Movie News

Looking to see a movie this weekend? We've got reviews of two of the weekend's biggest releases - This Means War and Studio Ghibli's The Secret World of Arriety.

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

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

Catholic movie reviews - The Woman in Black, Big Miracle and more

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This weekend sees Daniel Radcliffe's first role after the success of Harry Potter in Woman in Black. Is it worth your time and money this Super Bowl weekend?

We also have reviews of Big Miracle, One for the Money and Man on a Ledge.

Innovation becomes tradition: 2011's top 10 films, best family films

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NEW YORK - In late 1965, the three-decade-old National Legion of Decency announced that it was changing its name to the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures.

That switch represented more than just altered terminology. It signaled an intent on the part of the U.S. church's officially sanctioned film agency to take a more open and positive -- though by no means uncritical -- approach in its assessment of cinema.

In keeping with this new emphasis, that same year, the film office issued its first list of the 10 best movies released over the previous 12 months.

As with many an innovation, the list gradually became a tradition, one that the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service -- which now performs the work originally done by the Legion and its successors -- intends faithfully to honor. So here -- in alphabetical order - are, first, our choices of the Top 10 films of 2011 suitable for a variety of audiences, followed the 10 best films for family viewing.

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

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

 

jan26movies01Extremely

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.

Catholic movie reviews - Haywire & Red Tails

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Looking for a movie for the weekend? This week we've got reviews of two big Hollywood action movies.

 

HaywireFassbender

Haywire

By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - With the fairly suspenseful but frequently brutal thriller "Haywire" (Relativity), filmmaker Steven Soderbergh tries his hand at action-oriented espionage. Stylish and spare, the result plays like the work of a talented yet restless director ticking another genre off his list.

Catholic movie reviews - The Artist, The Devil Inside, Contraband, Joyful Noise & more...

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Movies01Artist

The Artist

- NEW YORK - At a time when Hollywood movies tend to get louder and more offensive, "The Artist" (Weinstein) is a breath of fresh air -- without uttering a word. Who knew a modern-made silent movie could be so charming and entertaining?

French director Michel Hazanavicius displays a flair for re-creating the techniques of old Hollywood, from the lively musical score and use of intertitles to the dramatic lighting and good use of the studio back lot. He also draws from his actors the pure emotions that can be evoked with a simple expression or a single tear.

In this unique film, the sounds of silence ring loud and clear.

It's 1927, and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a dashing star of the silent screen. In the style of Douglas Fairbanks, he plays every role with panache: the handsome lover, the swashbuckling hero, the athletic comedian with a sidekick Jack Russell terrier (who nearly steals the movie).

Outside the premiere of his latest film, "A Russian Affair," Valentin bumps into an adoring fan, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). The paparazzi do their thing, and soon newspaper headlines blare, "Who's That Girl?"

The notoriety gives Miller the confidence to pursue her acting dream. She auditions at Kinograph Studios, run by Al Zimmer (John Goodman), and lands a bit part in Valentin's next movie. They dance, and the attraction is powerful.

Valentin's sourpuss wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), suspects an affair and leaves him. Far more loyal to the star are Jack (the canine) and Clifton (James Cromwell), his valet.

"The Artist" branches into two stories, as it chronicles the rise of the ingenue and the decline of the star. Hollywood is changing fast; silent films are being phased out for "talkies," and fresh pretty faces like Miller's are preferred to Valentin's dated charms.

Abandoned by Zimmer and the studio, Valentin goes his own way, financing his own silent movie (a flop) while Miller becomes a major star. He never begrudges her success, even as he sinks deeper into debt and despair.

To her credit, Miller, though seduced by fame and fortune, never forgets the kindly man who gave her her first big break in show business.

"The Artist" is pure cinematic magic, at turns zany and hilarious, sad and affecting, uplifting and inspiring. Regrettably, the elements listed below prevent it from being enjoyed by the entire family, for the joyous and (largely) wholesome film that it is.

