Newly released movies reviewed on the basis of moral suitability

PHOTO: Tom Hanks stars in a scene from the movie “Saving Mr. Banks.” See review below. CNS photo/Disney

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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) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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“Lone Survivor” (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.

Blunt, superficial action film aims to honor the sacrifices made by the men and women of America’s military by chronicling an ill-fated mission conducted by Navy SEALs inside Afghanistan in 2005.
Based on the bestselling memoir by Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), the movie offers a less-than-flattering portrait of the fallen soldiers because its effort to sanctify the warrior ethos of the SEALs clashes with a script riddled with expletives and gruesome, bloody violence.
Writer-director Peter Berg stages the action with intermittent aplomb, but overall there’s a lack of creative insight and finesse. Rather than diminish our gratitude for the sacrifices made by American soldiers, however, it should serve to remind us that there are better ways to depict and memorialize them.
Frequent graphic war violence, including a beheading, numerous gory images of battle wounds, frequent profanity, pervasive rough and crude language, some sexual banter.

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“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” (Paramount)

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.

After the murder of a mysterious neighbor (Gloria Sandoval) in his apartment complex, a California teen (Andrew Jacobs) has a series of unsettling experiences that his best friend (Jorge Diaz) documents using a handheld camera.
Though writer-director Christopher Landon maintains this spooky franchise’s admirable tradition of minimal bloodletting, he ratchets up the adult content with a steady flow of vulgarities and a scene of occult rites performed without clothing. He also has the main character’s grandmother (Renee Victor) resorting to a combination of Catholic prayer and Santeria practices to rid the lad of his supernatural woes.
With the found-footage concept beginning to feel threadbare, even those few mature horror fans who make up the appropriate audience for this fifth outing in the series may find it less rewarding than its predecessors. Some violence with brief gore, a suicide, full nudity, nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, drug use, a couple of instances of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language, a few sexual jokes, one involving an obscene image.

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“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount)

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.

This vile exercise in immorality charts the fact-based rise and fall of a penny-stock swindler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his closest associates (most prominently Jonah Hill) as they play on the unrealistic aspirations of naive small-time investors to make themselves rich, then use their ill-gotten gains to fund a decadent lifestyle full of narcotics, status-symbol toys and casual sex.
Anything but a cautionary tale, director Martin Scorsese’s screen version of Jordan Belfort’s memoir revels in greed, criminality, substance abuse and bedroom behavior straight from the barnyard while sending viewers the resentment-fueled message that capitalism is a con game and that only fools and drones try to make a living honestly.
A benign view of sinful and illegal actions, domestic violence, strong sexual content, including graphic aberrant and adulterous sexual activity and full nudity, drug use, frequent profanities, pervasive rough and crude language, a few obscene gestures.

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“Justin Bieber’s Believe” (Open Road)

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 Jon M. Chu’s amiable follow-up to his 2011 feature “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” chronicles the eponymous star’s second world tour. The young girls who represent the Canadian-born singer’s carefully targeted audience will certainly need no convincing of his latest project’s worthiness. But parents will be reassured to know that, though it contains a brief acknowledgement of the wunderkind’s foul-mouthed encounter with a cursing photographer, this documentary as a whole provides overwhelmingly harmless entertainment.
A single, incomplete instance of crude language and some gyrating dancers.

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“47 Ronin” (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.

Despite lavish special effects, this big-budget retelling of the fact-based Japanese national legend of the title is so badly done as to render its classic story incomprehensible.
Working from a script by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini, director Carl Rinsch has Keanu Reeves as a mysterious half-breed warrior helping 47 leaderless samurai (most prominently Hiroyuki Sanada) regain their honor after their master (Min Tanaka) has been deposed through the machinations of a jealous rival (Tadanobu Asano) and a shape-shifting witch (Rinko Kikuchi).
Combat violence, the bloodless portrayal of a suicide and a beheading.

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“Grudge Match” (Warner Bros.)

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.

Two long-retired boxing rivals (Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone), each of whom scored a single victory against the other, are lured back into the ring for a tiebreaking rematch. Besides their professional competition, their mutual antagonism is also fueled by unresolved personal issues, De Niro’s character having had a one-night stand with his adversary’s true love (Kim Basinger) that resulted in the couple’s breakup — and in the birth of her now-grown son (Jon Bernthal).
Director Peter Segal’s comedy — which also features Kevin Hart as the promoter who arranges the big event — amuses intermittently. But its theme of family reconciliation is undercut by the misuse of a child actor’s (Camden Grey playing Bernthal’s son) age-appropriate innocence to forward some of the script’s frequent sex jokes. More predictably, screenwriters Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman’s dialogue is chockablock with foul vocabulary.
Mature themes, including promiscuity, pugilistic violence, an off-screen nonmarital encounter, much sexual humor, about a dozen uses of profanity, a single bleeped instance of the F-word, pervasive crude and crass language.

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“Saving Mr. Banks” (Disney)

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.

Director John Lee Hancock’s fact-based film recounts the behind-the-scenes circumstances surrounding the making of the classic 1964 Walt Disney musical “Mary Poppins.”
Having promised his daughters he would make a movie from the children’s books they loved — tales of the magical nanny Poppins written by P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) — Disney (Tom Hanks) lobbied for the film rights for two decades, to no avail. But when Travers’ fortune eventually dried up, she was forced to reconsider. So she headed to Hollywood, determined to protect her prized creation from being “Disney-fied.” A battle of wills ensued, until Disney learned the personal side to the volumes, including the story of Travers’ beloved father (Colin Farrell), the inspiration for the fictional George Banks of the title.
A handful of emotional scenes may be too intense for pre-teens. But the overall sincerity and wholesomeness of this blend of comedy and tearjerking drama make for a welcome change at the multiplex.
Mature themes, one use of profanity, a mild oath.

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“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (Fox)

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

Strange blend of comedy, drama and travelogue in which a soft-spoken, office-bound photo editor (Ben Stiller) at a fictionalized version of Life magazine finds his endless daydreams of grand adventure coming true as he trots the globe in pursuit of a missing negative sent in to the periodical by the glamorous photographer (Sean Penn) he idolizes.
Supporting him from afar along his urgent quest — he faces unemployment if the crucial item fails to turn up — is the fetching co-worker (Kristen Wiig) for whom he secretly pines. But looking on with impatience is the overgrown adolescent of an executive (Adam Scott) who holds the woolgatherer’s professional future in his callous hands. Stiller, who also directed this very loose adaptation of humorist James Thurber’s classic short story, shifts the tone of his tale erratically, with humor about awkward workplace situations and executive bullies giving way to a serious study in self-realization augmented with social commentary.
Brief but harsh violence, at least one use of profanity, a few crude and crass terms.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Warner Bros.)

Lively sequel in which a once-timid hobbit (Martin Freeman) continues his courageous quest to help a group of dwarves (led by Richard Armitage) recapture their ancestral mountain stronghold from the terrifying dragon (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) who displaced them. As he does so, the wizard (Ian McKellen) who originally chose him for this seemingly unlikely mission works to prevent larger, darker forces from consolidating their power. Director Peter Jackson’s second installment in a trilogy of films based on Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel is — like its 2012 predecessor, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — too intense for the smallest viewers. But most others will likely appreciate the peppier pace of his return to Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle-earth as well as the implicit warnings against the corrupting influence of wealth and power that accompany it. Much vivid but bloodless action violence, some occult undertones, a brief instance of mildly sexual humor. 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.

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“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (Paramount)

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 one-note joke of a clueless TV anchor played by Will Ferrell goes all stale and moldy when he enters the dawn of 24-hour cable news in 1980.
This satire, directed by Adam McKay, who co-wrote the script with Ferrell, is done in by gags left over from the first film, 2004’s “Anchorman.” Additionally, the racism on display, though intended as comic, is instead off-putting.
A scene of nongraphic premarital sexual activity, drug use, some racist dialogue, fleeting sexual banter and profane language, frequent crude and crass terms.

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“American Hustle” (Columbia)

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.

