Reel Reviews

‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’

L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling


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A story for adults

Some might fear, simply from reading its title, that “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (Paramount) would be little more than a rehash of the congressional hearings on the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya.

In reality, the film is a gripping, fact-based account of what happened on the ground when the U.S. consulate in the titular city was overrun, and four American lives – most prominently that of Ambassador Chris Stevens – were lost.

Michael Bay, who knows a things or two about action thrillers (“The Rock,” “Armageddon” and the “Transformers” franchise), directs at a furious pace. His task is to dramatize the eyewitness accounts of six security operatives documented in the 2014 book by Mitchell Zuckoff.

Partisan political views and conspiracy theories are set aside in favor of highlighting the courage and selflessness of unsung heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to save lives.

Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL, arrives in Benghazi as part of a band of security consultants hired to defend a top-secret CIA base. They’re a gruff, buff bunch of apparently hard-bitten-military vets who go by such nicknames as “Rone” (James Badge Dale), “Oz” (Max Martini), “Tanto” (Pablo Schreiber), “Boon” (David Denman), and “Tig” (Dominic Fumusa).

Predictably, however, they’re all softies at heart – family men who call their loved ones often with reassuring pledges that they’ll return home safely.

A visit to the area by Tripoli-based Stevens (Matt Letscher) presents the group with a serious challenge. The local diplomatic compound, just one mile from their CIA base, has minimum security. Stevens, though, is upbeat and optimistic, preferring to build bridges instead of fences.

Jack and his colleagues express concern, but are rebuffed by their boss, an official identified only as “Bob” (David Costabile).

“The truth is, there is no real threat here,” Bob says.

Such thinking is so disastrously wrongheaded, Tanto is driven to observe: “You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.”

And so we come to the fateful 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The day unfolds quietly, but as soon as night falls the consulate is besieged by gunmen and set ablaze.

From their nearby vantage point, Jack and the others watch in horror. Yet they’re prevented from staging a rescue by Bob. Repeated calls to the Pentagon and the State Dept. requesting air support go unanswered.

As the full extent of the carnage is revealed, including the death of Stevens, Rone rallies his team to defy Bob and enter the fray. Over the long hours that follow, these six men are the first and only line of defense against a growing mob on a murderous rampage.

As it chronicles a modern-day Battle of the Alamo, “13 Hours” is awash in sometimes bloody mayhem. To Bay’s credit, however, the violence is never gratuitous. Instead it registers as an integral part of the events his movie is recounting, a tragedy that apparently could have been avoided, had someone -- anyone -- in authority responded in a timely and adequate manner.

While “13 Hours” is not an appropriate choice for casual moviegoers of any age, its thematic significance and real-world resonance are such that even many adults who would normally shun a picture showcasing so much armed conflict may decide, on balance, to see this one.

The film contains constant graphic war violence, including gunfire, explosions, and gore, brief sexual banter and some profane and crude 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.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip’

A-I – general patronage


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A chip off the old franchise

There’s a bit of scatological humor, along with singing aplenty, in the kid-oriented comedy “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” (Fox).

Yet, overall, this blend of animation and live action adds up to a moderately charming adventure that carries a mostly positive – though not unblemished – message about family and love in general.

Their current escapade might be subtitled “The Courtship of Alvin’s Father” since it finds the furry lads desperate to stop their human “Dad,” Dave Seville (Jason Lee), from proposing to his surgeon girlfriend, Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). It’s not Sam herself the boys mind – she’s nice enough to make them a good stepmom – but her bully of a teen son, Miles (Josh Green).

When Los Angeles-based talent manager Dave departs for a business trip to Miami with Samantha in tow, the trouble making triad – who earlier stumbled across an engagement ring in a shopping bag Dave had brought home – fears the worst. So, too, does Miles, who is just as anxious as Alvin and his brothers to keep the two families unmixed.

Since Miles has been given charge of the four-pawed warblers while Dave and Samantha are away, everything is in place for a journey to Florida to put the kibosh on any question-popping. Along the way, however, the quartet encounters – or creates – numerous obstacles to their plan, the most prominent arising when they run afoul of nerdy air marshal Scruggs (Tony Hale).

Scruggs proves a comically inept but remarkably dogged pursuer.
One of the background themes of this visually appealing, energetic outing concerns the jealousy the Chipmunks are shown to be nursing toward their female counterparts, the Chipettes (voiced by Kaley Cuoco, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate), who have temporarily overtaken them in popularity. Of course, such unworthy feelings don’t prevent the two groups from combining for a climactic musical number.

Parents will appreciate the turn in Randi Mayem Singer and Adam Sztykiel’s script by which we learn that Miles’ negative, resentful behavior grows out of the insecurity he feels over having been abandoned by his father. This can serve as the basis for a valuable discussion with youngsters about the vulnerability that often lies behind aggression.

Grownups may have more mixed feelings about the nature of the central clan itself. At one level, the absurd but nurturing bond between Dave and his proteges can be taken in the same spirit as that which united E.B. White’s anthropomorphized mouse, Stuart Little, with his human parents.
Yet this unorthodox household also becomes the vehicle for advancing, yet again, the Hollywood thesis that families are a chosen, rather than a given, reality. And larger social attitudes are reflected in a scene in which an airport clerk, quizzed by Scruggs as to whether he’s recently rented a car to a group of chipmunks, replies that families come in all shapes and sizes, and “we don’t judge.”

Balancing all this is the underlying sense, throughout director Walt Becker’s lighthearted, undemanding picture, that Dave and Samantha’s marriage would be a positive development for all the principal characters.

Despite its simplistic and recycled plot, “Road Chip” will likely satisfy its diminutive target audience. As for their accompanying elders, they can pass the time pondering what must be one of the most incongruous cameo appearances in cinematic history, that put in by loudly clad underground-cinema auteur John Waters.

The film contains some mild potty humor and a single slightly crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June 2015)

CNS classifications: A-I: general patronage; A-II: adults and adolescents; A-III: adults; L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O: morally offensive.
MPAA ratings: G: general audiences. All ages admitted; PG: parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13: parents 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.

The Age of Adaline, A-III (PG-13)
Aloha, A-II (PG-13)
Avengers: Age of Ultron, A-III (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
The D Train, O (R)
Danny Collins, A-III (R)
The Divergent Series: Insurgent, A-III (PG-13)
Do You Believe?, A-II (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
The DUFF, A-III (PG-13)
Ex Machina, O (R)
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
It Follows, O (R)
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Lazarus Effect, A-III (PG-13)
Little Boy, A-II (PG-13)
The Longest Ride, A-III (PG-13)
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, A-I (PG)
Pitch Perfect 2, A-III (PG-13)
Poltergeist, A-III (PG-13)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
Run All Night, L (R)
San Andreas, A-III (PG-13)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A-III (PG)
Seventh Son, A-II (PG-13)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, A-I (PG)
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
The Water Diviner, A-III (R)
Woman in Gold, A-II (PG-13)

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops