Free Fire


The premise of this action comedy is that a single extended gunfight can sustain an entire film, provided the participants in the showdown keep making incongruously funny and mordant remarks. The setup involves a deal to buy assault rifles that quickly goes bad. So the two sides represented, most prominently, by would-be gun buyer Brie Larson and arms dealer Sharlto Copley spend the rest of the run time pulling their triggers and reloading while attempting to retrieve a briefcase loaded with cash. Viewers willing to detach the violent proceedings from real life will discover the occasional humorous moment. But, ultimately, director Ben Wheatley’s film, co-written with Amy Jump, ends up a claustrophobic exercise in mindless conflict. Pervasive gun and physical violence, fleeting gore, drug use, occasional profanities, constant rough language. L; R

Born in China


Directed and co-written by Lu Chuan, and narrated by John Krasinski, this entry in the Disneynature series rests on the tried and true premise that critters in the wild act just like humans when no one is (supposedly) watching. Animals are given names and personalities; complex family relationships are mapped; and every goofy moment is highlighted for comic relief. As winter approaches, a mother snow leopard fears for her two cubs as she struggles to maintain their food supply atop one of China’s tallest peaks. Down in the forest, a golden snub-nosed monkey gets into all kinds of mischief, while a mother panda is perfectly content to sit and eat bamboo all day with her baby son at her side. The documentary may tug a bit too hard on the heartstrings at times. But the breathtaking cinematography, together with the total absence of anything objectionable, makes the film well worth the price of admission. A-I; G

Phoenix Forgotten


Dull, though mostly harmless, sci-fi-themed horror tale in which, 20 years after they disappeared, the now-grown younger sister (Florence Hartigan) of one of a trio of teens (Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez and Justin Matthews) who vanished without a trace in the Arizona desert explores the connection between that event and a well-publicized (real-life) UFO sighting over the skies of Phoenix that took place shortly before. With the protagonist making a documentary about her search, and her subjects having left a videocassette tape of their activities behind, the tired “found footage” conceit is brought to bear. But even the immediacy ideally produced by that device could not alter the fact that the virtually bloodless proceedings in director and co-writer Justin Barber’s feature debut fail to intrigue. Some parents may feel that the absence of gore apart from the sight of some ravaged wildlife makes the film acceptable for mature adolescents despite the vulgar vocabulary into which the characters sometimes lapse, especially when frightened. At least one use of profanity and a milder oath, frequent crude and occasional crass language, unsettling images of dead animals. A-III; PG-13

The Promise

Open Road

The relatively little-known 1915-22 genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turks is brought into sharp focus in this epic drama. Director and co-writer (with Robin Swicord) Terry George melds an important history lesson with a tender love story. In 1914 Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), an idealistic medical student (Oscar Isaac) falls for an artist and fellow Armenian (Charlotte le Bon) who is seeing a firebrand American journalist (Christian Bale). As Turkey enters World War I and embarks on a campaign of ethnic cleansing, the pair faces arrest, prison and, potentially, death. So, too, does the reporter after he attempts to inform the world of the killings. Remarkable courage, perseverance and their unwavering Christian faith sustain the survivors against all odds. Given its potential to raise awareness of a historical tragedy, the film is probably acceptable for mature adolescents. Scenes of wartime atrocities and violence, a nongraphic, nonmarital sexual encounter, brief crude language. A-III; PG-13

The Circle


Confused cautionary tale about a young office worker (Emma Watson) who is thrilled when a friend (Karen Gillan) gets her a job at the world’s leading social media company (led by founders Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt). But the corporate culture turns out to be unsettlingly cult-like and the outfit’s stated goal of enlisting every person on the planet as a member raises troubling issues about privacy and the power of big business. The protagonist’s initial enthusiasm is also dampened by her encounters with the now-marginalized, and disenchanted, third creator of the firm (John Boyega). In adapting his co-writer Dave Eggers’ novel for the screen, director James Ponsoldt fails to insert much energy into the proceedings, and the film’s ultimate message remains unclear. While perfectly acceptable for a wide swath of grown-ups, a crucial scene probably puts this drama over the line for all but the most mature teens. Brief semi-graphic marital lovemaking, some sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term, several crude and a couple of crass words. A-III; PG-13

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Spirited sci-fi follow-up in which the hero (Chris Pratt) of the 2014 original encounters his long-lost father (Kurt Russell), a demi-god who created, and rules over, his own paradise-like planet. Though the two quickly bond, all is not as it seems. Family troubles also dog the alien (Zoe Saldana) the protagonist would like to make his girlfriend as she pursues her longstanding rivalry with her scheming sister (Karen Gillan). In between these clan conflicts, the group of the title its membership rounded out by a tactless musclebound extraterrestrial (Dave Bautista), a racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and an undersized tree-like creature (voice of Vin Diesel) does battle with an array of adversaries, one band of them led by the space pirate (Michael Rooker) who raised Pratt’s character after his human mother died. In continuing to adapt a series of Marvel comics, writer-director James Gunn maintains a jaunty atmosphere but adds an interesting allegory about the dangers of selfishness. Maturity is required to sort through the movie’s mythology, however, as well as Gunn’s somewhat ambiguous, though incidental, use of religiously-themed music and imagery. Mostly stylized combat violence with little gore, some sexual humor, a few mild oaths, occasional crude and more frequent crass talk. A-III; PG-13

USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting


A-I – General patronage

A-II – Adults and adolescents

A-III – Adults

A-IV – Adults, with reservations

L – Limited adult audience

O – Morally offensive

Motion Picture Association of America ratings:

G – General audiences; all ages admitted

PG – Parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children

PG-13 – Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13; some material may be inappropriate for young children

R – Restricted; under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian

NC-17 – No one under 17 admitted