Reel Reviews


A-III – adults


Watch Review Watch Trailer

More Movie Reviews


With the unsurprising exception of Jesus Christ, more books are said to have been written about President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) than about any other person in history. As for the screen, our most fascinating – and arguably greatest – chief executive has been portrayed by such Hollywood luminaries as Walter Huston (“Abraham Lincoln,” 1930), Henry Fonda (“Young Mr. Lincoln,” 1939) and Raymond Massey (“Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” 1940).

Those estimable names notwithstanding, it's hard to imagine that any actor has ever inhabited the persona of the legendary rail-splitter quite as convincingly as Daniel Day-Lewis does in director Steven Spielberg’s splendid historical drama “Lincoln” (DreamWorks). Day-Lewis’ bravura performance is undeniably the highlight – though by no means the only asset – of this engrossing profile.

The plot focuses on the Civil War president’s passionate yet wily struggle, during the closing days of that conflict, to steer through Congress a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. Aided by his secretary of state, William Seward (David Strathairn), but distracted by his troubled personal life – Sally Field plays his famously high-strung wife, Mary – Lincoln uses rhetoric to win over his hesitant Cabinet and patronage to woo his congressional opponents.

As for the Great Emancipator’s ostensible allies on Capitol Hill, irascible Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania (a marvelous Tommy Lee Jones) hurls withering sarcasm at all and sundry and openly avows his mistrust of Lincoln.

Whether in line with history or not, a scene showing Stevens sharing his bed with his mixed-race housekeeper presents a curious moral quandary. Assuming that they could not marry by law, but would have tied the knot if permitted to, what is the level of moral guilt attached to their relationship?

Along with the tension created by Mary's neurotic behavior, Lincoln is also burdened by grief over the untimely death of his son Willie two years before the events of the movie. Though not especially close to his oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – whose intense desire to join the Army poses a threat to Mary's sanity, and thus presents his father with a terrible dilemma – Lincoln dotes on his youngest child, Tad (Gulliver McGrath). Like the Lincoln marriage, however, their touching bond is tinged by the tragedy of Willie’s absence.

The trajectory of Spielberg’s tale is, by its nature, uplifting, while Lincoln’s multifaceted personality – which encompassed idealism, political shrewdness, melancholy, humor and even a few endearing foibles – is vividly illuminated in Tony Kushner’s screenplay. As his script reveals, however, Lincoln was not above telling an earthy anecdote if it advanced a point he wished to make, nor were those around him too refined to employ vulgarity for the sake of emphasis from time to time.

Still, some parents may consider the educational value and moral import of the film – which is based, in part, on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2006 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – sufficient to overcome the elements listed below, thus allowing for patronage by older adolescents.

The film contains intense but mostly bloodless battlefield violence, a scene involving severed limbs, cohabitation, about a dozen uses of profanity, racial slurs, a couple of rough terms 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.

‘Wreck-It Ralph’

A-II – adults and adolescents


Watch Review Watch Trailer

More Movie Reviews


The (boring) life of video game characters

Cross “Toy Story” with a video arcade game and you get “Wreck-It Ralph” (Disney), a clever 3-D animated adventure that explores the meaning of life inside the machine, once the “Game Over” message appears.

Director Rich Moore is a veteran of “The Simpsons” television series, and it shows, for better and worse. “Wreck-It Ralph” is fast-paced and full of action, but some rude humor skews this film toward older kids and their baby-boomer parents.

The eponymous hero (voice of John C. Reilly) makes his living smashing things to bits in an arcade game called “Fix-It Felix.” Hot in pursuit is said Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer), who repairs everything Ralph wrecks with a magic hammer. The game ends when the victorious Felix is awarded a medal, and Ralph is consigned to the dump.

After 30 years of the same routine, Ralph has an existential crisis: He no longer wants to be the bad guy. He confesses this to his “Bad-Anon” support group made up of fellow game villains. (Inappropriately for such light comic fare, Satan himself is numbered among these.) At their meetings, the black hats recite a mantra: “I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There's no one I’d rather be than me.”

But Ralph wants more, and takes the drastic step of switching games in search of fame and glory. First stop: “Hero’s Duty,” a violent shoot-em-up where Sgt. Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch) leads an army of warriors to annihilate cyber-bugs on a distant planet. Ralph gets a taste of success, but at a price, unleashing a deadly force that threatens to pull the plug of every game in the arcade. That includes his next stop: “Sugar Rush,” a sickly sweet racing game in a magical kingdom ruled by King Candy (voice of Alan Tudyk).

“Sugar Rush” is filled with puns and sight gags. King Kandy’s bodyguards are two donuts called Duncan and Wynnchel, and his bloodhounds are Devil Dogs, who take care not to step in the Nesquiksand.

Ralph joins forces with an outcast, Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman). Vanellope is a “glitch,” phasing in and out due to a programming error or, as she puts it, “I have pixlexia.” She is ridiculed by her fellow racers, and lives alone in a junkyard. Ralph can relate, and comes to Vanellope’s aid. To save the day they must overcome prejudice and embrace their differences, offering positive lessons in self-esteem for young viewers.

The film contains mild cartoonish violence and some rude humor. 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)