Judd Apatow's comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin is about … well … just that. Steve Carrell proved himself as Hollywood's funniest secret weapon while playing a small part as a weatherman in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Now he has his first lead role in film as a socially inept geek (he collects action figures and works at a tech shop) who tries to cover up his virginity by boasting about sexual shenanigans until someone calls his bluff. When his peers begin to apply the proverbial peer pressure, coaching him toward fornication, he suddenly finds himself in love with a wonderful woman (the always impressive Catherine Keener) and decides to put off "the big event" a little longer.
Thus, in spite of the film's incessant locker-room humor and profanity, the film's plot ultimately shines a surprising, complimentary light on abstinence and restraint. But that's not enough to save it from the wrath of Christian film critics, who, needless to say, aren't recommending it.
"There are lots of stereotypes about grown-up virgins," Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) observes, "and The 40-Year-Old Virgin … plays on every single one of them. But in its own peculiar way, the film stands these stereotypes on their head, so much so that, by the end, our protagonist seems like the sanest character of the bunch."
He concludes, "There is an awful lot of foul language and raunchy humor in this film, and it needs tighter editing, so I can't say I recommend it. But is intriguing to see how, even in its most off-color moments, Hollywood turns to traditional virtues for its happy endings."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) laments, "We've seen it before. The buddies of a painfully shy, awkward guy—who has never had a girlfriend—help him find true love. But this latest incarnation … is relentlessly vulgar and frequently offensive, even beyond the false premise that there's something intrinsically wrong with an unmarried man being sexually inexperienced."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says the film is "overloaded to the breaking point with vile material—both visual and verbal. Period. Do I now live in a world in which an oxymoron such as 'innocently raunchy' can actually exist? Sure, Andy is a sensitive nice-guy who finds occasional contentment in his celibacy in a culture that typically defines happiness by the number of sexual conquests one has. That's great. But are we to studiously ignore the onslaught of over-the-top foul content that surrounds him?"
Meanwhile, mainstream critics are celebrating the arrival of comedy's hottest new leading man.
Is Disney trying to encourage young moviegoers to dream about joining the military? Their latest CGI feature, Valiant, celebrates the derring-do of a pigeon (voiced by Ewan McGregor) who aspires to join the Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) during World War II. Other talents lending their voices include John Cleese, Tim Curry, Ricky Gervais, and Hugh Laurie.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) notes, "Unlike a number of recent cartoons, like Finding Nemo, in which the line between good carnivorous activity and bad carnivorous activity has become increasingly blurred and arbitrary, Valiant comes from a more old-fashioned school of thought. Here, the falcons who prey on the talking birds are the bad guys, plain and simple; meanwhile, it's okay for our heroes to eat worms, because worms are just speechless animals, and not persons like you and me."
He concludes, "Valiant is nowhere near as good as Chicken Run … and it's not as clever as Robots … But for parents who are tired of the hip, stupid bombast of films like Shark Tale, it'll do."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) is more severely disappointed. "I watched Valiant in a theater three-quarters full of children, and I heard nary a laugh throughout. … [It's] a puzzling movie. It depends on a grasp of history likely to be missing in its target audience. That wouldn't be a fatal error if this was otherwise a compelling story with compelling characters, but unfortunately it falls flat on both accounts. … C.S. Lewis said, 'A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.' This not-so-finely feathered fare doesn't even reach that standard."
"Compared with recent animated films like Shrek and Finding Nemo, the writing and characters in Valiant are a little thin in the plumage," writes David DiCerto (Catholic News Service). But that doesn't stop him from recommending it. "Despite its flaws, Valiant imparts a positive self-esteem message that 'it's not the size of your wingspan, but the size of your spirit.' With it getting harder to find family entertainment that doesn't sneak in age-inappropriate content, Valiant is one movie that won't ruffle many parents' feathers."
Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says it's "fun for children to get a glimpse—albeit a toned down, animated one—at what World War II must have felt like, with realness, humor, and romance sprinkled in amongst the very real losses and dangers of an important period of history. … The morality tale is good for children, too. … The movie has a good showdown between good and evil, cleverly woven through the framework of slapstick, charming dialogue and admirable effects."
Mainstream critics call Valiant "poorly plotted" and "suspense-free."
Actor Cillian Murphy ran in terror from zombies in 28 Days Later. Then he became a terrorist himself, tormenting Gotham City in Batman Begins. In Wes Craven's new suspense film Red Eye, Murphy is a villain named Jackson Rippner who holds Lisa (Rachel McAdams), a hotel manager, hostage on an airplane, forcing her to help him arrange an assassination, and then chasing her around on the ground in a desperate attempt to draw viewers' attention away from gaping holes in the plot.
Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) writes, "The whole point of Red Eye is to give Rippner a chance to behave abominably so that the audience can hope for his demise. Rippner, holding nothing back, is evil to the core. He's a killer and a liar. He enjoys intimidating poor Lisa. The audience knows what is coming and they can't wait. … On the plus side, Red Eye is about a likeable woman who can take care of herself."
