Reel Reviews


A-II – adults and adolescents


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Funny, family-friendly fable

Parents trolling for family fare at the multiplex need look no further than “Trolls” (Fox).

This loopy but charming animated comedy – which, happily, has nothing whatever to do with bad behavior on the internet – makes enjoyable viewing for a wide range of age groups, excluding only the very youngest.

Though it originates with a product line of plastic dolls, directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn’s infectiously fun 3-D fable feels more like a party than a commercial. In fact, the best way to gauge the sensibility underlying their brightly hued, music-laden celebration might be to imagine a preteen girl taking over a 1970s discotheque.

Said lass would no doubt identify immediately with our heroine, an irrepressibly sunny optimist named Poppy (voice of Anna Kendrick). But she would likely feel far less kinship with Poppy’s companion on the quest to which most of “Trolls” is devoted, Woody Allen-like perpetual worrier Branch (voice of Justin Timberlake).

This odd couple is thrown together and forced to hit the road after several of their friends are kidnapped by an evil – and otherwise unnamed – Chef (voice of Christine Baranski) from a race of Troll-eating giants called Bergens. Bergens, so we’re informed, believe that their only source of happiness lies in a tummy full of Trolls.

So it’s up to Poppy and Branch to save an ensemble of their pals, including Biggie (voice of James Corden), the community’s unofficial leader, and DJ Suki (voice of Gwen Stefani), its top tune spinner, from being served up in a stew or a casserole.

In true storybook fashion, the success of their enterprise turns out to depend on the secret, seemingly hopeless love harbored by Chef’s sensitive – and much put-upon – scullery maid, Bridget (voice of Zooey Deschanel), for the young ruler of the Bergens, King Gristle (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

As the titular creatures sing, dance and group-hug their way through the proceedings, screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger promote loyalty and teamwork. They also showcase the transformative power of romance – the spell of which is cast, predictably enough, over others besides Bridget.

Only the looming threat of one set of characters consuming another, along with touches of slightly naughty humor, indicate that “Trolls” is not a good choice for the smallest moviegoers.

The film contains a flash of rear nudity, brief scatological humor and wordplay and a few very mild oaths. 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 John Mulderig, Catholic News Service


A-III – adults


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Truth prevails

A prominent attempt to erase one of history’s most notorious genocides – and the possible strategies for defeating that effort – are explored in “Denial” (Bleecker Street).

Director Mick Jackson’s fact-based drama recounts the case for libel initiated in 1996 by English writer David Irving (Timothy Spall) against American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz). In her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” Lipstadt had labeled Irving a Holocaust denier. Following the appearance of a British edition of the work, Irving sued both Lipstadt and her U.K. publisher.

Lipstadt believes that passionate testimony from survivors can prove the existence of the Holocaust and win a difficult trial in which, under British law, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Her expert lawyers are determined to bore in instead on the false theories espoused by Irving, a churlish self-taught historian of World War II who’s gone over to the dark side.

Sourced from Lipstadt’s 2005 memoir, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, David Hare’s script mostly avoids courtroom histrionics in favor of delineating how the defense arguments were constructed. He also shows how Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history at Emory University in Atlanta, misunderstood her legal team’s tactics nearly to the end of the trial.

The big break in the actual proceedings, held in London in 2000, was Irving’s misguided decision to serve as his own prosecutor, rather than use barristers to represent him. An additional advantage was gained when, in keeping with the rules of evidence, the defense was given access to Irving’s diaries, compiled over 20 years.

The film’s emotional heart is in quiet scenes filmed at the Auschwitz death camp, where Jackson takes care to show melting snow on barbed wire as if the fences are weeping. Here, too, Lipstadt recites the traditional funeral prayer of Ashkenazi Jews.

The camp, of course, offers its own indisputable testimony in the form of its gas chambers. But lead barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), who’s been taking notes on how the executions operated, uses the setting to observe that the lack of a complete scientific investigation of the death machinery has given a foothold for cranks like Irving. They insist that Zyklon B, manufactured as a pesticide, was used only for delousing, not mass murder.

There’s no real question of how the trial will end. Spall plays Irving with bug-eyed malevolence. Irving even goes so far as to turn up at one of Lipstadt’s book readings to heckle her and announce that he’ll give $1,000 in cash to anyone who can prove that Hitler intended to slaughter Jews.

To keep control over the testimony and deny Irving a forum for grandstanding, Lipstadt’s lawyers refused to put either their client or any survivors of the Holocaust on the stand. In response to Lipstadt’s pleas for a contrary approach, solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) admonishes her, “A trial, I’m afraid, is not therapy.”

“Denial” makes a powerful point about moral as well as intellectual truth. Gainsayers of the worst horrors will always be with us, but they must be fought at every turn.

The film contains detailed discussions of atrocities and a single rough term. 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

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