Recent movies reviewed by CNS on the basis of moral suitability

Rating: By Catholic News Service

PHOTO: Luiz, voiced by Tracy Morgan, Rafael, voiced by George Lopez, Blu, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, Pedro, voiced by will.i.am, and Nico, voiced by Jamie Foxx, are seen in the animated movie “Rio 2.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. See review below. (CNS photo/Fox)

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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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Draft Day” (Summit)

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.

Producer-director Ivan Reitman tackles the National Football League draft in this rather parochial sports drama about the extreme measures professional teams will take to sign the top players coming out of college.
The film centers on the fictitious general manager (Kevin Costner) of the real-life Cleveland Browns who’s beset by troubles as the annual process begins. His colleague and girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) has announced she’s pregnant. His acerbic mother (Ellen Burstyn) is a mess, grieving the death of her husband, the former Browns coach. The present occupant of that job (Denis Leary) has threatened to quit. And the owner (Frank Langella) is expecting big results from the draft.
Things begin to look up thanks to a deal with a rival team involving the rights to a star quarterback (Josh Pence), but the bargain seems too good to be true. Ultimately, “Draft Day” is for confirmed football fans. Others will wish they had a rulebook to follow all the complex regulations — as well as a guide to the many cameo appearances by celebrity players and sports announcers.
A premarital situation, brief, partially obscured rear nudity, frequent profanity and rough language.

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“Oculus” (Relativity)

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.

Released from an asylum on turning 21, a troubled youth (Brenton Thwaites) who, a decade earlier, (Garrett Ryan) was put away for murdering his father (Rory Cochrane) reunites with his sister (Karen Gillan as an adult, Annalise Basso in flashbacks) and together they try to document that a malevolent haunted mirror in Dad’s study was the real cause of the mayhem that beset their family — and that claimed their mother’s (Katee Sackhoff) life as well.
Suspense builds as Thwaites’ character wavers between belief in the object’s supernatural power and fidelity to the more rational explanation of events he was pressured to accept by his psychiatrist, and as scenes from the present are intercut with unfolding details from the past.
Though the blurred line between reality and illusion in director and co-writer Mike Flanagan’s generally enjoyable chiller sometimes leads to confusion for the audience as well as the characters, brains trump bloodshed in his and Jeff Howard’s screenplay. Still, at least some adults may be put off by the sight of young kids being subjected to sustained terror.
Considerable gory violence, some of it directed at children, a nongraphic marital bedroom scene, a few uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms, occasional crude language.

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“Rio 2” (Fox)

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

Director Carlos Saldanha’s vibrant animated follow-up to his 2011 original finds the two rare birds (voices of Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) whose romance was charted in the first film pursuing a happy family life with their three kids (voices of Rachel Crow, Amandla Stenberg and Pierce Gagnon) in the city of the title.
Their tranquility is interrupted, however, when the now-married researchers (voices of Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro) who initially brought the feathered couple together so that they could perpetuate their species unexpectedly discover other members of it living deep in the Amazon rainforest. Anxious to make contact with their counterparts, the avian clan sets out for the jungle where Mom is joyously reunited with her father (voiced by Andy Garcia) and childhood best friend (voice of Bruno Mars), but where thoroughly domesticated Dad has problems adjusting to his new surroundings.
Topflight visuals and amusing send-ups of musical genres ranging from Broadway showstoppers to disco standards are blended with themes of environmental responsibility and marital fidelity in a confection calculated to please young and old alike. A couple of childish scatological references.

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“Bad Words” (Focus)

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.

Jason Bateman stars in and makes his directorial debut with this surly comedy about an abrasive underachiever who exploits a loophole in the rules of a national spelling bee in order to compete against its field of kid contestants.
His maneuver outrages the children’s parents and frustrates the competition’s hard-nosed director (Allison Janney) and professorial founder (Philip Baker Hall). But a relentlessly good-natured, unflappably upbeat fellow entrant (Rohan Chand) is determined to befriend the thick-skinned loner.
The path of screenwriter Andrew Dodge’s script leads, ultimately, toward redemption of a sort for its protagonist. Yet its route takes in not only his strictly physical, and somewhat perverse, relationship with a journalist (Kathryn Hahn) but his deeply corrupt behavior toward Chand’s preteen character which involves introducing the boy to alcohol, shoplifting, pornography and the exposed torso of a prostitute.
Immoral values, including a benign view of petty theft and underage drinking, graphic nonmarital sexual activity, some of it aberrant, upper female nudity, much sexual and brief scatological humor, several uses of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (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.

