Reel Reviews

‘McFarland, USA’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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Running story with big heart

Kevin Costner turns in a restrained yet compelling performance as the central figure in the fact-based sports drama "McFarland, USA" (Disney).

As for the story unfolding around him, faith- and family-friendly values – together with the absence of any genuinely problematic elements for parents – make this uplifting tale one that can be enthusiastically recommended for moviegoers of almost all ages.

Costner plays Jim White, a high school science teacher and coach in 1980s California whose sharp temper places him on a downward career spiral. Jim, wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and daughters Julie (Morgan Saylor) and Jamie (Elsie Fisher) seem to have hit rock bottom when the best job he can find forces them to relocate to the impoverished, predominantly Latino fieldworkers’ community of the title.

As the Whites – whose name now takes on an ironic significance – struggle to adjust to McFarland's Hispanic culture, Jim recognizes a widespread gift among his new students for long-distance running. Toughened by backbreaking agricultural work and constrained to cover extensive distances on foot, lads like Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) glide swiftly across the landscape without giving their speed a second thought.

Jim decides to draw on this pool of latent talent by organizing a cross-country team. Since this genre of racing is considered an elite sport for country club-types, Jim and his charges will have to compete against the privileged athletes who attend the Sunshine State's private academies. But Jim is convinced that, with the requisite effort, his hearty proteges can prevail.

The saga of youthful underdogs pitted against the odds honors Jim and Cheryl’s strong marriage, along with the bonds uniting the other close-knit clans it portrays. The script also highlights the value of education and self-improvement. Though religion mostly hovers in the background, a spontaneous, intense and identifiably Catholic prayer of thanksgiving marks one of the movie’s emotional high-water marks.

The film contains an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a single mild oath, a couple of crass terms and occasional ethnic slurs. 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 

‘American Sniper’

A-III – adults


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Blood, guts and lethal bullets

For those seeking an insight into an individual veteran's perspective on the Iraq War, director Clint Eastwood's sober drama “American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) – starring Bradley Cooper as now-deceased Navy SEAL Chris Kyle – will likely hit home.

Yet moviegoers in search of a bigger-picture moral assessment of that conflict, or of armed clashes in general, may come away disappointed.

Drawing on Kyle’s 2012 memoir, Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall trace the expert sharpshooter’s rise to celebrity status among his comrades. They also track his emergence as a prime target for enemy insurgents who eventually put a price on the Texas native’s head.

Determined to safeguard his fellow fighters – who dub him “the Legend” in recognition of his life-preserving prowess – Kyle insists on returning to combat through four grueling tours of duty. But his exposure to the moral and emotional pressures of urban warfare predictably exacts a psychological toll and places a strain on his relationship with his loving wife, Taya (Sienna Miller).

Scenes set during Kyle’s childhood show his forceful dad instilling the belief that people can be divided into three basic categories: predatory wolves, vulnerable sheep and protective sheepdogs. From the adult Kyle’s point of view, it’s enough to know that there are villains on the loose in Iraq – and innocent victims potentially at their mercy – for his chivalrous course of conduct as an aspiring member of the third grouping to become apparent.

While Eastwood successfully conveys Kyle’s personal heroism, his film avoids engaging the larger issue of whether the geopolitical cause to which Kyle repeatedly and resolutely lent his skills was an ethically valid one. In purely cinematic terms, moreover, the picture alternates between effectively displaying the consequences of Kyle'’s scaring battlefield experiences and weakly relying on dialogue that can only hint at these same wounding repercussions.

Taken on its own terms and considered as a whole, however, Eastwood’s movie reliably escorts viewers through both the agonizing instantaneous dilemmas and the longer-term complexities that confronted the courageous warrior on whom its action centers.

The film contains stylized violence with some gore, a scene of torture, a premarital situation and partial nudity, some sexual humor and references, several uses of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service 

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (February 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.

Addicted, O (R)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, A-II (PG)
American Sniper, A-III (R)
Annie, A-II (PG)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
The Best of Me, A-III (PG-13)
Beyond the Lights, A-III (PG-13)
Big Hero 6, A-II (PG)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Value of Ignorance), A-III (R)
Black or White, A-III (PG-13)
Blackhat, A-III (R)
The Boy Next Door, O (R)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, A-III (R)
Dracula Untold, A-III (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
Dumb and Dumber To, O (PG-13)
Edge of Tomorrow, A-III (PG-13)
Exodus: Gods and Kings, A-III (PG-13)
The Gambler, L (R)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, A-II (PG-13)
Horrible Bosses 2, O (R)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, A-II (PG-13)
The Imitation Game, A-III (PG-13)
Inherent Vice, O (R)
Interstellar, A-III (PG-13)
Into the Woods, A-III (PG)
John Wick, O (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Last of Robin Hood, L (R)
Million Dollar Arm, A-III (PG)
Mortdecai, A-III (R)
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, A-II (PG)
Nightcrawler, L (R)
Ouija, A-III (PG-13)
Paddington, A-II (PG)
Penguins of Madagascar, A-I (PG)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
Selma, A-III (PG-13)
St. Vincent, L (PG-13)
Still Alice, A-III (PG-13)
Strange Magic, A-I (PG)
Taken 3, A-III (PG-13)
The Theory of Everything, A-III (PG-13)
Top Five, O (R)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
Unbroken, A-III (PG-13)
The Wedding Ringer, O (R)
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, A-II (PG-13)

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