Catholic movie reviews - The Vow, Journey 2, Safe House & Chronicle

By  Catholic News Service
  • February 10, 2012

Thinking of heading to the movies this weekend? Our latest selection of reviews arrives just in time for Valentines Day.

MoviesFeb10_TheVow

The Vow

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Poor Channing Tatum! Though he isn't gone, he is forgotten in "The Vow" (Screen Gems), director and co-writer Michael Sucsy's well-intentioned but flawed love story based on real events.

Tatum plays Chicago recording engineer Leo, whose romance with -- and marriage to -- artist Paige (Rachel McAdams) have made him a happy man. That all changes, however, when a car accident injures them both, and leaves Paige stricken with partial amnesia.

She awakens from a coma with no memory of their idyllic courtship or successful life together. Instead, she has mentally reverted to her pre-Leo days as a law school student engaged to go-getter ex-fiance Jeremy (Scott Speedman).

When her estranged parents, Rita (Jessica Lange) and Bill (Sam Neill), appear on the scene, it develops that Paige also has lost all recollection of the traumatic events that led her to separate from them.

Leo sets out to win Paige's heart all over again. But Rita and Bill are angling to put their bewildered daughter back on the path to a legal career and drive her back into the arms of conventionally respectable Jeremy.

As penned by Sucsy in collaboration with Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims, this romantic drama certainly celebrates Leo's extraordinarily determined marital fidelity. And it manages to strike a generally amiable tone as it does so.

But characterizations are shallow: Mildly bohemian Leo, for example, takes on his conniving 1-percenter in-laws, who we know must be evil because they, um, occupy an Architectural Digest-worthy home in Lake Forest.

The tale's credibility -- and therefore its impact -- is also undercut by the excessive cuteness of the initial relationship between Leo and Paige. They're shown popping chocolates into each other's mouths and they later write out their self-composed wedding vows on menus from their favorite eatery.

Presumably in a nod to Paige's profession, those promises are exchanged, not in a church or even at city hall but in a museum gallery. A friend of the bride and groom's, who has somehow gotten himself temporarily vested with the necessary power by the state of Illinois, presides.

The film contains brief nongraphic marital lovemaking, a premarital situation, fleeting rear nudity, an adultery theme, numerous sexual references and jokes, at least one use of profanity as well as a couple of rough and about a half-dozen crude terms. 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.

 

MoviesFeb10_Journey

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Given the prescience and speculative power of his imagination regarding science and technology, it's safe to assume 19th-century author Jules Verne would enjoy watching 3-D movies. Alas, Verne would likely be disappointed by "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (Warner Bros.).

Although shot and projected in 3-D (and also available on Imax screens), this sequel to 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" can be described as both leaden and insubstantial. Implausible without being fantastical, it labors to evoke awe or wonderment.

In its defense, the movie does transmit a positive view of humankind's quest for scientific knowledge and instinct for adventure. And it's mostly a wholesome affair, though marred on that score by a somewhat casual attitude toward youthful sexuality (typified by overly sensual shots of a young adult female character) as well as by a few potty jokes.

The sense of mystery the filmmakers attempt to extract from their literary source material is diluted by a strained premise and especially lame expository dialogue. This would be less of an impediment if the movie offered superior visual thrills, yet the technical credits are merely serviceable.

When 17-year-old Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) receives a distress signal he believes was sent from an uncharted island, his new stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), helps him decode it using Verne's book "The Mysterious Island," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" and Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels."

Supposedly, all three authors had the same land mass in mind when fashioning their stories. Sean also believes this isle is where his missing grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), can be found.

Hoping to improve his relationship with his hostile stepson, a skeptical Hank offers to help Sean locate the place. They travel to Palau in the South Pacific and -- after surviving a maelstrom in a rickety helicopter flown by tour guide Gabato (Luis Guzman) -- arrive on the island with Gabato's daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) in tow.

There they encounter strange natural phenomena such as a gold-spewing volcano and giant bumblebees, along with other surprises. Unfortunately, the island is rapidly sinking back into the sea and the quintet (Alexander is indeed in residence) must race to escape using the submarine Nautilus, which Verne wrote about in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."

Serendipitous fantasy, whether on the page or the screen, requires a certain amount of plausibility and coherence to capture the imagination. An excess of pseudo-scientific jargon and unfunny banter undercuts the appeal of "Journey 2."

