Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

04/12/2017

 

Going in Style
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Despite its title, there’s nothing very spiffy about “Going in Style” (Warner Bros.). In fact, this leaden caper comedy feels distinctly cut-rate.

Director Zach Braff’s remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin as former co-workers and longtime best friends driven to desperation by financial woes. The company they used to work for is moving its operations overseas, and being restructured in a way that will eliminate their hard-earned pensions.

In response, kindly granddad Joe Harding (Caine), who recently witnessed a bank robbery, cooks up an unlikely scheme. Together with secretly ailing Willie Davis (Freeman) and grouchy pessimist Albert Gardner (Arkin), he’ll stage a similar heist at the same branch — by coincidence, it belongs to the institution financing their ex-employer’s reorganization.

The pals agree to take only the amount they would have been paid if their cheques had continued to arrive for what each estimates to be his foreseeable remaining lifespan. Anything above that sum will be donated to charity. They also opt to use only blanks in their guns.

As the aspiring thieves get tips from experienced criminal Jesus (John Ortiz), Albert finds romance with Annie (Ann-Margret), a checkout lady at his local grocery store. The prematurely intimate nature of their relationship becomes a source of admiration and envy for Joe and Willie.

By the time Matt Dillon shows up as FBI Special Agent Arlen Hamer, it’s clear that “Going in Style” amounts to a complete waste of its cast’s considerable gifts.

An especially egregious instance is the squandering of Christopher Lloyd. His minor character, hopelessly senile Milton Kupchak — a denizen of the fraternal lodge where the main trio hangs out — is a crude caricature of Jim Ignatowski, the pixilated cabbie Lloyd memorably played on the TV series “Taxi.”

While this is not a movie from which viewers are likely to draw any real-life moral conclusions, Theodore Melfi’s screenplay does present the oldsters’ actions as justified and ultimately harmless. The folks at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., we suspect, would beg to disagree.

The film contains a frivolous treatment of crime, including drug use, a couple of brief premarital bedroom scenes, a scatological sight gag, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, some vulgar sexual references, a single instance of rough language and considerable crude and crass talk. 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Moviegoers of goodwill may ask themselves, while watching the fact-based historical drama “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus), why they aren’t enjoying themselves more. The story the film tells is undeniably inspiring. But the manner in which it’s told is dramatically thin.

That’s certainly not the fault of Jessica Chastain, who brings brio to her portrayal of the spouse of the title, Antonina Zabinski. Together with her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), Russian-born Antonina enjoys an idyllic life in Poland peacefully presiding over the Warsaw Zoo where her unusual affinity for animals proves a valuable asset.

All that changes Sept. 1, 1939, with the Wehrmacht pouring across the Germany-Poland border, and the Luftwaffe raining down bombs from the sky. What remains of the devastated zoo is eventually put under the supervision of Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the Zabinskis’ counterpart in Berlin — a colleague and acquaintance before the outbreak of war.

Powerless to save many of the animals in their care, the Zabinskis turn to rescuing people. They begin on a small scale by sheltering Magda (Efrat Dor), a close Jewish friend who — along with her husband, Maurycy (Iddo Goldberg), also an old pal — is about to be confined in the now-infamous Warsaw Ghetto.

The Zabinskis ratchet up their defiance of the Nazis by developing a clever scheme to gain Jan access to the ghetto. He uses this entree to smuggle out groups of its oppressed residents, hiding them in the zoo’s underground network of cages until the resistance can arrange their escape from the country.

Chastain forcefully conveys her character’s appealing personality, while Bruhl maintains the ambiguity of Heck’s persona, part ruthless army officer, part humane man of science. But, in adapting Diane Ackerman’s 2007 non-fiction best-seller, director Niki Caro and screenwriter Angela Workman fall short of a compelling narrative.

In deciding whether “The Zookeeper’s Wife” makes suitable fare for older teens, parents will have to weigh the uplifting nature of the tale — having helped more than 300 potential victims of the Holocaust, the Zabinskis were eventually declared “righteous among the nations” — against some of the grim incidents it depicts.

These include the off-screen sexual assault by a group of soldiers on Urszula (Shira Haas), a young Jewish girl, as well as the possibility that committed wife and mother Antonina may have to submit to Heck’s adulterous advances. Additionally, the Zabinskis’ son, Ryszard — played first by Timothy Radford, later by Val Maloku — finds himself imperiled by his parents’ secret activities.

Honourable but hardly riveting, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” feels as though it might have made a better documentary than dramatization.

The film contains considerable combat and other violence, a couple of marital bedroom scenes, a glimpse of upper female nudity and mature themes, including gang rape and adultery. 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.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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