Reel Reviews


A-II – adults and adolescents


Watch Trailer

A good man and a great athlete

Run, don’t walk, to the nearest multiplex and see “Race” (Focus), a supremely entertaining biopic about Olympic track and field legend Jesse Owens (Stephan James).

Eighty years have passed since Owens, an African-American, won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, single-handedly dealing a devastating blow to Nazism and its belief in Aryan supremacy.

Director Stephen Hopkins deftly explores the double meaning of the film’s title, chronicling Owens’ personal struggle against racism and bigotry while celebrating his astounding athletic achievements. What emerges is a valuable history lesson for adolescents as well as their parents, and an inspiring portrait of personal courage, determination, friendship and tolerance.

The film opens in 1933, with Owens’ arrival at Ohio State University. A natural athlete, he is unstoppable on the track and a record-breaker, much to the amazement of his coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Snyder immediately proposes to train Owens for the 1936 Games.

In the meantime, the U.S. Olympic Committee is divided over whether to attend the event. The committee president, Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt), wants the athletes to stay home to protest against the oppressive regime of Adolf Hitler (Adrian Zwicker), glorified in propaganda films directed by Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten).

Mahoney is opposed by Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons), a real estate tycoon and former Olympic athlete. He agrees to fly to Berlin to meet wicked Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat), who envisions the Olympics as an opportunity to legitimize Nazism on the world stage. Brundage strikes a dubious deal with the devil, and Goebbels agrees to allow Jewish and black athletes to compete.

Boycott averted, Owens trains in earnest. As his fame grows, so does the pressure to be a role model for African-Americans (as baseball’s Jackie Robinson would experience, a decade later). He also pines for his fiancee back home, Ruth (Shanice Banton), who cares for their baby daughter.

Running offers a respite from segregation. “Out there ain’t no black and white, there’s only fast and slow,” Owens says. “Nothing matters – not color, not money – not even hate. For those 10 seconds, you are completely free.”

“Race” re-creates the 1936 Games in meticulous detail, capturing Owens’ wonder at the spectacle and his surprise by the non-segregated athletes’ village, where he is treated with respect.

It also portrays his unexpected friendship with a German athlete, Carl “Luz” Long (David Kross), his chief rival in the long jump. Long defied Hitler and Goebbels by congratulating Owens on his gold medal and joining him for a victory lap around the stadium. They remained friends long after the Games ended.

The film contains adult themes, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and occasional crude and profane language. 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 Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

‘The Finest Hours’

A-III – adults


Watch Trailer

Water, water everywhere

The remarkable true story of the most daring small boat rescue mission in Coast Guard history comes to the big screen in “The Finest Hours” (Disney).

In February 1952, a powerful Nor’easter struck the Massachusetts coast, pummeling shoreline towns and wreaking havoc on ships caught in its deadly path. Among these were two oil tankers bound for Boston, the S.S. Mercer and the S.S. Pendleton.

Beset by 60-foot waves and hurricane-force winds, both vessels broke apart. The Mercer, its bow intact, radioed for assistance and was the focus of a major rescue operation.

The Pendleton was not so lucky. The bow and its radio sunk, stranding 36 sailors in the stern, bobbing like a cork in the mighty sea. With no SOS, who would come to their aid?

By chance, the Pendleton pops up on radar at the Coast Guard station in Chatham, headed by Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). Despite extreme conditions, he orders Boatswains Mate 1st Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to muster three men and set out in a wooden 36-foot lifeboat, certainly no match for the storm conditions.

Duty and honor prevail, as Seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) volunteer for duty. Fellow officers try to dissuade Webber, calling the rescue a suicide mission. Webber’s newly minted fiancee, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is frantic with worry, compounded by the fact that she is terrified of the water (then why marry a sailor, one wonders?).

“In the Coast Guard they say, ‘You gotta go out,’” Webber reminds his crew. “They don’t say, ‘You gotta come back in.’”

As the lifeboat sets out, a David in search of a Goliath, disaster strikes with the first wave. The craft nearly capsizes, and the onboard compass is lost.

With no navigation aid, Webber must pilot in the blind, relying on faith, instinct and a whole lotta luck to find the wreck.

Meanwhile, aboard the Pendleton, engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) takes command of the crisis situation. The stern section is slowly sinking, so the survivors must improvise a way to buy precious time while they steer the stern toward land.

“The Finest Hours” is old-fashioned moviemaking on a grand scale. Director Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm”), working from the 2009 novel by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, strikes the right balance between striking renderings of Mother Nature’s fury (even more impressive than 2000’s “The Perfect Storm”), and quieter moments, conveying fear and dread among the rescuers and the rescued.

Happily, Gillespie makes time to show the close-knit community joining in prayer, and an individual fingering a rosary.

As for all that water, bring along your sea legs. The storm sequences are intense and immersive (especially in 3-D), and could have you reaching for the sick bag.

The film contains extreme storm-based action and scenes of peril, and some crude and profane 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 Joseph McAleer, 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