Reel Reviews

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

A-III – Adults


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The ape franchise evolves in film not for kids

Those super-sentient simians are back in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Fox).

Though it’s not a film for kids, this latest addition to a franchise based on the work of French science-fiction author Pierre Boulle (1912-1994) has enough going for it to please most adults. Grown-ups also will find the themes underlying director Matt Reeves’ 3-D follow-up to the 2011 reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” congruent with Christian values.

A decade after a pandemic called Simian Flu wiped out most of the human race, a band of survivors – led by a former law enforcement official named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) – occupies the ruins of San Francisco. With their fuel supply running dangerously low, they send out an expedition aimed at restoring a damaged hydroelectric plant to the north of the city.

En route, however, the mission’s team members -- including widowed architect Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his teen son, Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and his nurse girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell) – encounter, and clash with, a community of genetically evolved apes living in nearby Muir Woods.

As a potential war looms, the primates' wise chief, Caesar (Andy Serkis), works with Malcolm to prevent bloodshed.

If this peaceable duo represents the best of their respective species – each is shown to be motivated by concern for his family – the other end of the spectrum is embodied by Caesar’s aggressive deputy Koba (Toby Kebbell) and Malcolm's irascible colleague, Carver (Kirk Acevedo). Koba was a victim of torturous lab experimentation, while Carver holds the apes responsible for the ravages of Simian Flu.

Via these positive and negative role models, Reeves blends pleas for tolerance and trust in with the considerable, though largely bloodless, combat action. While thoroughly honorable, the script’s messages are delivered somewhat heavy-handedly. Still, Serkis’ striking performance, together with top-notch special effects, elevates Reeves’ sequel above run-of-the-mill entertainment.

The film contains frequent stylized violence, at least one use each of profanity and rough language as well as several crude and 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 John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

‘Earth to Echo’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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E.T. calls home on a cell phone

Originality is not the main selling point of the youthful sci-fi adventure “Earth to Echo” (Relativity). In fact, its plot is a mash-up of familiar story elements.

Yet director Dave Green’s gentle film, which employs a found-footage approach to its narrative and conveys positive lessons about loyalty and trust, is not without its rewards. These are more found more in its humorous moments than in its attempts to be touching.

Aimed at tweens, the movie’s script includes some jokes and vocabulary that may not please all parents. But they’re likely no worse than the kind of exchanges heard on a daily basis in the halls of your local middle school.

That’s where you might run across the real-life counterparts of the picture’s trio of main characters: vulnerable foster kid Alex (Teo Halm), extrovert Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) and tech nerd Munch (Reese Hartwig). Bound by their shared status as social outcasts, the three find solace in their mutual friendship.

But, as opening scenes explain, their bond is under threat. They’re about to be separated by the demolition of their suburban Nevada neighborhood, through which a highway is to be built.

Still, some mysterious cell phone activity they and others in the doomed community have recently been experiencing does offer the opportunity for one last exploit together. Since the source of the disruption seems to be located in the desert, the boys plan an overnight trip there to investigate. Their cover story involves spending the night playing video games at one another’s houses.

Reaching the wilderness, the nervous lads are stunned and thrilled to encounter the real cause of the ongoing communications glitch: a small stranded alien they dub Echo. Echo’s endearing, petlike personality quickly wins the pals over, and they commit themselves to helping him return home.

They’re eventually joined on this quest by Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), one of their most popular classmates and the seemingly unattainable lass for whom Alex carries a secret torch.

It's “E.T.” meets “Stand by Me” with “Goonies” thrown in for good measure. But “Earth to Echo” is mildly diverting, with its wry observations on contemporary mores and a convincing subplot about Alex’s experience-based fear of desertion. While not appropriate for the youngest moviegoers, it may manage to charm its target audience without alienating, so to speak, their elders.

The film contains some teen sexual talk and a few crass terms. 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.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (July 2014)

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.

Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, A-II (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)

Bad Words, O (R)
Bears, A-I (G)
Blended, A-II (PG-13)
Brick Mansions, L (PG-13)
Bully, A-III (PG-13)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, A-II (PG-13)
Cesar Chavez, A-III (PG-13)
Chef, A-III (R)

Divergent, A-III (PG-13)
Draft Day, A-III (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)

Edge of Tomorrow, A-III (PG-13)

Fading Gigolo, O (R)
The Fault in Our Stars, A-III (PG-13)
Frances Ha, L (R)

God's Not Dead, A-II (PG)
Godzilla, A-III (PG-13)

A Haunted House 2, O (R)
Heaven Is for Real, A-I (PG)
How to Train Your Dragon 2, A-I (PG)

Ida, A-III (PG-13)

Jersey Boys, A-III, (R)

Killer Elite, A-III (R)

The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Legend of Hercules, A-III (PG-13)
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, A-I (PG)

Maleficent, A-II (PG)
Mary of Nazareth, A-II (not rated)
Million Dollar Arm, A-III (PG)
A Million Ways to Die in the West, O (R)
Moms' Night Out, A-I (PG)
Mr. Peabody & Sherman, A-I (PG)
Muppets Most Wanted, A-I (PG)

Need for Speed, A-III (PG-13)
Neighbors, O (R)
Noah, A-III (PG-13)

Obvious Child, O (R)
Oculus, A-III (R)
The Other Woman, L (PG-13)

Phantom, A-III (R)

Quartet, A-III (PG-13)
The Quiet Ones, A-III (PG-13)

The Railway Man, A-III (R)
Rio 2, A-I (G)

Sabotage, O (R)
Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)

Think Like a Man Too, O (PG-13)
Transcendence, A-III (PG-13)
Transformers: Age of Extinction, A-III (PG-13)
22 Jump Street, O (R)
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, A-III (PG-13)
Tyler Perry's Single Moms Club, A-III (PG-13)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)

Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)
The Wind Rises, A-III (PG-13)

X-Men: Days of Future Past, A-III (PG-13)