House at the End of the Street
NEW YORK (CNS) — House at the End of the Street (Relativity) has some wild, weird stuff going on in the sub-basement, but overall, it’s a somewhat elegant psychological thriller overstuffed with spooky music and with less gore than an old episode of Murder, She Wrote.
Director Mark Tonderia and screenwriter David Loucka have crafted a tale that floats on the star power of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays 17-year-old Elissa Cassidy, a sensitive girl who likes to “rescue” others.
Elissa and her mother, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue), have moved to a rural neighbourhood after her mother’s divorce, conveniently near a house in which, four years earlier, a young girl stabbed both her parents to death and ran away, never to be captured. Naturally, the neighbours complain of the effect this has had on their property values.
Even more conveniently (cue spooky music), the girl’s brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), lives there now, and he’s troubled, in the deeply classical Norman Bates way.
What’s in the sub-basement? Or rather, who’s locked up there? Although Sarah drinks too much and has to work night shifts in a hospital emergency room, why doesn’t Elissa listen to her warning about being alone with Ryan? And who’s sharpening all that cutlery?
There aren’t many genuine frights, but it’s fun to shout at the screen.
The film contains knife, gun and physical violence, fleeting crass language and a scene of drug use. 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.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Last Ounce of Courage
NEW YORK (CNS) — A story with a Christian message is a rare and compelling gem for Catholic viewers in today’s Hollywood culture. At the same time, a film that leads first with a positive message, and merely tacks the story on as an afterthought, is one set to leave even the most devoted Christians cold.
Unfortunately, this is a problem with Last Ounce of Courage (Veritas Entertainment) — a picture about religious freedom and standing up for what one believes against the tyranny of the vocal minority.
When war veteran and small-town mayor Bob Revere (Marshall R. Teague) witnesses a war on Christmas taking place across America, he is inspired by the memory of his deceased son — who died in combat 14 years earlier — and the challenge of his broody grandson Christian (Hunter Gomez) to stand up and continue the fight for freedom for which his son so valiantly died.
Therefore, on Bob’s orders, Christ is put back in Christmas, the lights go up and carols are sung once again. Yet as the mayor seeks to encourage his fellow citizens to reclaim the feast of the Lord’s incarnation, he must face off against the sinister Warren Hammerschmidt (Fred Williamson) — a lawyer from the fictitious American Civil Liberties Organization — who sees Bob’s crusade as an infringement on the separation between church and state.
All while this is going on, the younger members of the community, led by Christian, are faced with a generic school winter celebration and comically try to hijack the situation and inject Jesus back into the proceedings.
Unfortunately, directors Kevin McAfee and Darrel Campbell’s picture lays the emotion on thick to make their point. The film no doubt has some very poignant moments accompanying its laudable and refreshing message, especially those between Bob and his wife Dottie (Jennifer O’Neill). Yet, when even the light-hearted pageant story line ends in a tear-jerker finale, it is a sign that something is amiss.
While making salient points about the continuing threats to religious freedom that are real and present, the plot comes across as highly conspiratorial and forced in order to fit the message being promoted. So, in one early scene, Christian is dragged in front of his school principal, and his family called in, when he is discovered to have a Bible on his person. Really?
Amid the lashings of exuberant flag-waving and political points about civil rights movements gone awry sits a picture that both moves and promotes a solid pro-faith message. Unfortunately, the accompanying tidal wave of weak story and sentimentality threatens at all times to overwhelm Christian audiences rather than inspire them.
The film contains a few instances of combat violence and occasional
distressing scenes. 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
Trouble With the Curve
NEW YORK (CNS) — With a few exceptions, every character Clint Eastwood has portrayed during his long career has had an ornery streak, regardless of their capacity for righteous or noble acts.
In the 2008 hit Gran Torino, which he also directed, Eastwood starred as a curmudgeonly Detroit widower who surprises even himself by coming to the aid of his Hmong neighbours.
Appearing on the big screen for the first time since then, Eastwood limns another cantankerous senior citizen in the baseball movie Trouble With the Curve (Warner Bros.), directed by his frequent producing partner, Robert Lorenz.
