Catholic Movie Reviews - The Amazing Spider-Man, Ted, Magic Mike, Stella Days & more

By  Catholic News Service
  • July 3, 2012

The latest adaptation of the Marvel Comics favourite Spider-Man hits theatres today. We've also got reviews for some of the other latest releases including Ted and Magic Mike.


The Amazing Spider-Man

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - The legendary web-swinger is back, battling teen angst by day and catching crooks at night in "The Amazing Spider-Man" (Columbia), a 3-D reboot of the classic Marvel comic book character.

While the bones of the familiar story remain intact, the style and vision of this version, directed by Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer"), are darker, bordering at times on horror and lacking the charm and fun of the recent "Spider-Man" film trilogy. Still, amid the action and thrills lies an inspirational tale about accepting responsibility and using one's gifts for the greater good.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is your basic science geek, trying to avoid the bullies in high school and wondering how to catch the eye of his comely classmate, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). He lives with his kindly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), who took him in as a toddler when his scientist parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), mysteriously disappeared.

Foraging in the basement, Peter discovers his father's briefcase, put there for safekeeping. Inside are clues to his father's top-secret work at OsCorp, a genetic engineering laboratory. Desperate for answers regarding his parents' fate, Peter looks up dad's former partner, the brilliant Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).

The one-armed scientist is obsessed with "cross-species genetics," combining human and animal DNA to regrow tissue; in his case, an entire arm. Connors has no qualms about playing God. "I long to fix myself," he says. "Imagine a world without deformities, without weakness. Why be human at all when we can be so much more?"

Poking around in Connors' lab amid genetically-engineered critters, Peter gets bitten by a spider, and before long is crawling up walls and tingling with "spider-sense."

As Peter gains confidence -- and arrogance -- from his new powers, he neglects his family and schoolwork. When Uncle Ben is killed by a gunman Peter could have stopped, Peter becomes a vigilante in search of the killer. Along the way, he embraces Uncle Ben's advice to do good -- and help others in need.

Meanwhile, Connors decides to test his new reptile-based serum on himself. Poof! He grows a new arm -- as well as a whole lot of scales in a transformation straight out of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Clearly, it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature, and Connors -- aka "The Lizard" -- goes on a rampage, chewing up the sewers and suspension bridges of Manhattan. Peter, now sporting the moniker "Spider-Man," finds his inner hero as catastrophe looms.

At times "The Amazing Spider-Man" takes itself too seriously, feeling like a Shakespearian drama on steroids. Fortunately, however, there's enough levity on hand to bring it back down to size.

"What am I, the mayor of Tokyo?" cries Gwen's father, the chief of police (Denis Leary), as "The Lizard" stomps its way through the city like the petulant son of Godzilla.

The film contains intense action violence, including gunplay, and some 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.



By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - The familiar Hollywood trope of the grown man who cannot grow up gets a fantasy twist in the sporadically funny, but excessively vulgar comedy "Ted" (Universal).

Given that the film represents the big-screen launch of television's Seth MacFarlane -- aka the "Family Guy" guy -- devotees of that series will know pretty well what to expect from the start.

MacFarlane, who directed and co-wrote (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) uses a mix of live action and computer-generated animation to chart the long-standing friendship between slacker John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and the titular teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane). As opening scenes set in 1985 explain, John was a lonely child who longed for friends. One Christmas, he made a wish that his favorite plush toy would come to life and be his best buddy forever.

And so it miraculously came to pass.

Jump ahead to the present where the unshakable bond between these two is being tested by tensions surrounding John's romance with successful PR executive Lori (Mila Kunis), his live-in girlfriend of four years' standing.

Due in large part to Ted's negative influence, John is going nowhere fast. Not only has he so far failed to put a ring on it, professionally he's underachieving in his work as a car rental agent. That's hardly surprising, since he tends to spend a large percentage of the workday smoking pot with Ted.

Along with a love of illegal substances, MacFarlane endows the anything-but-cuddly Ted with a foul mouth and a taste for the company of prostitutes. Though he eventually displays good intentions and even self-sacrificing concern for John's best interests, Ted's loutish ways endure. Presumably meant to register as amusing, they instead grind against the grain.

The film contains occasional irreverence, a benign view of drug use, cohabitation, brief upper female and rear nudity, a same-sex kiss, much sexual and scatological humor, numerous uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. 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.



Magic Mike

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Just what is there about male strippers that makes it awfully difficult to take them seriously? That's a question moviegoers misguided enough to attend a showing of the sordid drama "Magic Mike" (Warner Bros.) will have the better part of two hours to contemplate.

But, then again, perhaps they'll have other things on their minds.

Though it follows a morally acceptable thematic path, director Steven Soderbergh's somewhat random-feeling journey into the subculture of ladies-only clubs includes too many sleazy detours and too much flaunted flesh.

