CNS reviews of recent films on the basis of moral suitability

Juliet Stevenson, center, stars in a scene from the movie "The Letters." 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.(CNS photo/MPRM Communications) See MOVIE-REVIEW-LETTERS Dec. 1, 2015.

Rating: By Catholic News Service

CAPTION: Juliet Stevenson, center, stars in a scene from the movie “The Letters.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. See review below. (CNS/MPRM Communications

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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.

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“In the Heart of the Sea” (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.

The real-life events that helped inspire Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel “Moby-Dick” become the basis for a polished and exciting adventure directed by Ron Howard.
As the novelist (Ben Whishaw) interviews the last survivor (Brendan Gleeson) of an ill-fated 1820 whaling expedition out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, the old salt (played in youth by Tom Holland) reluctantly reveals the tragic consequences that resulted from the rivalry between his vessel’s aristocratic but inexperienced captain (Benjamin Walker) and its veteran first mate (Chris Hemsworth), a feud which led to the ship’s disastrous encounter with a leviathan of vast proportions and unusual ferocity.
While it falls short of its own sublime ambitions, Howard’s film is visually striking and generally absorbing as it weaves its tale of hubris and greed, deprivation and determination. And a light touch is maintained in its incidental treatment of religious and environmental topics.
Despite some grim plot developments, this adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s history text, published in 2000, will make fit and even valuable fare for most mature adolescents. Much stylized seafaring violence with brief gore, mature themes, including cannibalism and suicide, a fleeting bawdy image, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a single crude and several crass terms.

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“The Letters” (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 not be suitable for children.

Appreciative but poorly handled biography of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata (Juliet Stevenson) focuses on her decision to leave the cloistered teaching order (led locally by Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal) in which she began religious life and dedicate herself instead to the work of serving the most afflicted of her adopted city’s slum dwellers.
As narrated through a retrospective conversation between the famed nun’s spiritual director (Max von Sydow) and the church official (Rutger Hauer) charged with investigating her life with a view to her possible canonization, the facts surrounding her courageous ministry — and the tenacious spiritual struggle that resulted from her decades-long sense of God’s complete absence — are alternately spoon-fed to the audience through dialogue and dramatized in a way that fails to spark interest.
Writer-director William Riead successfully conveys the obedience with which his subject submitted her personal convictions about her vocation to the judgment of the church, but otherwise fails to delve below the surface. Some tense scenes of conflict and potentially disturbing medical situations.

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“Krampus” (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.

Holiday horror reigns as one suburban family’s strident quarreling not only quashes the true spirit of Christmas, but unleashes Santa’s evil counterpart, a monster bent on annihilating the naughty.
The titular fiend’s rampage is triggered when an innocent lad (Emjay Anthony), driven to despair by the selfishness of his dysfunctional clan (led by Adam Scott and Toni Collette), renounces his previously staunch faith in St. Nicholas by tearing up his annual letter to the gift giver. The result is a blizzard of epic proportions that traps the boy’s raucous relatives — including his gun-loving uncle (David Koechner) and ineffectual aunt (Allison Tolman) — as well as the good-hearted but melancholy German granny (Krista Stadler) from whom he inherited his trust in Kris Kringle inside his parents’ home. There they make easy prey for the marauding Anticlaus and his minions.
While avoiding any direct reference to Christianity, director and co-writer Michael Dougherty skewers the materialism that mars the season and promotes unity and self-sacrifice in the face of danger. But such values seem to be checked off by rote amid the chaotic logic of the film’s nightmarish events, an ordeal that yields scanty rewards for viewers.
Brief gory images, considerable stylized violence, a visual drug reference, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a single rough term, occasional crude and crass language.

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“Creed” (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.

This imaginative, and surprisingly gentle, reboot of the “Rocky” franchise takes viewers back to the series’ Philadelphia roots as the legendary former heavyweight champ (Sylvester Stallone) coaches the illegitimate son (Michael B. Jordan) of his long-deceased adversary-turned-ally, Apollo Creed.
Director Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Covington, is wise enough to touch lightly on all the familiar notes of the 1976 original, thus reminding his audience that he respects the past even as he reinvents for the future.
The script’s underlying message is that, no matter what the circumstances, the cherished old values of self-sacrifice and discipline can prevail. That outlook may, in the judgment of many parents, extend the movie’s appropriate appeal, making it acceptable fare for mature adolescents.
Bloody physical violence, fleeting rough language.

