Catholic movie reviews - Iron Lady, Extremely Loud, The Grey & more

By  Catholic News Service
  • January 26, 2012

Looking for a movie this weekend? We've got new reviews of two oscar-nominated pictures and two brand new releases.



Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Few events in recent history have exerted as deeply personal an impact on the lives of millions of Americans, and of people across the globe, as the attacks of 9/11.

So it's odd and a little baffling that a film based on our national tragedy of a decade ago should register -- for most of its two-hour-plus running time, at least -- as uninvolving.

Yet such is the case with "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (Warner Bros.), director Stephen Daldry's grim screen version of the best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Though his drama focuses on community, shared suffering and familial solidarity, and upholds positive, humanistic values, various factors within it seem to conspire to keep the audience at a distance.

To begin with, there's the eccentric personality of the movie's main character, introverted grade schooler Oskar Schell. While newcomer Thomas Horn does an admirable job of inhabiting Oskar, this young Manhattanite is anything but an Everyman -- or perhaps Everyboy.

Oskar may or may not have the mild form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome; tests, he tells us at one point, were inconclusive. But he is undeniably pan-phobic, and the only thing that seems to soothe him -- as he runs the gauntlet of such fear-inducing elements of New York life as subways, elevators and loud noises -- is his ever-present tambourine.

Of course, Oskar has more reason to be fearful than most, given that his devoted father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), perished in the World Trade Center.

Devastated by his sudden loss, Oskar seeks diversion, as well as a prolonged sense of closeness to his dad, in an unusual quest. He's out to identify the purpose of a mysterious key he discovered among Thomas' belongings.

His search gains him the friendship of the traumatized German immigrant (Max von Sydow) who lodges with his grandmother. And it ultimately brings him closer to his seemingly grief-paralyzed mom, Linda (Sandra Bullock).

But the diffuse nature of his journey, which brings him into contact with a whole series of strangers -- including, among others, a sympathetic transvestite -- is another alienating, or at least distracting element for viewers.

While not suitable for Oskar's real-life peers, his story is presented in a way that most adults will find acceptable, a few rude puns exchanged with his building's doorman Stan (John Goodman) notwithstanding. But, as scripted by Eric Roth, his tale is likely to prove more emotionally trying than genuinely cathartic.

The film contains mature themes, some disturbing images, a transvestite character, a couple of crude terms and occasional vulgar wordplay. 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.



Iron Lady

By Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The British market a brand of yeast spread called Marmite. Due to its overwhelmingly strong taste, its label carries the slogan "Love it or Hate it."

As a result of the visceral reactions, both pro and con, stirred by her controversial 1979-1990 tenure in office, former U.K. leader Margaret Thatcher -- now Baroness Thatcher -- has been described as the Marmite of prime ministers.

With critics describing her as nothing less than evil, and supporters naming her the greatest prime minister ever, it seems unlikely, in theory at least, that a fair portrayal of Thatcher's life on screen would even be possible. Yet, with the touching biopic, "The Iron Lady" (Weinstein), director Phylidda Lloyd has overcome the odds to achieve exactly that.

The film shuttles between the present day -- with the elderly Thatcher (Meryl Streep) suffering from a combination of dementia and short-term memory loss -- and a series of flashbacks recounting significant passages in the handbag-wielding ex-leader's life. The latter take in her humble beginnings as a provincial greengrocer's daughter, her romance with future husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and her eventual expulsion from office at the hands of scheming opponents within her own Conservative Party. They're led by the stealthy Michael Heseltine (Richard E. Grant).

Along the way, Thatcher survives an assassination attempt, reclaims the Falkland Islands, and becomes the longest serving British premier of the 20th century. Events are portrayed in an evenhanded, nonpartisan manner, though some incidents are sensationalized for cinematic effect.

For example, there's the treatment of the tragic death of one of Thatcher's close colleagues, a member of Parliament killed by an Irish Republican Army car bomb. While this murder really took place, the script inaccurately puts Thatcher at the scene, hearing the explosion and desperately running toward the wreckage until restrained by a passer-by.

Viewers of faith will appreciate screenwriter Abi Morgan's sympathetic, dignified -- and, therefore, implicitly pro-life -- depiction of Thatcher's struggle with her current illness. She's presented as more enduringly perceptive, not to mention wily, than her worried relatives imagine.

Additionally, the moving relationship between husband and wife -- Denis Thatcher died in 2003, but is shown to be an enduring presence in his widow's damaged consciousness -- sends an unmistakably pro-family message. This marks a refreshing change from the increasingly common presentation of longtime married couples as bored and unfulfilled.