The film contains one obscene hand gesture and two scenes of attempted suicide. 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.

 

Movies04Joyful

Joyful Noise

NEW YORK - Divas duel and a red-state Romeo and Juliet fall for each other in "Joyful Noise" (Warner Bros.).

Though it gives a pass to an incidental out-of-wedlock fling, and showcases some humor and vocabulary that make it unsuitable for youngsters, writer-director Todd Graff's otherwise uplifting celebration of traditional values emphasizes trust in God and illustrates the positive effects of compassionate and forgiving behavior.

Set in the small, recession-ravaged fictional burgh of Pacashau, Ga., this vibrant, faith-driven blend of comedy, drama and music focuses on the sometimes raucous, but ultimately friendly rivalry between Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) and G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), two leading members of a local church choir.

Just as their ensemble is preparing to compete in the higher rounds of the singing competition from which the film takes its title, G.G.'s husband, Bernie (Kris Kristofferson), the chorus' long-standing director, suddenly dies. In his place, the pastor (Courtney B. Vance) appoints, not G.G. herself, but her nemesis, Vi Rose.

While the two jostle over whether to alter the group's repertoire and performing style -- despite her enduring love for her late spouse, it's G.G. who urges innovation -- G.G.'s free-spirited, mildly prodigal grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) returns to town. There he's promptly wowed by another of the chorale's stars, Vi Rose's strictly reared daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer).

Despite his reputation as a wayward kid, and his taste for such dubious musical selections as a rap tune called "I'm 'n Luv (Wit a Stripper)," Randy proves himself, in most respects, a model teen.

Not only does his relationship with Olivia unfold in a respectful and restrained manner, but he also takes the opportunity to befriend Olivia's vulnerable brother, Walter (Dexter Darden), whose Asperger's syndrome renders him an outcast. Additionally, though Randy has a fistfight with a competitor for Olivia's affections, he later reconciles with the lad in an exemplary manner.

(With a kind of Andy Hardy, let's-put-on-a-show inevitability, all three of the aforementioned characters turn out to have musical gifts that are eventually deployed for the greater glory of God and the exultation of Pacashau's Divinity Church Choir.)

Though burdened with a difficult lifestyle -- she's effectively separated, against her will, from her absent Army officer husband, Marcus (Jesse L. Martin), and works long hours as a nurse -- Vi Rose's faith never falters. She gives eloquent expression to it both in no-nonsense dialogue and in song; her rendition of the traditional spiritual "Fix Me, Jesus" is one of the movie's emotional highlights.

Catholic viewers may be a bit put off to find Vi Rose, G.G. et al. eventually competing against a choir from "Our Lady of Perpetual Tears." Whether this conflation of two genuine Marian titles -- Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the lesser-known Our Lady of Tears -- is intended as a passing satire on Catholic devotions, or merely arises from unfamiliarity with them, is difficult to determine.

In terms of the broad patrimony of Christian faith and Gospel values, however, "Joyful Noise" is unapologetically, unabashedly affirmative to a degree rarely seen in contemporary Hollywood offerings.

The film contains a premarital situation, occasional sexual references and jokes, about a half-dozen crude expressions and some 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.

 

Movies02Devil

The Devil Inside

NEW YORK - "The Devil Inside" (Paramount), so we're told, is a film the Vatican doesn't want you to see. If so, perhaps there's a "Da Vinci Code"-like conspiracy afoot intended to save you 12 of your hard-earned, economic-downturn dollars.

Those foolhardy enough to insist on wading through this cheap, inept piece of storytelling will experience an eye-poppingly bad, grotesque little horror outing. And that's not to mention the consistent spewing forth of lazy, sullen antagonism toward the Catholic Church.

The uninformed bias on display, in fact, can be compared not only to the turgid fantasies of Dan Brown but to the loopy visions of anti-Catholic cartoonist and tract churner Jack Chick. Thus one character declares, "In the eyes of the church, what we're doing is wrong; that's how we know it's so right!"

