Reel Reviews


A-II – adults and adolescents


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A forgotten era of Irish immigration

This is a different kind of Irish immigrant story, taking place well after the Great Hunger of the 19th century and a few years before the first Irish-American president.

“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight), set during the early 1950s, tells the story of Eilis Lacey, whose journey out of Ireland and reception in America go about as smoothly as can be imagined. An ocean liner, an efficient Ellis Island, a kindly Irish-born priest, a job waiting and a safe stay at a boarding house mark her transition.

The comparative ease of Eilis’ transition doesn’t mean her story, adapted from a novel by Colm Toibin, lacks incident or fails to compel. Just don’t expect the kind of harshness and bleakness found in parallel works such as “‘Tis.” “Brooklyn” is picturesque, meticulously understated and, like star Saoirse Ronan’s graceful performance, dignified. The movie eschews histrionics and doesn’t excoriate anyone or anything. No individual, group or institution is demonized or degraded.

Knowing there are few opportunities for clever young women in their hometown of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Rose Lacey (Fiona Glascott) has arranged for her sister to emigrate. Despite pangs about leaving Rose behind with their widowed mother, Eilis is eager to go.

Poised and competent, if inexperienced, Eilis joins the ranks of Irish girls seeking new lives in Brooklyn. As she begins working behind a department store counter, a protracted bout of homesickness dampens her spirits. Then her sponsor Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) enrolls her in night classes at Brooklyn College and she starts to blossom.

Eilis helps serve Christmas lunch to down-on-their-luck Irishmen in the parish hall. (“These are the men that built the bridges, roads and tunnels,” Father Flood observes.) At a church dance she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a charming young plumber of Italian descent. Their romance seems to ratify her decision to emigrate.

But it’s not quite that simple. Under sad circumstances, she goes home for the first time and, much to her surprise, finds that life in Enniscorthy isn’t so bad. She gains another suitor, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), and seriously considers not returning to Brooklyn.

Taking his cue from Toibin’s subtle prose, screenwriter Nick Hornby neatly calibrates the pathos and humor. Much of the latter comes via Mrs. Kehoe, the boardinghouse owner hilariously portrayed by Julie Walters.

Some viewers may feel the movie is too placid and wish for more overt conflict. The fastidious production design does result in images of New York and the Emerald Isle that verge on the idealized. And John Crowley’s directorial decisions make it clear he’s not aiming for gritty realism.

On reflection, however, “Brooklyn” is neither whitewashed nor naive. It has more depth and incisiveness than first meets the eye. No doubt assimilation wasn’t as effortless as it appears, even in the early 1950s. But the refusal to manufacture struggle or disruptive plot points matches the film’s laudatory absence of melodrama.

What “Brooklyn” offers is a moving and trenchant look at the subject of migration – including the much-overlooked post-World War II phase of the Irish diaspora – from a woman’s perspective.

Eilis has one serious moral lapse. Yet what gives the film more than surface beauty, and qualifies it as elevated entertainment, is that her subsequent decisions are ethically clear-cut while also coinciding with what the audience is rooting for. Atonement is integral to the movie’s worldview and redemption is possible because mistakes are measured in full context, not in isolation.

“Brooklyn” sees the Catholic Church as playing a vital role in this process and as a constructive force in the daily lives of individuals such as Eilis. What emerges is a portrait of a caring, practical priest and a church that, without fanfare or hubris, provides spiritual guidance and material comfort to its flock.

The film contains a non-explicit premarital encounter, several uses of rough language, and some crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John P. McCarthy for Catholic News Service

‘The Peanuts Movie’

A-I -- general patronage


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For the whole family

Anyone familiar with the perennial TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will know that the “Peanuts” franchise, which began life as a comic strip penned by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz between 1950 and 2000, has a knack for unabashed but also un-bashing spirituality.

That fine tradition continues with the charming animated comedy “The Peanuts Movie” (Fox).

Just as blanket-loving Linus succeeds, each year, in pointing small-screen viewers toward the real meaning of Dec. 25 – by the sound method of quoting the Gospel of Luke -- so hapless Charlie Brown (voice of Noah Schnapp) teaches moviegoers a lesson about divine providence and the power of prayer at the climax of this latest “Peanuts” outing.

In extending a feature film legacy that dates back to 1971’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” director Steve Martino is scrupulously faithful to the understated tone as well as the tried-and-true chemistry of his source material. It’s a wise decision.

What might be called the Catholic eye of Schulz’s world – in which the everyday quirks and travails of children take on a poignant significance when viewed from an adult perspective -- has, after all, been delighting audiences across multiple media formats for decades.

And the pleasure endures as Charlie resumes his pining for his fetching classmate, and seemingly unattainable love interest, the Little Red-Haired Girl (voice of Francesca Capaldi).

Charlie’s fantasy-prone beagle, Snoopy – voiced, via recordings, by the late Bill Melendez -- is also pursuing romance. The girl of his daydreams turns out to be a World War I-era aviatrix named Fifi. Snoopy crosses Fifi’s path, of course, while battling his perpetual enemy, German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen (“Curse you, Red Baron!”).

The needless incorporation of 3-D effects leads to an overemphasis on Snoopy’s airborne adventures during which the mild strain of padding the action out to reach the 90-minute mark becomes apparent. Back on the ground, however, top-notch values -- including altruism, honesty and loyalty -- prevail in a touching story well calculated to win the hearts of old and young alike.

The film contains imaginary combat and some minor peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G – general audiences. All ages admitted.

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