Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most-adapted tales in the history of the English language, and Steven Knight, creator of gritty period series Peaky Blinders and Taboo, is the latest talent to have taken on the task.

We all know the story: crotchety miser Ebenezer Scrooge has a Christmas Eve night visitation from his dead former partner Jacob Marley, who warns him of three ghosts who will attend him as he walks through visions of Christmases past, present, and future.

This new FX presentation, directed by Nick Murphy (The Awakening), stars Guy Pearce as Scrooge and Andy Serkis as a grumpy Ghost of Christmas Past and promises a darker take on the 1843 novella that made a superstar of its author: “A Christmas Carol is a spine-tingling immersion into Scrooge’s dark night of the soul,” the promotional materials promise.

“It is a darker retelling. There’s no question,” Serkis told Rotten Tomatoes. “It’s a unique retelling in that respect because… Scrooge in this is not some sort of old miser character. He’s actually a tough businessmen… who is in denial and doesn’t want to really engage with his own moral relativism.”

We caught up with the stars to get a feel for the new adaptation — and it indeed feels scary. Here are five ways this Christmas Carol one-ups previous efforts.


1. This Cool Scrooge Resonates With Modern Audiences

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

Scrooge is not as crotchety here as in previous interpretations of the character; in fact, the character may resemble more real-life people than ever before. Pearce offered a personal assessment of his character.

“They really wanted somebody this time who still had been affected in life the way that we know Scrooge has been, but that his demeanor and his presence in the world was more of a businessman, as a leader who is a kind of a cocky, confident, swaggering kind of asshole, basically,” Pearce told Rotten Tomatoes. “I think it was important for Nick, our director, and for Steven, our writer, to get away from the crotchety old man who exhibits on the surface the pain and damage that he’s experienced in his life. And the fact that he’s turned away from the world and plays somebody who’s actually up front to the world and says, ‘Come on, bring it on. Bring on your questions about who I am and what it is, because I’ve got a really good response for you.’ And kind of like that, be a little bit more affronting and aggressive. And so, in a way, we still get to the point where we drag him through his past, and we make him look at the things he’s done to people, and we crack open the soul that is a damaged soul.”


2. This Ghost of Christmas Past Plays Dirty

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Andy Serkis as Ghost of Christmas Past. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

But his Scrooge will face a harder fight in Knight’s version, Pearce confirmed: “It’s a tougher journey because the Ghost of Christmas Past is a really hard nut to crack.”

“The Ghost of Christmas Past is jaded,” the character description offers. “He’s been sent to make lost souls repent before, why should Scrooge be any different? He prods and pokes where it hurts, transforming himself into those known to his charge, finding a place of pain, shame and self-knowledge. But can he get Scrooge to recognize himself, and repent?”


3. The Ghost of Christmas Present Has a Much More Personal Relationship With Scrooge

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Charlotte Riley as Lottie/Ghost of Christmas Present. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

Charlotte Riley appears as the Ghost of Christmas Present, while Jason Flemyng is the Ghost of Christmas Future. Both ghosts are updated here with new twists on the characters.

“She plays my sister who has died some years before,” Pearce said, “and she has now come back as the Ghost of Christmas Present. And — particularly after the ruthlessness of Andy Serkis’ Ghost of Christmas Past, who shape-shifts into all sorts of characters through my past, and he’s really tough on me — then she comes in as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and it’s my long lost dead sister, so it’s so emotional and so touching and painful. And then it’s capped off with Jason playing sort of ruthless again, but silent like the silent-killer kind of attitude, as the Ghost of Christmas Future.”


4. Steven Knight’s Take Is Indeed Chilling

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Jason Flemyng as Ghost of Christmas Future. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

One of the most unsettling features of the new story is how closely it hews to issues — and personalities — we face today, which is a very intentional choice. Serkis said he knew he was in for something special when he heard Knight was attached.

“When I heard that there was another version of Christmas Carol being made, I kind of thought, ‘Wow, OK. Again? Another one?'” he said. “But as soon as I knew that Steven Knight was writing it, I knew that now, ‘This is going to be an interesting take,’ because I knew this was going to be the beginning of a journey into his exploration of Dickens in other stories as well, which is the case.”

Knight and the stars had previously talked about “stripping down” the story, which Serkis expounded on for Rotten Tomatoes.

