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‘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 

‘Little Boy’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Do you believe in miracles?

Religious values and a gentle sensibility pervade the family-friendly drama “Little Boy” (Open Road).

Yet, while suitable for a wide audience, director Alejandro Monteverde’s good-hearted, nostalgic parable, set in 1940s coastal California, is not without its occasional aesthetic lapses.

At its best, this tale of an undersized, bullied lad named Pepper (Jakob Salvati) who sets out to prove his faith in God by performing a series of good works is reminiscent of the 1983 holiday-themed classic “A Christmas Story.”

Whereas the protagonist of that film had no more exalted goal in mind than to receive a B.B. gun as a Christmas present, however, Pepper is angling for a far weightier objective. He’s praying for the divinely guided release of his beloved father, James (Michael Rapaport), a GI taken prisoner by the Japanese.
Early scenes narrated by the adult Pepper (voice of Barry Ford) show us the touching bond between the youthful outcast and his sympathetic, resolutely supportive dad.

Under James’ guidance and inspired by the example of his favorite comic-book and serial movie hero, Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin), diminutive Pepper comes to believe in his own potential. Thus he’s able to give a positive response to his father’s repeated question: “Do you believe we can do this?”

In the wake of James’ emotionally wrenching departure for the war, Pepper’s kindly parish priest, Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson), tries to help the 7-year-old recognize the difference between mere wish-fulfillment and trust in God’s providence. He presents Pepper with a list of the corporal works of mercy, and encourages the boy to carry them out as a tangible demonstration of his pious devotion.

Along with the more familiar tasks of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, Father Oliver also requires Pepper to cleanse his mind of hatred by befriending a fellow outsider, Japanese-American widower Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Since his discharge from a government-run detention camp, Hashimoto has been ostracized by the local community -- and threatened by some of its more hotheaded citizens.

Pepper’s older brother London (David Henrie) has been among those targeting Hashimoto. Though Pepper himself gradually overcomes his antipathy toward the reclusive stranger, London shows little inclination to greater tolerance. Their compassionate mother Emma (Emily Watson), by contrast, proves more open-minded.

With its lessons about persistence in belief and the need to overcome prejudice, “Little Boy” will be particularly welcomed by viewers of faith. Even those who appreciate its numerous assets, however, may note moments of forced plotting.

James, for instance, is portrayed as having essentially no choice but to take London’s place in the ranks after the latter, an eager volunteer, turns out to be flat-footed – and therefore medically unfit to serve.

There are also interludes of undeniable sentimentality. Yet this plucky and positive tale, with its affirmative presentation of the priesthood -- and of Catholic life in general -- makes for winning entertainment that’s well-suited to all but the youngest potential moviegoers.

The film contains scenes of combat with minimal gore and a couple of crass terms. 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 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)

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops