Reel Reviews

‘Woodlawn’

Audience:
Audience: A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Equal in God’s eyes

High school football players battle racism on and off the field in “Woodlawn” (Pure Flix), an entertaining and inspirational film that’s appropriate for most age groups.

Based on the true story of star running back Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille), who went on to play for the University of Alabama and the Miami Dolphins, “Woodlawn” demonstrates to young and old alike that, with God and family on your side, nothing is impossible – including, in this instance, a winning record.

The setting is racially torn 1973 Birmingham, Alabama, a veritable war zone of riots and cross burnings. With the implementation of court-mandated desegregation in public schools, 500 black students arrive by bus to join their 2,000 white peers at Woodlawn High.

Tensions flare, especially on the sports field, where athletically gifted newcomer Tony literally runs away with the ball, earning him the nickname “Touchdown Tony.” This incites jealousy among his white teammates and fellow students.

Supporting Tony are his loving parents, Louise (Sherri Shepherd) and Junior (Lance Nichols). On the sidelines is legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant (Jon Voight), who knows a superstar in the making when he sees one.

Woodlawn’s own no-nonsense coach, Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop), just wants to win games. At a loss about how to reconcile his players to the new paradigm of integration, he reluctantly agrees to let a “sports chaplain” address the squad.

Enter Hank (Sean Astin), an outsider with a mission. Fired up after attending a Billy Graham crusade, Hank issues a direct challenge to the players.

“Make a decision to stand up and be forgiven, no matter what you have done,” he exhorts them. “That’s how much God loves you. I’m asking you to choose Jesus.”

Within minutes, a “miracle” happens: Tony and 40 fellow players, black and white, step forward and pledge themselves to the “better way” through living the Gospel message.

Change ripples through the school and out into the community and even affects rival teams. It isn’t long before an initially skeptical Coach Gerelds asks to be baptized.

Needless to say, such religious activity does not go down well with the local school board – who see their role as keeping a borderline between church and state. Among other things, Coach Gerelds is ordered to stop the communal pregame recitation of the Our Father. But such measures fail to undermine the positive new atmosphere, and Woodlawn rolls on to an unprecedented winning streak.

“Look around us. We’re not alone,” Hank says. “This is what happens when God shows up.”

Brother-directors Andrew and Jon Erwin – Jon co-wrote the script with Quinton Peeples – prove skillful at juggling complex football action with quieter moments in church. Although they approach their narrative from an evangelical perspective, their themes of faith, reconciliation and social justice will, of course, resonate with Catholic moviegoers.

The film contains scenes of mild racial violence and aggressive football action. 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.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

‘The Walk’

Audience:
Adults

 

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High-wire tension and attention

In August 1974, just as the Watergate scandal was approaching its climax with the announcement that President Richard Nixon would resign, a very different news story was competing for headlines.

To the astonishment of onlookers – and of the world at large – French high-wire artist Philippe Petit succeeded in walking across an improvised tightrope strung between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center.

The circumstances surrounding the 24-year-old’s signature achievement, which he aptly dubbed his “coup,” were recounted in Petit’s 2002 memoir, “To Reach the Clouds.” Having previously provided the basis for filmmaker James Marsh’s highly regarded 2008 documentary, “Man on Wire,” Petit’s book has now been charmingly dramatized as “The Walk” (TriStar).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, serving as both protagonist and narrator. In both capacities – for the latter purpose, he’s perched high above the city’s harbor on the torch-bearing arm of Lady Liberty – Gordon-Levitt draws viewers in with a charismatic combination of Gallic verve and Gotham-style gumption.

As the generally lighthearted narrative makes clear, that unusual combination of qualities was exactly what Petit would need to pull off his mad scheme. He would also benefit from the physical and psychological training – as well as the show-biz spiritual inspiration – supplied by his mentor, veteran circus performer “Papa” Rudy Omankowsky (Ben Kingsley).

Further support takes shape as Petit assembles an unlikely crew of co-conspirators to aid him in his secretive preparations. They include his live-in girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon); Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), a photographer intent on documenting Petit’s feat; and Jean-Francois, aka “Jeff,” (Cesar Domboy), a laid-back hippie whose enthusiasm for Petit’s project is somewhat undercut by his fear of heights.

Once Petit reaches New York itself, fast-talking Franco-American salesman Jean-Pierre (James Badge Dale) also joins the team, adding local savvy to the mix.

As Petit finally gets the chance to make his journey across the void,  director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis marshals dazzling 3-D special effects to convey the acrobat’s giddy experience with almost overwhelming immediacy. While these scenes will likely thrill many grown-ups, they may leave others feeling unsettled, if not downright queasy.

Recommendation for younger moviegoers, however, is hindered by the un-vowed amour Petit and Annie share as well as by the script’s comic treatment of pot smoking. Though the later activity is shown to hobble the usefulness of two minor participants in Petit’s audacious plan, it’s otherwise portrayed as a harmless target for laughs.

As for a quirky interlude during which Petit briefly strips down to facilitate his pre-dawn search for the cable he’s about to traverse, it’s completely removed from any sexual context, discreetly dealt with, and – apparently – true to the facts.

The film contains cohabitation, benignly viewed drug use, fleeting rear nudity, about a half-dozen profanities and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

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.

A
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)
B
Begin Again, A-III (R)
C
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
D
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)
E
Ex Machina, O (R)
F
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
G
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
I
It Follows, O (R)
J
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
K
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
L
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)
M
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
P
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)
R
Run All Night, L (R)
S
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)
T
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
U
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
W
The Water Diviner, A-III (R)
Woman in Gold, A-II (PG-13)

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