CNS reviews of recent films on the basis of moral suitability

Photo Caption: Billy Bob Thornton and Sandra Bullock star in a scene from the movie “Our Brand Is Crisis.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults.

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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“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” (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 blood-soaked horror spoof follows a trio of teenage boy scouts (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joseph Morgan), who are also best friends, as they battle their way through the crisis of the title aided by a gun-slinging, nerd-positive stripper (Halston Sage).
Drowned out amid all the gore, gross-out gags and weak social satire — Cloris Leachman pops up as the cat lady from hell — is a perfunctory lesson about elevating loyalty over the desire to fit in and be considered cool. Director Christopher Landon’s disposable free-for-all is no more than a smirking exercise in sophomoric excess.
Pervasive gruesome violence, a debased view of human sexuality, upper female and rear nudity, much obscene and some scatological humor, several uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language.

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“Burnt” (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.

Ego-driven culinary drama in which a Paris-trained chef (Bradley Cooper) whose alcohol and drug addictions caused his promising career to crash returns from professional exile, takes over the kitchen of a prestigious London restaurant (led by maitre d’ Daniel Bruhl) and obsessively pursues a three-star rating from France’s Michelin Guides.
Among the colleagues he berates with obscenity-laden lectures in his drive for perfection are an old friend (Omar Sy) whose enmity he earned on his way down, but with whom he has reconciled, and a fetching newcomer (Sienna Miller) who becomes both his sous chef and his true love.
There’s a pleasant enough dessert awaiting audiences toward the end of director John Wells’ predictable conversion story. But the bad-boy protagonist’s tantrums make for an entree that many will find over-spiced while the undisguised but unrequited love Bruhl’s character entertains for him, although discreetly dealt with, will certainly not be to every taste. As for yet another instance of the big-screen maneuver whereby any group of people can form a “family” based on shared interests and mutual support, it’s long since lost whatever doubtful savor it may originally have possessed.
Cohabitation, mature themes, including homosexuality, a same-sex kiss, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, constant rough and occasional crude language.

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“The Last Witch Hunter” (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.

This silly supernatural thriller, directed by Breck Eisner, recycles such well-worn motifs as an immortal yet lonely savior figure, a secret religious society and a demonic plot to destroy the world.
For 800 years, an undying warrior (Vin Diesel) and the succession of priest-confessors who have aided him — the latest played by Michael Caine — have managed to keep an uneasy peace between humans and witches. But dark forces are at work in modern-day Manhattan, and the long-dead queen of the spell-casters (Julie Engelbrecht) is ready to make a comeback.
Though good maintains the edge over evil, the film teeters on the brink of ridiculousness. Fantasy violence, scary images, some crude language.

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“Our Brand Is Crisis” (Warner Bros.)

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.

Lured out of seclusion by a duo of political operatives (Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd), an emotionally fragile spin doctor (Sandra Bullock) with a mixed record in U.S. elections joins them in working for a Bolivian presidential candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) whose campaign is in free-fall.
By securing an unlikely victory for her client, the devious image-maker hopes to win the latest round in her long-running feud with an even more unscrupulous American consultant (Billy Bob Thornton) who has similarly been imported to help elect a rival aspirant. An unstable mix of cynicism and simplistic idealism corrodes the entertainment value of director David Gordon Green’s comedy, a fictionalized and satiric version of the real-life events recounted in filmmaker Rachel Boynton’s eponymous 2005 documentary. Interludes of sleazy wordplay and bawdy visual humor make it fit for grownups only. Brief rear nudity, occasional sexual references, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language, a couple of obscene gestures.

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“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” (Paramount)

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 found-footage series, which once elicited good will through its restrained use of violence and clever methods of building suspense, has reached the point of creative exhaustion.
As an average California couple (Chris J. Murray and Brit Shaw), his visiting brother (Dan Gill) and another houseguest (Olivia Taylor Dudley) try to piece together clues to the mysterious events troubling the duo’s young daughter (Ivy George), they call in a Catholic priest (Michael Krawic) for backup. The portrayal of the clergyman is dodgy rather than disrespectful, so audiences will likely be bored, not offended by director Gregory Plotkin’s dry rehash of the franchise’s familiar elements.
Occult themes, sometimes harsh but mostly stylized violence with minimal gore, a glimpse of sexual activity, benignly viewed drug use, a few instances of profanity, frequent rough and crude language.