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“The Good Dinosaur” (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.

A warm and fuzzy take on the human-dino dynamic of the “Jurassic” films, this 3-D comedy-adventure makes wholesome and hilarious entertainment for the entire family.
Director and co-writer Peter Sohn gleefully reworks history in proposing that the asteroid which may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs never happened. Instead, they evolved in an anthropomorphic fashion, talking and acting just like humans. A young Apatosaurus (voice of Raymond Ochoa) is separated from his family, and must find his way home, with only a feral Neanderthal boy (voice of Jack Bright) as his companion.
A few intense moments may upset the very youngest viewers, but all ages will be inspired as our plucky hero rises to his challenges. The film is preceded by “Sanjay’s Super Team,” directed by Sanjay Patel, about an Indian lad who comes to respect his father’s devotion to Hinduism. Parents will appreciate the short’s affirmation of faith but may want to combat any potential confusion with an age-appropriate primer on the difference between even wisdom-graced speculation about the divine and revealed truth. A few scenes of peril.

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“Victor Frankenstein” (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 familiar story of the titular mad scientist (James McAvoy) and his unholy creation is retold from the point of view of his traditional assistant, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe).
Afflicted with a deforming malady, Igor is an abused and despised circus performer in Victorian London who harbors secret, self-taught medical knowledge until his kindly future patron, recognizing his outstanding intellect, rescues him from virtual captivity. As Frankenstein spars with a religiously zealous police detective (Andrew Scott) who’s determined to thwart his revivification schemes, Igor pursues romance with a trapeze artist-turned-socialite (Jessica Brown Findlay) he knew — and admired from afar — in his days of misery.
While the tension between faith and science is one of the themes halfheartedly pursued amid the film’s steampunk-style spectacle, the representatives of the two sides in the dialogue’s debate are equally unbalanced and unconvincing. Despite committed performances from the leads, director Max Landis’ horror-flecked drama winds up feeling as cobbled together, lumbering and directionless as the monster that lurches through its climactic scenes.
Possibly acceptable for mature teens. Considerable stylized violence, an implied, but benignly viewed, premarital encounter, a single crude term, a few mild oaths, a fleeting reference to homosexuality.

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“Secret in Their Eyes” (STX)

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.

In the months following the 9/11 attacks, the investigation into the rape and murder of a Los Angeles-based FBI agent’s (Julia Roberts) teen daughter (Zoe Graham) is compromised by the fact that the prime suspect (Joe Cole) is a bureau asset, an anti-terrorism mole working inside one of the city’s mosques.
The corrupt outcome of the case is emotionally wearing for the prosecutor (Nicole Kidman) supervising it, but takes an even greater toll on the agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who led the hunt, a close friend and colleague of the victim’s mother. Thirteen years later, his ongoing obsession with the crime leads to an apparent breakthrough and to a reunion with his former co-workers. Yet resolution of the wrongdoing — and of his missed romantic opportunities with Kidman’s character — remains elusive.
In adapting Argentine author Eduardo Sacheri’s novel “La Pregunta de Sus Ojos,” which previously served as the basis for Juan Jose Campanella’s eponymous and Oscar-winning 2009 film, writer-director Billy Ray shuttles somewhat confusingly between time periods but evokes a striking performance from Roberts. In the lead-up to a twist ending, only allusions to an “open” marriage trouble the ethical waters. On the far side of that surprise, however, lurks a justification of coldblooded killing that renders this crime drama completely unacceptable for viewers of any age.
Warped values concerning justice, the sanctity of human life and marital fidelity, unsettling images of violence with brief gore, a discreetly portrayed act of indecent exposure, several uses of profanity, at least one instance of rough language, occasional crude and crass terms.

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“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” (Lionsgate)

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.

