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Movie review: 'The Lego Ninjago Movie'

Third time lucky? Not for the Lego screen franchise, alas.
 
In following up on 2014's "The Lego Movie" and "The Lego Batman Movie" from earlier this year, directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan -- the latter two also co-writers, along with four others -- attempt to blend a children's feature and an action film. The result, "The Lego Ninjago Movie" (Warner Bros.), is awkward, noisy and tedious, though the boredom is occasionally relieved by the odd flash of wit.
 
Bookended by live-action sequences featuring martial-arts icon Jackie Chan as a curio shop owner who becomes the story's narrator, the cartoon follows the exploits of a schoolboy named Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco), a resident of far-off Ninjago City.
 
With his hometown constantly under attack by his villainous father, Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), Lloyd is an object of scorn and derision to many of his peers. Yet, unbeknown to them or to Garmadon, Lloyd leads a double life, battling his bad dad in the guise of a ninja warrior.
 
He's backed up by a quintet of pals and fellow fighters: Cole (voice of Fred Armisen), Nya (voice of Abbi Jacobson), Jay (voice of Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (voice of Michael Pena) and Zane (voice of Zach Woods). Like Lloyd himself, all of them have trained under the tutelage of Master Wu (voiced by Chan), Lloyd's wise and virtuous uncle (and Garmadon's estranged brother).
 
The forgettable series of explosions and other disturbances that follow from this set-up drown out the script's listless pursuit of themes like the possibility of personal conversion and the value of family reconciliation. A few of the jokes will likely raise a smile. Garmadon, for instance, insists on pronouncing both the L's in Lloyd. But the demolition quickly recommences.
 
The dialogue includes some vague mumbo-jumbo about humans harnessing the power of the elements. Thus one of Lloyd's comrades can deploy fire, another water, a third ice and so on. Though this aspect of the picture never amounts to much more than an excuse to include the hummable 1990 hit "The Power" on the soundtrack, it's not for the easily confused.
 
The film contains perilous situations, a bit of mild scatological humor and a couple of mature references. 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.
 
 
  • Published in Reviews

Movie review: 'A Question of Faith'

As with so many of its forerunners in the religious message movie genre, the sober drama "A Question of Faith" (Pure Flix) seems better suited to preach to the choir than to attract the indifferent or the merely curious.
 
Still, those committed to scriptural values will appreciate the film's showcasing of a strong marriage as well as its emphasis on forgiveness and interracial harmony.
 
Experienced minister David Newman (Richard T. Jones) is about to take over the leadership of the flourishing church he has previously served as an assistant pastor when a tragedy involving his young son Eric (Caleb T. Thomas) shakes his fundamental beliefs. Though spiritually disoriented by the mishap, David benefits from the steady support and guidance of his wise wife, Theresa (Kim Fields).
 
As David gradually discovers, his family's misfortune has linked their fate to those of several strangers, including restaurant owner Kate Hernandez (Jaci Velasquez), Kate's daughter Maria (Karen Valero) and cashed-strapped contractor John Danielson (C. Thomas Howell).
 
With his business facing bankruptcy and his daughter, Michelle (Amber Thompson), enduring a potentially fatal medical crisis, John is even more alienated from God than David is. But he too has a steady rudder in his patient spouse, Mary (Renee O'Connor).
 
Director Kevan Otto leavens the sometimes tearful proceedings with upbeat Gospel music. And, though the plot of his movie, as written by Ty Manns, is farfetched in some of its details, viewers to whom it appeals will likely skim over such gaps. In exploring the value of faith-motivated reconciliation, moreover, the script sets the right tone and offers a good example to its wide appropriate audience.
 
The film contains mature themes. 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.
 
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Movie review: 'Home Again'

Genteel decorum prevails in the romantic comedy "Home Again" (Open Road). At least, it does so everywhere beyond the confines of its protagonist's bedroom. The result is a morally mixed film in which kindly characters follow the misguided marital and sexual dictates of contemporary society.
 
Although the movie opens with the aforementioned main character, Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), in tears, her situation turns out to be more tumultuous than tragic.
 
Recently separated from her British-born, New York-based husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), Alice has returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, her two young daughters, Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), in tow. There they've settled into the lavish house in which Alice grew up and which she inherited from her father, John (David Netto), a famous director of 1970s arthouse movies.
 
While out on a liquor-fueled spree celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice crosses paths with a trio of promising but broke filmmakers: brothers Harry (Pico Alexander) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) and their pal George (Jon Rudnitsky). Alice and Harry fall for each other at first sight, but he loses his cookies before they have the chance to get physical.
 
