Movie reviews

By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) – Tech savvy viewers will especially enjoy the wacky proceedings of “The Emoji Movie” (Columbia). But patrons of all stripes will appreciate the film’s themes of loyal friendship and faithful romance.
Set within the smartphone of high school freshman Alex (voice of Jake T. Austin), this lighthearted animated comedy tracks the adventures of a trio of misfits on their quest to reach the internet Cloud.
Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) is a “Meh” icon meant to express only indifference. But the first time Alex makes use of him, the native enthusiasm of his personality, together with nervousness at making his professional debut, causes him to register a strange mix of emotions instead of the bland apathy he was supposed to convey.
This malfunction immediately makes Gene an outcast and draws the ire of the chief emoji, maniacally cheerful Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph). She condemns Gene to be deleted. So he goes on the run, and joins forces with upbeat hand symbol Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) and rebellious codebreaker Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris).
Once one of Alex’s favorites, Hi-5 has fallen into disuse and longs to regain his former popularity. Jailbreak resents the regulated life she is forced to lead on the phone, and hopes to enjoy much greater freedom by transferring herself permanently to the Cloud.
As the three newfound friends bond, and something more than friendship blossoms between Gene and Jailbreak, the challenges of their journey force them to prove their mutual devotion. Messages about teamwork and putting the interests of others ahead of your own goals balance the emphasis on Gene’s right to break the mold and be himself.
The presence of a minor character named Poop – voiced, amusingly, by no less a personage than Sir Patrick Stewart – typifies the predictable potty humor running through director and co-writer Tony Leondis’ script, penned with Eric Siegel and Mike White. Together with episodes of peril, these jokes may make “The Emoji Movie” a less than ideal choice for the youngest film fans.
The feature is preceded by an eccentric, enjoyable short called “Puppy!” which involves a young lad, a giant, disruptive dog named Tinkles and the boy’s indulgent grandfather – who just happens to be Count Dracula.
The film contains characters in jeopardy, mild scatological humor, a suppressed crude expression and a slightly crass term. 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.

Alex, voiced by Jake T. Austin, appears in the animated movie “The Emoji Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Sony) See MOVIE-REVIEW-EMOJI-(EMBARGOED) July 27, 2017.

By Joseph McAleer
NEW YORK (CNS) – A dark chapter of the Motor City’s history is revisited in “Detroit” (Annapurna), a searing period drama.
The setting is the summer of 1967, when race riots broke out in several cities across the country. In Detroit, simmering discontent over systemic discrimination and growing unemployment erupted in African-American neighborhoods. As protesters clashed with police, businesses were set afire and looting was widespread.
The crisis, which lasted four days, resulted in 43 dead, over 7,200 arrests, and the destruction of more than 2,000 buildings. “Detroit” zeroes in on one notorious incident of the so-called “12th Street Riot”: the police raid of the Algiers Motel that caused the death of three unarmed men and the brutal beating of several others.
As violence engulfed the city, the hotel became a refuge of sorts, harboring both innocent patrons and shady characters. Among the former are Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), members of an up-and-coming musical group, The Dramatics. Separated from their friends, they seek shelter at the Algiers.
At the hotel pool they meet two giggly prostitutes, Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and Julie (Hannah Murray), white women from Ohio who are making the most of the “Summer of Love.”
Upstairs, 17-year-old Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) decides to show off by shooting blanks from a toy pistol. Turning his attention to the growing police presence outside, he next fires the gun into the crowd.
Suspecting a sniper, the police respond in droves, and a reign of terror descends on the Algiers and its residents, including Greene (Anthony Mackie), a decorated Vietnam vet.
The raid is led by a trigger-happy cop, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), who has a reputation for shooting looters in the back. Krauss rounds up everyone and, with the assistance of fellow officer Flynn (Ben O’Toole), unleashes a ruthless, demeaning interrogation.
A witness to the unfolding horror is Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), a black security guard charged with protecting a nearby grocery store from looters. Dismukes suspects wrongdoing, and inserts himself into the maelstrom at a key moment.
Needless to say, “Detroit” is not for the squeamish. Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), working from a script by Mark Boal, directs at a furious, gut-wrenching pace, placing the viewer in the very center of the fast-moving storm and incorporating real-life news footage to enhance the immediacy.
However, though graphic, the portrayal of police brutality is never gratuitous. Coupled with the subsequent miscarriage of justice, the harrowing events re-enacted in “Detroit” offer a powerful reminder to mature viewers of a sad but significant incident in America’s past.
The film contains intense bloody violence and torture, brief female nudity and pervasive profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John Boyega stars in a scene from the movie “Detroit.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Annapurna Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-DETROIT Aug. 2, 2017.