The big guy with the red, white, and blue shield returns to save the planet in this rousing follow-up to 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and 2012’s “The Avengers.”
The director (Samuel L. Jackson) of an international crime-fighting bureau discovers the agency has been compromised from within by one of his fellow leaders (Robert Redford). He turns to Captain America and his sidekicks, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), to unravel the conspiracy that threatens world peace and freedom. But first they must defeat the baddies, led by the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), whom Captain America seems to have met before.
This 3-D popcorn movie, directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, is sure to please fans of the Marvel Comics superhero with its patriotic, gung-ho tone and grandiose action sequences (which may be too intense for younger viewers). Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who penned the first Captain America script, expand their horizons with a smart and timely story touching on national security, government surveillance and the price of freedom.
Intense but largely bloodless violence, including gunplay.

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“Noah” (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.

What begins as a fairly straightforward recounting of the biblical story of the flood veers off into a grim, scripturally unfounded drama about a family dispute driven by the titular patriarch’s (Russell Crowe) misguided interpretation of God’s purposes in causing the deluge.
His extreme pro-nature, anti-human reading of the situation brings him into conflict with his wife, Naameh, (Jennifer Connelly), with his two older sons, Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ham (Logan Lerman), and with his adoptive daughter — and Shem’s destined bride — Ila (Emma Watson).
Director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky serves up predictably impressive special effects, and convincingly portrays the wickedness from which the Earth is to be cleansed — a range of sinful tendencies embodied in the impious self-proclaimed “King” Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone). But his script, written with Ari Handel, departs from its inspired source material in order to turn Noah, at least temporarily, into a religious fanatic who will stop at nothing to carry out the mission entrusted to him.
Though it approaches its weighty themes with due seriousness, the film requires mature discernment and a solid grounding in the relevant, sometimes mysterious passages of the Old Testament. Much stylized violence with minimal gore, an off-screen encounter that may be premarital, distant partial nudity, some mild sensuality.

See related story here

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“Cesar Chavez” (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.

Understated but valuable portrait of the famed labor leader and pacifist (Michael Pena) who, together with Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), founded the union that would eventually be known as the United Farm Workers of America in 1962.
In director Diego Luna’s leisurely paced dramatization, Chavez struggles against the oppressive machinations of various farm owners (most significantly John Malkovich). But his single-minded dedication to achieving justice through nonviolence — which, at one point, leads him to undertake a prolonged, life-threatening fast — exacts a toll on his supportive wife (America Ferrera) and alienated eldest son (Eli Vargas).
Together with the educational significance of the film as a whole, believers will especially appreciate the fact that Chavez’s Catholic faith is always in the background and sometimes front and center as this meditative take on his story unfolds.
Possibly acceptable for older teens. Some violence, racial slurs, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term, occasional crude and crass language.

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“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight)

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.

Writer-director Wes Anderson’s triumph of smug artifice over substance and storytelling is likely to please his fans. But his saga of a European concierge (Ralph Fiennes) who dreams of lost grandeur, mentors a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) in all the fine points of elegant catering to guests, and romances his hotel’s aging female clientele, recounted like a fable, is without a moral or even a clear ending.
Implied, and benignly treated, nonmarital and premarital sexual encounters, fleeting upper female nudity, a smattering of rough and crass language.

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“Sabotage” (Open Road)

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.

Excessive violence and a flawed moral outlook characterize this Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle directed and co-written by David Ayer. Schwarzenegger plays the head of an elite DEA unit made up of skilled but crooked agents, among them Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Josh Holloway and Joe Manganiello. After the $10 million they collaborated to steal during a drug raid goes missing, members of the team begin turning up dead, murdered in spectacularly brutal ways.
As the straight-arrow police detective (Olivia Williams) assigned to the case works diligently to get to the bottom of it all, the remaining operatives wonder whether it’s the cartel they robbed that’s hunting them down or one of their own. With the sole exception of Williams’ character, greed and vengeance are the dark motives guiding everyone’s behavior within the seamy environment of this sometimes suspenseful but ethically unanchored film.
Pervasive bloody, sometimes gruesome violence, including torture and extreme images of gore, graphic sexual activity, some of it aberrant, upper female nudity, drug use, much sexual and scatological as well as brief irreverent humor, several uses of profanity, relentless rough and crude language.

