Movie Reviews: August 2014

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in Movies & TV
Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush star in a scene from the movie "The Giver." Photo: CNS/The Weinstein Company Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush star in a scene from the movie "The Giver." Photo: CNS/The Weinstein Company

If I Stay," "The Giver," "Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," "The Expendables 3," "Magic in the Moonlight," "Let's Be Cops," "Step Up All In," and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" reviewed by Catholic News Service

The Giver

NEW YORK
By Joseph McAleer

Hollywood continues to makes the future a dangerous and challenging place to be a teenager.

Arriving on the heels of "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" is "The Giver" (Weinstein), another futuristic thriller where young people find themselves running for their lives.

This time, however, the tone is softer, and the overall meaning more profound, with a welcome pro-life message that will resound with viewers of faith.

Directed by Philip Noyce ("Salt"), "The Giver" is based on the best-selling 1993 novel by Lois Lowry about a utopian world that, on the surface at least, is free from suffering, hunger, and violence. A daily injection of every member of "the Community" ensures that memories and emotions are suppressed, along with freedom, choice, individuality, religion -- and temptation.

"When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong, every single time," intones the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).

Everything in this Orwellian world is identical and monochromatic: homes, clothes, even the family unit. Just two children per household, one boy and one girl, each genetically engineered and born to designated birth mothers.

When the children come of age, they receive their vocation, the role they are to play in the Community. The time has come for Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgard) to present their son, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites).

Sensing something unusual about the teen, the Chief Elder selects Jonas to inherit the esteemed position of Receiver of Memories, a kind of repository of the past, warts and all.

The current Receiver, known as the Giver (Jeff Bridges), is weary, shopworn, and ready to pass the baton. He's haunted by the failure of a recent designee, Rosemary (Taylor Swift), and is determined to succeed with Jonas.

Like Yoda taking on Luke Skywalker, the Giver begins Jonas' training, passing on memories of the "real" world.

Jonas is overwhelmed by newfound emotions and memories. He experiences love and happiness for the first time, but also cruelty, war and death -- and all in glorious Technicolor. When the fog clears, he reaches an epiphany: without the knowledge of suffering, one cannot appreciate true joy.

"If you can't feel, what is the point?" he asks. That belief is reinforced by his growing love for a fellow teen, Fiona (Odeya Rush), along with the Giver's wisdom that "with faith comes love and hope."

Jonas' determination that everyone in the Community should share in his knowledge is accelerated when he uncovers a dark secret: the Elders sanction euthanasia to eliminate imperfect babies and the frail elderly.

Filled with outrage, he joins forces with the Giver to restore the proper balance to society.

There is a disturbing scene in "The Giver" involving euthanasia that may upset younger viewers. For mature teens and their parents, however, it can spark a necessary conversation about the sanctity of life at all ages, winningly endorsed by this worthy film.

The film contains mild action violence and a disturbing scene of euthanasia. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. 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.

 

If I Stay

By John Mulderig

A tearjerker for teens, "If I Stay" (Warner Bros.) glamorizes the physical relationship between its two leads, making it totally unsuitable for its target audience.

And it's doubtful that many adult moviegoers, for whom it may be acceptable, will want to sit through this contrived weepy, adapted by director R.J. Cutler from Gayle Forman's best-selling novel.

One of the pictures few assets is Chloe Grace Moretz's game performance as Mia Hall, the "I" of the title. An aspiring cellist with a shot at attending Julliard, Mia -- a native of Portland, Oregon -- is busy worrying about how her possible departure for the East Coast has strained her bond with her rocker boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) when her life takes a sudden, horrific turn.

A family outing ends in tragedy when a car accident claims the lives of Mia's groovy ex-punk parents, Kat (Mireille Enos) and Denny (Joshua Leonard), gravely injures her little brother, Teddy (Jakob Davies), and leaves Mia herself comatose.

Needless to say, an unconscious heroine simply will not do -- on screen or on the printed page. So Mia has a convenient out-of-body experience, and takes us along for the ride.

As scenes around her hospital bed alternate with flashbacks, Mia must decide whether to fight for life to be reunited with Adam or follow her folks into eternity.

While screenwriter Shauna Cross' script implicitly affirms the existence of an afterlife -- a bright light seemingly beckons to Mia every so often -- some of the memories we witness reveal attitudes in the narrative at odds with Scripture-based values. Thus Mia is delighted to learn that the backup singer in Adam's band -- a girl she sees as a potential rival for his affections -- is a lesbian. And not a shy one, either, as a distantly viewed but enthusiastic kiss with her girlfriend promptly demonstrates.

More prominently, Mia initiates an encounter with Adam that, although discreetly shown, is presented as a wonderfully romantic experience for both of them. A later scene finds them together in Mia's bed at home, suggesting that hipsters Kat and Denny are at ease with the situation.