By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) – The annulment process provides the unusual courtroom setting for the romantic drama “The Tribunal” (Freestyle). While the movie’s Catholic values are strong, they come filtered through some faulty filmmaking.
Divorced musician Joe Seacker (Chris Petty) pursues a decree of nullity so that he can wed his devout girlfriend, Emily Vanderslice (Laura Mock). But his case requires the testimony of his estranged former bandmate and best friend, Tony Mirakul (Ryan Wesley Gilreath).
Tony was once Emily’s boyfriend, and still carries a torch for her while also harboring resentment against Joe for stepping into his shoes after he and Emily split. But Tony has firsthand knowledge of the fact that Joe’s ex, Jessie (Victoria McDevitt), disdained the permanence of marriage as well as the prospect of having kids.
Joe’s cause is represented by Emily’s father, Ben (Jim Damron), and opposed by the tribunals’ “defender of the bond,” Michael Constantino (Chuck Gillespie). Both men are permanent deacons.
Religious themes, including the countercultural message that sex before marriage is a damaging mistake as well as a sin – Tony’s seduction of Emily was the eventual cause of their breakup – will resonate with viewers of faith. But sometimes subpar acting, an amateurish musical score and unlikely plot developments chip away at this small-scale project’s credibility.
Still, the good intentions motivating screenwriter Michael C. Mergler and director Marc Leif are as obvious as they are honorable. And moviegoers used to being immersed in the loose morals of contemporary society will find the earnest ethics surrounding this love triangle a refreshing change.
In that light, at least some parents may consider “The Tribunal” acceptable for older teens, despite the elements listed below.
The film contains bedroom scenes, including a nongraphic premarital sexual encounter, some irreverent images, a mild oath and a few 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.

Tom Morton and Ryan Wesley Gilreath star in a scene from the movie “The Tribunal.” 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. (CNS photo/107 Productions) See MOVIE-REVIEW-TRIBUNAL July 27, 2017.

Historical drama shines light on prejudice

By Kurt Jensen
NEW YORK (CNS) – The historical drama “A United Kingdom” (Fox Searchlight) tells the story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), an African royal who faced down mid-20th-century racial prejudice to marry Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white office worker he met in post-World War II London.
Seretse and Ruth cross paths at a dance where they discover a mutual love of jazz. She subsequently learns that he’s a prince of what was then called Bechuanaland, a British protectorate (the future Botswana). Their romance proceeds at a rapid clip despite occasional encounters with racist street punks.
Political considerations pose a much larger obstacle, however. The British government has to deal with Bechuanaland’s neighbor, South Africa, which is on the verge of installing apartheid as official – and violently enforced – government policy and is outraged by the high-profile marriage.
The match also runs into considerable resistance from Seretse’s uncle, Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), who has long been the protectorate’s acting regent. It draws the scorn of many native women as well.
The generic portrayal of this last group reveals the basic flaw hobbling director Amma Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert’s film: Virtually everyone on screen is an archetype.
Although dealing in generalities can be an efficient way to boil down episodes of the past that are likely unfamiliar to modern audiences, it also hinders the storytelling.
Sometimes, an epic, in-your-face treatment, such as that seen in 1982’s “Gandhi” or 2014’s “Selma” is the best way to go with stories of bigotry, since such an approach gets facts across in an easily comprehensible way. Without it, they can become difficult to follow, as in last year’s “Loving.”
But there are obvious budgetary constraints at work here. As a result, members of Seretse’s tribe have little to do except chant and sing in crowd sequences.
Similarly, the perfidy of British politicians, including Prime Minister Clement Attlee (Anton Lesser), is mostly kept off-screen, except for sneering appearances by diplomat Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport). Canning opposes Seretse’s union to such an extent, he forces the prince into exile.
Despite its narrative shortcomings, “A United Kingdom” does boast a strong moral component.
Ultimately, for example, official acceptance of a marriage that threatened to undermine Britain’s fragile postwar remnants of empire depended not on a court ruling, but on the conscience of the British people. It was they who finally persuaded their political representatives that this couple was no menace to international relations.
Yet, except for the core romance and Ruth’s struggles for acceptance, little of this complicated saga – in addition to everything else, the machinations of an American diamond-mining company get thrown into the mix – comes across clearly. There is inspiration to be found here. But it requires quite a bit of patience on the viewer’s part to locate it.
The film contains brief sensuality and some racial slurs. 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.

“Before I Fall” conversion story with problematic setup

By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) – Sound values underlie the conversion story “Before I Fall” (Open Road). But the path toward its positive conclusion takes twists and turns that will give the parents of targeted teens pause in considering whether their kids should travel it.
Early in the film, its main character, seemingly successful high school student Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), is killed in a car crash. But instead of this being the end of her tale, it turns out to be just the beginning. Samantha awakens again on the morning of her last day on earth, a period of time, she soon discovers, that she will be forced to relive over and over until she discerns what she needs to change about her life to escape the cycle.
Additionally, she’ll need to re-examine her bond with her shallow boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley), her treatment of Kent (Logan Miller), the less glamorous but more caring lad who has loved her from afar since childhood, and her persecution of troubled schoolmate Juliet (Elena Kampouris) whom Samantha and her clique relentlessly torment.
Symptomatic of the problem with director Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel for young adults is Samantha’s attitude toward romance and sexuality. This is another area in which her values take a posthumous turn for the better. Yet her starting point on this journey finds her besties celebrating the fact that she is about to lose her virginity, and presenting her with a condom for the occasion.
Together with some of the language in Maria Maggenti’s script, such behavior makes “Before I Fall” a risky proposition for any but grownups. But for Catholic moviegoers, at least, Samantha’s experience can be viewed from a theological perspective as representing a sort of purgatory through which she must pass.
The fact that she not only sees through the illusions that have blinded her in the past but reaches a high level of compassion and altruism fittingly fulfills the goal of that cleansing state. So it’s a shame that other aspects of the movie preclude endorsement for the young people at whom “Before I Fall” is clearly aimed.
The film contains semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial nudity, underage drinking, a single use each of profanity and rough language, a mild oath, frequent crude talk and mature references, including to homosexuality. 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.
(Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.)