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“God’s Not Dead” (Freestyle)

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 be not suitable for children.

Earnest but ineffective message movie in which a college freshman (Shane Harper) takes up his militantly atheistic philosophy professor’s (Kevin Sorbo) challenge to prove God’s existence to the satisfaction of his classmates (including, most prominently, Paul Kwo). He does so despite the active discouragement of his believing but ambitious girlfriend (Cassidy Gifford), who thinks he should go with the flow to avoid ruining their perfect future together.
There might be the kernel of an intriguing documentary buried within director Harold Cronk’s stacked-deck drama about academic hostility toward religion, but even faith-filled moviegoers will sense the claustrophobia of the echo chamber within which this largely unrealistic story unfolds.
Mature themes, brief domestic violence, a potentially upsetting accident scene, vaguely implied cohabitation.

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“Divergent” (Summit)

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

In post-apocalyptic Chicago, independent will is eliminated, and each person is assigned, at age 16, to a social faction with a specific duty.
One shy young woman (Shailene Woodley), however, discovers that she has a rare gift: she is a “Divergent,” capable of adapting to any group she pleases.
Since such versatility is seen as a threat to the status quo by the evil administrator of the system (Kate Winslet), the malleable lass is forced to hide her secret by leaving the altruistic bloc in which she was raised and joining the very different section of the populace responsible for security. As she undergoes rigorous, even vicious martial arts training, she falls for her instructor (Theo James), and together they uncover a nefarious plot that jeopardizes her family.
Director Neil Burger’s exposition-heavy screen version of Veronica Roth’s novel pushes the boundaries of mayhem to the limit, placing the film squarely outside the proper reach of younger teens. Intense violence, including scenes of torture.

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“Muppets Most Wanted” (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.

Another sprightly musical outing for the beloved puppet ensemble created by Jim Henson, this time hinging on the most unlikely of plot twists: Kermit the Frog’s (voice of Steve Whitmire) confinement in a Siberian gulag.
His imprisonment comes courtesy of a Russian gangster lookalike (voice of Matt Vogel) — “the world’s most dangerous frog” — who, aided by a human confederate (Ricky Gervais), is out to take Kermit’s place on a Muppet world tour as part of his plans for a daring jewel heist.
Director and co-writer James Bobin’s follow-up to his 2011 re-launch “The Muppets” — which also features a hilarious Tina Fey as Kermit’s principal jailer — combines singing, dancing, innocent humor and entertaining cameos. The resulting treat is then topped off with an endearing message about loyalty to friends. Some slapstick violence.

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“Need for Speed” (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.

The nearly plot-free milieu of director Scott Waugh’s action flick may appeal to young men who prefer their car chases uncomplicated. But many others will find his big-screen version of the eponymous videogame series morally troubling.
Illegal city street racing, at great hazard to passers-by, is glamorized, while the pedal-to-the-metal rivalry between an ex-con (Aaron Paul) and his principal competitor (Dominic Cooper) is fuelled by the convict’s thirst for revenge. Things reach a low point as the speed junkies heedlessly destroy the possessions of a homeless man.
Reckless street racing, rear male nudity, some crude and crass language.

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“Son of God” (Fox)

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 life of Jesus (Diogo Morgado) is recounted by the aged, exiled St. John the Evangelist (Sebastian Knapp) in this reverent but uneven screen version of the Gospel story.
While director Christopher Spencer’s portrayal of the Passion, and the events leading up to it — with Judas (Joe Wredden), Caiaphas the high priest (Adrian Schiller) and Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks) all assigned believable motives — is compelling, other aspects of his film range from moving to awkward. Catholic viewers will appreciate the unqualified acknowledgement of St. Peter (Darwin Shaw) as the leader of the Apostles as well as scenes highlighting Mary’s (Roma Downey) closeness to her son.
The first wide-release movie in nearly 50 years to focus on the Savior’s biography as a whole, this outgrowth of the popular History cable channel miniseries “The Bible” offers some solid catechesis and an easy, though sometimes oddly truncated, introduction to the Lord’s ministry, teaching, death and Resurrection. As such, it’s probably acceptable for older teens, despite an unflinching treatment of the Redeemer’s sufferings.
Strong gory violence.

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