Reel Reviews

‘War Room’

Audience: Adults and adolescents


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Spiritual battle stations for this third in a series

Prayer becomes the ultimate weapon to save a young family in crisis in "War Room" (TriStar). This Christian-themed drama is the latest offering from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the fraternal team behind 2008's "Fireproof" and 2011's "Courageous."

A McMansion in suburban North Carolina serves as the film's battleground. There, overtaxed wife and mother Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) finds that the demands of her job as a real estate agent leave her little time to focus on raising her daughter, Danielle (Alena Pitts).

Elizabeth's ambitious but inattentive husband, Tony (T.C. Stallings), isn't much help. His work as a salesman keeps him on the road where sinful temptations lurk, including opportunities to be unfaithful.

When Tony does come home, he and Elizabeth do nothing but argue. Frustration and depression take their toll on the family until the Jordan residence resembles an emotional war zone.

Riding to the rescue is elderly but feisty local character Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), who just happens to be selling her house. Elizabeth pays a visit and, as the coffee is served, pours out her heart, revealing her bitterness. Not one to beat around the bush with a perfect stranger, Clara, in response, immediately insists on a battle plan.

Clara shows Elizabeth her favorite hideaway: a walk-in closet, empty except for the letters, notes and photographs taped to the walls. "I call it my war room," Clara explains. Here Clara develops a "prayer strategy" for calling on God and seeking his grace.

"Give me one hour a week and I will teach you how to fight the right way with the right resources," Clara promises. "It's time for you to take off the gloves and fight for your marriage."

We follow Elizabeth's metamorphosis as she reads Scripture and posts prayer requests in her own empty closet. In a transformative moment, she storms through her home, denouncing Satan. "This house is under new management!" she proclaims. "You go back to hell where you belong and leave my family alone!"

Slowly but surely, the heaven-sent healing begins. A symbolic turning point comes at the dinner table, when Tony sets aside a bottle of his favorite brand of hot sauce, "Wrath of God."

Needless to say, subtlety is not the armament of choice in this cinematic crusade, and the proselytizing can be heavy-handed at times.

But the brothers' intentions – Alex directed, while Stephen collaborated with him on the script – are obviously sincere and worthy. And, though they approach their subject matter from an evangelical viewpoint, their emphasis on piety, forgiveness and redemption is compatible with Catholic teaching.

The film contains mild domestic discord and some mature themes. 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 Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

‘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.

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