The so-called bishops’ reviews have nothing to do with any US bishop, nor do they really have anything to do with the US bishops conference. To reflect that, they don’t even carry the USCCB name anymore; they’re called the Catholic News Services reviews now. They have no authority of any kind, and they should have no more weight in your prudential judgments than you think you should give them. That’s the short of it.
If you want my opinion, then OPINION INCOMING.
I recommend giving the CNS reviews very little weight, frankly, because I think they are pretty terrible reviews.
For one thing, I don’t approve of their rating schema: “general patronage,” “adults and adolescents,” “adults,” “limited adult audiences,” and “morally offensive.” It’s bad for two reasons.
First, because parents should be making prudential judgments about what is appropriate for their kids, not some random Catholic reviews. Only a parent is in a position to judge if her adolescent is mature and grounded enough to handle an A-III movie, or if her preteen is perhaps too immature to handle an A-II movie. But the rating scheme doesn’t take varying maturity levels of children and adolescents into account; it just tells parents “A-I movies for kids, A-II movies for adolescents, A-III movies for adults.” That’s the wrong way to do these things; the reviews should be aiding the parents in making their own informed prudential judgment for their kids, not replacing the parents’ prudential judgment with a blunt hammer of a system.
Second, the rating scheme is deficient because (like the MPAA ratings) it is not specific enough. Why is a given movie A-III? Violence? Sexuality? Disturbing themes? Is the violence glorified, or is it meant to disturb and revolt the audience? Do these things matter? Of course they do. But they’re not reflected in the ratings. Sure, if you read the body of the reviews you’ll get some of this information (though not all of it; the reviews tend to be kind of general, summarizing most of the immoral content in a single paragraph, and not going into how much the sexuality is fetishized, how it is shot, whether the violence is meant to be exciting or depressing, etc.). But the whole point of having a rating schema is to give you a quick reference. The CNS’ system, like the MPAA’s, is too general.
Next, the CNS ratings are woefully inconsistent. Unlike even the MPAA (who will automatically give an R rating to something with too many f-words, etc.), the CNS reviews have no objective standards at all for their ratings. Hence how The Golden Compass and Brokeback Mountain (!) originally did not receive O ratings. When there was outrage over the Brokeback Mountain rating, they changed it to O, but they were careful to say that the original L rating was not wrong, it was just that some people didn’t understand the L rating. Seriously. Jimmy Akin wrote about it here. Are you sure you still want these people to be your moral police?
Or take the example of the Matrix trilogy. The first movie (The Matrix) had tons of serious gun violence, some very disturbing stuff, but almost no sexual content, and very hopeful themes built on Plato’s allegory of the cave. The CNS rating: O, morally offensive. Well okay, there is all that gun violence. The second movie has even more gun violence, bigger hand to hand fights, disturbing themes that call into question the hopefulness of the previous movie, and an explicit sex scene involving rear nudity which cuts back and forth with a scene of people having a giant orgy in a cave. The CNS rating: L, limited adult audiences. Seriously, CNS? Seriously? Could you possibly be more inconsistent?
So there you have it: they have nothing to do with the bishops, and they are terrible moral police. I recommend summarily ignoring them and basing your prudential judgments on other factors.
If you want my favorite movie review website for individuals looking to filter out immoral content (and parents deciding what to take their children to), it’s kids-in-mind.com. Kids-in-mind gives movies a rating (from 1-10) in sex and nudity, violence and gore, and profanity. It then describes in excruciating detail everything that happens in the movie that you might consider objectionable. In other words, it gives an objective descriptions (and an objective, quick-reference numeric summary) that is actually informative and doesn’t tell parents what to do with their kids. It aids in prudential judgments rather than trying to replace them.