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“Rock the Kasbah” (Open Road)

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.

A fast-talking, down-on-his-luck music manager from Southern California (Bill Murray) quips his way through war-torn Afghanistan as he attempts to propel a village girl (Leem Lubany) to fame and fortune on the local version of “American Idol.”
Director Barry Levinson takes as his theme the idea that show-business survival skills can work in any setting, no matter how dangerous. But a jaundiced portrayal of Afghan society and a trivialization of violence are jarring potholes for the audience, while the one-liners in screenwriter Mitch Glazer’s script land like dud shells.
Scenes of drug use, verbal and visual references to sexual activity, fleeting profanities, frequent crude and crass language.

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“Jem and the Holograms” (Universal)

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.

Based on an animated television series of the 1980s, wholesome live-action musical follows a talented young woman (the terrific Aubrey Peeples) who, courtesy of the Internet, becomes a pop-music superstar alongside her three sisters. Aided by a robot built by her late father, she resolves to resist the influence of a rapacious producer (Juliette Lewis) and take control of her own creative destiny.
Although constrained by a relatively low budget, director Jon M. Chu does an excellent job of reshaping the material for contemporary audiences and offering insight into the effects, both positive and negative, of social media and the digital age on personal identity. Video clips submitted by real-life fans of the “Jem” series are neatly incorporated, and the resulting picture treats pertinent social issues with style, enthusiasm and sensitivity.
Two instances of crass language, a few borderline profane exclamations, one instance of toilet humor in the form of an emoticon, two kisses between unmarried young adults, one shot of a bare male upper torso, and some mildly suggestive song lyrics.

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“99 Homes” (Broad Green)

Trenchant, didactic and profoundly moral drama examining the human cost of the financial crisis that began in 2008. Director Ramin Bahrani, who co-scripted with Amir Naderi, portrays the Faustian bargain struck between two bit players on the Orlando, Florida, real estate scene — one an unemployed construction worker (Andrew Garfield), the other a seemingly pitiless broker (Michael Shannon) — as each tries to weather the maelstrom of forces unleashed by the meltdown.
A scene of suicide, frequent rough and crude language.

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“Bridge of Spies” (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.

Outstanding historical drama, set at the height of the Cold War, in which a New York corporate lawyer (Tom Hanks) is given the thankless task of defending an accused KGB agent (Mark Rylance), does so with more doggedness than expected by those who selected him, then becomes involved in the negotiations to swap his client for the downed pilot (Austin Stowell) of a U.S. spy plane.
Director Steven Spielberg’s film adds suspense to a fact-based story whose outcome is well known by focusing on the fate of an American graduate student (Will Rogers) caught on the wrong side of the newly built Berlin Wall. A balanced outlook on the struggle between East and West and the thoroughgoing, understated decency of its main character make this well-crafted retrospective a valuable viewing experience.
Probably acceptable for older teens. A few uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms, occasional crude and crass language.

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“Crimson Peak” (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.

Though handsome to look at, this luxurious turn-of-the-20th-century ghost story is relentlessly off-key in its human interaction while its initially isolated bouts of gruesome violence multiply as the action intensifies toward a lurid conclusion.
Despite the misgivings of her loving father (Jim Beaver), an upstate New York heiress (Mia Wasikowska) falls for a titled but impoverished British mine owner (Tom Hiddleston) who, accompanied by his spooky sister (Jessica Chastain), has come to the new world in search of fresh capital to revive the family business. Following Dad’s somewhat mysterious death, the couple marries and, with sinister sibling in tow, departs for the grand but dilapidated family seat in the English countryside where further eerie doings are bound to be added to the heroine’s unsettling childhood encounters with her deceased mother (Doug Jones in special-effects drag).
Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro aims for an old-fashioned haunted house entertainment in the Vincent Price vein. What he winds up delivering instead is a hothouse hybrid of historically naive costume drama, queasy decadence and visceral bloodletting.
Excessive gory violence, semi-graphic scenes of perverted sexual activity and marital lovemaking, brief rear nudity, a pornographic image, at least one rough term.

