CNS reviews of recent films on the basis of moral suitability

Photo Caption: Trevor Allen Martin and Hayden Christensen star in a scene from the movie “90 Minutes in Heaven.” The Catholic News Service classification, A-II — adults and adolescents.

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.

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“Black Mass” (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 R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

This somber fact-based crime drama, adapted from the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, chronicles the rise and fall of notorious Boston kingpin James “Whitey” Bulger (an intense Johnny Depp).
Motivated by a misguided sense of ethnic and neighborhood loyalty, a childhood acquaintance-turned-FBI agent (Joel Edgerton) engineers an unlikely alliance between the bureau and the Irish-American gangster, implicitly giving Bulger free rein to expand his underworld empire in exchange for information about his rivals in the Italian-American mafia. As this corrupt bargain spirals out of control, it threatens to bring down not only its creator but his superior (Kevin Bacon), his closest coworker (David Harbour) and Bulger’s wily brother (Benedict Cumberbatch), a powerful Massachusetts state senator, as well.
Though the bloodletting in director Scott Cooper’s cautionary tale — with its resounding admonition against using illicit means to achieve valid ends — is often harrowing, it’s generally surrounded with an appropriate sense of dread. Yet, as the story progresses, a note of exploitative excess does creep in, so that even those few moviegoers for whom it can be considered tolerable based on its underlying values may ultimately judge the film offensive.
Frequent brutal violence with considerable gore, mature themes, including prostitution, about a dozen uses of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“Everest” (Universal)

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.

Formidable fact-based drama about the disastrous 1996 ascent of Mount Everest by two mountaineering teams: one led by the New Zealand climber (Jason Clarke) who pioneered commercial expeditions in the Himalayas, the other by a freewheeling American guide (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Aided by a terrific ensemble and first-rate production team, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur does an excellent job of conveying the human saga as well as the natural spectacle. The result is a sensitive and powerful movie that declines to apportion blame or pass judgment on anyone. Additionally, the absence of any genuinely objectionable material makes this meditation on humanity’s struggle against the elements suitable for a broad range of age groups. The sacrifices of the local Sherpa guides and the perspective of the Nepalese people as a whole, however, should have warranted greater recognition.
Frequent scenes of peril, some gruesome images.

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“Captive” (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.

Honorable but slack drama, based on real events, in which an escaped prisoner (David Oyelowo) on a murderous rampage takes a drug-addicted diner waitress (Kate Mara) hostage in her home. As the already fragile woman struggles to stay alive, she reads sections of Rick Warren’s self-help best-seller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” to her captor, hoping he’ll recognize the positive choices still available to him.
Director Jerry Jameson’s screen version of Ashley Smith’s memoir “Unlikely Angel” promotes upright, God-centered values, and the general absence of problematic material makes his film acceptable for most mature adolescents. Yet earnest performances from the gifted principals can’t compensate entirely for a sluggish pace or the confused, blunted impact of the story’s outcome.
Stylized but potentially disturbing gunplay and other violence, including the implicit threat of rape, narcotics use, at least one crass term.

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“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” (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.

Based on the second novel in James Dashner’s sci-fi trilogy, this ponderous sequel to 2014’s “The Maze Runner” follows the further exploits of a band of intrepid teens (led by Dylan O’Brien) navigating a dystopian world. The challenges they face include the machinations of evil adults (typified by Patricia Clarkson) and the consequences of a solar flare that has devastated the Earth and infected vast numbers with a virus that transforms its victims into flesh-eating zombies.
Returning director Wes Ball’s film espouses the virtues of loyal friendship and self-sacrifice. It also features some purely incidental Christian symbolism. But the mayhem quotient is high while the rewards of this wearying slog through a dusty, terror-ridden future are questionable at best.
Relentless, often intense violence, including torture, gory images, drug use, some profane and crude language.

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“The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)

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.

Stale predictability and slow pacing might appeal to people who prefer generic thrillers without twists and turns.
Director David M. Rosenthal and screenwriter Tyger Williams set their plot on a long straightaway as an L.A. exec (Sanaa Lathan) fights off a new boyfriend (Michael Ealy) and their unexpectedly violent romance.
Two implied sexual situations, physical violence and fleeting crude and profane language.

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“90 Minutes in Heaven” (Samuel Goldwyn)

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.

Writer-director Michael Polish’s adaptation of the 2004 bestseller by Don Piper (Hayden Christensen) tells the true story of the Baptist minister’s near-death experience following a devastating car crash. After a brief vision of heaven, he endures a torturous recovery marked by unbearable pain. Yet the emotional toll for his family, in particular his wife (Kate Bosworth), is even greater.
Though the film’s celestial journey is overshadowed by its medical narrative, it remains an inspiring tale about faith, hope and persistence. Considered as a whole, moreover, its evangelical viewpoint on prayer and the promise of eternal life is mostly consonant with Catholic doctrine.
Disturbing images, some mature themes.

