Recent movies reviewed by CNS on the basis of moral suitability

Rating: By Catholic News Service

PHOTO: Animated characters appear in the movie “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.” See review below. CNS/Clarius Entertainment

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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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“Godzilla” (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.

Grandiose special effects, the showcasing of strong family bonds and a few religious undertones compensate for an over-elaborate back-story and uneven tone in director Gareth Edwards’ 3-D monster movie.
Fifteen years after his mother (Juliette Binoche) was killed in a disaster at a Japanese nuclear power plant, an American Navy officer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is still trying to convince his grieving dad (Bryan Cranston) to accept the official explanation for the catastrophe and stop obsessively pursuing his own wild theories about it. But an encounter with two scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) working in the quarantine zone that surrounds the site of the cataclysm reveals that Dad has been on to something all along.
Mayhem ensues for a number of cities, including the seaman’s hometown of San Francisco where his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son (Carson Bolde) come under threat. The legendary lizard of the title is only one of the outsized creatures rampaging the globe in this latest take on a sci-fi scenario that dates back to Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original. But at least the human toll they exact is portrayed in a stylized, bloodless way.
Pervasive action violence with minimal gore, brief marital sensuality, a few uses of profanity and of crude language.

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“Million Dollar Arm” (Disney)

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.

Based on real events, this breezy baseball-themed conversion story finds a down-on-his-luck Los Angeles sports agent (Jon Hamm) traveling to India to mount an “American Idol”-type reality show on which cricket bowlers compete against each other as pitchers.
But when the two young winners (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal), both raised in remote rural villages, return with him to the States to train for a major-league tryout, the business-obsessed bachelor finds himself called upon to protect and mentor them since they’re utterly bewildered by life in urban America. He gets help from an Indian enthusiast for the game (Pitobash) and from the comely tenant (Lake Bell) of a cottage on his property for whom he’s begun to fall.
Though this central romance is marked by premature intimacy, strong humane values permeate director Craig Gillespie’s film as Hamm’s initially callous loner learns to place people ahead of profits. However flawed, moreover, his bond with Bell’s character also represents a step up from the throwaway relationships with fashion models in which he previously engaged.
Nonmarital situations, an implied premarital encounter, a smattering of sexual humor, some crass language.

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“The Railway Man” (Weinstein)

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.

This searing account of a former prisoner of war who is unable to overcome the emotional trauma of his past sufferings is directed by Jonathan Teplitsky from the eponymous autobiography by Eric Lomax. During World War II, Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) was one of thousands of British-led Allied troops forced into slave labor by Japanese forces following the latter’s 1942 capture of Singapore.
Three decades later, Lomax (now played by Colin Firth) fell for and wed a former nurse (Nicole Kidman). But his captivity’s long shadow loomed over their marriage. Insights provided by one of Lomax’s fellow POWs (Stellan Skarsgard), together with revelations concerning his principal tormentor’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) current status move his story forward, initially along a negative moral trajectory, but eventually toward an unexpected and powerful conclusion fully in line with scriptural values.
Graphic scenes of violence, including torture, and a suicide.

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“Fading Gigolo” (Millennium)

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.

A predictably immoral and vulgar comedy about a cash-strapped Brooklyn bookseller (Woody Allen) who agrees to help his married dermatologist (Sharon Stone) find a gigolo to service the needs of herself and her friends, including a sexy Latin bombshell (Sofia Vergara).
A lonely florist (John Turturro, who also directed and wrote the screenplay), has only a moment’s hesitation to the idea of being a prostitute, and is soon doing a roaring business. Love intrudes in the form of a Hasidic Jewish widow (Vanessa Paradis) who longs to be free of the restrictions imposed by her religion.
In the end, the film takes aim at both sex and organized religion, condemning moral values that are regarded as hopelessly out of date and old-fashioned. Nudity, adultery, nonmarital sex, drug use, frequent profane and crude language.

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“Moms’ Night Out” (TriStar)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.

