Parental Guidance

How Family-Friendly are Assassin's Creed, Passengers, Sing, and A Monster Calls?

by | December 22, 2016 | Comments

This week, we get another animated film aimed squarely at the kid demographic, but there are also a couple of other big movies — including one based on a popular video game series and one starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence — that might interest younger viewers. Read on to see how closely they skirt the edge of that R rating.


NEW IN THEATERS

 

Assassin's Creed (2016) 18%

Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language.

Hey, guess what? There’s another movie based on a video game – and this one doesn’t get that transition right, either, despite heftier production values and a more pedigreed cast than its predecessors. Michael Fassbender stars as Cal, who’s being executed for murder in the present day at the film’s start. But then he wakes up and he finds he’s in a lab where he’ll have to tap into his genetic ability to live someone else’s memories – specifically, those of his ancestor, who was part of a secret society known as the Assassins. His mission: Travel back to Spain 500 years ago. His goal: Find the elusive Apple of Eden, an artifact that has something to do with controlling free will. It’s very confusing. Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling co-star. Why any of these esteemed actors said yes to this is truly mind-boggling. The film from Justin Kurzel, who also directed Fassbender in last year’s Macbeth, has a similarly gritty, gloomy aesthetic – and it’s just relentlessly violent. As I often say, it’s right there on the edge of what you can get away with in a PG-13 movie. Assassin’s Creed features copious killings and stabbings as well as a ton of brutal, hand-to-hand combat. It is very bloody. There’s also a frightening sci-fi element as Cal mentally goes back in time. Younger viewers will find the plot super baffling; then again, so will most adults. I’ve never played the game so I have no idea whether this movie is an accurate reflection of what it’s about. Simply as a movie, though, I’d say it’s really only appropriate for viewers 13 and older.


Passengers (2016) 31%

Rating: PG-13, for sexuality, nudity and action/peril.

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star as the only two people awake aboard a spaceship headed for a colony on a distant planet. Thousands of other passengers are still in a 120-year state of hibernation. How will they survive? It’s a cool concept with some twists — and some problematic ethics. Director Morten Tyldum’s film is glossy and clever as it depicts life on the ship. It has some amusing elements, mainly courtesy of Michael Sheen as an android bartender. But it turns screechy and silly in the third act when it evolves into an over-the-top sci-fi thriller. There’s some language scattered throughout, as well as the suggestion that Pratt and Lawrence’s characters have sex. We see them lead-up to the act, featuring some nudity from behind, as well as the requisite basking in the afterglow. We also see Pratt naked from behind, both in the shower and wandering around the ship. And the two characters find themselves in major peril at the film’s fiery climax. I brought my son, who’s 7, with me; in retrospect, some of it was too grown-up for him. As for his thoughts on the movie: “It was kind of boring,” he said. And it’s true, there are some long, quiet stretches of loneliness. I’d say this is fine for viewers around 10 and older.


Sing (2016) 72%

Rating: PG, for some rude humor and mild peril.

The latest animated comedy from Illumination Entertainment, the people behind the Despicable Me movies and The Secret Life of Pets, once again finds colorful creatures enjoying adventures in the big city. Matthew McConaughey provides the voice of a koala who owns a historic theater that’s in danger of going under. He gets the idea to stage a singing competition to drum up interest – think of it as Animal Idol – with performers including a harried, housewife pig (Reese Witherspoon), a reluctant criminal gorilla (Taron Egerton), a crooning mouse (Seth MacFarlane) and a punk-rock porcupine (Scarlett Johansson). As in Illumination’s previous movies, there’s nothing even slightly scary or inappropriate here. The animals find themselves in danger, briefly, when a glass case filled with water (and squid) explodes, flooding the dilapidated theater and causing it to crumble. And the gorilla is part of a bank-robbing gang, but we never see the actual crimes. Mostly, Sing is about being true to yourself and finding your voice – literally. And ultimately, it’s about teaming up with a diverse array of folks for a cause. A fun choice for the whole family over the holiday weekend.


A Monster Calls (2017) 86%

Rating: PG-13, for thematic content and some scary images.

Bring tissues. Spanish director J.A. Bayona’s imaginative fantasy film is daringly beautiful and achingly sad. Felicity Jones stars as the divorced mom of a lonely, 12-year-old son (Lewis MacDougall). She’s dying of cancer, and the boy channels his fear through his wild drawings of fantastical creatures. One night, the tree behind his house uproots itself and comes to life, with Liam Neeson richly providing the voice of this monster. The stories he tells the boy are wondrous, with an inspired mix of animation styles. And the tree itself is vividly detailed and tactile – but he’ll also be quite scary for very young viewers. He means well and he can be cheeky, but he’s also intimidating. And A Monster Calls deals quite plainly with the prospect of a parent’s death. The mom’s illness reaches such a severe state that she has to be hospitalized, forcing the boy to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). But the movie also is about forgiveness and growing up, as well as the healing power of creativity. Probably fine for viewers around 8 and older. Adults will be a mess regardless of age.


NEW ON DVD

 

Storks (2016) 66%

Rating: PG, for mild action and some thematic elements.

The whole family can enjoy this animated comedy, although watching it together could lead to some awkward conversations about where babies come from. That had to happen at some point, though, right? The idea is that storks don’t deliver babies anymore; now, they deliver packages for an Amazon-like behemoth called Cornerstore.com. But when the baby-making section of the factory accidentally starts up again, it’s up to a stork named Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) and a clumsy human named Tulip (Katie Crown) to deliver the infant before their blowhard of a boss (Kelsey Grammer) finds out she exists. Storks is zippy and zany but it also has some unexpected heart. Much of that comes from the relationship between the lonely boy who wished for a little brother, which started this whole madcap sequence of events, and the parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) who are too busy with their real-estate business to spend time with him. Kids will love the colorful aesthetic and the fast-paced energy. There are also a couple of running bits that are truly absurd and insane, which they’ll probably find extremely entertaining.


Sully (2016) 85%

Rating: PG-13, for some peril and brief, strong language.

Viewers around 9 or 10 and older should be fine watching the latest from Clint Eastwood, based on the true story of the Miracle on the Hudson. Tom Hanks stars as Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the veteran pilot who famously landed a US Airways plane in the middle of the Hudson River when both engines cut out after takeoff, saving all 155 people on board. Eastwood’s direction is lean and efficient and he creates a surprising amount of tension given that he’s telling a recent story with an ending we all know. The emergency landing itself is as stressful as you’d expect, with people on board sobbing and saying goodbye to each other and their loved ones as they fear they’re about to die. Once the plane lands safely, several passengers are in danger of drowning in the frigid river. There’s also some language scattered throughout. But the movie itself is brisk and well made, and a worthwhile story of heroism, teamwork and perseverance.


The Magnificent Seven (2016) 64%

Rating: PG-13, for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.

Kids around 13 and older should be fine watching this remake of the 1960 John Sturges Western The Magnificent Seven – itself a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai– although I’d show them either of those original films first. Once again, a ragtag band of men comes together to protect a small town from invading bad guys. The setting this time is Northern California, and the main villain is a robber baron (Peter Sarsgaard) searching for gold. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Byung-hun Lee play some of the tough guys and gunslingers who’ve signed on to stop him and his men. Director Antoine Fuqua’s film has a modern quality in its multicultural cast, but it mostly stays true to Western conventions. Expect prolonged scenes of intense violence, with shootouts, stabbings and battles on horseback. The carnage comes early and often, including an opening sequence in which Sarsgaard’s character coldly kills several townspeople to assert his dominance. There’s a bit of language and a ton of smoking.

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