The much-anticipated Star Wars standalone film, Rogue One, is out this week, but it’s rated PG-13 and it’s a little darker than its predecessors. Christy lets us know whether or not there’s anything unsuitable for the youngest Star Wars fans. Also, she gives us the lowdown on the Will Smith tearkerker Collateral Beauty and a handful of DVD releases. Read on for details.
NEW IN THEATERS
Rating: PG-13, for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
There’s a new Star Wars movie! There’s a new Star Wars movie! Your kids are probably pumped about this, so you should know what’s in it – and know that it’s darker than you might expect. Rogue One, which takes place between Episodes III and IV in the series, follows the mission to steal the plans for the Death Star, which – as we know – the rebels blow up in the original Star Wars. Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso, daughter of an Empire scientist who strikes out on her own and joins the Rebellion. She’s a strong and brave young woman, in the tradition of Leia and Rey. But she also sees many horrors along the way. (Possible spoilers ahead!) Director Gareth Edwards’ film isn’t afraid to kill characters we’ve come to care about, and the film vividly shows what happens when the Death Star trains its lasers on planets for a series of test runs. And some characters have no qualms about coldly killing each other, which we see. I brought my Star Wars-obsessed son, who’s now 7, with me to a screening and he wasn’t afraid of anything here. He loved it. But Rogue One is a serious war picture much of the time, with massive battle sequences, which could make it too intense for the youngest viewers in your family.
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements and brief strong language.
This may look like a feel-good, life-affirming holiday movie. It’s actually very strange and I’m going to have a hard time describing it, but here goes. Will Smith stars as a former hotshot ad executive who’s now reeling from a major family tragedy. His business partners – played by Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Michael Pena – scheme to make him look crazy so they can sell the agency, which is floundering in his absence. Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Helen Mirren play the struggling actors who manipulate him by portraying the notions of Love, Time, and Death, respectively. Along the way, all the characters learn to deal with their own problems. What are the odds? Director David Frankel’s film deals with some very mature themes of loss and grief. There’s also quite a bit of language throughout, including the one F-bomb you get with a PG-13 rating. Plus, this film is just so bizarre and hard to follow, your kids will probably be thoroughly confused (as will you).
NEW ON DVD
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.
Don’t let the candy-colored marketing scheme fool you: This is really only OK for viewers around 12 or 13 and older. Suicide Squad is right there on the edge of what you can include in an action movie without earning an R rating. This latest comic book blockbuster extravaganza based on DC Comics characters is just relentlessly violent. It’s about a group of incarcerated super villains who are offered reduced sentences if they’ll help the federal government take down even worse bad guys than they are. They include the expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy-sexy Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), who blasts fire from his fingertips. It’s extremely dark thematically in terms of who these characters are, what they’ve done and what they can do. There’s relentless gunfire, as well as stabbings, brutal fistfights, zombie invasions, and witch sorcery from the powerful Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). It’s also quite difficult to follow much of the time — both in terms of the story and the visuals — with so many characters and so much of the action taking place at night. And of course there is The Joker (Jared Leto), for whom wreaking havoc is his raison d’etre.
Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril.
Kids around 9 or 10 and older are probably fine watching the latest flight of fancy from director Tim Burton. It follows the adventures of a teenager named Jake (Asa Butterfield) who travels back in time to visit an orphanage full of kids with magical abilities. The material would seem tailor-made for Burton’s tastes. The “peculiars,” as they’re known, can set fire to things just by touching them, or float away, or spit bees from their mouths, to list just a few. But there are some deeply frightening images here, too, including the sight of dead people whose eyes have been plucked from their skulls, leaving them with dark, haunting holes. The murderous villains, meanwhile, have eyes that shine an eerie, bright white. We also see the repeated sight of Nazi planes dropping bombs on the orphanage during World War II. There’s some fun to be had here, too, as well as some moments of beauty and wonder. But the story, based on the Young Adult novel by Ransom Riggs, features a densely packed mythology that’s often hard to follow. My son — who wasn’t quite 7 when he saw this and never gets scared in movies – found the sight of the hollow-eyed people frightening. And, like me, he often thought the convoluted plot was confusing.
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence and disturbing images.
Viewers around 12 or 13 should be fine watching this high-tech telling of the classic, biblical-era tale. It’s about half as long as the 1959 Charlton Heston version, but it’s crammed with violent action sequences. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince of Judea, is wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to slavery when his adopted brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell), a Roman officer on the rise, accuses him of treason. Ben-Hur must find a way back to rescue his mother and sister, get revenge and restore his name. Along the way, he spends years being whipped as a galley slave and there’s a ton of graphic swordplay. Men all around him drown, get pierced with arrows, and are set on fire. Of course, Ben-Hur must compete against Messala in a climactic chariot race in which riders get tossed in the air and trampled by horses. And he keeps running into Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro), including during the crucifixion, which (as you can imagine), is traumatic and bloody. But you also may find that Ben-Hur is worthwhile as a story of redemption, spirituality and forgiveness.
Rating: PG-13, for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference.
President Obama’s administration is coming to a close in a few weeks, but you can revisit his early days with the first lady in this walking-and-talking romance. It recreates the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama, back when they were in their mid-20s with dreams of changing the world. Parker Sawyers plays the future president when he was still just a charismatic law student, with Tika Sumpter co-starring as the future first lady, his superior at the Chicago law firm where he worked during the summer of 1989. The two spend the day together on the city’s South side – hence the title – visiting an art exhibit, attending a community meeting, seeing a movie (Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing) and finally sharing a climactic ice cream cone. There’s a bit of language. The young Obama smokes cigarettes pretty much non-stop and jokes about smoking too much pot in college. We also see a snippet of the riot scene in Lee’s classic film as the couple is watching it in a theater. But this is really lovely, intimate and beautifully acted. I’d say it’s fine for viewers around age 10 and older, especially if they’re interested in history or politics.