Reel Reviews

‘In the Heart of the Sea’

A-III – adults


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Before Ahab was

With “In the Heart of the Sea” (Warner Bros.), the real-life events that helped inspire Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel Moby-Dick become the basis for a polished and exciting adventure directed by Ron Howard.

Despite some grim plot developments and other material precluding blanket endorsement for any but grownups, Howard’s film will make fit and even valuable fare for most mature adolescents.

In adapting Nathaniel Philbrick’s eponymous history text, published in 2000 and subtitled “The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” screenwriter Charles Leavitt sets out with ambitions as lofty as Melville’s own. “How does a man come to know the unknowable?” the novelist, played by Ben Whishaw, asks in the picture’s opening moments.

To find out, Melville has journeyed to Nantucket, Mass., where he hopes to interview Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last survivor of the ill-fated – and already famous – 1820 expedition that proved to be the Essex’s undoing. But the haunted, alcoholic old salt is reluctant to open up about the harrowing experiences of his youth (during which he’s portrayed by Tom Holland).

The tale he eventually weaves is one of hubris and greed – whale oil was the primary fuel, and therefore one of the most valuable commodities, of the era – as well as deprivation and determination. At its center looms the bitter rivalry between the Essex’s aristocratic but inexperienced captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), and its veteran first mate, the intrepid Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth).

Driven by avarice, and by the mutual desire to be rid of each other, Pollard and Chase recklessly carry their vessel off to the remote, mid-Pacific feeding grounds where the relentlessly hunted whales, already absent from more accessible areas, are still to be found, so it’s rumored, in large numbers. There the ship meets its disastrous destiny as the result of an uncanny encounter with a leviathan of vast proportions and unusual ferocity.

While the picture falls short of its own sublime ambitions, it does reach the level of thoughtful, generally absorbing entertainment. And the imagery is frequently striking, as when a harpooned whale showers his hunters in a rainfall of the blood forcefully expelled from his blowhole. Other scenes evoke everything from a particularly good episode of the 1960s gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” to an eerie maritime painting.

Howard and Leavitt maintain a light touch as the script deals incidentally with such religious themes as the power of prayer and the benefits of (non-sacramental) confession. Equal delicacy is observed in treating other heavyweight topics, especially a newborn sense of environmentalism voiced through a debate about man’s true status within – and proper stance toward – the natural world.

Although it’s no match for the masterful narrative with which it shares its factual source material, “In the Heart of the Sea” does represent accomplished moviemaking of a high order.

The film contains much stylized seafaring violence with brief gore, mature themes, including cannibalism and suicide, a fleeting bawdy image, about a half-dozen uses of profanity as well as a single crude and several crass terms. 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


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

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