Reel Reviews


A-III – adults


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Rocky Redivivus

“One step, one punch, one round at a time” is the mantra of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa in “Creed” (Warner Bros.). This seventh “Rocky” film is an imaginative and – if you can believe it – somewhat gentle reboot of the blockbuster franchise.

The same patient motto sums up director Ryan Coogler’s approach to his task. In the screenplay he co-wrote with Aaron Covington, Coogler is wise enough to touch lightly on all the familiar notes of the 1976 original, thus reminding his audience that he respects the past even as he reinvents for the future.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers; the character was killed in the ring in “Rocky IV”). Adonis is determined to fulfill his destiny as a boxer.

This resolve justifies just enough flashbacks to show that the kid had it tough in foster care and a series of juvenile detention facilities. He uses his fists instinctively. Indeed, even after being rescued from poverty by Creed’s last wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and despite a promising future in finance, Adonis knows he belongs in the ring.

So he abandons weekend bouts in Tijuana and the trappings of luxury in Los Angeles for training in scruffy, cold Philadelphia. His coach, of course, is the legendary former heavyweight champ, now widowed and operating an Italian restaurant.

Adonis doesn’t pummel any slabs of beef in a meat locker, but the regimen is otherwise intact: Rocky has him chasing chickens and performing one-armed pushups. Rocky even repeats the admonishment he long ago received from trainer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith): “Women weaken legs!”

Along those lines, there’s a supportive and chastely portrayed romance with Adonis’ spunky downstairs neighbor, R&B performer Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who is suffering from progressive hearing loss.

The traditional montages of physical exertion and self-realization build up to the climactic bout in which Adonis is pitted against British light-heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), who’s facing a prison term.

Adonis tries at first to conceal his parentage. But the fame that results when the information leaks out, after an early, decisive victory, gives him his shot at the title fight. This enables him to confront both his physical and emotional limits.

The script’s underlying message is that, no matter what the circumstances, the cherished old values of self-sacrifice and discipline can prevail. That outlook may, in the judgment of many parents, extend the movie’s appropriate appeal, making it acceptable fare for mature adolescents.

The film contains bloody physical violence and fleeting rough 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 Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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This bird doesn’t fly as high

With “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” (Lionsgate), one of the most successful cinema franchises of recent times reaches a surprisingly glum finale.

Given that the series is founded on the idea of a dystopian society where young people are sacrificed in the gladiatorial tourneys of the title, perhaps the sober tone of this fourth and final chapter in the screen saga is only appropriate. All the more so, since the later stages of the narrative chronicle the bloody effort required to challenge the regime that sponsors these barbaric contests.

Still, while a restrained mood may be fitting, there’s no denying that the film’s grimly realistic, though largely bloodless, portrayal of combat makes the last stretches of its heroine’s long odyssey something of a slog. The wide audience for whom this briefly horror-tinged sci-fi outing is suitable will take their leave of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), accordingly, in a worn-down and meditative frame of mind, rather than with any exuberance.

At once a victor in and subverter of the Hunger Games, former media darling Katniss has become the symbol of the revolution being led by rebel President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and establishment turncoat Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Although this duo wants to use her for strictly symbolic purposes, stubborn Katniss has an agenda of her own.

Without consulting anyone in authority, Katniss has committed herself to the task of assassinating President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), the tyrannical chief of the old order. Along the way to fulfilling this mission, however, she’s distracted by romantic complications left over from the earlier passages of her story.

Fellow Hunger Games veteran Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has had his love for Katniss infected with hatred against her as a result of being captured, tortured and brainwashed by the enemy. Emotionally broken, he veers between trying to kill his former sweetheart and continuing to carry a torch for her.

Katniss’ childhood friend-turned-steadfast-comrade, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), whose affections have made him Peeta’s long-standing rival, is equally, if less painfully torn. He’d like to take advantage of Peeta’s vulnerability, but finds Katniss too troubled by Peeta’s pathetic fate to give him her wholehearted love.

As director Francis Lawrence wraps up the blockbuster adaptations of novelist Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, his film avoids painting armed conflict with too bright a palette. And the obscenity-free script, penned by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, honorably explores the morality of war and the justice of targeting oppressors.

The dialogue makes incidental references to the suicide pills which are routinely distributed to insurgent soldiers so that, if taken prisoner, they can avoid torments similar to -- or perhaps even worse than -- those doled out to Peeta. Parents of teen viewers may want to discuss the fact that Catholic teaching forbids resort to such measures, no matter how fearful the ordeal a captive may potentially face.

Additionally, those determined to find moral fault may bristle at a late scene in which Katniss joins a male character in bed. Although their interaction, as shown, amounts to no more than cuddling, current mores leave what follows off-screen subject to a suspicious interpretation.

Given the ethical tenor of its predecessors, however, “Mockingjay, Part 2” is entitled to the benefit of the doubt on this score. So youthful moviegoers for whom Katniss is catnip will, in all likelihood, not be led astray.

The film contains much stylized and some harsh violence but with minimal gore, mature themes including war atrocities and suicide, potentially frightening scenes, and an apparently innocent but possibly ambiguous bedroom encounter.

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 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