More of a pitchers’ duel than a high-scoring home run fest, this mostly winning outing is tarnished by an excess of salty language and middle innings that drag.
Eastwood is Gus Lobel, a veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves whose failing eyesight threatens to end his career. He refuses to disclose or treat his condition, and his fear and frustration manifest themselves in a noticeable spike in irritability.
Gus’ loyal boss, Pete Klein (John Goodman), defends him against team officials who think he should be put out to pasture. Gus disdains younger scouts’ reliance on computer models to assess players and has no time for a strictly quantitative approach to the game. (In this respect, the movie is the antithesis of last year’s Moneyball.). But if he can’t see, not even Gus’ instincts are of much use.
Worried and unsure about what’s ailing his friend, Pete persuades Gus’ daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to accompany her dad to North Carolina to evaluate the high-school slugger considered a lock to go first in the upcoming draft. A workaholic lawyer, Mickey is very close to being offered a partnership in her Atlanta firm. She and Gus have a prickly relationship, marked by an inability to communicate about anything of substance.
Fortunately for Gus, Mickey is nearly as knowledgeable and passionate about the national pastime as he is. Battling ageism and sexism in two workplaces, father and daughter prove to be a potent battery. The experience also helps them work through their misunderstandings and lower their emotional defences. Adding romance to the lineup is Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a pitcher-turned-scout for the Boston Red Sox who’s sweet on Mickey.
First-time director Lorenz advances the twangy material at too leisurely a pace and his visual style is pretty monotonous. Yet the movie serves up plenty of character-derived humour and enough baseball know-how to feel authentic without seeming too insider-ish. Charismatic performances by Adams and Timberlake are a huge plus.
While it’s really Mickey who carries the story and grows the most, Gus’ bad temper dominates the film owing to the number of expletives he utters. His vocabulary — arguably more limited than offensive — narrows the appeal of Trouble With the Curve. It’s too bad the filmmakers couldn’t find more imaginative ways of signaling Gus’ irascible nature.
The film contains frequent crude and crass language, much profanity,
one instance of rough language, some sexual references and innuendo,
and considerable alcohol consumption. 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.
End of Watch
NEW YORK (CNS) — Filmed entirely with handheld cameras, End of Watch (Open Road) is an immersive experience. This gritty police drama has a documentary feel and authentic look, putting the viewer front and centre in a clash between good and evil in the inner city.
Regrettably, the pervasive violence and incessant trash talk in End of Watch, written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day), will deter many from seeing a riveting, well-acted film with a powerful Christian message of brotherhood and laying down one’s life for another.
Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are partners in the Los Angeles Police Department. By day they patrol a section of South Central Los Angeles, a haven for drug dealers and street gangs.
“We’re looking for all the major food groups: dope, money and guns,” Mike says. The officers are confident and cocky, but brutally honest. They are “big ghetto gun fighters” with a knack for hunting down the bad guys (and girls).
At the close of each shift, they sign their reports “EOW” (End of Watch), meaning they are off-duty. Needless to say, every day they can end in such a way is a good day.
Using multiple video cameras, Brian documents his performance as part of a college homework assignment. Thus, End of Watch unfolds through Brian’s eyes, but also in the eyes of people he meets, good and bad, since everyone has a camera these days — and is addicted to sharing videos on YouTube.
Between police calls, Brian and Mike banter about life and dream big, sharing their different cultural backgrounds. Mike is Hispanic, married to his high school sweetheart, Gabby (Natalie Martinez), expecting their first child. He’s a family man, and offers innumerable life lessons and advice to his Anglo partner when Brian falls hard for the academic Janet (Anna Kendrick), and thinks it may be time to put aside his childish ways and settle down.
In the fight for justice, these officers somehow find the inner strength to persevere despite witnessing the barbarism and inhumanity of man. This display of unwavering selflessness in the war against evil gives End of Watch a hope-filled Christian edge, even if organized religion plays little part in the actual film.
The film contains pervasive, brutal and gory violence and torture, frequent
drug use, premarital sex, same-sex kissing, partial nudity, sexual innuendo,
constant profanity, and occasional rough language. The Catholic News
Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture
Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires
accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops