Reel Reviews

‘The Walk’



Watch Trailer

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

‘The Martian’

Audience: A-III – adults


Watch Trailer

No atheists in the ‘canals’ on Mars

Though the compelling sci-fi epic “The Martian” (Fox) is an unusually long movie, what viewers of faith may cherish most about this masterful adventure is a single line of dialogue in the form of a three-word prayer. 

Brief as it is, this one utterance -- made all the more eloquent by the apparently casual tone in which it's pronounced -- represents a ringing affirmation of belief in divine assistance.

Few have ever needed the aid of providence more than the character who delivers this line, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Because, by the time he offers his short plea to God, Mark is alone on the surface of Mars, more than 30 million miles away from home.

The film's opening scenes recount the series of unexpected occurrences that led to Mark's terrifying plight. The botanist on a NASA mission to the Red Planet – "The Martian" is set in a version of the near future where such journeys are more or less routine – Mark, like his colleagues, was forced to abandon his work on short notice due to the sudden arrival of a fierce windstorm that threatened to destroy their rocket.

As they all scrambled to depart, Mark was struck by flying debris and swept out of sight in the tempest, leaving his crewmates, led by conscientious Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), with no time to mount a rescue attempt. Back on Earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) delivered the bad news to the public, officially announcing Mark's death.

Though Mark is, of course, alive – albeit wounded – his chances for long-term survival are bleak. He has only limited supplies of food, water and power, and no means of communicating with anyone.

As it charts Mark's desperate struggle to turn his situation around, director Ridley Scott's screen version of Andy Weir's novel skillfully uses its protagonist's dread-inspiring predicament to examine fundamental aspects of the human spirit: courage and ingenuity, the fear of isolation and the yearning for solidarity.

Along the way, screenwriter Drew Goddard's script touches on religion only once more – and again just in passing. Yet the picture's respectful, if incidental, treatment of the subject continues to draw power from its own understatement. The screenplay's faith-affirming overtones also register as all the more pointed given the science-celebrating context which surrounds them – a setting in which such views might mistakenly be thought to be out of place.

Based on the fine quality of its values, at least some parents may consider "The Martian" acceptable for older teens – the elements of potential concern listed below notwithstanding.

The film contains some medical gore, a flash of rear nudity, scatological and other mature references, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and 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.

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.

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