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“Pan” (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 — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Before opening out into a lavish but hollow special effects extravaganza, this attempt to provide J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (Levi Miller) with an original backstory lingers in the oppressive World War II-era Catholic orphanage to which the future hero was entrusted in infancy by his mother (Amanda Seyfried). There the piggish glutton of a nun (Kathy Burke) who runs the place hoards food from her hungry charges as the Luftwaffe drops its bombs.
Entrance to her underground cache of delicacies is obtained by twisting the nose of a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Compared to the gruel, corporal punishments and emotional abuse doled out by the sisters, Peter’s later challenges — together with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and a young James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), here an ally, he battles the nefarious Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) for the future of Neverland — seem like a jaunt in the country.
Having demolished the only version of Christianity on offer in their film, screenwriter Jason Fuchs and director Joe Wright toy with talk of Peter as the promised “messiah” of this alternate universe. And their script contrasts the fulfillment to be found in magic with the despair that results from pride-destroying faith.
Unsuitable even for adults, this perilous cinematic journey — part run-of-the-mill theme ride, part wishful, willful ego trip — is certainly not safe for children. Mean spirited anti-Catholicism, a negative view of religion in general, brief sacrilegious and scatological humor, much stylized violence, a few mild oaths.

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“Goosebumps” (Columbia)

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.

The blockbuster children’s book series comes to the big screen as a mildly scary adventure that unleashes author R.L. Stine’s (Jack Black) vast and varied menagerie of monsters.
The ghouls are safely trapped inside the locked manuscripts of the reclusive writer’s works until a new neighbor (Dylan Minnette), motivated by puppy love for Stine’s daughter (Odeya Rush), and misguidedly fearing for her safety, trespasses in the company of a schoolmate (Ryan Lee), and inadvertently releases them. Led by a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy (voiced by Black) who is both Stine’s alter ego and his nemesis, the creatures wreak havoc as their quartet of pursuers struggles to unite and recapture them.
Director Rob Letterman’s cheerful bit of gothic fluff will suit most family members, though small fry may be overly unsettled while parents may be annoyed by a momentary exchange that very distantly acknowledges the existence of same-sex dating among teens.
Frequent peril, tense situations, an implicit reference to homosexuality.

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“Sicario” (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.

A deadly game of cat-and-mouse plays out along the U.S.-Mexico border in this ultraviolent thriller about the war on drugs, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
The action centers on an idealistic Arizona-based FBI operative (Emily Blunt) whose participation in a black-ops mission to bring down an anonymous cartel leader gets her mixed up with an enigmatic — and ruthless — fellow agent (Josh Brolin) as well as a former prosecutor from Colombia (Benicio Del Toro) whose current loyalties are unclear.
Though the movie is well-acted, its moral compass is skewed and its outlook excessively bleak. Implicitly endorsed revenge killing, other bloody violence, including torture, several disturbing images, some involving full male and female nudity, pervasive profane and crude language.

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“Woodlawn” (Pure Flix)

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.

Based on the true story of star running back Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille), this entertaining film about renouncing racism and embracing Christianity makes inspirational viewing for most age groups.
In racially torn 1973 Birmingham, Alabama, Nathan’s public high school coach (Nic Bishop), seeking to resolve the tensions among his recently integrated players, turns to a “sports chaplain” (Sean Astin) who challenges the athletes to seek forgiveness, accept Jesus and live the Gospel message.
Although brother directors Andrew and Jon Erwin approach their subject matter from an evangelical perspective — one that evaluates the appropriate borderline between church and state in a way with which all may not agree — their themes of faith, reconciliation and social justice will, of course, resonate with Catholic moviegoers.
Scenes of mild racial violence and aggressive football action.