The morning after the night before, the lads -- homeless after being turned out of the cheap motel room they were occupying -- stick around, charming Alice's mom, Lilian (Candice Bergen), with their enthusiasm for her series of starring turns in her late husband's pictures. At Lilian's behest, and after some hesitation, Alice agrees to let her new friends take up residence, rent-free, in her guesthouse.
 
Naturally, the polite and considerate youths bond with Isabel and Rosie and, inevitably, Alice and Harry pick up where nausea had forced them to leave off. But back east, Austen, who has all along wanted to reconcile with Alice, is none too pleased to learn of this novel domestic arrangement -- even though he is still in the dark about its sexual aspect.
 
There's a gentle spirit to writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer's feature debut. In fact, the daytime interaction between Alice and her three tenants sometimes recalls that between Snow White and her seven dwarfs.
 
But the script presents marital breakup as a form of liberation. And, though it coyly avoids having the romantic leads sleep together within hours of meeting each other by sending Harry off to worship the porcelain idol, Meyers-Shyer obviously takes the duo's subsequent fling as a given.
 
Additionally, the girls' accidental exposure to the relationship -- babysitting Lilian unexpectedly shows up with them, just as Alice and Harry are emerging in the morning -- is milked for laughs.
 
Unsound but not obnoxious, "Home Again" (Open Road) will easily be parsed by grownups, for good and ill. The entertainment value of the positive residue, however, is slight at best.
 
The film contains a benign view of divorce and cohabitation, momentary semi-graphic and brief nongraphic sexual activity, comic brawling, a few uses of profanity and at least one 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.
 
  • Published in Reviews

Movie review: 'All Saints'

Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama "All Saints" (Sony) celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.
 
Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tenn. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.
 
A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia -- Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win -- begins to change his outlook.
 
The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.
 
His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.
 
Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and "All Saints" -- despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected -- is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.
 
Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.
 
The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene.
 
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.
 
  • Published in Reviews

Movie review: 'Leap!'

Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film "Leap!" (Weinstein).
 
Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled "Ballerina," this French-Canadian movie, produced by L'Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.
 
Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colorful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.
 
The plot centers on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.
 
The buddies plan their getaway from the orphanage. "We arrived at the same time and we'll escape at the same time," says Felicie.
 
Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).
 
But destiny will not be denied and -- with Victor masquerading as a nun -- the merry duo absconds. They make their way to the City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.
 
Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris' famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.
 
Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette's mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine's bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).
 
Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in "The Nutcracker." Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: "Don't give up on your dreams. If you never leap you'll never know what it is to fly."
 
The film contains brief scatological humor and a less than flattering representation of women religious. 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.
 
  • Published in Reviews

Movie review: 'Logan Lucky'

Director Steven Soderbergh reinvents his "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy with a backwoods twist in "Logan Lucky" (Bleecker Street), a zany heist caper.
 
Instead of suave leading men like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who rob casinos with sophistication and flair, Rebecca Blunt's screenplay presents a band of mismatched misfits from West Virginia who turn to crime in the hope of a better life beyond the trailer park.
 
The resulting romp is an amusing bit of fluff, a tasty confection that, like cotton candy and other late summer treats, does not linger long in the memory. It's safest for grownups, but possibly acceptable for mature teens as well.
 
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job as a coal miner. He adores his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his mean ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). With Bobbie Jo planning to relocate out of state, Jimmy is in desperate need of cash to move closer to his daughter.
 
He concocts a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighboring North Carolina during a NASCAR race. The racetrack sits atop a series of tunnels which Jimmy helped to excavate, and where he observed the elaborate system of pneumatic tubes that funnels cash from the betting windows and concessions above to the vault below.
 
A bit too eagerly, Jimmy's siblings hop on board: his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who makes a mean martini, and his sassy sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a beautician.
 
All that's needed is a demolition expert to blow a hole in the vault. Enter the aptly named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, straying very far indeed from his James Bond persona). There's one catch: This lunatic is in prison.
 
No worries: Jimmy and Clyde arrange to spring Joe for the heist and have him back in his cell before the guards miss him.
 
"Logan Lucky" rolls merrily along, introducing more oddball characters than you can wave a racing flag at, including Joe Bang's dimwit born-again brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), and a smarmy race-team owner with the brilliant name of Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane).
 
As the climax nears, expect a few curve balls -- as well as curvaceous FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). She arrives to investigate the so-called "Hillbilly Heist," which also goes by the code name "Ocean's 7-11" (wink, wink).
 
The film contains drug references and occasional profane and crude 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.
 
 
  • Published in Reviews

Movie review: 'Annabelle: Creation'

Most of the mayhem wreaked by the figurine-haunting demon at the center of the horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation" (Warner Bros.) is restrained. Yet, as the film progresses, director David F. Sandberg and his collaborators allow their imagery to become briefly but disturbingly graphic.
 
