Capsule reviews of recently released movies

The following movie reviews are supplied by Catholic News Service in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting.

For full reviews of these films, as well as earlier releases, visit www.usccb.org/movies

This list will be updated regularly, and all reviews are copyright (c) 2011 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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“There Be Dragons” (Samuel Goldwyn)

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.

Generally powerful, partly fictionalized dramatization of passages in the life of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-75), founder of Opus Dei, here intensely yet appealingly portrayed by Charlie Cox.
As a fictitious Spanish-born reporter (Dougray Scott) investigates Escriva’s life, he discovers that his own father (Wes Bentley) — from whom he has long been estranged — was the future spiritual leader’s childhood friend and seminary classmate. But, with the violent tumult of the Spanish Civil War looming, the two men took diametrically different paths — one toward the establishment of a movement dedicated to achieving personal sanctity through everyday work, the other toward a duplicitous role in the conflict engulfing their society.
While the striking portrait of an anything-but-plaster saint that forms the heart of writer-director Roland Joffe’s hybrid tale grippingly conveys its subject’s struggle to discern his vocation and to live out the Christian message of peace, the impact of these biographical elements is blunted by the fictive framework, much of which never seems quite convincing. Probably acceptable for older teens. Occasionally bloody action violence, a few sexual references, a couple of crude and a half-dozen crass terms.

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“African Cats” (Disneynature)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson narrates this impressive nature documentary charting the varied fortunes of a pride of lions and a clan of cheetahs living on the savannah in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Splendid landscape footage and remarkably detailed animal close-ups provide the whole family with a top-quality cinematic safari.
Directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill discreetly spare younger viewers the nitty-gritty of predatory behavior, though not the harsh Darwinian dynamic that ruthlessly eliminates the weak — however sympathetic.

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“Fast Five” (Universal)

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.

An all-star cast culled from the previous four films in the action-oriented franchise that began with 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” — most prominently Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, along with newcomer Dwayne Johnson — reunite in Rio de Janeiro for more speeding cars, gunplay and a heist of millions of dollars from a corrupt Brazilian police chief (Joaquim de Almeida).
Director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan keep the pace predictably rapid, with occasional comedic dialogue to indicate that no one’s taking the proceedings all that seriously. Much gun and physical violence, a premarital pregnancy, a few instances of profanity, frequent crude and crass language, and fleeting sexual banter.

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“Madea’s Big Happy Family” (Lionsgate)

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.

Tyler Perry — who wrote and directed this screen adaptation of his eponymous play — puts on the muumuu again as the always short-tempered Madea. Here, Madea’s appealingly gentle niece (Loretta Devine) learns she has terminal cancer and tries to gather her three adult children (Natalie Desselle Reid, Shannon Kane and Shad “Bow Wow” Moss) at her house to tell them the bad news. But the grown siblings are all locked in dysfunctional relationships, while one — a recently released ex-con — is also dabbling once more in the drug dealing that landed him in jail.
Worthy themes of mutual respect between spouses, deference to adults on the part of youngsters and familial unity are sometimes lost amid questionable comic characterizations and a flurry of slaps upside the head. Marijuana use, some adult humor, fleeting crass language, slapstick violence.

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“Vito Bonafacci” (Cavu)

In this meditative exploration of spirituality, the title character (Paul Borghese), a happily married (to Tisha Tinsman) and financially successful businessman whose relationship to his Catholic faith has become tenuous, re-examines his life in light of a nightmare during which he foresaw his death and condemnation to hell. While not for the impatient, since it unfolds at a leisurely pace, writer-director John Martoccia’s suburban-set Everyman story features impeccable theology, some eloquent poetic reflections from the protagonist’s deceased mother (Emelise Aleandri) — who visits him during his transformative dream — and beautiful cinematography. Dramatic elements are somewhat shakier. But this restful cinematic retreat, while unlikely to convert the hard of heart, will certainly reinforce faith in the devout and in those with yearnings for the sacred, and can serve as an apt and pleasant instrument for teen or adult religious instruction. A single mildly crass term, mature themes and references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

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“Rio” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences.

Buoyant animated adventure with music about a Brazilian-born macaw (voice of Jesse Eisenberg) raised as a cosseted pet in Minnesota. Informed by an eccentric Rio-based scientist (voice of Rodrigo Santoro) that her feathery friend is the last male of his species, his devoted owner (voice of Leslie Mann) reluctantly brings him back to his native land so that he can mate with his sole remaining female counterpart (voice of Anne Hathaway). But the potential lovebirds get caught up in the illegal avian trade.
Lessons about environmental stewardship and love-inspired loyalty are decked out in kaleidoscopic colors and delivered in an overwhelmingly child-friendly tone in director Carlos Saldanha’s 3-D flight of fancy. A few nursery-level bathroom references, a fleeting double entendre.

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“Soul Surfer” (Tri-Star)

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.

Director Sean McNamara’s fact-based drama recounts the story of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), a devoutly Christian 13-year-old competitive surfer in Hawaii whose life is changed forever by a shark attack that claims her arm.
With the support of her parents (Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid), her brothers, and her church, Bethany accepts her fate and is determined to surf again, whatever the odds. Soon Bethany is once more competing in — and winning — surfing events, and she uses her newfound celebrity to inspire the disabled and others to follow their dreams.
With its uplifting story bolstered by stunning cinematography, this is that Hollywood rarity: a film that is not afraid to talk about God or to show a happy, well-adjusted family that makes faith its foundation. Despite the intensely emotional (but nongraphic) shark onslaught and its aftermath, “Soul Surfer” can be enjoyed by parents and mature young people alike.

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“Arthur” (Warner Bros.)

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.

The utterly frivolous, merrily alcoholic heir (Russell Brand) to a billion-dollar corporate fortune is threatened with disinheritance unless he marries a domineering executive (Jennifer Garner) who plans to curb his wayward lifestyle. A chance encounter with a working-class New York City tour guide (Greta Gerwig), however, leaves the previously heedless playboy smitten and forced to choose between luxury and love.
Though director Jason Winer’s remake of Steve Gordon’s popular 1981 comedy intermittently touches on the limits of materialism, it gives a pass to its main character’s promiscuity and tends to trivialize his problem drinking. The fitful laughs on offer mostly derive from the tart observations of Helen Mirren as the man-boy’s affectionate but not uncritical British nanny — the distaff counterpart to John Gielgud’s butler in the original.
A fleeting nongraphic bedroom scene, an obscured nude image, brief irreverent humor, frequent sexual references, a couple of uses of profanity and a few crude terms.

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