Well-intentioned but weak comedy about three stressed-out mothers (Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton and Andrea Logan White) who take a break for a night on the town, only to have the relaxing excursion they’ve planned turn into a series of frantic misadventures. These involve not only their husbands (Sean Astin, Robert Amaya and Alex Kendrick) but a mother (Abbie Cobb) whose baby has gone missing, a British-born cabbie (David Hunt) and a heavily tattooed biker (country singer Trace Adkins).
Christian themes are prominent in directors (and brothers) Jon and Andrew Erwin’s wholesome film, and the quiet moments during which faith occupies center stage are more successful than the manufactured mayhem to which most of the running time is devoted.
Fleeting slapstick violence.

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“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” (Clarius)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.

Though far inferior to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” to which it is distantly related, this animated adventure with music is at least family-friendly.
With Oz in the grip of the Wicked Witch’s equally villainous brother, the Jester (voice of Martin Short), Dorothy (voiced by Lea Michele) is called back to the magical land by the companions of her original visit: the Scarecrow (voice of Dan Aykroyd), the Lion (voiced by Jim Belushi) and the Tin Man (voice of Kelsey Grammer). Since this trio is taken prisoner shortly after summoning her, though, Dorothy must rely on the help of a new ensemble of pals, including a friendly owl (voice of Oliver Platt), a military officer (voiced by Hugh Dancy) made of marshmallows, and a porcelain princess (voice of Megan Hilty).
In adapting L. Frank Baum’s great-grandson Roger Stanton Baum’s book “Dorothy of Oz,” directors Daniel St. Pierre and Will Finn offer lessons in cooperation, self-sacrifice and the need to put the interests of others first. They also avoid anything more potentially offensive than the sight of a magical fire hydrant running away from Toto and an instance of childish wordplay. Some sequences, however, may be too menacing for tots.

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“Neighbors” (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.

This smutty comedy charts the escalating conflict between a thirtysomething married couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and the fraternity chapter (led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) that has taken up residence in the house next door after the suburbanites break a promise to Efron’s character by turning to the police to quell the brothers’ noisy partying.
Hazing, narcotics and casual hook-ups are all ill-advisedly mined for laughs in director Nicholas Stoller’s celebration of collegiate irresponsibility. Some harsh nonlethal violence, strong sexual content, including graphic marital and nonmarital activity, full nudity and same-sex kissing, a benign view of drug use, pervasive sexual and occasional scatological humor, a handful of profanities, continuous rough and crude language.

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“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (Columbia)

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.

Overstuffed but diverting 3-D comic-book sequel in which the title character, aka average teen Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), grapples with the conflict between his superhero mission and his desire to safeguard his girlfriend (Emma Stone), tries to solve the mystery of his parents’ long-ago disappearance and battles a succession of villains (most prominently Jamie Foxx). He also has a fraught reunion with his best friend from childhood (Dane DeHaan) who’s afflicted with a fatal hereditary disease.
Giddy special effects and a lively pace help disguise the fact that director Marc Webb’s follow-up to his 2012 reboot covers enough material for at least a movie and a half. Though the mostly stylized mayhem is too intense for little kids, the positive use to which the web-slinger puts his powers, together with a script that’s virtually free of objectionable vocabulary, makes this acceptable for just about everyone else.
Much action violence, including torture, a single crass expression, a mild oath.

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“The Quiet Ones” (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.

Old-fashioned, reasonably satisfying chiller, set in 1974 England, in which an Oxford don (Jared Harris) hires a young amateur filmmaker (Sam Claflin) to document the experimental treatment he and two of his students (Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne) are carrying out on a mental patient (Olivia Cooke) who shows symptoms of demonic possession.
Though the rationalist professor is out to prove that science can explain, and cure, his subject’s condition, a series of unnerving experiences causes those around him to have their doubts.
Writer-director John Pogue avoids an excess of gore. But Satanism plays a prominent role in his script, while faith is also dealt with, at least peripherally, in a way that might confuse youngsters. Richards’ character, moreover, has clearly joined the bandwagon of the sexual revolution, though her bedroom antics are more often heard than seen.
Occult themes, intermittent violence, some of it bloody, a casually physical relationship, flashes of upper female and rear nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and of rough language, a handful of crude and crass terms.