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“The Walk” (TriStar)

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.

Charming dramatization of events surrounding the signature achievement of high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who in 1974 astounded New Yorkers — and the world at large — by walking across an improvised tightrope strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Petit’s 2002 memoir, “To Reach the Clouds,” shows how the aerialist was inspired by his mentor (Ben Kingsley), a veteran circus performer, and aided in his secretive preparations by an unlikely crew of co-conspirators that included his live-in girlfriend (Charlotte Le Bon), a photographer (Clement Sibony) intent on documenting his artistic coup and a laidback hippie (Cesar Domboy) whose enthusiasm for Petit’s project was somewhat undercut by his fear of heights.
As both narrator and protagonist, Gordon-Levitt draws viewers in with his charismatic combination of Gallic verve and Gotham-style gumption. And the dazzling special effects of his journey across the void will thrill many grown-ups while leaving others unsettled, if not downright queasy. Recommendation for younger moviegoers is hindered, however, by Petit’s un-vowed amour as well as by the script’s comic treatment of pot smoking.
Cohabitation, benignly viewed drug use, fleeting rear nudity, about a half-dozen profanities, occasional crude and crass language.

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“The Martian” (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.

Compelling sci-fi epic in which the crew of a NASA mission to Mars (led by Jessica Chastain) is forced to evacuate the planet on short notice due to the sudden arrival of a windstorm that threatens to destroy their rocket. As they scramble to depart, their botanist (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and swept away in the tempest, leaving his colleagues with no time to mount a rescue attempt.
Though officially declared dead by the agency’s chief (Jeff Daniels), the astronaut is in fact still alive. Yet, with limited supplies of food and water and no means of communicating with Earth, his chances for long-term survival are bleak.
Director Ridley Scott’s screen version of Andy Weir’s novel uses its protagonist’s plight to examine fundamental aspects of the human spirit: courage and ingenuity, the fear of isolation and the yearning for solidarity. Though screenwriter Drew Goddard’s script touches on religion only in passing, its references to faith are all the more eloquent for being apparently casual and all the more pointed because of a science-celebrating context in which such affirmations might mistakenly be thought to be out of place.
Possibly acceptable for older teens. Some medical gore, a flash of rear nudity, scatological and other mature references, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term, occasional crude and crass language.

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“Hotel Transylvania 2” (Warner Bros.)

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.

When Dracula’s daughter (voice of Selena Gomez) and her slacker of a human husband (voice of Andy Samberg) become parents, the count (voiced by Adam Sandler), who originally opposed but now accepts their mixed union, reverts to his intolerant ways by insisting that their son (voice of Asher Blinkoff) must grow up to be a vampire.
Returning director Genndy Tartakovsky reassembles the iconic monsters (voiced by Kevin James, David Spade and Steve Buscemi, among others) who hang out at the hostelry of the title for a weak and surprisingly violent follow-up to his 2012 animated comedy.
Parents will find the humor hit-or-miss at best, while the climactic mayhem may well prove too intense for their little ones. Some potentially frightening dust-ups, mildly scatological images and wordplay.

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“The Intern” (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.

Generally affable comedy about a bored retiree (Robert De Niro) who enrolls in an online clothing retailer’s internship program for senior citizens. Assigned to assist the firm’s hard-driving founder (Anne Hathaway), who initially views him as little more than a nuisance, he works to prove his professional worth, while finding romance with the company’s in-house masseuse (Rene Russo).
Writer-director Nancy Meyers showcases the synergy between the creative innovation of the young and the experience-based wisdom of their elders, though her means of doing so sometimes ring false. A subplot involving the strained relationship between Hathaway’s harried CEO and her stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm) is resolved in a way that ultimately affirms commitment and fidelity. Yet the dialogue, at least, follows a twisting path to get there. Taken together with the needless inclusion of some adults-only humor, the script’s slightly wobbling values raise concerns about the film’s acceptability even for older teens.
A premarital situation, a nongraphic bedroom scene between spouses, intermittent sexual humor, a few rough terms, occasional crass language, an obscene gesture.

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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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