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“The Transporter Refueled” (EuropaCorpl)

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

Kitschy addition to a trio of excessively violent action flicks about a driver (Ed Skrein) on the French Riviera whose martial arts skills, prowess behind the wheel and ability to keep his mouth shut make him the chauffeur of choice for the region’s abundance of questionable characters. Hired by a quartet of prostitutes (led by Loan Chabanol) desperate to break free of their servitude, he’s forced to get involved with their scheme to bring down the mobster (Yuri Kolokolnikov) controlling them after they kidnap his father (Ray Stevenson), a retired British intelligence operative.
Reviving a franchise that first hit the pavement — and the skids — in 2002, director Camille Delamarre keeps most of the endless violence gore-free. But the car chases that represent his sometimes absurd film’s other stock-in-trade all but wipe out the local police force while promiscuity and — in Dad’s case — perversion, though kept off-screen, are treated as enviable perks of the James Bond lifestyle.
Pervasive harsh but largely bloodless violence, reckless disregard for life, a revenge theme, strong sexual content — including a benign view of group sex, a semi-graphic nonmarital encounter, some partial nudity and same-sex kissing — at least one use of profanity, occasional crude language.

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“The Visit” (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.

Delivering laughter as well as scares, this horror-comedy will leave audience members entertained yet also scratching their heads as a 15-year-old budding moviemaker (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother (Ed Oxenbould), a self-styled rap artist, visit their grandparent’s Pennsylvania farmhouse and record how the elderly couple’s peculiar behavior becomes increasingly menacing.
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”) tries to cover too many bases and triggers some unintended laughter along with the frights and levity that the actors execute with great aplomb. Using the movie-within-a-movie device enables Shyamalan to offer a mild critique of the compulsion to treat life as mere narrative, to filter every experience through a lens, screen or other electronic device; nevertheless, any serious theme is eclipsed by the tonally disparate film’s humor and scare quotients.
Much terrifying behavior and some nongraphic violence, an instance of rough language and one rough gesture, some crude and crass language, several instances of profanity, brief rear female nudity, a drug reference, a suicidal character, and some sexual banter, mostly contained in rap music lyrics.

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“A Walk in the Woods” (Broad Green)

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.

Seeking a remedy for his writer’s block, an aging travel author (Robert Redford) decides to defy his physical limitations by hiking the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail.
Yielding to his concerned wife’s (Emma Thompson) insistence that he include a companion on the trip, he reluctantly accepts the company of the only volunteer he can find — a friend from his past (Nick Nolte) with whom, partly by choice, he has long been out of touch. As the domesticated scribe and his rolling stone of a sidekick lumber through the forest, they compare notes on life, all too many of which treat sexuality — including the bedroom escapades of their shared youth — as a form of entertainment.
In adapting Bill Bryson’s 1998 memoir, director Ken Kwapis takes viewers on a generally pleasant, though excessively talky, expedition through landscapes that vary from the soothing to the magnificent. Yet, even as one sequence of his film celebrates marital fidelity in the face of temptation, another winks at a potential dalliance with a married woman.
Defective values, including an ambivalent attitude toward adultery, a nongraphic scene of aberrant sexual activity, a glimpse of partial rear nudity, much off-color humor, numerous uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language.

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“War Room” (TriStar)

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.

Prayer becomes the ultimate weapon for a young family in crisis in this Christian-themed drama.
The film’s battleground is a McMansion in suburban North Carolina where an overtaxed wife and mother (Priscilla Shirer) finds the demands of her job as a real estate agent leave her little time to focus on raising her daughter (Alena Pitts). As for her ambitious but inattentive husband (T.C. Stallings), with whom she constantly quarrels, his work as a salesman keeps him on the road where sinful temptations lurk, including opportunities to be unfaithful. Riding to the rescue is an elderly but feisty local character (Karen Abercrombie) who recommends calling on God for help and seeking his healing grace.
As directed and co-written by Alex Kendrick, this proselytizing message movie is heavy-handed at times. But Kendrick’s intentions, like those of his brother and script collaborator Stephen, are obviously sincere and worthy, while their emphasis on piety, forgiveness and redemption, although cast in evangelical terms, is nonetheless fully compatible with Catholic teaching. Mild domestic discord, some mature themes.

