Catholic movie reviews - The Raven, The Five-year Engagement & The Pirates! Band of Misfits

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 27, 2012

Looking for a movie this weekend? We've got reviews of three of the week's big releases.


The Five-year Engagement

By Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - An impoverished presentation of marriage is the principal, but not the only, problematic aspect of director and co-writer Nicholas Stoller's "The Five-Year Engagement" (Universal). His romantic comedy tracks San Francisco sous chef Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) and his English fiancee Violet Barnes' (Emily Blunt) as they struggle to get themselves down the aisle.

After a bumpy proposal, the happy couple announces their engagement, only for Violet to be offered her dream job: a postdoctoral position in social psychology at the University of Michigan. Her caring hubby-to-be realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. So the already cohabiting couple delays the nuptials and makes for Ann Arbor.

Career development is hardly the sole source of conflict for the duo. Jealousy, ambition, an errant crossbow and even the odd lecherous Welshman (Rhys Ifans) also get in the way of their happily ever after.

Stoller's picture has its touching moments, and a genuinely uplifting conclusion that shows love trumping materialistic concerns. But a deficient understanding of matrimony -- sadly characteristic of contemporary society -- undermines his script, written in collaboration with Segel.

Along with their premature physical interaction, Tom and Violet's misguided desire to make sure their relationship is perfect before they take their vows is one symptom of the problem. Another is the near-total lack of any religious dimension to their splicing.

The screenplay never resolves a very basic question: How can what they view as a mere public commitment ceremony help Tom and Violet work out their relationship difficulties?

This blinkered attitude leads to a scene in which Violet presents Tom with a set of potential wedding celebrants. She describes them as Jewish, Christian, "Extreme Christian," Buddhist, and "Justice of the Peace." Tom gets 10 seconds in which to choose among these possibilities so that he and Violet can then move onto their next (presumably more important) choice.

This "drive-thru" outlook on what is meant to be a lifelong union could only be made more obvious if a pimply teenager appeared to ask if they'd like fries with their minister.

In the absence of any moral compass that might guide it, the screenplay flounders around searching vainly for the point of it all. The consequence is a meandering plot that lasts at least 30 minutes too long, made all the worse by coarse, wince-inducing sexual gags.

Add to that the dialogue's excess of foul language and what you're left with is a thoroughly distasteful slice of stale cinematic wedding cake.

The film contains skewed values, including a benign view of cohabitation; a couple of nongraphic non- and premarital sexual encounters; rear nudity; a few profanities; constant rough language and sexual humor; and frequent crude and crass terms. 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.




The Pirates! Band of Misfits

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - We have it on the authority of Victorian librettist W.S. Gilbert that "it is, it is a glorious thing/to be a pirate king." If the rollicking 3-D animated comedy "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" (Columbia) is to be believed, being the captain of even a motley shipload of 19th-century buccaneers isn't such a bad lot either.

That's the role fate has assigned to the luxuriantly bearded central character in this historical fantasy, voiced by Hugh Grant.

Despite many failed attempts to do so, this warmhearted and enthusiastic -- but not overly successful -- plunderer still dreams of winning the accolade "Pirate of the Year." His adventures in pursuit of that title eventually bring him into contact with humorously revisionist versions of both Charles Darwin (voice of David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (voice of Imelda Staunton). The former is shown to be shifty, the latter a shrew.

Fleeting elements of Gideon Defoe's script -- adapted from his book "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists" -- preclude recommendation for all. The dialogue, for instance, lapses into a bit of low-level vulgarity. And, in addition to a smattering of cartoonish violence and some perilous situations, the proceedings also find one character referring to a "scantily clad" woman and another jokingly admonishing his peers to "lock up your daughters."

One of the Pirate Captain's numerous misadventures brings him briefly onboard a vessel populated by naturists, though a variety of strategically placed objects prevent us, of course, from glimpsing anything inappropriate. And one of his merry cohorts, whom he dimly characterizes as "surprisingly curvaceous," turns out to be a woman disguised as a man.

Still, as helmed by director Peter Lord, this swashbuckling saga does teach viewers a good lesson about placing loyalty to friends above worldly ambition. Freighted with that respectable moral, it should make smooth sailing for teens and their seniors.

The film contains very mild action violence, a brief scene involving obscured nudity, a couple of crass terms and a few vaguely sexual references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested.



The Raven

By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - The macabre musings of Edgar Allan Poe have been adapted for the screen numerous times. In the latest instance, Baltimore's most famous literary son is not only the central character -- he's also credited with being the progenitor of the horror movie genre.

While the makers of "The Raven" (Relativity) articulate the latter idea near the end of the proceedings, and only in passing, they're clearly banking on it animating their tale. Instead, casting Poe as the forerunner of, say, low-budget horror director Roger Corman only underscores our sense that the author's oeuvre is being picked at and that the film is straining to bring gravitas and wit to its own workaday mayhem and melancholia.

The grotesquery presented renders "The Raven" unsuitable for a majority of moviegoers and its failure to surprise will disappoint adults who self-identify as horror fans. Perhaps more unsavory than the images and scenarios themselves, however, is the underlying assumption that the reading or viewing public is naturally drawn toward morbidity, gore and sadism.

Either way, the titular bird's associations with death and scavenging are fully borne out.

A title card at the outset states we'll learn how the real-life Poe came to be discovered near death on a Baltimore park bench in 1849. This isn't the only mystery, real or fictional, that fails to be solved satisfactorily.

Short of funds and inspiration, the middle-aged Poe (John Cusack) scrounges for work to pay his bar bills and, more nobly, to put himself in a position to wed his high-society beloved Emily (Alice Eve). Yet Poe's prospective father-in-law, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), has no intention of letting this caustic, gloomy and besotted scribbler marry his daughter.

Perversely enough, Poe's redemption will be achieved through a series of ghastly murders inspired by his stories. A serial killer painstakingly enacts crimes that Poe has described on paper, gruesomely claiming innocent lives while toying with the author. Detective Fields (Luke Evans), the police officer assigned to investigate, enlists Poe's help in catching the perpetrator, who raises the stakes by kidnapping Emily.

The plot turns are nothing if not predictable and director James McTeigue doesn't exhibit sufficient finesse to smooth over logical wrinkles. Despite a promising premise, scant frights and little suspense are to be found in the campy, ill-formed piece.

The game and always likable Cusack brings a gothic hipness to the role and yet, matching the screenplay, the performances are overripe across the board. Injecting enough purple bombast to fill the Chesapeake Bay fails to enliven this cadaverous entertainment.

At one point, Poe bellows, "Is imagination now a felony?" While it doesn't warrant incarceration, there's no doubt "The Raven" is guilty of displaying too little of that valuable commodity.

The film contains frequent and explicit grisly imagery and violence, some profanity, one instance of rough language, much crude and crass talk and several instances of sexual innuendo. 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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