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‘For Greater Glory’

Audience:
A-III – Adults

 

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Hidden history of religious persecution revealed

“Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”

Such was the rallying cry of the Cristeros – devout Mexican Catholics driven into open, sometimes violent, opposition to their government during the1920s by its policy of persecution against the Church. This pious exclamation also serves as the stirring refrain of the powerful historical drama recounting those events, “For Greater Glory” (ARC Entertainment).

At the center of director Dean Wright’s sprawling epic stand two remarkable figures: retired but restless military hero Gen. Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a religious skeptic who becomes the unlikely commander of those taking up arms in the name of faith, and Jose Luis Sanchez (impressive newcomer Mauricio Kuri), a saintly adolescent volunteer in Gorostieta’s forces who, decades later, was beatified for his role in the struggle.

As early scenes reveal, Jose’s fervent belief was kindled by his interaction with his wise and venerable parish priest, Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole). When this forbearing clergyman falls victim to the anti-clerical campaign unleashed by President Plutarco Calles (Ruben Blades), Jose witnesses his spiritual mentor’s coldblooded execution and is radicalized.

Out to defy the government by peaceful means is another real-life character, also since beatified, Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (Eduardo Verastegui). A pacifist lawyer, Gonzalez is sometimes referred to as “the Mexican Gandhi.”

A few passages of dialogue are devoted to debating whether violent means should ever be employed by Christians, and some viewers of faith may be unsettled by the sight of an early 20th-century crusade. But if the Founding Fathers of the United States were justified in their rebellion against British rule when it infringed on their rights (and pocketbooks), the Cristeros’ attempted overthrow of Calles seems, on the face of it, at least as well warranted.

The Mexican government’s tyrannical interference with religious liberty, while obviously far more extreme than anything taking place north of the border today, nonetheless carries a sobering resonance with current events. If the film can be taken as a cautionary tale about where excessively zealous, overweening secularism can lead a nation, the warning is a stark one.

The wide-ranging saga requires quite a bit of exposition, so that the proceedings, it must be said, get off to a slow start.

But once the initially varied story lines laid out in Michael Love’s script converge, their outcome packs an emotional wallop. In fact, moviegoers of a more sensitive disposition will be unlikely to escape without tears. It’s no spoiler to say that the phrase “heroic virtue” takes on a new depth of meaning when applied to Jose, who did not gain the honors of the altar by being a coward.

The sufferings to which Jose is subjected find their occasional counterpart in the intensity of the battle scenes. But the fact-based, faith-quickening tale the movie tells is sufficiently valuable to justify a younger viewership than would normally be advisable for fare of this kind.

So, despite the elements listed below, “For Greater Glory” is probably acceptable for mature adolescents – and may, indeed, do them a world of good.

The film contains considerable action violence with some gore, the torture of a child and at least one mildly vulgar term. 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)

‘Marvel’s The Avengers’

Audience:
A-III – Adults

 

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Many Super Heroes muscle onto one screen

Seemingly destined to haul in wads of cash at the box office, the ensemble adventure “Marvel’s The Avengers” (Disney) will not disappoint fans of the comic books on which it’s based. But it may prove problematic for the parents of some excited youngsters anxious to ride the juggernaut.

The film has a long pedigree that can ultimately be traced back to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original comics series from 1963 (Lee serves the screen version as an executive producer).

More recently, it has been foreshadowed with subtle references and clues scattered among the four previously separate superhero franchises that are united here. 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” for instance, hinted at a future Avengers movie not only in its title but in a post-credits add-on scene as well.

Writer-director Joss Whedon’s script juggles no fewer than six superheroes: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).

Led by the eye-patched and grizzled Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), this dream team confronts the mischievous exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki believes freedom is overrated, and has hatched a scheme involving some glowing square that triggers – well, who really cares what it triggers? Just sit there and eat your popcorn!

Not to be flippant, but the plot is unashamedly perfunctory, and serves only to place our oddly dressed friends in a situation where they can flex their magic muscles.

And flex they do: “The Avengers” shuns attempts at allegory or subtlety, replacing them with special effects, loud noises and a surprisingly witty sense of humor. Which is not to say Whedon’s plot is entirely shallow. Christian themes concerning the dignity of the person and the value of freedom underlie the hectic proceedings.

Captain America, moreover, is given a bit of dialogue showing him to be a firm believer, not only in Christ but in Jesus’ incarnate nature as both God and man. A firm defense of the uniqueness of Christ’s nature and role is a welcome surprise in a contemporary Hollywood movie, and, however brief, should be enthusiastically applauded.

But there are also more questionable elements on display amid all the mindless action. Though relatively mild, these troublesome ingredients – listed below – will nonetheless raise concerns for some parents, putting them in the uncomfortable position of having to tell the youngsters that this otherwise thoroughly enjoyable romp is off-limits.

The film contains intense but largely bloodless violence, a few mature references, including to suicide and drug use, and a handful of crass terms. 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 Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service)