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“We Are Your Friends” (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 R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

The relationship between an aspiring DJ (Zac Efron) and his musical mentor (Wes Bentley) is threatened when the protege falls for his patron’s live-in girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski).
Alongside this casually physical love triangle, director and co-writer Max Joseph sets up a hackneyed conflict between the youthful hero’s artistic ambitions and the pressure to settle for a more mundane but practical lifestyle — in his case by joining his trio of closest friends (Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez and Alex Shaffer) in working for a shady real estate operator (Jon Bernthal).
Genuine moral values occasionally surface in this tepid, noncommittal drama. But for the most part, its characters move through their shallow lives in a party-craving stupor from which even the forceful intrusion of love and death barely awakens them. Benignly viewed drug use, cohabitation and premarital relations, brief semi-graphic bedroom scenes, upper female nudity, a couple of profanities, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“No Escape” (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 R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Shortly after their arrival in the Thailand-like country to which they’re relocating, a U.S. businessman (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) find themselves caught up in a military coup fueled by murderous anti-Americanism. As they flee the barbaric rebels, they find a helpful ally in a chance acquaintance (Pierce Brosnan) who not only knows the lay of the land but has a well-honed set of combat abilities as well.
Though the grueling ordeal to which director and co-writer John Erick Dowdle subjects his everyday characters strengthens their familial bonds, it’s likely to garner a harvest of winces from moviegoers uncomfortable at seeing the innocent and the vulnerable suffer.
Frequent harsh and sometimes gory violence, emotionally wrenching situations, including a rape scene with partial nudity, a couple of uses of profanity, about a dozen instances each of rough and crude language.

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“Sinister 2” (Gramercy)

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.

Together with returning screenwriters Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, director Ciaran Foy reintroduces the malignant pagan deity (Nicholas King) who stalked his way through this franchise’s 2012 original.
This time, the demon — who likes to lure children into killing their families in elaborately gruesome ways while he records the mayhem with a superannuated home movie camera — is preying on a would-be furniture restorer (Shannyn Sossamon) and her young twins (Robert and Dartanian Sloan). Aiding Mom and the kids is a minor character (James Ransone) from the kickoff who’s been elevated to the status of hero for this go-round. With a violent dad (Lea Coco) hovering in the background, the filmmakers ill-advisedly try to give their bogeyman a quasi-moral justification for his freewheeling slaughter by hinting that at least some of his victims may have been abusive parents.
A vengeance theme, frequent violence, much of it involving children, numerous disturbing images, considerable profanity and rough language.

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“American Ultra” (Lionsgate)

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 overwhelms the appeal of this action comedy in which a small-town slacker (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers that he has been subjected to mental tampering as part of a CIA research program designed to turn ordinary citizens into highly skilled warriors. Although his memories of the experiment have been erased, he subconsciously retains the cutting-edge combat abilities it gave him.
These gifts come in handy as the would-be comic book artist and his live-in girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) find themselves caught up in a deadly power struggle between a ruthless agency bureaucrat (Topher Grace) and the more humane operative (Connie Britton) who initiated the project that altered him.
Though it amounts to the script’s single joke, the combination of low-key wonderment and ninja-like dexterity with which the pot-loving protagonist reacts to his peculiar circumstances is good for a few laughs, while his determination to marry Stewart’s character adds some positive morality to his situation. But, as portrayed by director Nima Nourizadeh, the gory results of his campaign of self-defense — during which he deploys everything from the edge of a spoon to an iron-headed club hammer — are far too explicit.
Frequent graphic bloodletting, cohabitation, drug use, at least one instance of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“Hitman: Agent 47” (Fox)

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.

In this second film adaptation of the video game series “Hitman,” virtually everyone in the cast is hunting for the missing biologist (Ciaran Hinds) who genetically engineered the purebred assassin of the title (Rupert Friend). The scientist’s estranged daughter (Hannah Ware) wants to reconnect with dad for personal reasons, the killer himself has a contract to fulfill, while two other pursuers (Zachary Quinto and Thomas Kretschmann) have reasons of their own for wanting to get their hands on the researcher.
Director Aleksander Bach tones down the sexuality featured in 2007’s “Hitman,” and some of the dialogue feebly defends free will in the face immoral manipulation. But philosophy is hardly the point; eliminating extras is the real agenda, and the means of death range from bullets and car crashes to conveniently placed airplane engines.
Pervasive nasty violence with excessive gore, brief partial nudity, a couple of profanities, about a half-dozen uses each of rough and crude language.

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“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (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.

