Editor’s note: This week, the Tidings resumes its movie reviews on a regular basis, with commentary by the staff of Catholic News Service. Newly-released films are reviewed more extensively. Complete reviews are available at the USCCB website: http://www.catholicnews.com/movies.htm.
Godzilla (Warner Bros.)
Though the filmmakers’ extension of the durable franchise suffers from an over-elaborate backstory and uneven tone, it does boast predictably grandiose special effects. And, while characterizations are generic, family bonds among the main players are strong. The film also includes a few religious undertones that viewers of faith will welcome.
The legendary lizard of the title is only one of the outsized creatures rampaging the globe in this installment of his saga. In fact, his adversaries — the explanation of whose nature is part of an excessive exposition— are even less sympathetic than the reptilian star. But at least the human toll this ensemble of monstrosities exacts is portrayed in a stylized, bloodless way.
Believers will be pleased with the sight of a military chaplain leading a group of paratroopers in prayer before the climactic showdown, and — if they're sufficiently eagle-eyed — with the Catholic-looking medal dedicated nurse Elle wears around her neck. But they may wince a little when a character, in describing Godzilla's place at the summit of the food chain, proclaims him "a god, for all intents and purposes."
The film contains pervasive action violence with minimal gore, brief marital sensuality and a few uses each of profanity and crude language. (A-III, PG-13)
Million Dollar Arm (Disney)
Strong humane values permeate director Craig Gillespie's breezy baseball-themed conversion story. So it's a shame that some relatively discreet, but still misguided sexual content precludes endorsement of the film for youthful viewers — all the more so, since screenwriter Tom McCarthy shows unusual restraint in his use of objectionable language in his fact-based script.
A down-on-his-luck sports agent (Jon Hamm), desperate to find an alternative moneymaker, travels to his colleague's homeland of India and stages an "American Idol"-type reality show in which cricket bowlers will try their skills at pitching. But the two victors find life in urban America utterly bewildering. Thus begins the agent’s transformation from callous, business-obsessed loner to protective mentor.
He is also being changed by his warming relationship with the comely tenant who occupies a cottage on his property, a romance is marked by premature intimacy. Yet this too marks something of a moral advance for him. Along with learning to place people ahead of profits, his growth also involves becoming more open to religion, though in a way that may leave Christian moviegoers with mixed feelings.
The film contains nonmarital situations, an implied premarital encounter, a smattering of sexual humor and some crass language. (A-III, PG)
Among the films released in the past two months are the following:
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Columbia)
Patrons are unlikely to walk away from the overstuffed but diverting 3-D comic-book sequel feeling that they've failed to get their money's worth. The film showcases a good deal of mostly stylized mayhem that's too intense for little kids. But the positive use to which the web-slinger (Andrew Garfield) puts his powers, together with a script that's virtually free of objectionable vocabulary, makes this adventure acceptable for just about everyone else. Giddy special effects and a lively pace help pass the long running time and make an excess of storylines somewhat less noticeable. More substantially, moviegoers will appreciate Spider-Man's knack for making the ordinary people he routinely rescues feel good about themselves. He thus not only battles evil but affirms and encourages goodness as well. Much action violence, including torture, a single crass expression and a mild oath. (A-II, PG-13)
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (Clarius)
Some films are so firmly enshrined as classics, and so beloved by moviegoers, that even inviting comparison with them is perilous. Such proves to be the case with this animated adventure, which on its own registers as a pleasant, family-friendly outing, featuring Oz in the grip of the Wicked Witch of the West's equally villainous brother, the Jester, and Dorothy called back to the magical land by her original companions: the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man. When the trio is taken prisoner, Dorothy must rely on the help of a new ensemble of pals. The film does offer lessons in cooperation, self-confidence and the need to put the interests of others first that parents will be glad to have kids take to heart. But stacked up against Victor Fleming's evergreen 1939 movie, its inferiority is glaring. An instance of childish wordplay, some menacing sequences. (A-I, PG)
Moms' Night Out (TriStar)
Good intentions are not enough to sustain this wholesome but weak comedy "Moms' Night Out." Though faith filled and family-friendly, the movie — about stressed-out moms’ night on the town — is just not very funny. Christian themes are prominent, and the quiet moments during which faith occupies center stage are more successful than the manufactured mayhem to which most of the running time is devoted. In the same serious vein, the picture also boasts a moving affirmation of the rewards of parenthood, and a few amusing interludes. Overall, however, there's something strained about all the would-be wackiness on display. Fleeting slapstick violence. (A-I, PG)
"Animal House"-style antics, with moral anarchy to match, are showcased in a smutty, frat-themed comedy whose premise would likely scare any suburbanite: Newly minted parents discover that the house next to theirs has been sold to a Greek-letter society. The fact that the couple’s housewarming gift to the brothers is a cache of marijuana more or less sets the tone for everything that follows — an escalating conflict begins, pitting the thirtysomethings against the party boys, with most of the slapstick pranks crossing the line into tastelessness (hazing, sex toys and casual hook-ups among them). Despite a positive portrayal of the couple’s bond, they are never shown to reconcile themselves to adulthood. Some harsh nonlethal violence, strong sexual content, including graphic marital and nonmarital activity, full nudity and same-sex kissing, a benign view of drug use, pervasive sexual and occasional scatological humor, a handful of profanities and continuous rough and crude language. (O, R)
The Other Woman (Fox)
When a screenwriter's armory of jokes is so depleted that a large dog having a very visible accident qualifies as a sight gag, moviegoers of taste will want to steer clear. And so they should in the case of this crass comedy, a mostly pedestrian tale of revenge directed against philandering husband by his mistress, wife and paramour. Along the way to their inevitable triumph, the humor in Melissa K. Stack's script plays on a range of distasteful subjects. And marital fidelity takes a hit as a result of the philanderer’s unrelenting sleaziness and dishonesty, qualities that make Kate's readiness to jettison him all too easy to understand. An adultery theme, a marital bedroom scene, an implied casual encounter, pervasive sexual and much scatological humor, a couple of uses of profanity and frequent crude and crass language. (L, PG-13)
The Railway Man (Weinstein)
Human cruelty takes its toll in this a searing account of a former prisoner of war who is unable to overcome the emotional trauma of his past. The movie is based on Eric Lomax's 1995 autobiography in which he was one of thousands of British-led Allied troops taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II. The film begins three decades after the war, in which the long shadow of war looms over his marriage, leading to erratic, at times violent behavior, rooted in torture suffered while a prisoner (and staged in graphic but historically accurate detail, certainly not a sight for the squeamish). When Lomax discovers that his tormentor is alive, and working as a guide at the internment camp (now a museum), he travels to the Far East to confront him. Despite its negative moral trajectory at this stage, in the end, "The Railway Man" offers an unexpected and powerful lesson fully in line with scriptural values. Graphic scenes of violence, including torture, and a suicide. (A-III, R)
CNS classifications: A-I — general patronage. A-II — adults and adolescents. A-III — adults. A-IV — adults, with reservations. L — limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. O — morally offensive.
Motion Picture Association of America ratings: G — general audiences, all ages admitted. PG — parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children. PG-13 — parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. R — restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. NC-17 — no one 17 and under admitted (age limit may vary in certain areas).