By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The following are capsule reviews from Catholic News Service of new and recent video releases available on DVD and/or Blu-ray — as well as for online viewing. Theatrical movies have a Catholic News Service classification and Motion Picture Association of America rating. These classifications refer only to the theatrical version of the films below, and do not take into account any extra content.
"The Birth of a Nation" (2016)
Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in this moving dramatization of the life of Nat Turner, an enslaved Virginian whose eponymous 1831 rebellion represented the most serious challenge of its kind ever posed to slavery in the antebellum South. Taught to read at an early age, Turner becomes a preacher whose gifts are turned to perverse use when his master (Armie Hammer) agrees, for a fee, to have him tour nearby plantations delivering sermons in favor of submission. But the range of inhumanities he witnesses along the way, together with brutalities inflicted on his beloved wife (Aja Naomi King) and himself lead him to view the message of Scripture in an entirely new light. Christian faith is obviously central to Parker’s debut film; so, too, are the moral issues raised by the brief but bloody uprising he chronicles. Parker handles all this with sensitivity and subtlety while nonetheless presenting Turner in an unequivocally positive light. The educational value of this engrossing profile would normally suggest expanding its audience to include at least some teens. Yet the amount of cruelty inherent in this story is so extensive that even many mature viewers will find it difficult to endure. Strong gory violence, including torture and an off-screen rape, a scene of marital intimacy, upper female nudity, a few uses of profanity, a handful of crude and crass terms. Spanish language and titles options. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
"David and Bathsheba" (Blu-ray Edition; 1951)
In Philip Dunne’s somber biblical adaptation, King David (Gregory Peck) secretly orders one of his commanders (Kieron Moore) killed in battle so he can marry the man’s widow (Susan Hayward), then faces God’s wrath on him and his people. By avoiding the ostentatious spectacle usually associated with biblical epics, director Henry King weakens the impact of David’s youthful triumphs shown in flashbacks but strengthens the narrative’s main focus on the king’s moral weaknesses and the complexity of their consequences — human and divine. Mature theme and treatment. Spanish language and titles options. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
"Dead of Winter" (Blu-ray Edition; 1987)
Aspiring actress becomes the pawn in a blackmail attempt which proves fatal to her captors and to the rich woman who’s the target of their extortion. Director Arthur Penn’s unconvincing thriller features Mary Steenburgen in a triple role. Unnecessarily explicit violence at the conclusion makes the film unsuitable for youngsters. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (Shout Factory)
"Deepwater Horizon" (2016)
Forceful but grim dramatization of events surrounding the 2010 disaster that destroyed the titular drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Drawing on a New York Times article by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul, screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand fix their focus on a quartet of principals: the vessel’s chief electronics technician (Mark Wahlberg), his worried wife back on shore (Kate Hudson), the craft’s respected crew commander (Kurt Russell) and the young officer (Gina Rodriguez) responsible for keeping the vast, free-floating structure in position. The tense opening scenes of director Peter Berg’s film find a visiting corporate executive (John Malkovich) pushing back against the safety concerns expressed by both Russell and Wahlberg’s characters, only to find himself caught up in one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history. Following the "blowout," the race for survival against shooting flames, sudden explosions and deadly flying debris is fueled by self-sacrificing heroism and courage. It’s an admirable and well-crafted spectacle for grownups — with the background assets of a solid, positively portrayed marriage and some incidental religious elements. Still, it’s not an easy movie to watch. Pervasive, sometimes gory, disaster violence, a scene of nongraphic marital lovemaking, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, frequent crude and crass language. 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. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
"His Girl Friday" (1940)
Classic comedy from the Hecht-MacArthur play, "The Front Page," turns star reporter Hildy Johnson into the ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) of the Chicago paper’s devious editor (Cary Grant) who tricks her into covering the politically sensitive execution of a blue-collar worker (John Qualen) to keep her from marrying an insurance agent (Ralph Bellamy). While maintaining the original’s antic, frantic pace, director Howard Hawks pulls off the gender switch flawlessly, adding fresh dimension to the cynical attitudes of reporters, the hypocrisy of officials and the value of a free, if wildly imperfect, press. Some off-screen violence, including a suicide, questions of social justice and romantic byplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Criterion Collection; also available on Blu-ray)
"Kevin Hart: What Now?" (2016)
Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia is the outsized setting for this concert film featuring the diminutive comic. His language gets raunchy, but his routine is never bawdy, mean-spirited or smutty. Vocabulary aside, there are two main problems here: A framing device of Hart in a James Bond-style movie, directed by Tim Story, isn’t particularly funny or original. And Leslie Small, the director of the stand-up sequences, is stuck with long close-ups of Hart contorting himself and squealing to sell his jokes before the 50,000 people in the stadium. Hart’s frantic gestures are clearly less appealing when magnified on the big screen. Occasional profanities, pervasive rough and crude language. Spanish titles option. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
"Max Steel" (2016)
Yet another action figure leaps off the toy store shelves and onto the big screen in this derivative coming-of-age superhero chronicle, directed by Stewart Hendler. A gangly 16-year-old boy (Ben Winchell) is transformed by the universe’s most powerful form of energy and gains a robotic sidekick (voice of Josh Brener) to go along with his smothering but supportive mother (Maria Bello) and fetching sweetheart (Ana Villafane). When he’s not too busy vanquishing baddies or doing his algebra homework, he searches for clues about his plight — and about the mysterious fate of his father (Mike Doyle), a brilliant scientist who died on the brink of a new discovery. The upshot is mindless goofy fun that’s possibly acceptable for older adolescents. Cartoonish violence and one use of the F-word. Spanish titles option. 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. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
"Scavenger Hunt" (1980)
Uninvolving plot about a rich eccentric (Vincent Price) whose will decrees that his fortune go to the heir that scores the most points in a scavenger hunt. Robert Morley, as his lawyer, manages to give the only dignified performance in this excruciatingly silly movie directed by Michael Schultz. 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. (Kino Lorber; also available on Blu-ray)
"XXX" (Anniversary Blu-ray Edition; 2002)
Chaotic action adventure in which an anti-social extreme-sports enthusiast (Vin Diesel) is recruited by a veteran government agent (Samuel L. Jackson) to enter the shadowy world of espionage to fight a desperate and dangerous gang of anarchists in Prague. Director Rob Cohen’s testosterone-revved flick follows a halfhearted narrative with timeworn undercover elements and features improbable, death-defying stunts that are used to diminishing effect. An implied sexual encounter, recurring violent action sequences, brief drug content, fleeting rear nudity and some crass language. Spanish language and titles options. 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. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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