Black and Blue

Screen Gems

Director Deon Taylor’s action thriller succeeds better in maintaining suspense about the fate of its protagonist than in commenting on current social issues, as Peter A. Dowling’s script clearly aspires to do. An African American rookie in the New Orleans Police Department (Naomie Harris) accidentally witnesses the murder of a drug dealer, a crime that implicates some of her fellow officers (including James Moses Black and Frank Grillo) in an already unfolding scandal. She also captures the killing on her bodycam. As she becomes a fugitive, with the bad cops in pursuit, she discovers how few in the black community are willing to help her, though a local shop owner (Tyrese Gibson) does, reluctantly, come to her assistance. There’s a contrived feel to the setup, and the movie goes on too long. But the chase is interesting, and Harris’ character provides a strong moral compass while Gibson’s undergoes something of a conversion. Considerable violence with some gore, including gunplay and a harsh beating, about a dozen uses of profanity, a few milder oaths, a couple of rough terms, much crude and crass language. A-III; R

Harriet

Focus

Long-overdue but flawed drama chronicling the exploits of the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, Maryland-born Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo). When her owner (Mike Marunde) dies suddenly and his son (Joe Alwyn) threatens to sell her South, she successfully escapes. Connecting with other abolitionists (including Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae), she takes numerous trips back across the Pennsylvania border hoping to liberate her family and others. Director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons’ film, which also features Zackary Momoh as Tubman’s husband, celebrates life and reminds audiences of the price some of our forebears had to pay for the freedoms we enjoy. And Erivo, a veteran of the London stage, breathes spirit and pathos into the titular character. Yet the pace lags and the tense moments that could have made this portrayal worthy of its heroic subject are mostly absent, though the script, on which Lemmons collaborated with Gregory Allen Howard, does pay due attention to Tubman’s deep religious faith. Probably acceptable for teens. Racial slurs and a few crude and crass terms. A-III; PG-13

Zombieland: Double Tap

Columbia

Follow-up to the 2009 horror-comedy combination charts the further adventures of the original’s central quartet  Jesse Eisenberg’s amiable nebbish, Woody Harrelson’s macho gunman, Emma Stone’s commitment-averse loner and her fancy-free sibling, played by Abigail Breslin  as they continue to fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by flesh-craving zombies. When Breslin’s character and her new hippie boyfriend (Avan Jogia) suddenly depart on a road trip to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the remaining trio, fearing for her safety, embarks on a quest to catch up with her. They’re joined by a ditzy blonde (Zoey Deutch) and eventually aided by a tough-as-nails hotel owner (Rosario Dawson), the former a complicating factor in Eisenberg’s strained romance with Stone, the latter a potential perfect match for Harrelson. Though the moral trend in returning director Ruben Fleischer’s film is toward marriage and loyalty among pals, casual sex is winked at along the way, as is pot smoking, while the script is littered with crudity and displays a subtle disdain for faith. Throw in the gleefully gruesome mowing down of the undead inherited from the kickoff, and the whole proves beyond endorsement. Pervasive gory violence, an implicit anti-Christian theme, nonmarital sexual activity and cohabitation, drug use, several profanities and milder oaths, relentless rough and crude language, an obscene gesture. O; R

Countdown

STX

Occasionally effective horror story about a haunted phone app that tells victims exactly when they’ll die. A plucky nurse (Elizabeth Lail) becomes the chief opponent of the demon (Dirk Rogers) behind it all, defending her younger sister (Talitha Bateman) with the help of a quirky priest (P.J. Byrne) whose methods are occult rather than Catholic. Though writer-director Justin Dec’s film is quite clearly aimed with precision at teens, the amount of vulgar talk included in the dialogue precludes its endorsement for them. An occult theme, some gore, brief physical violence, a few profanities, frequent crude language. A-III; PG-13

The Divine Plan

Nexus Media

This feature-length documentary examines the partnership between St. John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan that took shape after both survived assassination attempts and asks whether their collaboration in ending the Cold War and bringing about the fall of Soviet communism was accidental or providential. Filmmaker Robert Orlando showcases interviews with church insiders, political authors and government officials and, although the poorly handled visual aspect of his film distracts from the fascinating information with which it’s filled, this is still a wonderful addition to the history of relations between the United States and the Catholic Church. Mature themes, some potentially disturbing historical images. A-II; Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Lucy in the Sky

Fox Searchlight

Loosely based on a real-life love triangle involving astronauts, this drama attempts to portray how the experience of outer space has a way of altering earthbound judgments. Natalie Portman plays a robotics specialist who, bored of her affectionate but dull husband (Dan Stevens), embarks on an affair with a colleague (Jon Hamm). When her deft organizational skills decay into obsessive behavior, he diverts his amorous attentions to another spacewoman (Zazie Beetz) with drastic results for the psyche of his abandoned mistress. The plot lacks a cogent explanation for how lengthy stays in orbit corrode personalities other than by creating tremendous emotions that can’t be replicated later. And the protagonist’s romantic dilemma is the stuff of many a Lifetime movie. Though her iron will is attractive, her bad decisions remain difficult to understand. A couple of scenes of implied adulterous activity, fleeting rough and crass language. A-III; R

USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting

classifications:

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