose anatomical bounds are likely to be burst, namely the crew of the titular spacecraft, they're taking a long cryogenic nap as they speed toward a distant planet on a colonizing mission from Mother Earth. They're watched over by a so-called "synthetic," (i.e., an android) named Walter (Michael Fassbender).
Naturally, all this is too peaceful to last. So, cue an unforeseen phenomenon that not only badly damages the Covenant but also kills a number of those on board, including the vessel's commander, Capt. Jacob Branson (James Franco).
As they analyze this incident, Branson's successor, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), and his colleagues detect a weak audio signal that alerts them to the existence of a much closer -- and possibly populated -- world that seems just as suitable for settlement as their original destination. After some debate, Oram orders a change in course.
Anyone who has ever seen an "Alien" film (and even many who have not) will know what a mistake this turns out to be. Those in the imperiled landing party Oram leads -- and Walter accompanies -- include Branson's widow, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and Oram's wife, Karine (Carmen Ejogo).
As director Ridley Scott, who originated the series, unleashes his trademark mayhem, the plot increasingly focuses on a duel between Walter and David (also Fassbender), an earlier model of synthetic who featured in "Prometheus" and who now turns up -- at first, it would seem, providentially -- down on the surface.
Grown viewers with a strong tolerance for gore will note an undeveloped theme concerning Oram's religiosity. Though the early dialogue highlights his faith-based decision making, and the opposition his beliefs are likely to excite once he takes over, all this fizzles away rapidly as the franchise's ultimate form of indigestion begins to take hold.
Moviegoers on the lookout for the gay material tipped in pre-release publicity -- of the thousand or so couples on the Covenant, at least one is made up of two men (Demian Bichir and Nathaniel Dean) -- will observe a similar disappearing act.
The characters are there, but only a single statement by one of them indicates the nature of their relationship. And this whispered declaration comes at a moment when even vigilant observers could be forgiven for being distracted -- yet another cast member having just erupted like a crimson Krakatoa.
The film contains intervals of gruesome bloody violence, brief graphic marital lovemaking, a same-sex kiss, about a half-dozen uses each of profanity and milder swearing as well as pervasive rough and some 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.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson star in a scene from the movie "Everything, Everything." Photo: CNS/Warner Bros.
By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - Cynics beware: The teen-oriented romantic drama "Everything, Everything" (Warner Bros.) bears more than a little resemblance to one of those fairy tales involving a princess locked up in a castle who needs a handsome prince to rescue her.
Anachronistic thinking aside, director Stella Meghie's adaptation of Nicola Yoon's young adult novel -- which features the genre's familiar theme of embracing love even at the risk of death -- is gentle, tasteful and faithful to the book. A bedroom scene shared by its barely-of-age main couple, however, makes it doubtful fare even for mature adolescents.
Amandla Stenberg is Maddy, a very bright and literate teen who has been told since her earliest years that she has severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID. She's just like the famous bubble boy, except with the run of an entire hermetically sealed house.
This structure was specially designed for her by her mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose). Visiting nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera) rounds out the isolated household.
One step into the outside world, and any virus or bacteria could prove fatal. Maddy lives the most solitary of lives, but insists to her mom that being alone isn't the same as being lonely.
Her one melancholy wish is to see the Pacific Ocean, which is just three miles away. Occasionally Pauline still mourns for Maddy's father and brother, who died in a traffic mishap.
Then handsome, sensitive Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in -- right next door! He, of course, turns out to be Maddy's instant soul mate.
Olly has troubles of his own, though. He sometimes has to protect his mother and sister from his abusive drunken father, who has difficulty holding down a job.
Conveniently, the windows in Maddy and Olly's rooms are directly across from each other. So, soon enough, they're not only texting but communicating through placards held up to these panes.
Maddy starts dreaming about the big wide world, having long soulful conversations, and anticipating that all-important first kiss. "I'd rather talk to him than sleep," she announces.
Gee. What could possibly happen now? Will Pauline's protectiveness turn out to have been excessive? Will true love triumph?
You betcha it will. Aware of the target audience, screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe sustains the romantic fantasy without letting any harsh real-life consequences intrude. In fact, his script displays all the gritty realism of a Gidget movie. Still, to borrow a line from the late Roger Ebert, this is a picture with which only an old grumpypants could find fault.
The film contains brief sensuality as part of a mostly off-screen nonmarital encounter and a single instance of rough language.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul." Photo: CNS/Fox
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - For better or worse, bathroom-themed gags have long been a staple of kids' movies. But the family road comedy "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul" (Fox) carries this trend to excess.
Together with a noticeable lack of creative drive, writer-director David Bowers' reliance on scatological humor blights his adaptation of the eponymous novel by Jeff Kinney, the fourth installment of a screen franchise that began in 2010.
As his family sets off on a cross-country journey to attend his great-grandmother's 90th birthday celebration -- a trip his mother Susan (Alicia Silverstone) hopes will foster family unity -- mild-mannered middle schooler Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) worries that being confined together in a car for hours on end will have the opposite effect on his often-quarreling clan.
He also rails against Mom's ban on the use of electronics during the trip, a prohibition his overworked father, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), likewise finds it difficult to obey. Still, Greg has a plan to turn this unwelcome outing to his own advantage.
Recently shamed by an embarrassing video that went viral, Greg plots with his older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright), to retrieve his reputation by being taped in the company of online celebrity Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover). Digby is scheduled to appear at Player's Expo, a gaming convention being held not too far off the Heffleys' planned route.
The event that has made Greg notorious is typical of the excretion-focused humor that's too often front and center as the film ambles along to little purpose. As the result of a misadventure too involved to recount in detail, Greg winds up with a dirty diaper stuck to one hand. His frantic -- and unsuccessful -- efforts to fling it away are captured by a host of cellphone cameras, and infamy awaits.
On the trip, though, Greg suffers other indignities of a similar nature. He winds up concealed behind a shower curtain while the person from whom he's hiding relieves himself inches away. Later, on the road again and with no exit for miles, Greg is forced to use an empty bottle to answer nature's call.
It doesn't take the acumen of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that depending on such incidents for laughs is a symptom either of laziness or an impoverished imagination. Whatever their source, the prominence and frequency of these scenes prevents endorsement of this sometimes queasy sequel for viewers of all ages.
The film contains much distasteful potty humor and brief adult wordplay.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.