Calvary (Fox Searchlight)

Set in rural Ireland, this bleak but powerful seriocomedy kicks off with a startling premise. In the confessional, a grown victim of childhood sex abuse by a priest tells Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson), the dedicated pastor of the County Sligo parish where he now lives, that in a week's time he intends to avenge himself by killing the innocent clergyman.

With the perpetrator of the crimes against him dead, and despairing of being healed by therapy, Father James' unseen interlocutor reasons that it would be a futile gesture to slay a bad priest. But to take the life of a good cleric, that would certainly be an act that would draw people's attention.

This opening scene, which establishes the kind of extreme situation that such Catholic authors as Graham Greene or Flannery O'Connor might once have played on, also makes it clear, through the sufferer's harshly candid description of his experiences, that this is not a film for the summer popcorn set.

Mature viewers prepared for rugged material, on the other hand, will likely consider their investment of time and attention well rewarded.

As writer-director John Michael McDonagh chronicles the seven days that follow Father James' life-threatening encounter, we learn that this thoroughly decent but otherwise ordinary man of the cloth is a widower and father ordained after his wife's death. This aspect of his past is revealed when his emotionally fragile, Dublin-based daughter comes to town, looking for his support in the wake of a romantic crisis.

Father James also tends to the varied needs of the errant or eccentric souls who make up his small flock. They're a challenging lot, but Father James does his best with each. Less laudable is his response to the plight of socially awkward, sexually frustrated bachelor Milo, whom Father James advises to move to a city where he'll probably find the girls more open to his casual advances.

As with an exchange in which Father James and his weasel-like curate discuss the content of a parishioner's recent confession far too openly, this off-kilter interaction with Milo may raise the hackles of Catholic moviegoers. At least in the case of the penitent, however, there are extenuating pastoral circumstances.

Such incidental flaws notwithstanding, McDonagh is mostly respectful, if unsparing, in his treatment of the contemporary church as he ably explores a range of hefty themes — faith, moral failure, reconciliation and sacrifice among them.

He's sustained by Gleeson's memorable performance during which we watch Father James display understandable uncertainty about how to respond to the existential threat confronting him. Should he arm himself? Involve the police? Flee the vicinity? Or should he offer himself in Christ-like expiation for the sins of others?

Watching him decide makes for thoughtful drama, though the demands of the process mean that the appropriate audience for "Calvary" remains a narrow one.

The film contains brief but extremely gory violence, drug use, mature themes, including clergy sexual abuse, homosexual prostitution and suicide, a few uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. (L, R)

Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney)

Self-sacrificing, morally elevating love as well as dedicated camaraderie are showcased in this crackerjack sci-fi adventure. While not suitable for young moviegoers, this rollicking adaptation of a series of Marvel comic books offers their elders top-flight escapist entertainment.

As lead character Peter, Christopher Pratt successfully embodies the movie's saucy but good-hearted spirit — which is, in the end, far more important than the ins and outs of its plot. A freebooting, lovable rogue, Peter is also a sentimentalist whose most prized possession is a mix tape his mother made for him comprising her favorite pop tunes.

One of the songs Mom favored, Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," accurately predicts her son's destined transformation from interstellar ladies' man (at least according to his own boastful account) to altruistic, forsaking-all-others potential spouse. Following a similar arc to those of his opponents-turned-friends, moreover, Peter transcends his thieving past to become an unlikely, but thoroughly selfless, hero.

The positive ethical direction in which Peter and his comrades move — together with the sheer fun of observing their humor-filled exploits — makes it a shame that the elements listed below prevent endorsement of "Guardians of the Galaxy" for a wider audience.

The film contains much action and martial arts-style violence, brief shadowy rear nudity, occasional rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. (A-III, PG-13.)


CNS classifications: A-I — general patronage. A-II — adults and adolescents. A-III — adults. A-IV — adults, with reservations. L — limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. O — morally offensive.