CNS capsule reviews of movies on the basis of moral suitability

Photo Caption: Animated characters Hans, voiced by Santino Fontana, and Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, are pictured in the 3-D movie “Frozen.”

Rating: By Catholic News Service

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 the CNS movie site here.

This list will be updated regularly, and all reviews are copyright (c) 2013 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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“The Book Thief” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Mature adolescents should be able to enjoy this beautifully filmed adaptation of Markus Zusak’s young-adult novel, in which Sophie Nelisse plays a young Nazi-era German girl who learns compassion through reading and through the example of her adoptive parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), becoming somehow immune to the worst of the Hitler Youth’s indoctrination.
Many adults, on the other hand, may be shocked at what appears to be a fairy-tale gloss on the Holocaust, as director Brian Percival and screenwriter Michael Petroni have removed all the nuance and moral ambiguity found in Zusak’s book. Some anti-Semitic dialogue and scenes of wartime bombings.

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“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Weinstein)

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.

Handsome but flawed biographical profile of South African dissident-turned-president Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) who, after spending 25 years in prison for resisting apartheid, advocated peace and forgiveness and endeavored to steer his country away from violence toward reconciliation.
Based on Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, the movie glows with admiration for its subject and is bent on demonstrating the historical significance of his personal journey, with second wife Winnie’s (Naomie Harris) vengeful reaction to the mistreatment she suffered serving as schematic counterpoint.
Director Justin Chadwick’s glossy presentation has a static quality, as if he’s trying to preserve Mandela’s legacy in amber. But regardless of any cinematic or historical limitations, the picture rightly lauds a statesman whose greatest virtue was his ability to see beyond his personal circumstances and discern what was best for his nation as a whole.
Considerable violence — including many gun battles, bombings and an immolation — demeaning treatment of prisoners, a half-dozen premarital and adulterous sexual situations, though without nudity or explicit activity, some crude language and hate speech.

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“Out of the Furnace” (Relativity)

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 — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Grim journey into hardscrabble, rust-belt America where two Pennsylvania brothers — the older (Christian Bale) a steel worker, the younger (Casey Affleck) a directionless Iraq War vet — suffer a series of personal misfortunes. These culminate when Affleck’s character tries to make a living as a bare-knuckle boxer and, despite the warnings of a local bookie (Willem Dafoe), gets mixed up with a vicious backwoods fight promoter (Woody Harrelson).
Religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, are shown to offer a ray of hope to the good characters in director and co-writer Scott Cooper’s often bleak, sometimes touching drama. But plot developments involving vigilantism are treated equivocally at best and thus require mature interpretation.
Much harsh violence with some gore, revenge and narcotics themes, cohabitation, several uses of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“Philomena” (Weinstein)

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 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Compelling fact-based drama about a warmhearted Irish woman (Judi Dench) who enlists the help of a cynical British reporter (Steve Coogan) in her search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption by the nuns who ran the oppressive facility for unwed mothers in which she lived as a teen (Sophie Kennedy Clark) after being abandoned by her family for becoming pregnant.
Director Stephen Frears’ screen version of Martin Sixsmith’s book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” makes uncomfortable viewing for Catholic moviegoers since church institutions are uniformly presented in a negative light. Yet, while illustrating the dangers that can result when appreciation for the virtue of chastity degenerates into puritanical repression, his film also implicitly makes the point that its protagonist’s enduring individual faith is the source of the enthusiasm for life, friendliness toward strangers and willingness to forgive that set her apart from the jaded journalist.
Mature themes including premarital sex, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and homosexuality, a scene of painful childbirth, a couple of same-sex kisses, a few rough terms, a couple of crude expressions.

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“Black Nativity” (Fox Searchlight)

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.

Christian faith pervades this rousing adaptation — and updating — of poet Langston Hughes’ 1961 song-play. Sent by his cash-strapped single mother (Jennifer Hudson) to live with her estranged parents, a stern Harlem minister (Forest Whitaker) and his more sympathetic wife (Angela Bassett), a good-hearted but naive Baltimore youth (Jacob Latimore) is tempted to solve his family’s financial woes by stealing enough loot to put Mom back on her feet.
But the annual holiday pageant Granddad’s church puts on — during which the lad has a vision of the first Christmas — together with the unexpected intervention of a concerned acquaintance (Tyrese Gibson) helps him to see the light.
Soulful musical performances, unabashed piety and resoundingly positive values go a long way to smoothing over the rough patches in screenwriter and director Kasi Lemmons’ drama. Though not a film for small children, this screen parable, with its heartfelt salute to forgiveness, family unity and the power of religious belief, likely will delight most others. Mature themes and the occasional threat of violence.