The emotions of the audience will be heightened also by the glorious performance of Streep, whose ability to step into the metaphorical shoes of the former Miss Roberts is so accurate that it borders on the frightening; it will be no surprise to cinema viewers that her performance has earned her an Academy Award nomination.

Moviegoers concerned that Thatcher's forceful response to the Argentine junta's 1982 invasion of the Falklands might be used as an occasion to glorify combat need not worry. Although her decision to retaliate is represented as justified, the miseries and human cost of war are not by any means overlooked. Thus we see Thatcher tearfully undertaking the task of writing to the mothers of the fallen.

While prone to moments of overemotional fluff, the movie nonetheless offers both an intimate portrait and an educational dramatization. A greater emphasis on Thatcher's firm Methodist faith would have been a pleasant addition. But the result is still one that audiences of any political persuasion can relish.

The film contains two scenes of terrorist attacks, documentary footage of real-life violence, a glimpse of upper female nudity and a few instances of crass British slang. 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.



Underworld Awakening

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Kate Beckinsale squeezes into the black vinyl tights again as Selene, avenging warrior of the underground Vampire clan, and battles Lycans (werewolves) and predatory human scientists for "Underworld: Awakening" (Screen Gems), the fourth installment in the horror-fantasy series.

This time around, Selene awakens from 12 years in frozen suspended animation imposed on her by the folks at Amigent Corp. They've imprisoned her for the period humans know as "The Cleansing" but which vampires refer to as "The Purge."

She learns she has a daughter, Eve (India Eisley), from her assignation with a Vampire-Lycan hybrid in a previous film. Just how this birth took place isn't quite explained.

Co-directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein -- along with screenwriting quartet Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczyinski and Allison Burnett -- concoct a familiar and by now somewhat dreary formula of neck-bitings, stabbings, martial-arts kicks and more gunfire than Custer's last stand.

Most of the film -- which, at 88 minutes, is mercifully shorter than the previous installments -- consists of Eve coming to grips with her vampire powers.

She also has to reconcile herself to the fact that Selene isn't quite the maternal type - a discovery to which Selene herself responds, in a line worthy of Barbara Stanwyck's Stella Dallas, "My heart isn't cold; it's broken."

Only fans of this series -- and those incurably incurious enough never to wonder why vampires need all those guns -- are likely to find any enjoyment in this episode.

The film contains stylized gun, knife and martial-arts violence and brief, shadowy upper female nudity. The Catholic News Service rating is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.



The Grey

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - "The Grey" (Open Road) respectfully obeys the immutable law of all story lines in which an aircraft crashes in the Arctic: Some folks are bound to get eaten.

This film, however, with its slight spiritual bent, ducks the cannibalism cliche and makes wolves the hungry ones. The animals are doing what they're supposed to do by nature, stalking the survivors to thin out the human herd -- the better, in the end, to kill them all.

Liam Neeson plays oil-rig worker John Ottway. He leads an ever-dwindling handful of men -- Hendrick, Diaz, Talget, Burke and Flannery (Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Nonso Anozie and Joe Anderson, respectively) -- through howling winds, deep snow, fatigue and their own anxieties after their plane crashes while en route to Anchorage, Alaska.

That misfortune is significantly compounded by the fact that they've come down too close to the wolves' den, leaving them targeted as invaders.

As directed by Joe Carnahan -- who co-scripted with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers from Jeffers' short story "Ghost Walker" -- the chases, killings and feats of courage are brisk but routine. The script's attempts at profundity and spiritual reflection, moreover, are wildly uneven.

These oil-rig workers don't just swear constantly and fight among themselves as they dodge their predators. Each evening around the fire, they also debate the meaning of this life and the prospects for life after death. Additionally, they demonstrate a great deal of respect for those who perished in the crash.

As the film opens, Ottway is shown to be so lonely and depressed over missing his (unnamed) wife -- Anne Openshaw, seen in flashbacks -- that he attempts suicide. The crash thrusts him instantly into a strong leadership role. But he eventually proves to be a fatalist, inspired by a Kiplingesque poem his father wrote that ends, "Live and die on this day."

Toward the end, Ottway gazes into the slate-colored sky and -- as though following the advice of Job's friends -- curses God. He does so, moreover, with a vocabulary very far from scriptural.

His vulgarly phrased sentiments register as more macho defiance than genuine blasphemy. And the extremity of his circumstances mitigates both his blameworthiness and the potential real-life impact of his example.

But this climactic moment is the strongest element among several that, taken together, make this survival story as much a morally inhospitable wilderness as its setting is a natural one. Given the meager rewards of trekking through it, even most adults would be well advised to decline the journey altogether.

The film contains troubling themes -- including suicide and one character's blasphemous expression of despair -- frequent gory animal attacks, at least one use of profanity and pervasive rough, crude and crass 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 -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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