The latter element is on display almost the moment the opening credits end as we see the titular character, played by Channing Tatum, rise from the bed he was just sharing with two (yes, count 'em, two) women, neither of whom is wearing any more clothing than he is.

One of these damsels, the dialogue reveals, is a perfect stranger he met the night before and whose name he has now forgotten. Welcome to the world of veteran stripper Magic Mike.

By day, Mike toils as a construction worker and it's while he's tiling a roof that he meets and befriends directionless 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer). Mike becomes something of a mentor to the lad, and soon convinces Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), his boss at Club Xquisite -- no eye-rolling, please -- to give the newcomer a job.

Initially, this involves being a gofer for Mike and his G-stringed confreres. But fate intervenes, and a star is born.

Not only does Adam become a hit with the audience, he's also drawn into the same hedonistic lifestyle of casual sex and recreational drugs that Mike has been pursuing.

Viewing these developments with well-founded concern is Adam's straitlaced sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). So when Mike falls for Brooke, he's faced with a dilemma: Will he grow up and stop dropping trou for cash or lose the girl of his dreams?

That's a rather slender dramatic thread on which to hang so much beefcake.

The film contains strong sexual content, including adultery, full nudity, semi-graphic nonmarital sexual activity and off-screen group sex, drug use, a couple of instances of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. 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.



Stella Days

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Its title notwithstanding, night falls on 1950s Catholic Ireland in "Stella Days" (Tribeca). Director Thaddeus O'Sullivan's adaptation of Michael Doorley's memoir tells the story of a country in transition and one priest's struggle to keep his flock -- and himself -- from spiritual exhaustion.

Antoine O. Flatharta's script does not condemn the church and its role in Irish society outright, but marginalizes it, casting it as a relic of a rose-colored time in recent history. In this sense, "Stella Days" could be regarded as a cinematic stand-in for the real-life Irish church today, fighting to regain trust -- and to be recognized as relevant -- in the aftermath of traumatic scandals.

Unfortunately, "Stella Days" does not inspire much confidence in this regard. The aforementioned clergyman, Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen), is outwardly sunny and cheerful, but inwardly bored and depressed. Educated in Rome and having spent many years in America, he feels out of place in the remote and impoverished village to which he's been posted.

While Father Barry does not neglect his priestly duties, he finds them stifling and unfulfilling. His flock is aging and superstitious. His parish choir tortures Gregorian chant. Confessions are sincere but mundane: "I committed the sin of pride by admiring myself and my new dress in the mirror."

A telling moment in the film comes at the bedside of a dying old woman. She asks Father Barry where heaven is. He cannot answer. "So we know where we are," she responds, "but we do not know where we are going."

In another sense, though, Father Barry does know where he's going. He's counting on a one-way ticket back to Rome. But his plans are dashed by his superior, Bishop Hegerty (Tom Hickey).

The bishop is obsessed with finances and with the "constant, never-ending battle for the control of hearts and minds," as he misguidedly describes the church's mission. He wants to build a new parish church, and Father Barry must remain and raise the money.

It's a hopeless cause, until Father Barry sees the light -- literally.

Electricity has finally arrived in his village, and with it modern conveniences and illumination, as well as new temptations and distractions. Father Barry, a fan of the cinema, thinks a picture house, called "The Stella," is just the ticket to raise money and, at the same time, engage his wandering flock.

Just why the opportunity to see Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr cavorting in the surf in "From Here to Eternity" should bring people flocking back to church is anyone's guess. But films, Father Barry insists, can be a source of entertainment and enlightenment. "The soul is fed by many things," he says.

Leading the opposition, predictably, is the bishop. He finds an ally in Brendan (Stephen Rea), a local politician. "Once you have turned on the filth and immorality, it is hard to turn it off," he predicts. And how.

Undaunted, Father Barry joins forces with Tim (Trystan Gravelle), a new teacher in the parish school. Tim is young, worldly, "with-it." He sets his own rules, casting morality aside as he beds his married landlady, Molly (Marcella Plunkett). Clearly, "Stella Days" pins its hopes for the future on Tim's generation, free of the influence of the once-mighty Catholic Church.

The film also casts new vocations to the priesthood in a questionable light. Father Barry discourages Molly's young son Joey (Joey O'Sullivan), who thinks God is calling him. "I was called, but not by God," he tells Joey. He then recounts his own sad story, which hinges on his having been given away by his parents to the church at the age of 12.

In the end, the artificially lit world of "Stella Days" leaves little room for the Light of the World, or his church on earth.

The film contains an unflattering portrayal of the Catholic Church, an adulterous relationship and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L - limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.



People Like Us

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Based on real events and aimed at intelligent, mature audiences, "People Like Us" (Disney) can, refreshingly, be read as emphasizing the first word in its title.