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“Frozen” (Disney)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

3-D animated musical loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Snow Queen” and directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
The new queen (voice of Idina Menzel) of a mythical kingdom accidentally unleashes her power to create ice and snow, causing an eternal winter. She retreats into exile, but her princess sister (voice of Kristen Bell) is determined to find her and undo the spell. Joining the younger royal’s epic odyssey are an amiable mountain man (voice of Jonathan Groff), his silent reindeer sidekick, and a comedic snowman (voice of Josh Gad).
This good-natured film, suitable for all but the smallest tykes, who might be frightened by its storm sequences, has something for everyone: Broadway-style show tunes, thrilling adventure, gorgeous visuals, cute-as-a-button characters, and a nice message about the enduring bonds of family. There are even a few respectful religious overtones likely to please believers.
Preceding “Frozen” is an animated short film, “Get a Horse!” — a clever and funny re-creation of a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon, directed by Lauren MacMullan. A few mildly perilous situations, a bit of slightly gross humor.

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“Homefront” (Open Road)

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 — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

As scripted by Sylvester Stallone, director Gary Fleder’s 100-minute curse-athon combines the violent tropes of a meth drama with tender scenes of domestic life to less than compelling effect.
Jason Statham plays a recently widowed DEA agent who moves to rural Louisiana, 10-year-old daughter (Izabela Vidovic) in tow, seeking the quiet life after an undercover operation that went fatally wrong. But the narcotics kingpin (James Franco) of his new home town has other plans for him.
Pervasive bloody violence, a brief, semi-graphic scene of nonmarital sexual activity, drug use, fleeting profanities, relentless rough and crude language.

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“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (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.

Satisfying action sequel follows the further adventures of the two victors (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) of an annual survival tournament in which youngsters drawn at random from the ranks of an oppressed underclass must battle to the death for the entertainment of their dystopian society’s elite (led by Donald Sutherland).
With rebellion stirring among the downtrodden, the two become pawns in a repressive power play by Sutherland’s character, backed up by the supervisor of the games (Philip Seymour Hoffman). They rely, once again, on the help of a hard-drinking veteran of the contest (Woody Harrelson) and the kind-hearted guide (Elizabeth Banks) assigned to watch over them.
In adapting the second volume in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy, director Francis Lawrence decreases the intensity of the violence on screen, and his film’s moral center is solid. But Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn’s script includes a few vulgarities and a sexual flourish not found in the 2012 first installment. So parents will once again need to consider carefully whether this is suitable fare for the targeted demographic of teens.
Much action violence with occasional gore, a scene of torture, a sexually provocative act with implied nudity, a couple of bleeped-over rough terms, at least one crude expression, a few crass phrases.

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“Delivery Man” (DreamWorks)

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 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

This morally paradoxical comedy begins with an objectively sinful premise, but then follows a thoroughly ethical trajectory as its protagonist (Vince Vaughn) tries to cope with the consequences of his misguided actions.
Leading an immature, desultory life as he pursues the occupation of the title, Vaughn’s kindhearted underachiever is taken aback by the discovery that his anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago have resulted in the birth of hundreds of children, some of whom have now brought a lawsuit to discover his identity. As his lawyer and best friend (Chris Pratt) works to thwart the plaintiffs, he contrives to get to know some of them, aiming to play the role of guardian angel in their lives. He also struggles to behave more responsibly toward his neglected girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) who has become pregnant by him in a more conventional way.
Though writer-director Ken Scott’s reworking of his 2011 French-Canadian feature “Starbuck” never condemns artificial insemination, it vividly illustrates the emotional deprivation that can result from the practice. And a subplot involving a mentally disabled son the central character discovers among his progeny sends a pro-life message while also portraying the Catholic institution in which the young man lives in a positive light.
Brief nongraphic violence, tacit acceptance of immoral fertility practices and of an incidental character’s homosexual lifestyle, a drug theme, some sexual and mild scatological humor, a couple of same-sex kisses, at least one use each of profanity and rough language, a few crude expressions.

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“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)

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 — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

A harsh but absorbing account of antebellum slavery in the United States — based on the eponymous 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup and directed by Steve McQueen.
A free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living happily with his wife and children in upstate New York is lured to Washington, then kidnapped and sold into slavery. Stripped of his identity but determined to survive, he must endure indignities and horrors over a dozen years at the hands of two plantation owners: one (Benedict Cumberbatch) kindly enough himself, but served by an abusive overseer (Paul Dano), the other a vicious sadist (Michael Fassbender).
The film focuses on man’s inhumanity to man, portraying it with brutal honesty and a degree of violence that is almost intolerable. That alone would normally restrict its appropriate audience to a small group of adults. Yet at least some mature teenagers might benefit from this important history lesson with its searing depiction of the endurance of the human spirit against crushing odds.
Gruesome bloody violence — including hangings, beatings, whippings, torture and rape — full nudity, nongraphic consensual but nonmarital sexual activity, some profane and crude language.