Surprisingly glum franchise finale in which the resistance fighter (Jennifer Lawrence) who has become the symbol of the revolution (led by Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman) sweeping her dystopian society secretly commits herself to the task of assassinating the tyrannical chief (Donald Sutherland) of the old order. Along the way to fulfilling this mission, she’s distracted by romantic complications involving two long-standing rivals for her love: one (Josh Hutcherson) a fellow veteran of the gladiatorial tourney of the title who was subsequently captured, tortured and brainwashed by the enemy; the other (Liam Hemsworth) a childhood friend turned steadfast comrade.
As director Francis Lawrence wraps up the four-part adaptation of novelist Suzanne Collins’ saga, his film avoids painting combat with too bright a palette. And the obscenity-free script, penned by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, honorably explores the morality of war and the justice of targeting oppressors. But the wide audience for whom this briefly horror-tinged sci-fi outing is suitable may find the last stretches of its heroine’s long odyssey something of a slog.
Much stylized and some harsh violence but with minimal gore, mature themes including war atrocities and suicide, potentially frightening scenes, an apparently innocent but possibly ambiguous bedroom encounter.

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“The Night Before” (Columbia)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

A putrid stew of sacrilege and gross-out gags surrounds the adventures of three overgrown adolescents (Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie) as they embark on their annual, all-night Christmas Eve bender through the streets of New York.
Director and co-writer Jonathan Levine’s trashy film dwells on the unpleasant necessity of growing up, and uses a succession of street-side characters, including drunken Santas, to philosophize about the true meaning of the holiday. But it’s heedless hedonism — particularly substance abuse — that really guides this sleigh ride to nowhere.
Blasphemous humor, constant, benignly viewed drug use, full nudity, semi-graphic casual sexual activity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight)

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.

Dignified, meticulously understated story about a young Irishwoman (gracefully portrayed by Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates to America in the early 1950s with the help of a Roman Catholic priest (Jim Broadbent) and who falls in love with a plumber of Italian descent (Emory Cohen).
Look elsewhere for a litany of woes, harshness, or excoriating judgments. Free of manufactured tumult and melodrama, this adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel offers a trenchant, compelling look at the subject of migration and the theme of dislocation from a woman’s perspective.
Director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby neatly calibrate the pathos and humor; the result is elevated entertainment in which atonement is seen as possible because mistakes are measured in full context, not in isolation. The Catholic Church is shown to be a caring and constructive force that, without fanfare or hubris, provides spiritual guidance and material comfort to its flock.
A non-explicit premarital encounter, several uses of rough language, and some crude and crass language.

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“The 33” (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.

The compelling true story of a group of Chilean miners who spent 69 days trapped underground in 2010 becomes a mostly admirable but less than absorbing drama under the direction of Patricia Riggen.
The film’s wide focus takes in a number of those at risk — most prominently their unofficial leader (Antonio Banderas) and their duped representative with management (Lou Diamond Phillips) — as well as those trying to rescue them, including the country’s earnest minister of mining (Rodrigo Santoro) and an expert engineer (Gabriel Byrne). But the overcrowded scene, which also features Juliette Binoche as the understandably aggressive spokeswoman for the anguished families, hinders the kind of detailed characterizations that would lead viewers to identify more deeply with the plight of the imperiled.
The prayerful Christian faith that permeates the diggers’ lives, both before and during their ordeal, fails to prevent one of them (Oscar Nunez) from carrying on an extramarital affair, a lapse ill-advisedly portrayed as a source of comic relief by screenwriter Mikko Alanne. Honorable themes highlighting corporate irresponsibility and the reconciling power of a life-threatening crisis remain undeveloped.
A frivolous treatment of adultery, some mildly gory injuries, brief sexual talk, at least one use of profanity, a handful of crude and crass terms.

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“My All American” (Clarius)

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.

Fact-based sports drama recounting the life and untimely death of undersized — and therefore unlikely — college football star Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock).
Just as he was achieving lasting fame as the starting safety for the undefeated 1969 University of Texas Longhorns, Steinmark was sidelined by aggressive bone cancer; he died in 1971. Working from a biography by Jim Dent, director and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo downplays Steinmark’s devout Catholic faith, focusing instead on the player’s bond with his coach, Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart), as well as his chaste, supportive relationship with his girlfriend (Sarah Bolger). The narrative surge that carried two of Pizzo’s earlier films, 1986’s “Hoosiers” and 1993’s “Rudy,” into the end zone is absent from this honorable but maudlin tale. As a result, its doomed protagonist comes off as a bland and enigmatic figure.
A single instance each of crude and crass language.

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“Love the Coopers” (CBS)

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.