“When we say ‘stripping down,’ it was more about not getting bogged down in the sort of tropes of a costume drama, Victorian drama, and allowing it to live afresh as a really contemporary piece of writing,” he said. “And therefore, and so, even though you’re what you, of course, allowing the visuals, you do that work, you want to feel that the character is alive and very present and not sort of imagining what it might be like to have been alive in the 19th century. You’re not doing that. You’re actually saying these are people, people are people, and we still have the same issues, problems. We need to unpack the difficulties of the human condition in this, in a very modern way to make this story resonate with a fresh audience.”


5. Serkis’ Costuming Challenge Continues Here Even If He’s Not a CG-Enhanced Character

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge, Andy Serkis as Ghost of Christmas Past. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

Serkis, known especially for his CG-enhanced performances like Gollum and Caesar in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes franchises, faced a different sort of challenge here.

“[The costume] was so heavy. It was like going from the sublime to the ridiculous. I couldn’t possibly have more makeup or costume to bear, but it was great, actually. It was nice to play a character in the flesh, and it was a particularly challenging character, not least because it was like sensory deprivation actually wearing this costume. I had long locks of hair and an additional beard. I had an eye that I couldn’t see out of. I had scars all over my face. I had long nails, so once I got into costume, I was able to kind of get into the character and stay there. I had to.”

To compound his costuming issues, they filmed in summer.

“It was pretty brutal at times,” Serkis said. “I just had to at least take the hat off and get the top layer off as much as I could. But — actor problems.”

A Christmas Carol airs Thursday, December 19 at 7:30 on FX.


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Most of the biggest movies opening this week are rated R, but there’s at least one wide release and one new film simultaneously hitting Netflix that promise slightly less adult-oriented entertainment. Read on for details on a domestic violence thriller and a drama about love late in life, as well as couple of DVD releases.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

'Til Death Do Us Part (2017) --

Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements involving domestic abuse, violence, some sexuality and language.

This is essentially a remake of the 1991 Julia Roberts thriller Sleeping With the Enemy, with an African-American cast. Annie Ilonzeh stars as a beautiful woman living a comfortable life with her handsome, doting husband (Stephen Bishop). But increasingly, he shows his controlling and jealous sides – and he eventually abuses her, mentally and physically, even though she’s pregnant with his child. She runs away to start a new life and thinks she’s found happiness – until one day when her husband tracks her down and arrives at her door. This is a pretty mature film with dramatic, disturbing images of domestic violence. There’s quite a bit of language and – in the couple’s happier times – some sexual images and discussions. There’s also a major car crash, a shooting and general melodramatic insanity. At the same time, director Chris Stokes’ film also has the good intention of encouraging domestic violence victims to seek help. Suitable for viewers around 12 or 13 and older.


Our Souls at Night (2017) 89%

Rating: Unrated but contains adult situations and discussions and drunkenness.

Fifty years after co-starring for the first time in Barefoot in the Park, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford reunite once again in this sweet story about finding love later in life. Their characters — widowed neighbors living in the same small, Colorado town — enter into an arrangement in which they sleep together nightly to fight loneliness. That’s it – just sleep. For a long time, their relationship remains platonic as they drift off discussing everything from mundane daily activities to long-held wishes and regrets. Eventually, though, their connection becomes more intimate, which director Ritesh Batra depicts tastefully with some chaste hotel-room kissing. Fonda’s character’s troubled son (Matthias Schoenaerts) also enters the picture as a drunk and sometimes neglectful dad to his own 7-year-old son. There’s a brief bit of conflict. But for the most part, Our Souls at Night – which is opening theatrically in limited release and available everywhere on Netflix – is a nice, well-acted picture that provides a solid showcase for its veteran superstars. Fine for ages 10 and older.


NEW ON DVD

 

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) 16%

Rating: PG-13, for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo.

It made over $605 million worldwide this summer — and that’s why they keep on making these Transformers movies, even though they’re terrible. Tweens and older should be fine watching it, however, even though Michael Bay’s latest somehow manages to be more incoherent than its predecessors. Once again, the planet is in peril, and only Mark Wahlberg playing a guy named Cade Yeager can save it. Giant robots smash into each other and their alien planet, Cybertron, might smash into Earth to drain it of all its energy. Bay’s film is, as always, a massive, cacophonous spectacle. There’s a ton of violence here, beginning with a battle set during the time of King Arthur. In the present day, the robot combat causes a ton of destruction, as always — and explosions. So many explosions. There’s quite a bit of language throughout as various characters insult each other and freak out about the possibility of the world ending. And there’s some mildly racy humor as Wahlberg’s character exchanges allegedly snappy banter with a brilliant and suggestively dressed professor (Laura Haddock), but kids probably won’t get it. My son (who’s nearly 8) saw it in IMAX 3D and he was fine, but kids who feel uncomfortable during sensory-overload movies like this might have difficulty watching it. And at well over two hours, the latest Transformers will probably be a tough sit for many young viewers.


