Reel Reviews

‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip’

Audience:
A-I – general patronage

 

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A chip off the old franchise

There’s a bit of scatological humor, along with singing aplenty, in the kid-oriented comedy “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” (Fox).

Yet, overall, this blend of animation and live action adds up to a moderately charming adventure that carries a mostly positive – though not unblemished – message about family and love in general.

Their current escapade might be subtitled “The Courtship of Alvin’s Father” since it finds the furry lads desperate to stop their human “Dad,” Dave Seville (Jason Lee), from proposing to his surgeon girlfriend, Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). It’s not Sam herself the boys mind – she’s nice enough to make them a good stepmom – but her bully of a teen son, Miles (Josh Green).

When Los Angeles-based talent manager Dave departs for a business trip to Miami with Samantha in tow, the trouble making triad – who earlier stumbled across an engagement ring in a shopping bag Dave had brought home – fears the worst. So, too, does Miles, who is just as anxious as Alvin and his brothers to keep the two families unmixed.

Since Miles has been given charge of the four-pawed warblers while Dave and Samantha are away, everything is in place for a journey to Florida to put the kibosh on any question-popping. Along the way, however, the quartet encounters – or creates – numerous obstacles to their plan, the most prominent arising when they run afoul of nerdy air marshal Scruggs (Tony Hale).

Scruggs proves a comically inept but remarkably dogged pursuer.
One of the background themes of this visually appealing, energetic outing concerns the jealousy the Chipmunks are shown to be nursing toward their female counterparts, the Chipettes (voiced by Kaley Cuoco, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate), who have temporarily overtaken them in popularity. Of course, such unworthy feelings don’t prevent the two groups from combining for a climactic musical number.

Parents will appreciate the turn in Randi Mayem Singer and Adam Sztykiel’s script by which we learn that Miles’ negative, resentful behavior grows out of the insecurity he feels over having been abandoned by his father. This can serve as the basis for a valuable discussion with youngsters about the vulnerability that often lies behind aggression.

Grownups may have more mixed feelings about the nature of the central clan itself. At one level, the absurd but nurturing bond between Dave and his proteges can be taken in the same spirit as that which united E.B. White’s anthropomorphized mouse, Stuart Little, with his human parents.
Yet this unorthodox household also becomes the vehicle for advancing, yet again, the Hollywood thesis that families are a chosen, rather than a given, reality. And larger social attitudes are reflected in a scene in which an airport clerk, quizzed by Scruggs as to whether he’s recently rented a car to a group of chipmunks, replies that families come in all shapes and sizes, and “we don’t judge.”

Balancing all this is the underlying sense, throughout director Walt Becker’s lighthearted, undemanding picture, that Dave and Samantha’s marriage would be a positive development for all the principal characters.

Despite its simplistic and recycled plot, “Road Chip” will likely satisfy its diminutive target audience. As for their accompanying elders, they can pass the time pondering what must be one of the most incongruous cameo appearances in cinematic history, that put in by loudly clad underground-cinema auteur John Waters.

The film contains some mild potty humor and a single slightly crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Hey, it’s just a movie – but a good one

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Disney), the most popular series in film history resurfaces after a 10-year hiatus.

This is the seventh installment in the franchise as well as the predecessors, it’s essentially a family-friendly piece of entertainment, with first feature in a planned third trilogy. Like its predecessors only interludes of peril and combat barring endorsement for all.

At the controls is J.J. Abrams, creator of the television show “Lost” and the man who rejuvenated another iconic science-fiction franchise via 2009’s “Star Trek.” Hiring Abrams was a smart decision, not least because the savvy director – who also co-wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt – could bring a steady hand to the project and allow producer George Lucas to concentrate on selling Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Co.

Few risks were taken, particularly on the technical side. The visuals aren’t novel or awe-inspiring, but they’re sufficiently well-crafted to transport viewers where they need to go.

The primary objective seems to have been to safely pass a beloved and lucrative property from one generation to the next. This applies to the behind-the-scenes talents (as mentioned above), the fan base and the cast of characters. Abundant humor and the introduction of a pair of compelling new heroes, both portrayed with irrepressible vitality, are the keys to a successful hand-off.

Thanks to an accessible plot, “Star Wars” neophytes, if they exist, won’t find themselves adrift in a forbiddingly alien galaxy, however far away. And there’s enough complexity and allusive layering to satisfy those fully immersed in the saga.

“The Force Awakens” takes place 30 years after Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi.” Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last warrior battling on behalf of the chivalrous Jedi Order, has exiled himself.

His twin sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher), the general leading the Jedi-friendly Resistance (successor to the Rebel Alliance), wants to find him. So, too, does the First Order, an army in the service of the Dark Side. Masterminded by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), this fascistic sect is bent on killing Luke and forestalling a Jedi uprising.

Leia sends her best fighter pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to the barren planet Jakku to retrieve information on Luke’s whereabouts. When Poe and his droid BB-8 separate during a skirmish, the spheroidal machine meets a young female scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a disaffected First Order Stormtrooper called Finn (John Boyega).

With the First Order mounting another attack, Rey, Finn and BB-8 commandeer a familiar looking, rusted-out freighter lying in a desert junkyard. Since this turns out to be the Millennium Falcon, it’s not long before that vessel’s famed commander, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and his furry co-pilot, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), appear. (Droids C-3PO and R2-D2 make brief appearances later.)

The good guys’ principal antagonist is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a descendant of arch-villain Darth Vader and a disciple of Snoke’s who’s so torn between the upright and evil sides of the conflict that he has terrible anger issues. More ominously, First Order has a new, highly destructive weapon that makes the Death Star of earlier chapters look like a child’s toy.

The action builds to a gripping lightsaber duel in a snowy forest that ends all too quickly. Abrams never dawdles, which, as a rule, is a virtue. Yet, because he’s not a great visual stylist, his staging and framing often lack artistic flair.

This makes viewers long for Abrams to linger over sequences that do have more panache. His focus, however, is on lucidity and character development. When it comes to the movie’s look, he sticks to the “Star Wars” template. On balance, that’s a more than acceptable trade-off.

If there are moments you suspect you might be watching the cast-reunion special of an old TV show – John Williams’ majestic music counters that feeling to a degree – it’s largely attributable to how stiff and weather-beaten Ford and Fisher appear.

That’s not ageism. It’s a criticism of the pair’s acting and, more positively, a result of the contrast between their turns and the fresh, energized performances delivered by Ridley and Boyega. The senior duo can’t help seeming superannuated in comparison.

It’s doubtful that a movie has ever been more widely or intensely anticipated. Fueled by marketing ploys, a publicity avalanche and a glut of merchandise, this frenzy can obscure some of the things that have made “Star Wars” such a cherished and enduring cultural hallmark.

They include: entertaining story lines about the perennial struggle between good and evil; lovable heroes and hiss-worthy villains, both drawn with mythic characteristics; an integrated science-fiction vision; riveting chases, battles and action set-pieces; and the celebration of classic values such as courage, honor, and fealty.

Early on, Ray and Finn buck themselves up by repeating the same line, “I can do this. I can do this.” Perhaps an awareness of the utility of self-confidence and the necessity of trying your hardest are the best takeaways from “The Force Awakens.” By displaying these qualities themselves, director Abrams and his team get the job done – and then some.

The film contains much stylized fantasy violence. 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 P. McCarthy, 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