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“Heaven Is for Real” (TriStar)

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.

After coming close to death during an operation, a 4-year-old boy (Connor Corum) startles his Wesleyan minister father (Greg Kinnear) and choir-director mother (Kelly Reilly) by announcing that he visited heaven and met Jesus — as well as two deceased family members. But his matter-of-fact statements about paradise stir controversy in his family’s small-town Nebraska community and, ironically, provoke a crisis of faith for his dad.
Director and co-writer Randall Wallace’s adaptation of Todd Burpo’s best-selling account of his son Colton’s experiences is substantial and moving, thanks in large part to the mature way in which it grapples with fundamental issues of religious belief and doubt.
A few scenes involving illness and a painful accident might not be suitable for the littlest moviegoers; an unspoken innuendo between husband and wife will sail well over their heads.

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“Brick Mansions” (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 PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Combat, albeit of a stylized kind, is the whole point of this action picture in which a dedicated undercover police officer (Paul Walker) and an anti-narcotics vigilante (David Belle) team to bring down the drug lord (rapper RZA) who rules the dilapidated Detroit housing project of the title.
As bullets fly and cars race in director Camille Delamarre’s adaptation of the 2004 French-language film “Banlieue 13,” a wildly unrealistic plotline has the Motor City’s ruling class scheming to use apocalyptic means to gentrify the slum.
Pervasive action violence, some of it brutal, a threat of homosexual rape, a glimpse of partial nudity, frequent crude and crass language, a couple of obscene gestures.

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“A Haunted House 2” (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.

Even more obscene follow-up to the pornographic and scatology-ridden 2013 horror spoof.
Director Michael Tiddes puts Marlon Wayans (who co-wrote the script with Rick Alvarez) through a further set of paces as a formerly bedeviled but now happily married (to Jaime Pressly) man trying to live a new life. But evil spirits borrowed from the two “Insidious” films, as well as “The Conjuring” and “Sinister,” keep turning up to thwart him. A blasphemous version of a Catholic priest (Cedric the Entertainer) is also on hand, seemingly ad-libbing all his trash talk.
A sacrilegious portrayal of Catholic clergy, drug use, explicit sexual acts, at least one of them aberrant, upper female and rear male nudity, crude sexual banter, constant profanity, frequent racial slurs, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“The Other Woman” (Fox)

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.

Crass comedy in which a philandering husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gets his comeuppance when his disillusioned wife (Leslie Mann) combines forces with two of his mistresses (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton) to punish him.
As the ladies bond in director Nick Cassavetes’ mostly pedestrian ensemble piece, the humor surrounding their unlikely friendship plays on a range of distasteful subjects. And marital fidelity takes a hit as a result of hubby’s unrelenting sleaziness and dishonesty, which make him an easily jettisoned villain.
An adultery theme, a marital bedroom scene, an implied casual encounter, pervasive sexual and much scatological humor, a couple of uses of profanity, frequent crude and crass language.

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“Transcendence” (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.

Fatally wounded in an assassination bid by a band of anti-technology extremists (led by Kate Mara), a dying expert on artificial intelligence (Johnny Depp) uploads his entire consciousness to a super-computer with the aid his wife (Rebecca Hall) and best friend (Paul Bettany).
His subsequent acquisition of all the factual knowledge on the Internet, however, leaves the physically deceased but intellectually flourishing scientist veering between benevolence and megalomania. With society’s future at stake, a leading researcher (Morgan Freeman) teams with an FBI agent (Cillian Murphy) to try to stop the hyper-powerful hybrid.
Philosophical confusion reigns in director Wally Pfister’s meandering sci-fi drama, beginning with the implicit idea that all human mental functions are purely physical and ending with virtual reality somehow permeating the world of nature. Mature viewers, however, are likely to be too bored to be much misled.
Complex themes, including atheism, some violence and gore, a brief nongraphic marital bedroom scene, a couple of uses of profanity and of crass language.

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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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