47 Meters Down (2017) 52%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of intense, peril, bloody images, and brief strong language.

Tweens and older should be fine watching this unabashed B-movie about beautiful young women in danger of becoming shark food. In fact, they’ll probably love it. 47 Meters Down is lean and mean, and it has some decent scares as well as some impressive underwater camerawork. Mandy Moore and Claire Holt co-star as sisters on a diving trip in Mexico in which they climb into a cage to swim with great whites. But the cable tying them to the boat snaps, plunging them to the bottom of the ocean, where myriad dangers abound. This is a pretty intense little movie. People suffer shark bites and one character dies. It’s dark and scary down there, and the women are constantly aware that they could die at any moment. Understandably, they frequently panic – which depletes their oxygen supply faster, which makes them panic even more. There’s also quite a bit of cursing and a little bit of kissing.

The latest entry in the LEGO movie universe is clearly aimed at kids — no surprise there — but Christy also offers her take on the based-on-true-events tale of a groundbreaking tennis match, opening in limited release, and a documentary on one of the world’s biggest pop stars, currently streamable on Netflix. She also re-examines one of the biggest blockbuster hits of the summer, newly available on DVD. Read on for details.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

The LEGO NINJAGO Movie (2017) 55%

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

The third movie in the Lego Cinematic Universe isn’t nearly as zippy, funny, or visually inventive as its predecessors. And if you and your kids are fans of the TV show Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, you may be disappointed to find how little the film version resembles it. But The Lego Ninjago Movie is the only week’s new release that the whole family can enjoy together, so if you’re planning to see it, you’ll probably have a decent time. The animated comedy follows the adventures of a group of high school students who are secretly ninjas. Specifically, it follows their leader, the green ninja Lloyd Garmadon (voiced by Dave Franco), as he struggles to reconnect with his estranged father, the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) – a villain who just happens to keep invading Ninjago City. Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Michael Pena, and Zach Woods provide the voices of the other ninjas, but they don’t get much to do; Jackie Chan plays their wise leader, Master Wu. The antics are zany, and the martial-arts battles and big action sequences are played for laughs. There’s nothing scary or inappropriate here, and ultimately, the story is very family-affirming. Fine for all ages.


Battle of the Sexes (2017) 84%

Rating: PG-13, for some sexual content and partial nudity.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell star in the true story about tennis legends Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, who played each other in a highly watched 1973 match known as the “Battle of the Sexes.” The groundbreaking King was the world’s top-ranked tennis player at the time; Riggs, a self-professed chauvinist pig, challenged her to a match in hopes of proving that men were superior athletes. At the same time, though, the married King began a romance with her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough), exploring previously untapped lesbian urges that could derail her career if exposed. The film from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) focuses intimately and tenderly on King’s affair; we see a lot of kissing and cuddling in hotel rooms and the suggestion that the two women have had sex. There’s also a slight bit of nudity. Because this was the ‘70s, nearly everyone smokes. And overall, the sexist attitudes many men in the tennis world had toward female players (and women in general) may be shocking for younger viewers to hear – but maybe that’s also a potential teaching moment, to show how antiquated and wrong such thinking is. Suitable for ages 10 or 11 and older.


Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017) 73%

Rating: Unrated, but contains language throughout, some nudity, smoking and discussion of drug use.

Your kids may love Lady Gaga, but they may not be ready just yet for this intimate look at the pop superstar. Director Chris Moukarbel’s documentary, which is also available on Netflix, follows Gaga as she records and promotes her very personal “Joanne” album and prepares for her halftime performance during Super Bowl LI. But we also see her struggling with constant physical pain and lamenting the collapse of her romance with actor Taylor Kinney, whom she’d planned to marry. Gaga cries a lot in the film, making herself vulnerable time and time again. She also curses and smokes throughout the film, and we see her topless several times as she changes clothes backstage or just hangs out with friends. It’s a fascinating profile, with Gaga emerging as a woman and an artist who’s confidently, defiantly herself, even as she’s willing to reveal human frailties. I’d say this is fine for viewers around 11 or 12 and older.