Four generations of a dysfunctional clan gather for Christmas Eve in this vulgar comedy from director Jessie Nelson. The family dog (voice of Steve Martin) narrates the action as the about-to-split parents (Diane Keaton and John Goodman) await the arrival of their uniformly unsettled offspring.
Their divorced son (Ed Helms), a struggling single parent, shows up with his potty-mouthed 5-year-old (Blake Baumgartner) in tow. Their single daughter (Olivia Wilde), who’s engaged in an adulterous affair back home, attempts to disguise the situation by convincing a soldier (Jake Lacy) she meets in an airport bar to pose as her boyfriend.
As the film’s lone Christian believer, the GI becomes the butt of many lame gags. Yet his influence can be felt in the generally moral wrap-up, a conclusion that — together with a slender message about the enduring bonds of family as well as the value of tolerance and forgiveness — just barely pulls this project back from complete offensiveness.
Pervasive indecent and some sacrilegious humor, an anti-Christian tone, fleeting approval of homosexuality, implied premarital sex, adult banter, occasional profane and crude language.

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“Spotlight” (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.

Hard-hitting dramatization of real-life events leading up to the public disclosure, in early 2002, of a shocking pattern of clergy sexual abuse — and its equally disturbing concealment — within the Archdiocese of Boston.
When a new editor (Liev Schreiber) takes the helm at the Boston Globe, he commissions the staff of a unit devoted to the in-depth investigation of local stories (led by Michael Keaton) to dig into recent allegations against a handful of the city’s priests. What the team (which also includes Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) eventually uncovers is a widespread and sickening scandal involving scores of clerics and hundreds of young victims.
Director and co-writer Tom McCarthy focuses primarily on the dogged journalism required to penetrate the walls of secrecy surrounding a respected, and therefore protected, institution. And his script, penned with Josh Singer, apportions blame across a broad spectrum that includes the Globe itself while portraying most of its central characters as distanced from, but not embittered toward, the faith in which they were raised.
This painfully accurate film will certainly grieve, but may also educate mature Catholic viewers. Only an ill-founded attempt to portray the misconduct as the inevitable result of the church’s tradition of priestly celibacy gives cause for serious dispute. Mature themes, multiple, sometimes coarse, references to perverse sexual acts, several uses of profanity, a few rough and numerous crude terms.

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“Spectre” (Columbia)

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 wrongheaded policies of the new chief of British intelligence (Andrew Scott) force iconic spy James Bond (Daniel Craig) to go temporarily rogue as he battles the evil organization of the title (led by Christoph Waltz).
With his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) neutralized by bureaucratic infighting, Bond gets behind-the-scenes help from tech whiz Q (Ben Whishaw) and from M’s secretary, Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), in tracking the daughter (Lea Seydoux) of an old adversary (Jesper Christensen) who once served, but has since run afoul of, the villainous group.
Director Sam Mendes’ follow-up to his 2012 reboot of the Bond series, “Skyfall,” features satisfyingly large-scale set pieces as well as the kind of globetrotting action antics moviegoers have come to expect from Agent 007. The film’s political theme — a warning about the dangers of an all-pervasive security state — comes across as murky and somewhat out of place amid the formula fun. But the upward ethical path that finds Bond resisting the temptation to settle scores immorally and pursuing lasting romance in lieu of his more passing encounters — typified here by his brief dalliance with Italian sophisticate Monica Bellucci — will please faithful grown-ups.
Much stylized violence, a few harsher scenes involving torture and some gore, nongraphic but glamorized casual sexual activity, partial nudity, a couple of uses of profanity, a handful of crude terms.

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“The Peanuts Movie” (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.

Charming animated comedy, populated by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s familiar “Peanuts” gang, in which hapless Charlie Brown (voice of Noah Schnapp) pines for his classmate, the Little Red-Haired Girl (voice of Francesca Capaldi) while his fantasy-prone beagle, Snoopy (voiced, via recordings, by the late Bill Melendez), pursues romance with the World War I-era aviatrix of his daydreams.
In extending a big-screen legacy that dates back to 1971, director Steve Martino is scrupulously faithful both to the understated tone and the tried-and-true chemistry of his source material. Though the needless incorporation of 3-D effects leads to an overemphasis on Snoopy’s airborne adventures, back on the ground top-notch values, including altruism, honesty and loyalty — as well as a touch of prayerful spirituality — prevail in a story well calculated to win the hearts of old and young alike.
Imaginary combat, some minor peril.

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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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