Reel Reviews

‘Me Before You’

O – morally offensive


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Sympathy for suicide

The folks behind the grand-scale weepie “Me Before You” (Warner Bros.) clearly intend their audience to come to the multiplex armed with an abundant supply of tissues. Regrettably, though, any tears shed by viewers of faith will turn out to be bitter ones.

What begins as a charming love story with a strong pro-life message veers off course toward a climactic endorsement of behavior no one committed to scriptural values can accept. That’s a pity, because director Thea Sharrock’s adaptation of the 2012 novel by Jojo Moyes (who wrote the screenplay) initially has a lot going for it: an attractive, talented cast and a poignant Cinderella story that tugs at the heartstrings.

Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a vibrant 26-year-old with a single goal in life: to support her tight-knit family. Her father, Bernard (Brendan Coyle), is out of work, so it’s up to Lou to bring home the bacon in the quaint English town they call home.

Despite her total lack of relevant experience, Lou throws caution to the winds by becoming caretaker and companion to wheelchair-bound local resident Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). Handsome, wealthy and adventurous, Will was on top of the world until he was struck by a motorcycle in an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Now, two years later, he’s become withdrawn, bitter, and cynical. Needless to say, Lou provides a much-needed breath of fresh air. Slowly but surely, she wins her charge over with her quirky style and appealing demeanor.
“I have become a whole new person because of you,” Will says.

Predictably, the two fall in love, and Lou envisions their future together.
So far so good. Lou’s sincere, tender devotion to Will is exemplary, reminding viewers that life is to be cherished in every circumstance – all the more so where disability has rendered it vulnerable.

Some of the dialogue expresses an equally positive outlook. “You only get one life,” Will admonishes Lou. “It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

With all that to the film’s credit, accordingly, it comes as a perplexing shock when Will, who has already attempted suicide once, persists in a plan to travel to Switzerland where he can “die with dignity” and no longer be a burden to society.

Not everyone, of course, is supportive of Will’s death wish. Lou is devastated, whisking Will off to the tropics in an effort to convince him that life is worth living. Her mother, Josie (Samantha Spiro), calls Will’s plan murder.

Yet Will’s supportive but smothering parents, Stephen (Charles Dance) and Camilla (Janet McTeer), are resigned to losing their son. And the script ultimately puts an unmistakable seal of approval on Will’s blatant rejection of the gift of life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is crystal clear on this topic: “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (2280). With an active movement afoot to legalize so-called euthanasia, it’s as distressing as it is surprising that a romantic drama intended as popular entertainment should so flatly contradict that fundamental truth. We are well along the slippery slope.

The film contains a positive view of assisted suicide, implied nonmarital sexual activity and a couple of profanities. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’

A-II -- adults and adolescents


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Alice we hardly knew you

The heroine of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (Disney) is not Lewis Carroll’s curious 7-year-old girl but rather an intrepid sea captain with an entrepreneurial streak.

A young woman who refuses to bend to the will of a patriarchal society, Alice overcomes obstacles in both the real world and the fantasy realm of Underland thanks to her courage, empathy and appetite for risk.

More compelling in theory than in practice, the central figure in this follow-up to Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), does not contradict Carroll’s vision so much as supplant it. Viewed through a decidedly contemporary prism, presumably to satisfy a modern insistence on gender equality, she conforms to present-day social, political and cultural norms.

It’s no wonder the resulting picture feels forced and mechanical.

Despite exciting visuals, a talented ensemble, and glittery costume and makeup designs, this 3-D fantasy-adventure is inert – managing to feel audacious and tediously familiar at the same time. As for its suitability, there are enough frightening action sequences and examples of cruelty to render it inappropriate for young or impressionable children.

In the swashbuckling opening scene, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is at the helm of a ship named “Wonder,” racing to elude pirates during a fierce storm. The vessel, we learn, belonged to her late father. Upon returning to London, however – the year is 1875 – Alice learns that her former suitor, Lord Ascot (Leo Bill), owner of the rapacious shipping company for which she’s been plying the seas, will evict her mother from their home unless he can take possession of the “Wonder.”

After receiving this ultimatum at the Ascot residence, Alice passes through a mirror into Underland, where she reunites with a gaggle of friends that includes the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Her pals are worried about the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who has grown increasingly despondent over reports that his estranged family was killed by the Jabberwocky. Vowing to help Hatter find out precisely what befell his relations, Alice undertakes a dangerous mission that involves time travel and the pilfering of an essential device, the Chronosphere, from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen).

In the course of discovering what happened to the Hatters, Alice learns what caused the rift between the White (Anne Hathaway) and Red (Helena Bonham Carter) Queens. Evidently, the latter’s enormous head and volatile temperament resulted from a traumatic brain injury, an event triggered by the surreptitious consumption of tarts.

After completing her task in Underland (and rousing the Hatter from his morbid depression), Alice reemerges in Victorian London where she is promptly branded a hysteric and put in an insane asylum. Without the aid of magic, she must find a way to protect her father’s legacy and ensure her mother’s welfare. When last seen, Alice is embarking on a career that combines seafaring and commerce.

Screenwriter Linda Woolverton shapes Carroll’s diffuse second book into a relatively sophisticated and fairly lucid story, yet doesn’t adequately convey Carroll’s fascination with logic and wordplay. As much as her script, and other aspects of the production, may gesture toward the bizarre and exotic, moreover, she cannot forgo inserting formulaic epigrams meant to convey salubrious life lessons. It’s unclear if they’re being offered with any sincerity or conviction.

The film contains frequent, moderately intense fantasy action, several instances of cruel behavior, and a couple of 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.

John P. McCarthy, 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