Reel Reviews

Stan & Ollie

Audience: A-II – adults and adolescents


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To reinforce the proposition that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were, and still are, sacred icons of film comedy, the pitch-perfect, affectionately nostalgic “Stan & Ollie” (Sony Classics) reproduces their 1953 arrival in Cobh, Ireland, during what would be their last tour of British music halls.

As they stroll down the gangplank to cheers, the carillon at St. Colman’s Cathedral, in a tribute not offered there to any performer before or since, plays the duo’s theme music, “Dance of the Cuckoos.” Cynical minds might detect the workings of an adept publicist. But whenever Laurel retold the story, which he did often before his death in 1965, he described it as a spontaneous gesture involving "all the church bells" in the port city.

One does not have to be a devoted fan to enjoy this film. "The boys," as they were known in their prime, always worked clean, and this is one squeaky-clean tribute as well.

Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) are on what will be their final tour of Britain, during the waning days both of their careers and of the music halls – venues for the British version of vaudeville. Unlike most movie personalities who began in silent films, both had a background in live performance, and to British audiences they were a vestige of the innocent times before World War II.

Over the years, they've learned to put all their trust in each other. Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), the producer of the tour, has booked them into second-rate houses. In Hollywood years before, producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) refused to give them a share of their films' considerable profits. They eventually deal with a simmering dispute from the time in 1939 when Hardy was compelled to work with another partner during Laurel's contract dispute with Roach.

Laurel is still the perfectionist artist, always at work on new material. Hardy prefers to avoid conflicts and have an outside life of recreation, even though Laurel chastises him, "Our films will last a lot longer than your hot dog." Their wives, Laurel's Russian-born Ida (Nina Arianda), a former dancer, and Hardy's Lucille (Shirley Henderson), a script supervisor, are generally supportive and only occasionally bicker about their status.

This leaves two obstacles: A spoof of the Robin Hood legend they hope to make under a vague promise from a British studio, even though both realize that their film careers are probably firmly in the past, and the obese Hardy's perilous health. A heart attack eventually ended his performing days before his death from a stroke in 1957. Filling out the story are astonishing reconstructions, from Laurel's scripts, of their stage act, which was never committed to film during their lifetimes.

These two performers epitomized "the show must go on" work ethic, never disappointing an audience, no matter how small. The result here is not so much the belly laughs of their prime, but sublime joy at their invincible courage.

The film contains at least one crass term. 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 Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Audience: A-II – adults and adolescents


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Purists be warned: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (Columbia) has little to do with your father's Peter Parker. Instead, this innovative but noisy and frenetic animated take on the Marvel Comics saga features one novice web-slinger and a quintet of alternate versions of the title character who arrive on Earth from other dimensions.

The resulting adventure is not for the easily jangled or the littlest tots. But it is otherwise suitable for a wide audience.

Although the personnel have changed, the premise remains. So it's no surprise when half African-American, half Puerto Rican Brooklyn lad Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore), like Parker before him, is bitten by a radioactive arachnid and takes on some of its characteristic abilities. Confused to find that his hands keep sticking to everything – including the hair of Gwen Stacy (voice of Hailee Steinfeld), the girl he would like to make his own – Miles gets some much-needed mentoring from an unlikely source. It seems that villainous Kingpin (voice of Liev Schreiber) has successfully opened a portal to parallel universes through which five variants on Spider-Man arrive, one by one, on Earth.

Though he eventually teams with all his fellow Spideys, Miles first forms a partnership with Peter B. Parker (voice of Jake Johnson), a slightly sad-sack iteration of the familiar figure. Reluctantly at first but with growing enthusiasm as things progress, this Peter shows Miles the ropes – or, perhaps, the strands.

Amid stylized dustups and often jarring psychedelic imagery, the screenplay conveys a message about the importance of family bonds. It also offers a lesson in living up to your potential.

Thus Miles is close to both his cop dad and nurse mom. He also looks up to his slightly dodgy uncle, whose waywardness has led to his estrangement from his by-the-book brother Jefferson.

With Peter's help, fledgling Miles learns to take control of his powers and use them for good. Specifically, that involves battling Kingpin and his octopus-like sidekick, Doc Ock (voice of Kathryn Hahn).

Back in his world, Peter B. has broken up with his true love, Mary Jane (voice of Zoe Kravitz), in part because she wanted to have children and he did not. This is presented as evidence of selfishness and immaturity on his part and his relationship with Miles gives him a new, more positive perspective.

Even when the bullets fly, the sometimes-intense mayhem remains suitably cartoonish. And, aside from a brief foray into questionable humor involving Miles mistaking his transformation for the symptoms of puberty and spouting awkward statements on the subject, the dialogue is overwhelmingly innocent.

The film contains some harsh but bloodless violence, including gunplay, references to puberty and a single vaguely crass word. 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

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