Movie Reviews: 'Begin Again,' 'Planes: Fire and Rescue' and more

CeeLo Green and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie "Begin Again." Photo: CNS/The Weinstein Company CeeLo Green and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie "Begin Again." Photo: CNS/The Weinstein Company

Recently reviewed by Catholic News Service

Begin Again

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service 


NEW YORK - Competent pop tunes are strung together by a hackneyed plot line in the romantic comedy "Begin Again" (Weinstein).

Despite all of the time writer-director John Carney's script spends railing against cliches and stereotypes in the recording industry, the formulaic dialogue in this redemption story of a plucky singer and an alcoholic record executive sounds left over from an inspirational lecture.

"I think that music is about ears, not about eyes," says Gretta (Keira Knightley) to Dan (Mark Ruffalo), the A&R (artists and repertoire) executive just fired from the label he'd help found.

Dan was once a genius at discovering new talent. Now he's a bitter boozer and estranged from wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). British-born Gretta used to be the girlfriend and muse for recording star Dave (Adam Levine).

Gretta's talent for lyric writing landed Dave a major label contract and all the wealth that went with it. But she's astute enough to realize from a single demo recording for his latest album that Dave's no longer singing for her, but in celebration of a new romance.

Gretta and Dan both end up in reduced circumstances in Greenwich Village. All it takes is a single hearing of her breathy singing voice in a basement dive, and Dan is inspired. He's an unpleasant drunken slob at this point with a habit of running out on his bar tabs. Yet Gretta is still intrigued enough to drop her plan to return to Britain and enroll in college.

Without money and a recording studio at his disposal, Dan strikes on the idea of cobbling together Gretta's demo album using moxie, drive and whatever "free" musicians he can corral.

All you need is love. Don't sell out. Be your own person. Mismatched people can still find romance. It's a stout formula with attractive lead actors. But, aside from the appealing music, this rendition of the recipe is fairly stale.

The film contains fleeting profanity and frequent rough and 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.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


 

Planes: Fire & Rescue screenshot
Animated characters appear in the movie "Planes: Fire & Rescue." (CNS photo/Disney)

 

Planes: Fire & Rescue

NEW YORK
By Joseph McAleer

Anthropomorphic aircraft take to the skies again in "Planes: Fire & Rescue" (Disney), a lively follow-up to last summer's franchise kickoff, "Planes."

Directed by Roberts Gannaway from a screenplay by returning writer Jeffrey M. Howard, "Planes: Fire & Rescue" is that rare sequel which surpasses the original in action, adventure, and 3-D animation. That last element is especially vivid and immersive. In fact, the looping aerial scenes may even make some viewers queasy.

The humanless universe that originated with the "Cars" film series is cleverly expanded, with new autos, boats and trains joining the fun.

Amid the many sight gags and puns, there's a positive message about personal sacrifice on behalf of those in need, expressed by the fearless air-attack teams and smoke jumpers battling fires deep in the California forest.

Picking up where "Planes" left off, the sequel finds Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook), the humble cropduster-turned-racing-champion central to the first movie, an international celebrity. Life is good, until an accident reveals a deadly secret: Dusty's gearbox is failing.

For a racer, this spells doom. Unless Dusty slows down, he may never fly again.

An opportunity to switch gears -- and careers -- arises in Piston Peak National Park. There an elite firefighting crew, led by veteran rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris), is dedicated to protecting the forest -- and the tourists who frequent a new hotel, the Grand Fusel Lodge.

Assisting Dusty in his training regimen are Lil' Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), a love-struck "super-scooper" aircraft (which carries water or flame retardant), and Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), a heavy-lift helicopter who serves as the park's resident sage.

When a major fire burns out of control and threatens the hotel, Dusty is put to the ultimate test and witnesses true heroism in action.

Some of the nail-biting action scenes in "Planes: Fire & Rescue" may be a bit intense for the youngest viewers. Additionally, a few double entendres -- presumably aimed at adults -- may raise concerns for parents. While these one-liners are likely to pass at an elevation well above kids' heads, their slightly incongruous presence precludes endorsement for all.

Adults, on the other hand, will appreciate the cameo voices and inside jokes. As one depressed car says to a hotel bartender, "She left me for a hybrid. I didn't even hear him coming."

Blade Ranger's backstory includes being the star of a cult television series called "CHoPs," short for California Helicopter Patrol, a riff on the 1977-83 television series "CHiPs." His TV sidekick, Nick "Loop'n" Lopez, is voiced by none other than Erik Estrada, the original "Ponch" of "ChiPs."

The film contains a few perilous situations and some mildly suggestive humor. 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.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

The Purge: Anarchy
Brutal horror sequel in which a vigilante (Frank Grillo), out to take advantage of an annual 12-hour suspension of all law enforcement in a dystopian future America, instead winds up shepherding a quartet of potential victims (Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) who have unintentionally become caught up in the savage ritual. Simplistic social commentary -- the rich use the recurring occasion to prey on the impoverished -- and a perverse version of religion which favors the officially sanctioned mayhem make writer-director James DeMonaco's follow-up to his 2013 bloodbath "The Purge" a dubious offering even aside from all the splatter. Excessive gory violence, a negative portrayal of faith and prayer, brief partial nudity, a few uses of profanity, much rough and 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.

 

Sex Tape
In a bid to reignite their flickering passion for each other, a married couple (Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the script, and Cameron Diaz) videotape themselves during a marathon session in the bedroom. But instead of promptly erasing the tape, as she requests, he inadvertently distributes it to various people, including their best friends (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper) and the toy manufacturer (Rob Lowe) she's trying to persuade to sponsor her blog about parenting. Though the mad scramble to recover the tape winds up strengthening the main duo's already steadfast bond, a debased view of human intimacy hobbles director Jake Kasdan's often ill-advised pursuit of laughs. The fact that one of the video's unintended recipients is a teenage boy (Harrison Holzer) only makes the proceedings more distasteful. Strong sexual content -- including graphic premarital sexual activity and marital lovemaking, rear and partial nudity and pervasive sexual humor -- drug use, about a half-dozen instances of profanity, relentless rough and 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.

Catholic News Service - July 18, 2014