Reel Reviews

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Classic, not Catholic

Vast in scale and operatic in intensity, this 152-minute visit to that galaxy far, far away is both satisfying and, for the most part, family-friendly.

Yet parents may be concerned about the non-scriptural notions centering on the famous Force that are here collectively referred to as the “Jedi religion.” Teens able to take this fictional faith, a sort of dime-store Taoism, as just one more element in a fantasy world will benefit from lessons about the value of hope and the true nature of heroism.

The “Star Wars” saga has often been characterized as The Iliad of contemporary culture. So perhaps it’s fitting that the opening of writer-director Rian Johnson’s eighth episode of the narrative initiated by George Lucas in 1977 finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) imitating Homer’s Achilles by holding aloof from the great struggle in which he once took an active part.

Rather than sulking in his tent, as Achilles did, Luke is leading a solitary life of self-imposed exile among the small stone huts of a distant planet. (These scenes were shot on the Irish island of Skellig Michael, site of a medieval monastery.) His isolation is interrupted by the arrival of Rey (Daisy Ridley) who has come as a messenger from Luke’s twin sister, Leia (the late Carrie Fisher).

As the leading general of the embattled Resistance – the latter-day version of the Rebel Alliance for which Luke once fought – Leia urgently needs her brother’s famed skills as a warrior if the struggle against the fascistic First Order (successor to the evil Galactic Empire), and its malignant leader, Snoke (Andy Serkis), is to continue.

Luke refuses to join the conflict. But he does agree to train Rey in the ways of the Force. Rey will need the power of this mysterious spiritual energy, the source of Luke’s own prowess, when she eventually confronts Leia’s son, Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Originally a good person, Ben has gone over to the side of darkness, and now serves as Snoke’s lieutenant. Even so, he still has some elements of good remaining in him, and his ongoing moral struggle has the potential to sway the outcome of the intergalactic battle.

Though it gets off to a slow start, once it hits its stride “The Last Jedi” sweeps viewers along with stirring action and audience-pleasing plot twists. While not as taut as last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” this sprawling installment of the great franchise makes for a more memorable experience.

The script’s portrayal of the Force as capable of endowing those who cultivate it either with goodness or iniquity may strike moviegoers of faith as establishing a false equivalence of power between these two poles of morality. Some may even see in this an implicit denial of the rule of divine providence and God’s ultimate supremacy over sin.

Yet, in keeping with a Christian worldview, characters do make their ethical choices more or less freely. And the idea that a change in basic identity should be reflected by a change of name echoes a recurring trope in Scripture – and in the Church’s sacramental practice.

Audience members young or old are unlikely to spend much time meditating on these aspects of the picture, however. Instead, they’ll be content to ride this cinematic whirlwind while it lasts, and leave its mythos behind them like so much popcorn on the theater floor.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Disney) contains frequent but bloodless combat violence, a scene of torture, a couple of mild oaths and a few crass terms. 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

‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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A story of Dickens

Its rather ill-chosen title notwithstanding, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bleecker Street) involves no denial of the Nativity.

Instead, this charming fact-based historical drama tells the origin story of Victorian author Charles Dickens’ beloved 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol.

Dan Stevens brings brio to his portrayal of the complex writer, whose humanitarian instincts seem, initially, to benefit all but those closest to him. And the film as a whole shares much of the warmth of the slender volume whose creation it chronicles.

With his last three titles having failed to sell, Dickens fears falling into debt if his next production is equally unpopular. But having struck on the idea of a holiday-themed narrative, he struggles with writer’s block and with the endless distractions of his burgeoning family’s domestic life.

A visit from his feckless father, John (Jonathan Pryce), whom Dickens blames for the sufferings of his childhood – flashbacks show us his grim life as an apprentice is a shoe polish factory – is a particular source of worry and conflict. Dickens, who fancifully summons up, and interacts with, his own characters, also spars with dour miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) who here serves as a naysaying critic of Dickens’ work.

When his publishers, Chapman (Ian McNeice) and Hall (David McSavage), turn the prospective volume down, Dickens resolves to publish it himself, thus raising the financial stakes still further. He does at least enjoy the steady encouragement of his patient wife, Kate (Morfydd Clark), and of his friend and unpaid literary agent, John Forster (Justin Edwards).

The conversion story Dickens’ eventually pens finds a real-life counterpart in the amendment of his own behavior, providing some positive moral lessons about consideration and forgiveness.

Since it’s also family-friendly in most respects – a solitary instance of mild bedroom humor is based entirely on inference – “The Man Who Invented Christmas” will likely prove a winner with a broad range of age groups.

The film contains a very vague sexual joke and a single mild oath. 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.

A
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)
B
Begin Again, A-III (R)
C
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
D
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)
E
Ex Machina, O (R)
F
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
G
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
I
It Follows, O (R)
J
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
K
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
L
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)
M
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
P
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)
R
Run All Night, L (R)
S
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)
T
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
U
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
W
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