Reel Reviews

‘Iron Man 3’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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‘Iron’ plot made of straw

Given that his first appearance in print dates back to 1963, the comics-based superhero of “Iron Man 3” (Disney) may be said to be turning 50 this year. Perhaps a midlife crisis is to blame for the lack of freshness and charm that mark the latest addition to this blockbuster screen franchise – or perhaps other factors are at fault.

Certainly, the personal advancement that could previously be traced in Iron Man’s alter ego and inventor – billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) – has in some respects stalled.

As opening flashbacks to 1999 remind us, Stark was once a boozing, commitment-free playboy. Then his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) won his heart. While their relationship, cemented in the first sequel, continues to be exclusive, the two are now shown to be living together without benefit of City Hall or clergy.

The latest strain on their yet-to-be-hallowed union arises when Stark’s reckless battle with a mysterious, bin Laden-like terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) endangers Pepper’s life and sends Stark himself into temporary exile. The anxiety attacks Stark begins to experience while on the lam – partly inspired by events recounted in “Marvels’ The Avengers” (2012) – leave him questioning his gadgetry-dependent persona as Iron Man. This introduces one of the few substantive themes of the film. Namely, the range of moral and immoral uses to which advanced technology can be turned.

Similar ethical ambiguities can be seen at work in the lives of two promising scientists gone bad: Stark’s long-ago girlfriend, biochemist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), and lab-nerd-turned-ladies’-man Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). These two, it turns out, are somehow in cahoots with the Mandarin, though just what they’re up to is not initially made clear.

Like the touching friendship Stark strikes up with a bullied schoolboy (Ty Simpkins) while on the run, the brief examination of serious issues his newly developed sense of panic initiates gets muscled out of view by serial gunplay and explosions.

So where does it all lead? Why, to the highly flammable deck of an oil tanker, of course.

The film contains much action violence with some gore, cohabitation, an off-screen nonmarital sexual encounter, at least one use of profanity 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.

‘The Great Gatsby’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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More cinematic fantasy than written fiction

A great American novel doesn’t always translate into a sure-fire film property. A case in point: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 tale, The Great Gatsby.

Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann’s current 3-D adaptation (Warner Bros.) is at least the fourth effort to being Fitzgerald’s chronicle of the Jazz Age to the big screen, the first of which dates back to the silent era.

Since that 1926 production has long been lost, it’s impossible to assess its merits. But neither of its successors – director Elliott Nugent’s 1949 version starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field, and Jack Clayton’s 1974 release featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow – generated much critical enthusiasm.

Despite its star power and a script by Francis Ford Coppola, Clayton’s offering was widely regarded as pretty but listless. Though that’s unlikely to be anyone’s assessment of Luhrmann’s film – which is, if anything, overcharged and bursting at the seams – there are other problems afoot.

In particular, Luhrmann’s splashy, sometimes cartoonish approach to the material creates a fablelike setting that distances viewers from Fitzgerald’s characters – and thereby lessens the emotional impact of their downfall.

For those who failed to peruse even the Cliff Notes during high school or college, here’s the setup: Narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), Midwestern-bred scion of the WASP establishment, moves to New York, becomes a tyro bond salesman and rents an inexpensive summer cottage on Long Island as a venue for weekend getaways.

His neighbor there, the occupant of a vast, fantastical mansion, is iconic self-made man and would-be social insider Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby’s past is shadowy; so too is the source of his seemingly inexhaustible wealth.

Besides sharing the same neighborhood, Nick and Gatsby have something else in common: Nick’s alluring cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), whom Gatsby, as a World War I-era G.I., once romanced and for whom he continues to carry an obsessive blazing torch. There’s just one difficulty: Daisy is now married to old-money millionaire and despicable cad Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

At Gatsby’s request, Nick engineers a reunion for the duo, hardly guessing that the renewed connection will lead on, first to adultery, then to a disastrous confrontation with Tom and finally, through convoluted circumstances, to tragedy.

Luhrmann revels in the frenzied decadence of Gatsby’s lifestyle, choreographing the riotous, gin-laden parties the mystery man hosts in a manner that suggests Busby Berkeley on hallucinogens.

Additionally, Luhrmann’s script, penned in collaboration with Craig Pearce, tends to glamorize the sinful relationship at the heart of the story, suggesting that an unpleasant spouse and the inherent superiority of the illicit lovers are reason enough to ignore the Sixth Commandment.

As Gatsby himself might put it: Not so, old sport.

The film contains scenes of both lethal and nonlethal violence with minimal gore, an uncritical view of adultery, brief semi-graphic adulterous activity as well as some other sexual content, a glimpse of partial nudity, a few uses of profanity, a couple of crude terms and a religious slur. 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.

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (May)

A
Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)
Admission, L (PG-13)
Amour, L (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
B
Beautiful Creatures, L (PG-13)
The Big Wedding, O (R)
Bullet to the Head, O (R)
Bully, A-III (PG-13)
C
The Call, O (R)
Cloud Atlas, O (R)
The Croods, A-I (PG)
D
Dark Skies, A-III (PG-13)
Dead Man Down, O (R)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
E
Evil Dead, O (R)
F
42, A-III (PG-13)
G
GI Joe: Retaliation, A-III (PG-13)
A Good Day to Die Hard, L (R)
H
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, O (R)
Hellbound?, A-III (no rating)
The Host, A-III (PG-13)
Identity Thief, L (R)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)
Iron Man 3, A-III (PG-13)
J
Jack Reacher, L (PG-13)
Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)
K
Killer Elite, A-III (R)
L
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Last Stand, L (R)
M
Mama, A-III (PG-13)
Movie 43, O (R)
O
Oblivion, A-III (PG-13)
Olympus Has Fallen, L (R)
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, A-I (G)
Oz the Great and Powerful, A-II (PG)
P
Pain and Gain, O (R)
Parker, O (R)
Phantom, A-III (R)
The Place Beyond the Pines, L (R)
Q
Quartet, A-III (PG-13)
R
Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)
S
Safe Haven, L (PG-13)
Scary Movie 5, O (PG-13)
Side Effects, L (R)
Skyfall, A-III (PG-13)
Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)
T
Texas Chainsaw 3D, O (R)
21 and Over, O (R)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)
W
Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)

The first symbol after each title is the Catholic News Service classification. The second symbol is the rating of the Motion Picture Association of America.
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.