Reel Reviews

‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

A-III – adults


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Warmed-over Cold Warriors

Another cultural landmark of the baby-boomer generation returns to the foreground with the arrival of the breezy espionage yarn "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (Warner Bros.).

The droll humor that punctuates director and co-writer Guy Ritchie's adaptation of the mid-1960s television series, as well as the James Bond-style glamour that permeates it, will likely please viewers. But they'll find little of substance to take away with them once the final credits roll.

Still, in collaborating with Lionel Wigram on the script – and in helming the proceedings – Ritchie does keep the violence sufficiently vague to make his film acceptable for a broad adult audience.

Though its action is set at the height of the Cold War in 1963, this origin story's premise recalls the alignment of forces that prevailed during the Second World War two decades earlier. That's because the Kennedy-era adversaries of East and West have once again agreed to cooperate, as they had – however uneasily – in the glory days of the big bands.

And the motive for their temporarily repaired alliance? Same as it ever was: fighting the Nazis.

Hitler's leftover minions, and their Mussolini-loving comrades from south of the Alps, are back, it seems, to causing trouble. This time, they've managed to spirit away prominent scientist Dr. Udo Teller (Christian Berkel). Teller is the genius behind a revolutionary development in nuclear know-how that, should it fall into the wrong hands, would spell doom alike for D.C. and the Kremlin.

So it's time to play nice, much to the machismo-driven chagrin of two apparently born enemies: Napoleon Solo of the CIA (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin of the KGB (Armie Hammer). Yet these forced friends turn out to have more in common than they initially realize, since neither serves his government with a truly willing heart.

Suave Solo is an ex-GI who took to plundering art treasures in the waning days of the war. The use the intelligence establishment can make of his underhandedness is the only thing standing between Solo and a long stint in prison.

For rage-prone Kuryakin, it's the stick – not the carrot – that keeps him working as a spook. His disgraced father, we learn, fell from Stalinist favor, and was carried off to the gulag.

Rounding out the team formed by these unwilling collaborators is Dr. Teller's estranged daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander). Gaby is a skilled auto mechanic whose Solo-aided escape from East Berlin serves as the movie's opening adventure.

Together this improvised trio tracks the suspicious activities of Alexander Vinciguerra (Luca Calvani), the shady heir to a fascism-tainted Italian industrial fortune, and his scheming, but oh-so-elegant wife, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). As Solo and his colleagues shadow the couple, audiences get a taste of "la dolce vita" courtesy of a high-end stay in Rome, a day at the speedster races and a visit to the Vinciguerra's private island.

Along the way, a substantial, if slightly strange, relationship blossoms between Illya and Gaby. But their more or less respectable tether is ethically offset by Solo's carefree philandering – though, admittedly, Ritchie deals with his Napoleon's conquests more by implication than demonstration.

The picture's underlying anti-war, pro-friendship sentiments are congenial enough. Yet reflective moviegoers will note that they rest, to some extent at least, on an implied moral equivalence between the Soviets and their Western foes that's wholly at variance with the truths of history.

The film contains much violence, including torture, but with little gore, brief gruesome images, off-screen casual encounters, glimpses of partial nudity, some sexual banter and a couple of crude 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.

‘Shaun the Sheep’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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Have you any wool?

“Ewe” are bound to have fun watching “Shaun the Sheep Movie” (Lionsgate), an endearing – and pun-filled – animated feature about the madcap adventures of a woolly English flock.

The inventive, stop-action comedy is created by the master clay-crafters at Aardman Animations. They’ve previously given us the “Wallace & Gromit” films as well as 2000’s “Chicken Run.”

Unusually for a full-length title, “Shaun” is dialogue-free. The cuddly sheep baa and bleat; the mindless humans grunt and growl. But no words are spoken.

Remarkably, none is needed for an entertaining movie that, some questionable jokes aside, makes suitable viewing for most of the family.
The eponymous hero (voice of Justin Fletcher) was introduced in the 1995 “Wallace& Gromit” short “A Close Shave” and went on to star in a British TV series of his own that launched in 2007.

Shaun lives with his fellow livestock on Mossy Bottom Farm, where the daily routine is mind-numbingly dull and monotonous. The owner, known simply as “the Farmer” (voice of John Sparkes), suffers from severe myopia and extreme cluelessness. Nonetheless, he runs a tight ship, with his trusty sheepdog Bitzer (also voiced by Sparkes) by his side.

Even sheep deserve a day off now and then, though. So Shaun plots with his flockmates to go rogue after coaxing the Farmer back to sleep (by counting sheep, of course) in his camper-van bed. Sedation successful, the domesticated lambs go wild, watching TV, eating junk food and playing games.

The rollicking good times come to an end when Bitzer gets wind of the high jinks and attempts to restore order. But in his haste to wake the Farmer, Bitzer inadvertently sets the camper in motion. The vehicle rolls down a hill and onto the main road, headed inexorably toward the far-off Big City.
Aghast at the sudden absence of their source of food and shelter, the occupants of the barnyard must rally round and mount a rescue operation.

Shaun and his buddies don disguises as they catch the next bus bound for the urban jungle.

Once there, the real fun begins as the human and sheep worlds collide in such places as “Le Chou Brule,” a stuffy French restaurant whose absurd name means “The Burnt Cabbage.”

Further complicating matters are the Farmer’s amnesia, the result of a blow to the head, and the wicked ways of an animal warden named Trumper (voice of Omid Djalili).

Co-writers and co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak prove themselves adept at clever Chaplinesque sight gags and routines in what is essentially a silent movie. Still, a few audible pleasures are in store, including a tuneful “baa-bershop” quartet.

The film contains some rude bathroom humor and vague innuendo. 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.

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