Lots of movies to choose from as 2019 begins

Monday, January 07, 2019 - Updated: 2:51 pm

Movie Capsules

NEW YORK — The following are capsule reviews of movies recently reviewed by Catholic News Service.

“Aquaman” (Warner Bros.): A sprawling, lush spectacle, this DC Comics adaptation is also overlong, overcomplicated and, at times, just plain dumb. After washing up on shore wounded, the queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) is nursed back to health by a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) whom she weds and with whom she has a son before being forced to return underwater to the arranged marriage she was trying to flee in the first place. Once grown (Jason Momoa), the couple’s superhero offspring reluctantly gets mixed up in the politics of his mother’s kingdom where the realm’s vizier (Willem Dafoe) and a spunky princess (Amber Heard) are trying to stop its current sovereign (Patrick Wilson), the protagonist’s half-brother, from launching a war against the entire human race. While director James Wan’s film showcases marital fidelity and elevates mercy over vengeance while also deploring the ravages of marine pollution, the dialogue in David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s screenplay is sometimes so obvious viewers can finish characters’ sentences for them. Though some unnamed set of gods are fleetingly mentioned, it’s the occasional salty talk that may give the parents of teens pause. Possibly acceptable for older adolescents. Constant harsh but mostly bloodless violence, compelled bigamy, a couple of mild oaths, about a dozen crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-3 — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

“Bumblebee” (Paramount): Above-average installment in the sci-fi action “Transformers” franchise, set in 1987, charts the friendship between the shape-shifting alien robot-auto of the title, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle when in car form, and a vulnerable but plucky teen (Hailee Steinfeld). Still mourning her deceased father, whose mechanical skills she inherited, she finds solace in her bond with her newfound amigo whom she protects from hostile humans (most prominently John Cena as a secret agent), though she can’t shield him from the threat posed by visitors from outer space. Gadgetry and the brawling of outsized extraterrestrials continue to be the hallmarks of the series, despite an overlay of 1980s nostalgia and soft sentiments, including an innocent romance between the heroine and her love-smitten next-door neighbor (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). Working from a script by Christina Hodson, director Travis Knight revisits familiar themes of alienated, isolated youth and the tendency to fear what we fail to understand. Possibly acceptable for older teens. Much stylized violence with slight gore, at least one use of profanity, about a half-dozen milder oaths, a sexual reference, a couple of crude and a few crass terms. The CNS classification is A-3 — adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13.

“Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney): Delightful sequel to the 1964 classic finds the omnicompetent nanny of the title (Emily Blunt) swooping into Depression-era London to help the now-grown brother (Ben Whishaw) and sister (Emily Mortimer) she tended as children face a family crisis. He’s a recent widower whose three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson) need more methodical care than that provided by their well-meaning but overtaxed housekeeper (Julie Walters) while she will require a nudge to end up in the arms of the local lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda), as she’s clearly destined to do. There’s also a financial threat looming over the household since a seemingly friendly banker (Colin Firth) is actually scheming to foreclose on the mortgage. Sprightly set-piece musical numbers, the main character’s engaging blend of common sense and whimsical magic, and brief but thoroughly entertaining turns by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke make director Rob Marshall’s loose adaptation of material from books by P.L. Travers a first-class treat for all but the youngest and most skittish members of the family. Characters in peril, brief, mild risque humor. The CNS classification is A-1 — general patronage. The MPAA rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

“Welcome to Marwen” (Universal): A dedicated effort from Steve Carell fails to redeem this unengaging fact-based tale in which he plays an illustrator — left unable to draw after a near-fatal assault by a group of thugs — who takes up photography instead, playing out his own psychodrama in a miniature Belgian village he constructs in his yard and populates with dolls. His figurine alter ego, a World War II fighter pilot, is surrounded, supported and protected by an ensemble of gun-toting tough girls, each based on a real lady in his life. The most prominent of these are a clerk (Merritt Wever) at the hobby store he patronizes and a neighbor (Leslie Mann) for whom he swiftly falls. While the main character’s plight is one that ought to elicit sympathy, and there are vague undertones of Catholicism in his life, his eccentricities, including a fondness for wearing women’s shoes, are off-putting and his panic attacks are sometimes so over-the-top as to be unintentionally funny. Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis ill-advisedly devotes whole sequences to life among the Barbies and Kens whose interactions may work in stills but fall flat in this film. Glimpses of a violent, gory beating, brief rear and images of upper female nudity, a benign view of pornography, a couple of profanities, a few milder oaths, about a dozen crude or crass terms. The CNS classification is A-3 — adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13.

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