Droll humor punctuates this breezy espionage yarn, set at the height of the Cold War in 1963. Forced to work together to retrieve revolutionary nuclear know-how that may have fallen into the hands of the shady heir (Luca Calvani) to a fascism-tainted Italian industrial fortune and his scheming but elegant wife (Elizabeth Debicki), an art thief-turned-CIA operative (Henry Cavill) and a rage-prone KGB agent (Armie Hammer) team with the daughter (Alicia Vikander) of the missing scientist who developed the breakthrough to track the couple.
In adapting the mid-1960s television series, director and co-writer Guy Ritchie diverts his audience with James Bond-style glamour while keeping the violence vague. But the substantial, if slightly strange, relationship that increasingly tethers Hammer and Vikander is offset by Cavill’s carefree philandering. And the script’s anti-war, pro-friendship sentiments rest, to some extent, on an implied moral equivalence between the forces of East and West wholly at variance with history.
Much violence, including torture, but with little gore, brief gruesome images, off-screen casual encounters, glimpses of partial nudity, some sexual banter, a couple of crude terms.

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“Ricki and the Flash” (TriStar)

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.

Not even the storied talent of Meryl Streep can hold together the scattershot elements of this character study as it veers between drama and romantic comedy — and between a realistic view of moral shortcomings and the illusion of simplistic solutions.
Under Jonathan Demme’s direction, Streep plays an aging, unsuccessful rocker who long ago abandoned her family to pursue her musical ambitions. She’s forced to confront the legacy of her own selfishness, however, when her sympathetic ex (Kevin Kline) summons her back from L.A. to Indiana to help him cope with the downward emotional spiral into which their grown daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter in real life) has descended after being dumped by her husband.
Though Diablo Cody’s script is unsparing in its portrayal of the damage caused by the protagonist’s desertion, it not only offers her fresh hope in the person of her affectionate live-in boyfriend (Rick Springfield), but suggests that all the destruction she left behind can be cleaned up with good intentions and a well-chosen song.
Cohabitation, a nongraphic premarital bedroom scene, benignly viewed drug use, mature themes, including homosexuality, at least one use of profanity, several crude and crass terms.

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“Straight Outta Compton” (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.

The rise and collapse of the gangster rap group worldview is recounted in this striking but gritty dramatization from director F. Gary Gray.
Focusing primarily on the two members — Ice Cube (played by the rapper’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) — who went on to have headlining solo careers as well as on Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), another founder whose life took a different turn, the story follows their collective effort to translate the frustrations of growing up in the Los Angeles-area ghetto of the title into popular protest music.
While the legitimacy of their radical stance — some held that their lyrics called for attacks on the police — is open to debate, the gulf between the materialistic lifestyle the whole genre of hip-hop tends to glamorize and an outlook based on scriptural values is undeniable. Thus retaliatory violence is treated ambiguously while women’s body parts are far more prominent than their personalities. Narrow perspectives are also in evidence as cops are relentlessly demonized and the one white character of any significance — the manager (Paul Giamatti) who successfully marketed the little-known ensemble in their early days — turns out to be more greedy manipulator than genuine mentor.
Flawed morality, some harsh violence, strong sexual content, including brief but graphic casual activity and full nudity, drug use, several instances of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“The Gift” (STX)

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.

What begins as a psychological thriller eventually reveals itself as another entry in the revenge-fantasy genre.
After relocating from Chicago to California, a smugly successful corporate security expert (Jason Bateman) and his interior-designer wife (Rebecca Hall) happen to reconnect with one of his high school classmates (Joel Edgerton), a socially awkward veteran whose increasingly disturbing behavior toward the couple is motivated by his memories of life as an adolescent outcast.
Edgerton, who also wrote and directed, happily embraces horror cliches in the midst of his understated style. While he competently delivers a few seat-jumping shocks, the conclusion of his film is marred by several logical flaws as well as by the misogynistic notion that Hall’s character can somehow be made to represent a sexual “gift” herself.
A vengeance theme, some physical violence, an implied sexual assault, adult banter, a couple of uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language.

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“Fantastic Four” (Fox)

Glum origin story, drawn from the Marvel Comics series, recounts how a quartet of youthful science enthusiasts — Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara and Toby Kebbell — working under the sponsorship of a wealthy research institute (represented by Reg E. Cathey), develops a machine capable of transporting people to a previously unknown dimension. But a hurried, unauthorized visit there by the three lads, undertaken to forestall others from stealing the limelight, has unexpected and ambiguous consequences — for them, for Mara’s character and for a tag-along (Jamie Bell).
Director and co-writer Josh Trank’s reboot of a chronicle that stretches back, in print, to 1961 shows subtlety in its treatment of the group’s unsought superpowers. Yet the misfortunes that accompany these gifts become mildly miserable for the audience, while a ham-handed critique of the military-industrial complex does little to lighten the mood.
Parents of the teens at whom the film is squarely aimed will want to be aware of late scenes featuring some harsh bloodletting, forays into mayhem that make this doubtful fare even for older adolescents. Brief gory violence, glimpses of partial nudity, at least one use of profanity, a handful of crude terms, an obscene gesture.

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