Reflective viewers, of course, will not be so comfortable, especially given that Mia is a senior in high school, meaning that she may -- or may not -- be 18.

Although Mia's real-life contemporaries may balk at being kept away from "If I Stay," their guardians will at least have spared them such cringe-worthy moments as Adam's impromptu ICU serenade to his still-sleeping beauty.

The film contains a benign view of teen sexuality and homosexual acts, nongraphic premarital -- and possibly underage -- sexual activity, a same-sex kiss, at least one use of profanity and considerable 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.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

"The Expendables 3" (Lionsgate)

The principal amusement factor for viewers of this second action sequel -- which is, thankfully, considerably less gory than its predecessors -- is to marvel at how director Patrick Hughes keeps its shoot-'em-up formula, harkening back to the 1980s, from crashing resoundingly onto the shores of ennui. Sylvester Stallone (who also co-wrote) returns as Barney, leader of an ensemble of government vigilantes, while Arnold Schwarzenegger, as his ally Trench, has just enough screen time to blurt out "We must get to the choppah!"

Frequent gun, knife and physical violence as well as numerous explosions, a few uses of profanity and pervasive 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.

"Let's Be Cops" (Fox)

Weak comedy in which two down-on-their-luck roommates (Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson) pose as Los Angeles police officers. What begins as a practical joke becomes potentially deadly when they cross an Albanian-born crime lord (James D'Arcy), a move that also endangers the waitress (Nina Dobrev) Wayans' character is dating and a real cop (Rob Riggle) who has fallen for the duo's act. Director and co-writer Luke Greenfield's buddy movie implicitly honors police work. But its combination of a farfetched premise, an obscenity-laden script and ill-advised forays into gross-out as well as kinky humor will fail to lighten the spirits of those few mature viewers for whom his film can be considered somewhat acceptable.

Much action violence with occasional gore, strong sexual content, including full male nudity and many bedroom-themed jokes, drug use, at least one instance of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language, a vulgar gesture. 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.

"Magic in the Moonlight" (Sony Pictures Classics)

Writer-director Woody Allen revisits the age-old debate between faith and reason, between a strictly rationalist standpoint and openness to Divine Providence, in this, his 44th film, a period comedy set on the French Riviera during the Roaring Twenties. A master magician (Colin Firth) who sidelines as a debunker of spiritualists is summoned by a fellow illusionist (Simon McBurney) to the home of a rich American widow (Jacki Weaver) who has fallen under the spell of a comely clairvoyant (Emma Stone). Even as he tries to expose the latter as a fraud, the conjurer falls madly in love, and her convincing supernatural powers lead him to question his narrow views on God and the afterlife. Amid the twists that follow, believing moviegoers will soon realize they've been led down an attractive but dead-end garden path.

A cynical view of faith and religion, brief sexual humor, mature references. 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.

"Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" (Weinstein)

This hard-boiled, excessively violent sequel to 2005's "Sin City," based, like its predecessor, on Frank Miller's graphic novels, features a lewd plot, a glib noir style and a title character (Eva Green) who spends more than half her screen time nude. Miller, who wrote the script and co-directed with Robert Rodriguez, emphasizes lurid bloodletting amid the retro black-and-white setting of what amounts to a smutty comic-book adaptation using competent actors -- including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Powers Boothe, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke and Rosario Dawson -- as bait.

Pervasive violence, frequent upper female nudity, much sexual banter and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating, R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

"Step Up All In" (Summit)

Completists of the dance-showcasing "Step Up" franchise may find this fifth outing in the series enjoyable; others will wonder where the plot went. Director Trish Sie and screenwriter John Swetnam come up way short on dialogue to stitch the terpsichorean segments together as their main character (Ryan Guzman) and two of his toe-tapping buddies (Adam Sevani and Briana Evigan) enter a reality-TV competition in Las Vegas (hosted by Izabella Miko), the winners of which will be rewarded with a guaranteed three-year contract at a Sin City hotel. Probably acceptable for mature teens.

Fleeting sexual banter, at least one instance of rough 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.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (Paramount)

Thirty years after bursting onto the comic book scene, the wise-cracking, pizza-loving heroes created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman re-emerge from the sewers of New York City. Their mission, once again: to save the world. This fifth film in the franchise, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, ramps up the 3-D action and destruction (which may be too intense for young viewers) but keeps tongue firmly in cheek, and slips in a few good lessons about honor and family. The reptilian quartet -- Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Jeremy Howard -- live beneath the Big Apple with a wise Japanese rat (Danny Woodburn) who has trained them in the martial arts. They emerge from the darkness to fight a seemingly invincible gang of criminals led by a razor-sharp monster (Tohoru Masamune). Helping the turtles navigate the human world are an intrepid TV reporter (Megan Fox) and her cameraman (Will Arnett).

Intense but bloodless cartoon violence, some bathroom humor, a few vague references to sexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.