Keen to learn what provoked her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) to murder two priests and a nun during an exorcism 20 years earlier, plucky documentary maker Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) jets off to Rome in search of answers, accompanied by her faithful cameraman Mike (Ionut Grama)

While this could be the premise for a faith-friendly (and genuinely terrifying) offering, instead director William Brent Bell, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Peterman, opts to place a mix of poor theology, bizarre conspiracy theories and downright nastiness into the mouths of two rogue priests who ally with the duo of filmmakers in their quest for "truth."

Said clerical types -- Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) -- are renegade exorcists who step in when the "institutional," "bureaucratic" church is too cowardly, hypocritical or just plain stupid to grant the possessed the rites that will set them free. Ben -- an unshaven, twentysomething Englishman who seems permanently on the edge of forming an "Occupy Vatican City" movement -- is particularly outspoken with his prejudices.

Such bigotry is never challenged. Nor does it ever seem to occur to anyone on screen that the church might have good reason to be wary of granting exorcisms. If performed on someone who is mentally ill -- as opposed to genuinely possessed -- after all, the ritual could potentially cause significant further psychological damage.

The film's opening proudly proclaims that the Vatican didn't assist in its production. That's all-too obvious, given the numerous inaccurate portrayals of both doctrine and practice. These range from made-up rites of exorcism to a blatant misrepresentation of the theology of baptism.

Another distortion is the supposed principle of "demonic transference," whereby an evil spirit can jump from one person to another in a flash, almost like a satanic form of the flu. Carried to farcical extremes, this idea has far less to do with Catholic teaching than with advancing the movie's halting plot.

Other entries in the genre -- such as 1973's "The Exorcist" and the more recent "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" -- inspired fear through implication and tension. Bereft of such subtlety, "The Devil Inside" resorts to loudly cracking bones, enormous amounts of blood and bouts of obscene language -- with results more risible than terrifying.

Don't say Mother Church didn't warn you.

The film contains anti-Catholic animus, a fallacious presentation of church teaching and practice, implied acceptance of abortion, rare but intensely gory violence, a few uses of profanity and frequent rough and occasional 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.

 

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

NEW YORK - There's a double agent on the loose, and seemingly no one can be trusted in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (Focus), a faithful adaptation of John le Carre's best-selling 1974 novel.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") sets a deliberately slow pace, especially for an espionage thriller, demanding the viewer's full attention as he introduces pieces of the puzzle and juggles multiple characters and story lines, many told in flashback. It's a journey that's labyrinthine and sometimes confusing, disturbing and often gruesome, and it leads to a morally ambiguous resolution.

The time is 1973, more than 25 years into the Cold War between East and West. At Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, code-named "The Circus," panic is rising. The chief, known as Control (John Hurt), fears that a double agent has infiltrated the highest ranks of the organization and is feeding vital state secrets to the Soviets.

Determined to ferret out the "rotten apple" and plug the "leaky ship," Control dispatches one of his agents, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), to Hungary to meet someone who claims to know the mole's identity. The rendezvous is a disaster, and Control lays the blame on his top lieutenant, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), who is consequently sacked.

Smiley, a deep thinker and man of few words, is not out of work for long, though.

Unbeknownst to Control and his colleagues at the Circus, Smiley is rehired by the government to find that troublesome traitor. He identifies four high-ranking Circus suspects: Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), code-named "Tinker"; Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), the "Tailor"; Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), the "Soldier"; and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), the "Poor Man."

Gaining the help of younger agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) -- who has issues of his own -- Smiley embarks on a sophisticated game of cat and mouse, revisiting the demons of his own past while uncovering the hidden lives of his fellow spies.

Things go from simmer to boil when a rogue agent named Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) contacts Smiley and claims to have vital information -- even though Tarr himself was once suspected of being a double agent.

With its stimulating conversations and lengthy ruminations, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is more cerebral than graphic. But the inclusion of the elements listed below nonetheless severely circumscribes its appropriate audience.

