Reel Reviews

‘Kong: Skull Island’

A-III – adults


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Big ape alert

With a thematic agenda that takes it beyond the usual confines of its genre, and a story driven forward by sustained, nervous dread – an emotion skillfully conveyed from the characters to the audience – “Kong: Skull Island” (Warner Bros.) is an impressive monster movie.

The multiple dangers the cast confront lead to some unsettling mayhem and a few grisly deaths, however, marking this as a film strictly for grownups.

Set in 1973, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ action adventure uses the waning days of the Vietnam War as a backdrop – and as a cue for its exploration of the destructive human aggressiveness that gives rise to armed conflict.

The movie’s embodiment of such belligerence is hard-bitten Army Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Together with his civilian counterpart, fringe researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman), Packard leads an ensemble of scientists and soldiers on a government-sponsored expedition to the location of the title, a previously uncharted island perpetually surrounded by a turbulent weather pattern.

There, Packard, Randa and their followers – most prominently British special forces veteran James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who has been hired to serve as the group’s guide, and self-described anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who has decided this is her next big story – encounter an updated version of King Kong.

Scattered by the helicopter swatting rampage with which the outsized ape greets their unwelcome intrusion (supposedly to further “seismic research,” they’ve announced their arrival by bombarding the terrain with powerful explosives), the travelers are split into two contingents. One of these crosses paths with eccentric World War II-era Air Force officer Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly).

Forced to bail out over the isle way back in 1944, Marlow has been stranded there ever since. To their considerable surprise, he informs his newfound acquaintances that, while Kong may be the monarch of this hidden realm, he is far from the most lethal threat they’ll have to face there.

The stage is set for a clash between Packard, who’s out to avenge his fallen troops by exterminating Kong, and those accompanying Marlow who only want to avoid trouble and reach a prearranged rendezvous point where they hope to be rescued.

As this contest of wills unfolds, screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s script references a range of science fiction movies. More significantly it also evokes Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film “Apocalypse Now” and its partial source material, Polish-born British author Joseph Conrad’s classic 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness.”

On the lighter side, the dialogue is kept sprightly by a consciously campy, self-mocking tone, especially in early scenes where exposition is needful. And at least some of the mature viewers for whom “Kong” is suitably will be old enough to get a kick out of such period details as rotary phones and wide, loud neckties.

The film contains stylized but grim combat and other violence with little gore, a few gruesome images, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and crass 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 John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

‘The Lego Batman Movie’

Audience: A-II – Adults and Adolescents


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It all fits together

In “The Lego Movie” (2014), Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff “The Lego Batman Movie” (Warner Bros.), Arnett’s character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage.

Despite occupying the spotlight, however, this time out the Caped Crusader will have to learn some important lessons in humility, teamwork and emotional openness if he’s going to meet his latest challenge. That’s because his longtime adversary, the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis), is leading an army of bad guys in a bid to prove that he is Batman’s most important enemy.

Just as the isolated, relationship-shunning hero insists on working alone to fight crime, so he slaps the Joker down when the Clown Prince of Crime puts himself forward as the Cowled One’s indispensable foil.

“You’re nothing to me,” Batman growls in a scene that cleverly inverts a familiar trope, substituting the Joker’s longing to be told he’s hated for the more usual goal of exacting a declaration of love. Soon the spurned villain is scheming to destroy Gotham and thus bring his rivalry with Batman to a decisive close.

To vanquish him, Batman will have to accept the help of the trio of supporters who have rallied to his side: would-be adoptive son Dick Grayson, aka Robin (voice of Michael Cera), love interest Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl (voiced by Rosario Dawson), and father figure (as well as butler) Alfred Pennyworth (voice of Ralph Fiennes).

Still burdened by the loss of his parents – their murder is only hinted at by a childhood photo taken at a moment aficionados of chiropteran lore will recognize as laden with doom – Bruce Wayne, and therefore his alter ego, finds it difficult to make himself vulnerable again. It will take all of Robin’s irrepressible good spirits and Alfred’s patriarchal concern, as well as Barbara’s head-turning effect on Batman, to break through his barriers.

Fast-paced fun is the order of the day in director Chris McKay’s animated treat for viewers of almost every age. Still, scenes of danger and a bit of potty humor as well as a few joking turns of phrase designed for grownups suggest that small fry would best be left at home. The wide remaining audience will find the screen chockablock with good guys, black hats and monsters – and the dialogue enlivened by sly wit.

The film contains perilous situations, including explosions, and a couple of instances each of vaguely crass language, scatological humor and mature wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating, 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