Reel Reviews

‘Love & Mercy’

A-III – adults


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Good vibrations, but not fit for kids

Pope Francis would approve of the title of this movie, and the theme of fall and redemption of pop star Brian Wilson may strike a receptive chord with Catholic audiences. However, the sex and drug scenes would disqualify all but adults from viewing the actual movie.

Great art arising from unremitting suffering is a time-tested motion picture theme.

When this reliable template is applied to the biographies of pop-culture stars, however, what typically occurs – especially if the subject is still living – is a descent into sentimental gloss and too many references to the lead character as a charismatic genius.

Fortunately, in “Love & Mercy” (Roadside), a profile of Brian Wilson, the driving force behind 1960s chart toppers the Beach Boys, director Bill Pohlad has managed to evade this trap. He focuses instead on lengthy scenes showing the young Wilson (Paul Dano) laboriously crafting his distinctive sound in recording studios. It’s an intelligent, steady approach, almost like that of a documentary.

Whether screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Lerner bring a documentarian’s faithfulness to real life to bear throughout their script is, however, another question. Were, for instance, Wilson’s bandmates – his brothers Carl (Brett Davern) and Dennis (Kenny Wormald) along with cousin Mike Love (Jake Abel) and friend Al Jardine (Graham Rogers) – really so blithe in their cooperation with Wilson’s unique musical notions as the film suggests?

Whatever the facts, there is a refreshing absence of the stale dialogue that usually characterizes musical biopics. Accused by his collaborators of lacking a commercial sensibility, Wilson declares, “I got different stuff inside me. I gotta get it out.”

That “different stuff” included Wilson’s drive to break away from synthetic, clean-cut hits like “California Girls” in favor of more ambitious material -- such as that found on the group’s 1966 concept album “Pet Sounds.” Yet it also extended to the auditory hallucinations that followed Wilson’s use of psychedelic drugs.

Pohlad isn’t after sensationalism, but rather what used to be described as retrained good taste. So, in order to keep Wilson sympathetic, he ducks explicit portrayals or discussions of substance abuse.
Pohlad portrays Wilson as a deeply sensitive, easily manipulated pawn. In the 1960s Wilson’s lack of assertiveness leaves him under the thumb of his controlling father, Murry (Bill Camp).

Two decades later, Wilson is held in thrall by abusive therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Claiming his patient has paranoid schizophrenia, Landy keeps Wilson heavily medicated, and restricts the musician’s access to others who might help him.

As portrayed by John Cusack, this burned-out adult version of Wilson is eventually rescued thanks to the compassionate interventions of Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a car saleswoman Wilson would eventually marry.

Uncomfortable details have undoubtedly been stripped away in the interests of a single, compelling narrative. And both Murry Wilson and Landy become stereotyped villains. Yet “Love & Mercy” can be appreciated for its celebration of one star’s at least partially successful maneuvering through the moral minefield laid down by wealth and fame.

The film contains a premarital bedroom scene, drug use and fleeting instances of profanity and coarse 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 Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service 

‘San Andreas’

A-III – adults


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Fault lines

“Shake, Rattle, and Roll” would be the ideal theme song for “San Andreas” (Warner Bros.), an eye-popping, ear-splitting 3-D chronicle of a California earthquake.

Yes, it’s time for the “big one” – make that big ones – to strike the Golden State, in this update of the star-studded disaster films that Hollywood churned out in the 1970s (including 1974’s “Earthquake”).

Now it’s director Brad Peyton’s turn to oversee the wholesale destruction of the West Coast, when the eponymous tectonic fault line splits wide open.

The result, meticulously rendered in CGI, is often thrilling, sometimes silly, and frequently preposterous – in other words, your typical summer popcorn movie.

Science takes center stage in “San Andreas.” Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a seismology professor, has invented a detection system which he believes can predict an earthquake before it happens. His system is put to the test in Nevada, where a previously unknown fault line is discovered. In the blink of an eye, the earth moves, and the Hoover Dam bursts, one of the film’s many spectacular disaster sequences.

Turns out Nevada has a connection to the San Andreas Fault. With the help of Serena (Archie Panjabi), an attractive television reporter, Lawrence sounds the alarm from Los Angeles to San Francisco for everyone to “drop, cover and hold on.”

“The earth will literally crack and you will feel it on the East Coast,” he warns.
But first, domestic drama intrudes. Ray (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a helicopter rescue pilot with the Los Angeles Fire Department, is suffering from empty-nest syndrome. His marriage to Emma (Carla Gugino) has failed, and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), is leaving for college in San Francisco.

Fortunately, Ray has little time to fret when the first of several earthquakes strike (a “seismic swarm”), starting in the City of Angels and moving up the coast, toppling everything in its path.

Enter the action hero. Ray pilots his helicopter to rescue Emma, and together they head north to find their daughter.

“This is not a normal day!” Ray exclaims. And how.

In the meantime, Blake maneuvers through the ruins of the City by the Bay with the help of two brothers visiting from England, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson), all the while watching the sky for Daddy’s chopper.

An epic of destruction and catastrophe, “San Andreas” is not for the young or faint of heart. Nor is it likely to boost tourism to California anytime soon.

The film contains relentless, intense but mostly bloodless disaster-related violence and mayhem, and occasional crude 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 Joseph McAleer, 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