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“The Best Man Holiday” (Universal)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Raucous sequel, blending comedy and drama, in which a group of college friends reunite for a Christmas house party, only to find old problems and rivalries bubbling back up to the surface.
One conflict divides a football star (Morris Chestnut) from his erstwhile closest pal (Taye Diggs) based on the latter’s long-ago premarital dalliance with the gridiron great’s now-happily married wife (Monica Calhoun). Another arises when a respected charter-school principal (Harold Perrineau) discovers that a vintage sex video making the rounds on the Internet shows his spouse (Regina Hall), an ex-stripper who now raises funds for his academy, prostituting herself at a fraternity party. Things turn serious with the revelation that one of the central figures is seriously ill.
Though religion is unusually prominent in writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s follow-up to his 1999 feature “The Best Man,” raunchy jokes are even more so. Pornographic images involving upper female nudity and debased behavior, brief graphic marital lovemaking, excessive sexual humor, drug use, mature themes, including prostitution and promiscuity, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, much rough and crude language.

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“About Time” (Universal)

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 — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

This romantic comedy, written and directed by Richard Curtis, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about changing your destiny at will, to win the love of your life.
On his 21st birthday, a young man (Domhnall Gleeson) is given a rather unusual present by his father (Bill Nighy): the knowledge that the men in the family can travel back in time. He uses this special gift to land a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), marry, and have a happy, perfect life. Unlike 1993’s “Groundhog Day,” where the hero betters himself as well as the world around him, “About Time” takes a more narrow view. The manipulation of others for selfish reasons, coupled with disrespect for the role of divine providence in one’s life, may leave the viewer feeling empty rather than satisfied.
Implied premarital sexual activity, brief nudity, several vulgar gestures, some sacrilegious humor and sexual innuendo, much profanity and crude language.

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“Thor: The Dark World” (Disney)

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.

Wielding his mighty hammer, the “God of Thunder” returns with a vengeance in this rousing 3-D adventure, based on the popular Marvel Comics series and directed by Alan Taylor.
This sequel to 2011’s “Thor” and 2012’s “The Avengers” finds our titular superhero (Chris Hemsworth) returning to Asgard, his home world, where his wayward brother (Tom Hiddleston) stands trial for war crimes. Back on Earth, Thor’s erstwhile girlfriend (Natalie Portman) gets sucked into a vortex to the Dark World of the film’s title, unleashing a chain of events that leads to battle.
“Thor: The Dark World” assumes operatic proportions as it barrels towards a smash-bang conclusion that lays waste to multiple worlds, not to mention some lovely Georgian architecture in London.
Parents should note that the violence is extreme at times and not for little ones. Intense but bloodless combat scenes, some scary sequences, and a few mild oaths.

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“Ender’s Game” (Summit)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Enlightened and well-wrought science-fiction movie, based on the prescient 1985 book of the same name, about a 12-year-old (Asa Butterfield) chosen to lead Earth’s military forces against an alien race that 50 years earlier tried to colonize the planet, resulting in the deaths of millions.
Mentored by a bellicose colonel (Harrison Ford) and the hero of the first invasion (Ben Kingsley), the boy possesses both compassion and strong tactical skills. Director and screenwriter Gavin Hood highlights a salubrious message about the moral pitfalls of war and deploys elegant special effects to dramatize the virtual nature of how it is conducted in the near future.
Scenes of fighting and bullying behavior among teenagers, several classroom slurs, some scary imagery, some mild innuendo, one use of crass language.

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“Free Birds” (Relativity)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Two rogue turkeys travel back in time to change the “main course” of American history in this 3-D animated comedy, directed and co-written by Jimmy Hayward.
The president of the United States (voice of Hayward) pardons a Thanksgiving turkey (voice of Owen Wilson), who enjoys a luxurious life at Camp David until a fellow bird (voice of Woody Harrelson) drafts him for a mission of the “Turkey Freedom Front.” They hijack a time machine and travel back to the first Thanksgiving in 1621 with one goal: Keep turkey off the dinner menu.
There’s something for every age in this holiday-themed package, including cute-as-a-button characters, clever humor, a sendup of science fiction, a little (superficial) slice of American history, and a good message about looking out for each other. A few mildly perilous situations, some rude humor.

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“Last Vegas” (CBS)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

What happens in Vegas goes oh-so-slowly and sedately, this story of the never-married Billy (Michael Douglas) reuniting his childhood pals for his bachelor party might as well be set in Altoona, Pa.
Director Jon Turteltaub and screenwriter Dan Fogelman duck both raunch and honest assessments of the aging process for a quite tame comedy. Fleeting side female nudity, mild sexual banter and fleeting crass language and profanities. The film contains fleeting side female nudity, mild sexual banter and fleeting crass language and profanities.

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