Rather than develop substantive themes or get entertainingly lost in the action, director Brad Peyton, working from a script by cousins Brian and Mark Gunn, focuses on tension between Hank and Alexander. Guzman's infantilized character is also overused as comic relief.

A four-minute cartoon starring Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd precedes the movie; it's replete with the kind of gun-related violence familiar to anyone who grew up watching Looney Toons animation.

On the whole, potential moviegoers would be better advised to stay home and read the above-cited classics.

The film contains some teen sensuality, several moderately scary sequences, a few uses of suggestive language and occasional toilet 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.

 

MoviesFeb10_SafeHouse

Safe House

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Moviegoers will find "Safe House" (Universal) anything but a refuge. In fact, the titular CIA facility, located in picturesque Cape Town, South Africa, provides the setting, early on, for a mayhem-ridden confrontation that turns out to be all too characteristic of this excessively violent and unconvincing espionage thriller.

Presiding over the place -- a duty that initially involves more boredom than anxiety -- is low-ranking but loyal operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). His tedious and solitary routine is suddenly interrupted, however, by the arrival of a high profile, heavily guarded prisoner: veteran American agent-turned-traitor Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington).

In a scene ripped from yesterday's headlines, Frost is subjected to a version of waterboarding while Matt looks on with disapproving anxiety. But the tables turn when an unidentified group of gunmen stage a massive raid, taking out all of Frost's guards with the single exception of -- yes, you guessed it -- untested Matt. The pair flee, and from there on in, it's Matt's task to keep Frost alive and in custody.

Given that screenwriter David Guggenheim's script has already informed us, amid much other awkwardly handled exposition, that Frost is a master manipulator, viewers might be justified in hoping for something twisty and intriguing to ensue. Verbal and plotline pyrotechnics, say, of the sort David Mamet used to conjure up, back in the days of "House of Games" (1987) or "The Spanish Prisoner" (1998).

Instead, perfunctory exchanges about personal and institutional corruption offer no more than a scant cover story for director Daniel Espinosa's real agenda: to showcase lengthy fistfights, bloody stabbings and fatal shootouts.

The film contains constant, sometimes gory, violence, torture, cohabitation, fleeting sensuality with partial nudity and occasional rough and 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 -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

MoviesFeb10_Chronicle

Chronicle

By Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - "Quis ut Deus?" This Latin motto, traditionally associated with St. Michael the Archangel (whose Hebrew name itself has a similar meaning), translates as "Who is like God?" That question could serve as the tagline for the reasonably original, curiously dark "Chronicle" (Fox), an exploration of the troubling results that ensue when mere mortals obtain godlike powers.

Stumbling on a mysterious object, a trio of teens -- social outcast Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his duffle-coated, philosophy-mumbling cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and their smooth, more socially accomplished acquaintance Steve (Michael B. Jordan) -- find themselves endowed with telekinesis and the ability to fly.

Initially, the boys do no more with their newfound gifts than goof around and play pranks. However, darker emotions and more serious consequences soon come to the fore. Andrew, for instance, is struggling to cope with an alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) and a dying mother (Bo Petersen).

Director Josh Trank conveys all of this in the pseudo-found footage style of "The Blair Witch Project." Though that conceit feels, by now, more than a little overused, it nonetheless contributes to an atmosphere of realism. It also lends urgency to the moral debates in which the principals engage -- which for viewers of faith will likely represent the main appeal of "Chronicle."

This isn't, after all, far-off Oa -- the fictional planet that serves as headquarters for DC Comics' Green Lanterns -- it's Seattle. And those struggling with the responsibilities of power are not caped crusaders, but high school boys still stumbling their way through conversations with the opposite sex.

Likewise, the adversaries these characters confront are not cartoonish villains but such widespread preoccupations as abusive parents, relatives in pain, high medical costs and friends lost to death.

Equally realistic, no doubt, is the vulgarity with which screenwriter Max Landis has freighted the youthful dialogue. Those adult viewers, however, willing to listen past the surfeit of S-words for the scripturally congruent message underlying them may consider themselves sufficiently rewarded by a morally engaged -- if not universally engaging -- piece of moviemaking.

The film contains limited action violence, scenes of physical abuse, an implied premarital encounter, a scattering of profanity, at least one rough term, pervasive crude language 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.

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