Catholic Movie Reviews - The Perfect Family & Tim Burton's Dark Shadows

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 11, 2012

The Perfect Family has received a lot of coverage in the Catholic media for it's depiction of Catholic women, is it worth your time? Elsewhere Tim Burton's blockbuster Dark Shadows reboot looks to knock The Avengers off the top of the box office.



The Perfect Family

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - A more appropriate title for "The Perfect Family" (Variance) would be, "The Year's Most Virulently Anti-Catholic Movie."

Staged by newcomer Anne Renton (director) and screenwriters Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley, this dramedy ridicules just about every aspect of the Catholic Church, its teachings and members, offering broad caricatures of clergy, religious and laity to score negative points.

The film's opening scene sets the perplexing and often sacrilegious tone.

Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner), supermom and "ultimate Catholic," is the altar server at Mass, assisting Msgr. Murphy (Richard Chamberlain, channeling his Father de Bricassart role from "The Thorn Birds"). It's time for Communion, and Eileen holds a platter of consecrated hosts. The monsignor turns to her, takes a host, then turns to the communicant and offers the Eucharist.

That detail -- entirely alien, of course, to the reality of Catholic liturgy -- is a pretty good hint that no one involved in this bilious project has any familiarity whatever with the life of the church they're attacking.

Distracted, Eileen brushes lint from her server's robe, jostles the platter, and several hosts fall to the ground. She proceeds to kick the body of Christ under the altar so the monsignor will not notice what's happened.

"The Perfect Family" sinks even lower. The parish announces the "Catholic Woman of the Year Award," setting up a vicious rivalry between Eileen and a den of superficially pious vipers. The award will be presented by the archbishop of Dublin, who will bestow the "prayer of absolution" on the winner, wiping away all her sins.

As if.

In the Catholic Church that actually exists, of course, absolution -- at least of mortal sin -- requires sincere and sacramental confession (unless the airplane is going down), and is not some kind of booby prize.

The award committee is headed by a mean-spirited nun -- is there any other kind? -- Sister Joan (Rebecca Wackler), who insists on a thorough examination of the potential honoree's family and marriage. "What makes a nun an expert on marriage?" one candidate snipes.

Eileen is considered a shoo-in ("Who leads a more divine life than you?" her friend asks) until layers of deception are slowly peeled away, and Eileen desperately tries to conceal the cracks in her perfect image.

You see, her daughter, Shannon (Emily Deschanel), is a lesbian, pregnant and getting "married" in a week. Her son, Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter), has left his wife and is having an affair with a manicurist. And her husband, Frank (Michael McGrady), is a recovering alcoholic and philanderer.

Challenged by her daughter to ignore the pope and decide for herself what's right and wrong, Eileen barks, "I don't have to think! I'm a Catholic!"

It gets worse. Shannon is wed, on the sly, by Father Joe (Scott Michael Campbell), a Catholic priest. Father Joe eventually counsels Eileen to lighten up, noting that God simply wants us "to do the best we can," with or without the church's help.

Predictably, Eileen's redemption only comes when she throws off the shackles of the wicked institution and embraces her truly "perfect" family, warts and all.

This offensive, obnoxious and anything-but-funny propaganda piece amounts to Hollywood hate speech.

The film contains pervasive anti-Catholic prejudice, sacrilegious humor, a benign view of premarital sex and homosexual acts as well as of same-sex marriage, an abortion theme and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.



Dark Shadows

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Long before "Twilight's" Edward Cullen and other Johnny-come-lately vampires, there was television's Barnabas Collins, played by the recently deceased Jonathan Frid. Time was when legions of teenage baby boomers would rush home from school each weekday afternoon to find out what Barnabas was up to by catching the latest episode of "Dark Shadows," the wildly popular gothic soap opera that largely revolved around him.

Two feature films and a long afterlife in syndication ensued, not to mention reincarnation on DVD and in any number of other media.

Mostly set in 1972, the year after the television version went off the air -- it was first broadcast in 1966 -- director Tim Burton's big-screen homage, "Dark Shadows" (Warner Bros.), is a campy comic take on the original.

Though visually striking and initially amusing, his riff on the low-budget, but by now venerable, property introduces some discordant notes as it seeks to garner laughs from casual sexual encounters. Then the melody gets lost altogether amid a crescendo of special effects and supernatural mayhem.

Johnny Depp takes the part of Barnabas, a figure with whom the actor is said to have been obsessed since childhood. Opening scenes carry us back to the mid-18th century -- and play like something between a novel by one of the Brontes and a Harlequin romance -- as they recount Barnabas' back story. This culminates in the vein-drainer being buried alive by an angry mob of New England townsfolk.

Flash forward to the Age of Nixon where we find Barnabas accidentally exhumed by a construction crew -- who quickly learn to regret their discovery of him.

Returning to Collinwood, the ancestral manse his parents built, Barnabas encounters the descendants who currently inhabit it: Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her disaffected teen daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her ne'er-do-well brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his troubled young son, David (Gully McGrath).

Also in residence are the children's governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) -- who's a dead ringer for Barnabas' true love of long ago, Josette DuPres (also Heathcote) -- and David's live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).

As he tries to restore the dwindling family fortune, Barnabas battles Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), the still-living witch whose jealousy-fueled curse transformed him into a bloodsucker in the first place. She's now the Collins' main competitor in the local fishing industry.

If all that sounds a bit complicated, and indeed it is, there is ample precedent: In its later seasons, the TV iteration shuttled between the then-present day and various points in the past, ranging from the 1790s to the 1890s. But the television writers had roughly 1,200 episodes in which to elaborate their ideas, as opposed to the less-than-two hours available to Burton.

Much of the humor is derived from Barnabas' anachronistic outlook on psychedelic-era America. With his formal, not to say stilted, personal manner -- which Carolyn quickly labels "weird" -- Barnabas is a bemused fish out of water in the world of pot-smoking hippies, VW vans and the cocktail-quaffing antics of Dr. Hoffman. The contrast works for a while, but eventually wears thin.

Perhaps sensing that the joke has run its course, Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith devote the last quarter-hour or so of the movie to a noisy, effects-driven showdown between Barnabas and his age-old nemesis Angelique. Neither funny nor frightening, this finale will only add to the dissatisfaction of nostalgic viewers and the bewilderment of those too young to remember Barnabas in his undead prime.

The film contains some action violence, semi-graphic sexual activity, an implied aberrant act, a suicide, drug use, mature references, a couple of uses of profanity and about a half-dozen instances each of 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 PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


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