Recently reviewed by Catholic News Service
Barbershop: The Next Cut
By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - "Barbershop: The Next Cut" (Warner Bros.), director Malcolm D. Lee's third entry in a franchise that began in 2002, is a fundamentally moral film. As scripted by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, it upholds community values and vindicates marital commitment.
Yet some of the distasteful detours their screenplay takes along its path to a respectable wrap-up will necessarily narrow this sequel's appeal even among grown moviegoers.
A seriocomic portrayal of life on Chicago's South Side, the picture, like its predecessors, affectionately surveys the area's strengths and weaknesses from the vantage point of the shop of the title, owned by and named for Calvin (Ice Cube). Long a neighborhood hangout for men, Calvin's has now been augmented by the addition of a beauty parlor run by the original proprietor's new partner, Angie (Regina Hall).
Accordingly, much of the barbed chitchat exchanged among the ensemble of co-workers and friends concerns the battle of the sexes. Leading participants in this back-and-forth include series stalwart Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), the still-playful representative of an older generation, and newcomer Rashad (Common), husband to returning character Terri (Eve).
Terri's success as a high-profile haircutter has left her overtaxed and neglectful, which opens the way for Calvin's resident bad girl, Draya (Nicki Minaj), to make a play for Rashad. Responsible dad Calvin, meanwhile, is struggling to keep his 14-year-old son, Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), on the straight and narrow.
What concerns Calvin most is the possibility that Jalen might join one of the gangs whose murderous violence plagues the South Side. The headline-grabbing damage wrought by such groups, and the difficulty of curbing it, leads to earnest but heavy-handed debates among the denizens of Calvin's. Eventually they strike on the idea of sponsoring a weekend-long truce during which they'll offer local residents their services for free.
Family unity and civic decency are certainly worthy themes. But, as served up here, they come with a price. Viewers are taxed not only by numerous vulgar jokes, but by a couple of scenes in which female characters degrade themselves by attempting to excite male lust in an almost animalistic way.
These images not only violate the dignity of the characters concerned, they seem to play into racist notions about black sexuality that ought to be dispelled not reinforced.
The film contains some demeaning, though nongraphic, sexual behavior, much sexual humor, fleeting rear nudity, a handful of profanities, at least one rough term, pervasive crude and crass language and an obscene gesture.
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 PG-13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service
Neel Sethi stars in a scene from the movie "The Jungle Book." Photo: CNS/Disney
The Jungle Book
By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - Forest, fauna and beast never looked as good as they do in "The Jungle Book" (Disney), a lavish retelling of the 1894 collection of stories by British author Rudyard Kipling.
What makes this "live-action" 3-D adaptation particularly compelling is that, apart from the "man-cub" Mowgli (Neel Sethi), everything on screen, from the breathtaking jungle landscapes to the meticulously detailed creatures great and small, was created on a computer. A cheeky line at the end of the credits, "Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles," attests to this surprising fact.
Hence, this "Jungle Book" has much in common with another in-house creation, Disney's beloved 1967 animated take on the tales. In fact, director Jon Favreau ("Chef") and screenwriter Justin Marks pay homage to that movie with moments of humor and by incorporating its toe-tapping tunes, "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You."
A few scary sequences aside (the jungle is a dangerous place, after all), this version makes delightful, good-natured, heartfelt entertainment for the entire family.
Kipling's basic plot endures: Mowgli, orphaned as a baby, is discovered by a kindly panther, Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley). He brings this child to a pack of wolves which raises him as one of their own, instilling a strict moral code and respect for family and other critters. Fortunately for Mowgli -- and the audience -- all of the anthropomorphic animals speak perfect English.
But danger lurks in the guise of Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), a menacing tiger who threatens the peaceable kingdom. Man is a threat, he warns, especially the "red flower" he commands -- fire.
Shere Khan demands that the wolves surrender Mowgli, now 10 years old, to him for killing. "How many lives is a man-cub worth?" he challenges.
Mowgli decides to leave home to protect his wolf family and, with Bagheera's help, makes his way toward the distant "man village." An accident separates the duo, and Mowgli is swept deep into the jungle, where he is threatened by Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), a seductive python.
All hope seems lost until Mowgli encounters a happy-go-lucky bear named Baloo (voice of Bill Murray). An unlikely friendship strikes up, which will serve Mowgli well in a showdown with Shere Khan and another would-be despot, King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), boss of all primates.
"The Jungle Book" barrels to an action-packed conclusion that may frighten the youngest moviegoers. But ultimately it's all good escapist fun.
Besides possible scares, parents also may want to take note of a passing reference to a non-biblical creation story. This myth could serve as the opportunity to discuss, in an age-appropriate way, the Christian understanding of life's origins.
Amid the "sturm und drang" generated by most Hollywood blockbusters, "The Jungle Book" presents a welcome opportunity, as Baloo croons, to "forget about your worries and your strife."
The film contains a few scenes of peril.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Kevin Costner, center, stars in a scene from the movie "Criminal." Photo: CNS/Lionsgate
Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - The spirit of "Young Frankenstein" looms over the contrived plot of the mind-swap yarn "Criminal" (Summit). Since the newer film is meant to be a serious action adventure, that's not such a good thing.
While crass, moreover, Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy was at least a clever spoof. "Criminal," by contrast, hovers tediously within a moral vacuum of its own making.
Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), a CIA agent on the trail of an international conspiracy, is tortured and killed while delivering ransom money in London.
His body is somehow recovered just in time for a dubious medical procedure involving a beeping noise, flashing lights and a brain probe. The purpose of this operation is to transfer most of the deceased's memory into someone else's head, as if implanting it there with a flash drive.
Receiving the mental upgrade is Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner). A scruffy, virtually feral sociopath, Jerico also is a federal prisoner doing a life term for multiple murders.
As presented in Douglas Cook and David Weisberg's script, the general idea, though it's never fully explained, appears to be that if a smart guy's reasoning processes and store of ideas can be put into someone with no empathy, and therefore no fear, the CIA overlords can prevail.
Much like the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz," Jerico, we're meant to infer, can save the planet -- if he thinks of things he never thunk before.
While all this is kicking in, director Ariel Vromen has Jerico lurching around, terrorizing Pope's wife, Jill (Gal Gadot), and committing occasional mayhem-ridden robberies at immigrant-owned eateries. Complaining of constant headaches, he begs Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), the neurosurgeon responsible for his peculiar plight, for more pills.
Matters progress oh, so seriously because the Americans are trying to waylay a hacker named The Dutchman (Michael Pitt). Dutch, it seems, has broken into enough of the military's computerized systems to launch a nuclear salvo, if the mood strikes him.
Despite the supposedly high stakes, however, Jerico's walls come tumblin' down rather rapidly, at least as far as audience engagement is concerned. What's revealed within is ... not a whole lot.
The film contains much bloody violence, including scenes of torture, and frequent rough 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.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.