The film contains bloody violence including gunplay and torture, a scene of nonmarital sexual activity, brief rear nudity, a homosexual reference and some profane and rough 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.

 

Movies05Contraband

Contraband

NEW YORK - Movies set in criminal milieus are often less than life-affirming because of the nature of the felonious activity being depicted. Yet there's something especially dispiriting about a crime thriller that only succeeds in being gritty on the surface because it doesn't follow through on its own logic.

In the case of "Contraband" (Universal), a movie that promptly bogs down in a sea of expletives, the protagonist is an ex-smuggler who not only thwarts the bad guys while miraculously avoiding harm, but has no compunction about enjoying ill-gotten plunder. This revelation doesn't qualify as a plot spoiler since the story follows a very predictable trajectory.

Moreover, considering all the vulgar language and violence one must endure before the falsely happy ending, the morally suspect message ultimately transmitted by "Contraband" amounts to adding insult to injury.

Mark Wahlberg plays putative hero Chris Farraday. Chris and his best friend, Sebastian Abney, (Ben Foster) are celebrated in New Orleans crime circles as "the Lennon and McCartney" of smuggling. That's in the past, however. When the movie begins, Chris has quit the racket, started a legitimate alarm installation business, and moved to a quiet parish with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two young sons.

When Kate's little brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), lands in hot water while trafficking cocaine, Chris decides he must pull one more job to raise the funds Andy owes drug dealer Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), who threatens the entire Farraday family. Reuniting with some of his old associates, Chris joins the crew of a container ship and heads to Panama where there's a stash of counterfeit greenbacks waiting for him to smuggle into the United States.

Sebastian stays in New Orleans and vows to protect Kate and the boys.

Based on the 2008 Nordic thriller "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," "Contraband" features energetic cinematography and ample heist tension. But Baltasar Kormakur, who produced and starred in the original, directs this Hollywood reboot without taking advantage of Big Easy atmospherics, exploiting the relatively novel shipboard setting, or revealing the ins and outs of high-seas smuggling. Plot twists are telegraphed and many of the supporting performances are over the top.

Adults who fancy hard-boiled crime flicks might be willing to withstand the nonstop obscenities (which threaten to sink the picture even before the opening title sequence concludes), if Chris' repudiation of the criminal life wasn't so short-lived and insincere.

Aaron Guzikowski's script, however, shows him profiting from the escapade, and unrealistically avoiding any lasting damage, thus sending the message that crime does pay if you're clever enough. We're asked to believe that the ability to outwit the authorities and your fellow thugs renders a person immune from moral corruption.

The film contains skewed values, much lethal but only moderately graphic violence, one instance of drug use, some profanity and pervasive rough, crude and crass 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.

Catholic movie reviews - War Horse, Tintin, Chipmunks and more

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January is always a great time for movies and we've got reviews of seven of the most popular current releases.

WarHorse

"War Horse" (Disney)

Epic screen version of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel, previously made into a successful stage play, about an English farmer's son (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) who trains and cares for a thoroughbred horse that his father (Peter Mullan) misguidedly buys just to thwart the local squire (David Thewlis).

This week's movie reviews - Sherlock Holmes, Mission Impossible

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It's a big weekend at the movies, check out reviews of two of the most notable releases from a jam-packed festive season.

This week's movie reviews - New Year's Eve, The Sitter

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The Sitter

The Sitter

Felony child endangerment presented as "life lessons" constitutes the theme, such as it is, of "The Sitter" (Fox).

Director David Gordon Green and screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka run the gamut of degradation, tossing in some racism for good measure.

This week's movie reviews - Arthur Christmas, Hugo, The Muppets & Twilight

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With Thanksgiving in the U.S., there are lots of big releases this weekend. If you need help deciding what to see, we've got reviews of Arthur Christmas, Hugo, The Muppets and the latest movie in the The Twilight Saga: "Breaking Dawn - Part 1".