Accordingly, only those grown moviegoers willing to brave flashes of intense gore should say hello to this particular dolly.
 
This also is not a good fit for those insistent on strict logic or those who expect the characters on screen to behave rationally. As for Catholic viewers, they will likely be both annoyed and distracted by the wildly inaccurate, albeit incidental, portrayal of their faith incorporated into the proceedings.
 
In 1950s California, a group of female orphans shepherded by kindly nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) have somehow -- by circumstances not specified in returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman's script -- been displaced from their former dwelling. They've been offered refuge, of a sort, at the rambling, spooky home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his invalid wife, Esther (Miranda Otto).
 
The Mullins are still overcome by grief following the death of their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), in a tragic car accident a dozen years before. So their hospitality is extended in an effort to brighten the tone of their funereal household. The outcome, of course, is quite the opposite.
 
No sooner has polio-afflicted Janice (Talitha Bateman) been warned by her brooding host to steer clear of Bee's perpetually locked bedroom than she somehow finds herself inside that very chamber, mucking about and stirring up trouble.
Discovering a hidden key to the closet in which the toy of the title has until now been confined, Janice unleashes her, much in the manner of Pandora opening her ill-fated box. Cue a reign of terror for nosy Janice, her BFF, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest.
 
Darwin has clearly had no place in these girls' education. No matter how hair-raising the terrors to which Annabelle and her guiding fiend subject them, they always move toward danger, never away from it. Even allowing for youthful curiosity, this stubborn refusal to learn from experience becomes a tiresome trait.
Even more taxing, however, is a scene in which Sister Charlotte hears Janice's confession of her disastrous trespass, not in the context of a confidential conversation but in what is clearly meant to be a formal sacramental encounter.
 
Thus Janice kicks things off by requesting, "Bless me, Sister, for I have sinned," and Sister Charlotte wraps things up by imposing a penance, though no absolution intervenes.
 
The fact that only bishops and priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation is hardly a bit of inside-baseball religious arcana. And the mistake is all the more glaring in a movie that clearly wants to position itself, in some vague way at least, as faith-friendly. Equally out of place in that proposed context is the counter-scriptural concept that infernal beings can somehow "steal" human souls.
 
There are some old-fashioned shivers awaiting the restricted audience for which this follow-up to the 2014 original -- itself a spinoff of "The Conjuring" franchise -- can be labeled appropriate. But lapses in reason, believability and even the most rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism may inspire more frowns than frissons.
 
The film contains a distorted presentation of Catholic faith practices, mostly stylized but briefly very bloody violence, numerous gruesome images and at last one mild oath. 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.
 
 
  • Published in Reviews

Movie review: 'The Emoji Movie'

Tech savvy viewers will especially enjoy the wacky proceedings of "The Emoji Movie" (Columbia). But patrons of all stripes will appreciate the film's themes of loyal friendship and faithful romance.
 
Set within the smartphone of high school freshman Alex (voice of Jake T. Austin), this lighthearted animated comedy tracks the adventures of a trio of misfits on their quest to reach the internet Cloud.
 
Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) is a "Meh" icon meant to express only indifference. But the first time Alex makes use of him, the native enthusiasm of his personality, together with nervousness at making his professional debut, causes him to register a strange mix of emotions instead of the bland apathy he was supposed to convey.
 
This malfunction immediately makes Gene an outcast and draws the ire of the chief emoji, maniacally cheerful Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph). She condemns Gene to be deleted. So he goes on the run and joins forces with upbeat hand symbol Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) and rebellious codebreaker Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris).
 
Once one of Alex's favorites, Hi-5 has fallen into disuse and longs to regain his former popularity. Jailbreak resents the regulated life she is forced to lead on the phone and hopes to enjoy much greater freedom by transferring herself permanently to the Cloud.
 
As the three newfound friends bond, and something more than friendship blossoms between Gene and Jailbreak, the challenges of their journey force them to prove their mutual devotion. Messages about teamwork and putting the interests of others ahead of your own goals balance the emphasis on Gene's right to break the mold and be himself.
 
The presence of a minor character named Poop -- voiced, amusingly, by no less a personage than Sir Patrick Stewart -- typifies the predictable potty humor running through director and co-writer Tony Leondis' script, penned with Eric Siegel and Mike White. Together with episodes of peril, these jokes may make "The Emoji Movie" a less than ideal choice for the youngest film fans.
 
The feature is preceded by an eccentric, enjoyable short called "Puppy!" which involves a young lad, a giant, disruptive dog named Tinkles and the boy's indulgent grandfather -- who just happens to be Count Dracula.
 
The film contains characters in jeopardy, mild scatological humor, a suppressed crude expression and a slightly crass term.
 
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.
 
  • Published in Reviews
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