He concludes, "Unfortunately, Red Eye begins to unravel at the end. … A better script or better direction might have carried his Rippner on a more compelling trajectory. Instead, we watch Rippner's developed character un-develop. Fans of the thriller genre will probably be scared and entertained, but seeing Red Eye is more like watching a good television show than a good movie."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) agrees. "What starts off as a smart and suspenseful nail-biter hits story turbulence midflight before nose-diving into a stock chase film by the third act, which at the advance screening elicited more guffaws than gasps. You may want to wait for Red Eye to hit video stores before boarding."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) calls it "an 85-minute flyaway flick that feels more like a film school project than a nationally released movie from horror guru Wes Craven. Maybe the blame should rest on the shoulders of rookie screenwriter Carl Ellsworth, who's used to writing one-hour dramas for TV. … With its one-dimensional characters and quickly resolved conflict (not to mention vulgar language, violent confrontations and obsession with alcohol), this is one flight not worth staying awake for."
Jeffrey Huston (Crosswalk) says, "The film takes off but eventually the screenplay nosedives as Red Eye crashes and burns."
Red Eye earns some high praise from mainstream critics.
Mourning the mysterious death of their father, two brothers realize that there is one clear way to make a fresh start: get on those bikes and become Supercross champions!
That's the premise of Supercross: The Movie, which stars Steve Howey, Mike Vogel, Sophia Bush, Cameron Richardson, and Terminator 2's Robert Patrick.
Jamie Maxfield (Plugged In) says, "Rest assured … that this 80-minute commercial won't be in theaters very long. Once the extreme-sport-loving crowd gets its fix, this completely unmemorable film (from just about every perspective I can think of—its script, its cast, its performances, its direction and its moral—is sure to race out of the multiplex faster than a Supercross jock can say 'faceplant.') And that's just as well, considering its inclusion of vulgar language and slack sexuality."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) agrees. "[This] is the kind of film that you could mostly sleep through and not miss anything important to the plot. Not that you'll be catching any z's since most of the high-octane movie involves 200-pound motorcycles roaring around dirt tracks at migraine-inducing full throttle."
In the mainstream press, you'll find little more than scorn for the film.
More reviews of recent releases
Saint Ralph: This film is now making the rounds in theaters, but Peter T. Chattaway, a critic for Christianity Today Movies, wrote about Saint Ralphin his blog months ago: "Watching Saint Ralph, I kept thinking back to Millions, which succeeds where Saint Ralph fails precisely because it sees the world through the eyes of a child (and in a way that is absolutely, convincingly childlike), and also because it just flat-out goes for the magic and gives the saints their own objective reality, whereas Saint Ralph hedges its bets and tries to hint at magic while staying within the tidy boundaries of that which can be rationally explained. (After bumping his head, Ralph may think he sees God in a Santa suit, but that doesn't mean he's actually there, does it?)"
The Great Raid: Matt Wiggins (Relevant) writes, "The Great Raid is a hard film to mess up with such a powerful story undergirding it. While the performances and cinematography are competent but not groundbreaking, skillful and faithful presentation make this movie worth seeing."
Murderball: Santosh Ninan (Relevant) writes, "It is an extremely entertaining and moving film that you don't want to miss. … The athletes are inspiring and challenge viewers to reconsider what we term as obstacles in our own paths. They are not saints; in fact, the film carries an R-rating due to language and sexual content, but the film does a great job of emphasizing the power of perseverance and the journey of passing through the valley to come out stronger on the other side."
Broken Flowers: Josh Hurst (Reveal) raves, "This is the most profound art movie of the year so far, and yet it's also surprisingly mainstream by Jarmusch standards. On one level, he keeps the story moving with compelling characters and plenty of hearty belly laughs; on another level, he and Murray pull of some amazingly subtle things here, creating a deeply meaningful character study that is open to interpretation and deserving of post-viewing discussion and contemplation. There's no preaching here, nor is there a moral lesson at the end of the film. This isn't a fable or an allegory. It's art, and it gives us more questions than it does answers."
Andrew Coffin (World) writes, "The film is amusing and thoughtful and features uniformly strong performances. Mr. Jarmusch isn't afraid to stay on a subject (usually Mr. Murray's face) longer than expected, requiring his audience to fill the gaps in narrative with thoughts and reactions of their own—a welcome if modest challenge from a filmmaker. Mr. Jarmusch deftly renders the sadness of a life unconnected to anyone or anything."
The Flowers of St. Francis (now on DVD): Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) celebrates this classic film's long-awaited DVD release by awarding it an A+ review, saying it is "a beautifully simple little film that is as much a tribute to the spirit of humane curiosity in which the film itself was made as to the heritage of spirituality that is its transcendent theme."
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