Con-game comedy set in the late 1970s centers on a pair of flimflam artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) forced by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to entrap politicians using a fake Arab sheik eager to invest in Atlantic City casinos.
Inspired by the real-life Abscam scandal and concerned with the theme of self-creation, the fictionalized story makes dynamic use of the period’s music, fashion, beauty, and decor trends. Director and co-writer David O. Russell adopts a simultaneously mocking and sympathetic tone; laudable tolerance and hints of moral relativism are both detectable. In the end, despite being fundamentally optimistic, the movie’s ceaseless barrage of vulgar language and its emphasis on carnality, alongside other notes of disrespect and condescension, will lead viewers to conclude that somebody is trying to make a sucker out of them.
Some violence, a nongraphic nonmarital sexual encounter, constant sensuality — including frequent partial upper female nudity, numerous gropings and sexually aggressive poses — several brief instances of drug use, much profanity, pervasive rough and crude language, considerable banter and innuendo.

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Walking With Dinosaurs” (Fox)

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.

Brief live-action segments about a teen (Charlie Rowe) bored by his archaeologist uncle’s (Karl Urban) work on a dinosaur find frame the 70 million-year-old, 3-D animated story of an underdog Pachyrhinosaurus (voice of Justin Long).
With the encouragement of his best friend (voice of John Leguizamo) — a colorful bird who narrates the tale — and that of his true love (voice of Tiya Sircar), the plucky creature overcomes a childhood disfigurement as well as his brother’s (voice of Skyler Stone) bullying ways to acquire determination, loyalty and courage as his herd migrates back and forth across prehistoric Alaska.
Undeniably educational, directors Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale’s adventure — a big-screen successor to the 1999 BBC television documentary of the same name — is only modestly entertaining. Besides some potentially frightening situations and a predictable smattering of mild gross-out jokes, moreover, screenwriter John Collee’s script includes the idea that whichever male becomes the leader of the pack automatically commands the companionship of its females, including Sircar’s character. This seems a confusing concept to present to children, especially if they are misled by the anthropomorphized setting to imagine that it applies, to any extent, in the human realm.
Some childish scatological humor and a single double entendre.

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“Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” (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.

Broad-strokes comedy is interspersed with a strained family drama as the freewheeling matriarch of the title (Tyler Perry in drag) travels from Atlanta to rural Alabama in the company of her uptight niece (Anna Maria Horsford) to surprise the latter’s grown daughter (Tika Sumpter) with a holiday visit. Their hostess is less than pleased to see them, however, since she has been concealing from her overbearing mom her elopement with a white agriculturalist (Eric Lively) whose kindly redneck parents (Kathy Najimy and Larry the Cable Guy) know about the marriage and have been invited to spend Christmas with the newlyweds.
A subplot involving a corporate sponsor’s efforts to denude the local yuletide festival of all references to Christianity finds the townsfolk determined to stay focused on the reason for the season. But in adapting his stage play for the screen, writer-director Perry stuffs viewers’ stockings with an excess of vulgar wisecracks.
Much crude and some mildly irreverent humor, at least one use of profanity, drug references, numerous crass terms.

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“Nebraska” (Paramount Vantage)

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 road trip mends frayed family ties in this quiet, unassuming blend of comedy and drama filmed in black-and-white.
Director Alexander Payne tackles the issue of caring for elderly parents with realism and sensitivity. But, as penned by screenwriter Bob Nelson, his film also includes material unsuitable for most viewers.
A grizzled and frail patriarch (Bruce Dern) receives a sweepstakes solicitation in the mail offering a “prize” of $1 million, which he can collect in person in Lincoln, Neb. — a long way from his home in Montana. His overbearing wife (June Squibb) thinks he’s crazy, but his estranged son (Will Forte) is more sympathetic. Seeking an opportunity to mend fences, he sets off with his father on a journey that includes a portentous stopover in Dad’s hometown.
Amid the salty language and bawdy humor, there are some positive core values and good people on display, along with a celebration of familial love, respect and understanding. Frequent profane and crude language, some sexual references and innuendoes, a few jokes directed at Catholics.

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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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