Reel Reviews

‘Tomorrowland’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Frantic fight for the future

Against all expectations, Walt Disney took a theme park ride, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and turned it into a blockbuster film franchise. Now the studio has similar hopes for an entire theme park area in “Tomorrowland.”

The result? Disney has done it again. “Tomorrowland” is a delightful science-fiction film and great fun for the entire family. Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof (TV’s “Lost”), “Tomorrowland” is bursting with optimism and enthusiasm. Its hopeful view of the future is a refreshing contrast to the depressing dystopian vision that has dominated Hollywood films of late.

The film borrows the name but little else from the futuristic-themed section of Disneyland and other Disney parks. Instead, there’s a meticulous recreation of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, which was a showcase of future ideas and innovations. There Disney created the “It’s a Small World” ride to promote global harmony. In the film, it serves as the gateway to the gleaming utopia that exists, “Twilight Zone”-like, in another dimension. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, a whiz-kid boy inventor, Frank (Thomas Robinson), takes a detour on the ride into Tomorrowland.

He’s lured there by a mysterious girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy). Her mission is to recruit the best and brightest talent on Earth to learn from a place of peace and promise.

Fast-forward 40 years, and something has gone awry. Earth is fraught with problems, including war and natural disasters. Despair fills the air, and the future is far from bright. In school, Casey (Britt Robertson) is frustrated by all the gloom and doom. “I get things are bad,” she tells her teacher. “What are we doing to fix it?” Casey is a dreamer, inspired by her father, Eddie (Tim McGraw), a NASA engineer. But even NASA is being dismantled, along with Casey’s dream of reaching the stars.

Before you can say “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” Athena reappears, looking none the worse for wear, for she is actually a sophisticated (and ageless) robot (mirroring Disney’s skill with animatronics). She recruits Casey for a special mission: to save Tomorrowland. The city has fallen under the spell of a coldhearted bureaucrat called Nix (Hugh Laurie), who is responsible for wreaking havoc on earth.

Why Casey is the savior is anyone’s guess. With Athena in tow, she looks up Frank, who has aged into the dashing George Clooney. Twenty years ago, Frank was banished from Tomorrowland for threatening to expose the conspiracy. “Tomorrowland” morphs into a buddy movie as man, girl and robot race against time to, literally, save the future.

The action sequences in the film have a cartoonish quality, but the ray guns and decapitations (of robots) may upset the younger set. Others will be equally amused and enchanted.

In the end, the film takes a cue from a Disney anthem composed for the World’s Fair: “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”

The film contains cartoonish but bloodless action sequences and a few mild oaths. 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 Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service 

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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A self-replicating monster

The seemingly ever-expanding media universe centered on Marvel Comics spawns yet another property with the arrival of the so-so sequel “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Disney).

Occasional flashes of wit relieve the endless succession of explosive special effects in writer-director Joss Whedon’s follow-up to his 2012 adventure “The Avengers.” But, for a variety of reasons, parents should be at least as wary of this outing as they were of its predecessor.

To his credit, Whedon keeps the mayhem stylized as he reunites the titular team of superheroes to face their latest problem: a supposedly peaceable tech project undertaken by uber-engineer Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), that’s gone horribly awry. The unintended result of Stark’s tinkering is Ultron (voice of James Spader), an artificial intelligence-guided villain who can self-replicate at will.

To defeat this swarming, homegrown foe, Stark’s colleagues – Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – will need to overcome their petty rivalries. All the more so, since Ultron is being aided by superpower-wielding twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) Maximoff.

This Eastern Europe-bred duo – alternatively dubbed Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch – nurse a long-standing grudge against the film’s ensemble of good guys. Their shared resentment originates in an incident from their childhood that would seem to parallel the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war of the 1990s. What we’re meant to make of this implicit allusion to real-life events, however, remains unclear.

There’s a lot of that sort of ambiguity going around, especially given the muddled approach Whedon’s script takes to its under-realized main theme: the apparent opposition between human freedom and the blessings of tranquility. His consciousness partly shaped by the darker aspects of his unwitting creator’s cynical worldview, Ultron believes the only solution to humanity’s incurable aggressiveness may be the elimination of the species as a whole. Is this annihilating outlook meant to serve as anything more than a convenient means of raising the stakes in Ultron’s confrontation with the Avengers to a planetary level? It’s hard to judge.

More obvious are the dings in the movie’s moral surface. These include a number of less-than-heroic exclamations and a couple of ill-considered jokes. The latter defects include a remark about Ultron “multiplying faster than a Catholic rabbit.” While Whedon may be able to claim a vaguely pontifical pedigree for that one-liner, taken together with the other elements listed below, it renders his picture inappropriate for impressionable youngsters.

The film contains pervasive but bloodless violence, brief irreverent and anti-Catholic humor, fleeting sexual banter and some 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 

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (April 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
American Sniper, A-III (R)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
B
Begin Again, A-III (R)
Black or White, A-III (PG-13)
Blackhat, A-III (R)
The Boy Next Door, O (R)
C
Chappie, L (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
D
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
Edge of Tomorrow, A-III (PG-13)
F
Fifty Shades of Grey, O (R)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
G
The Gambler, L (R)
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
H
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Tub Time Machine 2, O (R)
I
Inherent Vice, O (R)
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)
The Loft, O (R)
M
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Million Dollar Arm, A-III (PG)
Mortdecai, A-III (R)
P
Paddington, A-II (PG)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
R
Run All Night, L (R)
S
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A-III (PG)
Selma, A-III (PG-13)
Seventh Son, A-II (PG-13)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, A-I (PG)
Still Alice, A-III (PG-13)
Strange Magic, A-I (PG)
T
Taken 3, A-III (PG-13)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
U
Unfinished Business, O (R)
W
The Wedding Ringer, O (R)
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, A-II (PG-13)

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