Thus, as directed and co-written by Alex Kurtzman (in collaboration with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert), this low-key blend of comedy and drama features no explosions, car chases, aliens, comic-book superheroes or, for that matter, four-letter-word-spouting teddy bears. Instead it showcases some fine acting and delivers a thoughtful -- if not always entirely plausible -- examination of its main characters' struggle to overcome a legacy of family dysfunction.

We can see some of the results of that blighted heritage in the behavior of fast-talking, 20-something businessman Sam (Chris Pine) to whom early scenes introduce us. Basically good-hearted, but less than scrupulous, Sam specializes in wholesale barter, and is under investigation by the feds for his fast-and-loose flouting of various regulations. He's also up against significant financial reversals.

In the midst of all that, Sam's live-in girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) passes on the news that his father, from whom Sam has long been estranged, has died. Traveling back to his hometown with Hannah in tow, emotionally conflicted Sam uses underhanded means to avoid having to attend the funeral. In return for this slight, his tardy arrival is greeted by a slap in the face from his understandably irritated mom, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Something more akin to a sucker punch awaits Sam as he gradually discovers, in the wake of a one-on-one meeting with his dad's lawyer, that he has a 30-year-old half-sister named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and that two-timing Pa, a successful but self-absorbed music producer, left secret instructions for Sam to convey a large cash bequest to her.

Given how much he could use the money himself, this sets up quite the moral dilemma for Sam. But as he gets to know his struggling sibling -- Sam contrives to cross her path as though he were a chance acquaintance -- less selfish considerations come to the fore. All the more so, because Sam begins to bond with Frankie's troubled preteen son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario).

Conceived while his mom, a recovering alcoholic, was in the midst of a binge of drinking and anonymous sex, Josh doesn't know who his father is because Frankie can't say for sure herself. So his need for a male mentor to guide him back to the straight-and-narrow is patent. Scarred by his own dad's parental deficiencies, Sam willingly plays the role of big brother/father figure to the lad.

Since Sam keeps delaying the big reveal, and persists in posing as nothing more than a would-be friend, Frankie, not surprisingly, starts to imagine an entirely different role for him in her life. This needlessly prolonged case of mistaken identity comes across as increasingly unrealistic on one level and as at least notionally icky on another.

But, of course, things get wrapped up without anything remotely untoward transpiring.

While certainly not fit fare for youngsters, this generally warm offering will likely win over those adult viewers not deterred by the elements listed below.

The film contains cohabitation, brief semi-graphic sexual activity, drug use, an addiction theme, a few instances of profanity, at least one rough term and considerable crude and crass 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.



Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Madea, the familiar, frequently mixed-up, but mostly moral force of nature in a muumuu, has one of her weaker outings in the laboriously titled "Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection" (Lionsgate).

Perhaps the formula is spent. Certainly, the feisty old gal -- writer-director Perry himself, of course, in drag -- has lost much of her comic impact, even when she's applying seemingly undiminished physical impact to get her points across.

This time around, the set-up is that Madea is sheltering a white family because her nephew Brian (also Perry), an Atlanta district attorney, has asked her to help them.

George Needleman (Eugene Levy), it seems, has for years been the innocent front man for a corporate Ponzi scheme connected to organized crime. Facing fraud charges on a Bernard Madoff scale and threatened by the mobsters as well, George needs a place to hide. What better spot, thinks Brian, than the house of his Aunt Madea?

There, George is joined in seclusion by wife Kate (Denise Richards), batty mother Barbara (Doris Roberts) and disrespectful son and daughter Howie (Devan Leos) and Cindy (Danielle Campbell).

Madea's initial reluctance in the face of Joe's plan is tempered by the $4,000 a month she will receive for her hospitality.

The massive crime, we learn, has even touched nearby, since Jake (Romeo Miller), the son of Pastor Nelson (John Amos), invested the church's mortgage fund in one of the scheme's front companies, losing it all in the fallout.

Perry doesn't traffic in the tasteless racial humor his scenario might suggest. Instead, he sticks to the broader -- and well-worn -- theme of the cultural shock that ensues when stuffy Caucasians mingle with earthy black folks.

Madea, as always, sums up the obvious: "How do you expect me to hide five white people in a neighborhood that don't even have white cats or white cars? They'll stick out like me at a Republican convention. Do I look like I likes Newt Ginger?"

Trademark Perry themes of respect for parents, adherence to one's religious beliefs and self-confidence carry the day. Madea advises the terrified Needleman, "I don't let no one feel sorry for themselves in this house." And the happy ending rushes in before you (or Madea) can proclaim, "Hallelujer!"

The film contains occasional slapstick violence as well as fleeting crass language and drug 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.

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