NEW ON DVD

 

Wonder Woman (2017) 93%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

This movie was a massive hit this summer, making nearly $820 million worldwide, and understandably so. It’s a thrillingly executed, surprisingly emotional blockbuster that has a lot to offer viewers of various ages – but perhaps not young kids. It’s great, but it’s also extremely violent. In telling the origin story of Diana Prince (a hugely charismatic Gal Gadot), the Amazon warrior who’d become a superhero, director Patty Jenkins has pulled off a tricky balance of humor, heart and high-tech spectacle that’s genuinely inspiring. But Wonder Woman also features several long, graphic action sequences. There’s a ton of gunfire, swordplay, and hand-to-hand combat. Many characters die, and while there isn’t a lot of blood (hence the PG-13 rating), the movie definitely doesn’t shy away from showing the actual deaths. We see people in peril – including women and children — during World War I battles. In one scene, a room full of bad guys perish from poisonous gas. There’s also the suggestion of a sex scene between Diana and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the American spy she rescues from a crash landing, but all we see is kissing in a hotel room. At over two hours, Wonder Woman also might be too long for many kids. Diana is heroic and brave, idealistic and pure, and she’s usually the smartest and most capable person in the room or on the battlefield. That’s all worthwhile. But I suspect this would be too much just yet for viewers younger than 8 or 9.

All of the big movies this week are rated R, so there probably aren’t many of you who are planning family outings to the cineplex. With that in mind, we’ve got Christy’s parental take on a couple of new DVD releases, one of which is made for kids, and one of which is a PG-13 fantasy-horror-action film starring Tom Cruise. If you decide you want to watch the latter, there are some things you might want to know. Read on for details.


NEW ON DVD

 

The Mummy (2017) 15%

Rating: PG-13, for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.

Kids around 10 or 11 and older should be fine watching Tom Cruise’s reboot of The Mummy. (This was my son’s first Cruise movie, for better or worse.) It’s actually the beginning of a whole new Universal universe: a series of high-tech re-dos of classic monster movies. This time, Cruise stars as a highly trained soldier who secretly steals antiquities during missions alongside his wisecracking friend and partner (Jake Johnson). One day, he accidentally unearths an ancient tomb and helps revive an evil Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella) who’d been buried for centuries. There’s quite a bit of startling, gnarly imagery here, as well as sexually suggestive material. A flashback to the events that sealed the princess’ fate reveals that she murdered her family (which we don’t see, but the blood splatters suggest what she’s done). In the present day, she kills several people by draining the life from them with a kiss – but then they’re reborn as her ferocious, undead army. She causes quite a bit of chaos and destruction, including an intense plane crash and a massive sandstorm that engulfs London. She’s also barely clothed most of the time. And there are several fistfights, stabbings and explosions. In general, the enormous, noisy spectacle of director Alex Kurtzman’s film may be too much for younger viewers to handle.


Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017) 87%

Rating: PG, for mild rude humor throughout.

You probably saw this movie over the summer if you have kids in your house who are huge fans of the Captain Underpants books, like mine is. And they probably loved it, and have been singing its unlikely superhero’s catch phrase – “Tra la laaa!” – around the house ever since. But the humor is so rapid-fire, why not watch it again to catch the laughs you might have missed? This high-energy animated comedy was one of the great surprises of the summer, working just as well for adults as it did for kids, despite the proliferation of potty humor. Director David Soren’s film, written by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah MarshallGet Him to the Greek), draws from a few of author Dav Pilkey’s hugely popular books. It introduces best friends George (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), who spend their days designing comic books and plotting elaborate pranks at their elementary school. But one day they go too far, turning their mean principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), into the comic hero of their dreams: Captain Underpants. Nothing in here is vaguely inappropriate – unless you have a problem with jokes about poop, pee, farts and toilets. And Captain Underpants actually has a valuable message about being kind to people who are friendless or who’ve been bullied. But mostly it’s about gross-out jokes. A great pick for all ages.

The new big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It is, by most accounts, pretty great, and it features a likable cast of kids in what looks like a coming-of-age film… with a creepy clown. It may be tempting to think it’s harmless enough to take your kids to, but you may want to read Christy’s assessment of it — and the new Reese Witherspoon rom-com — before you do that.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

It (2017) 86%

Rating: R, for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.

Just wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page here regarding It. Because even though it’s about a bunch of kids, and it’s got a clown, It is definitely not for younger viewers. It may not be for older viewers, either, if you have trouble watching horror movies (or you have a phobia of clowns, which is totally understandable, because they’re creepy). The latest adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel follows a group of 11-year-old misfits as they investigate a series of child disappearances in small-town Maine. Each of them also gets unwelcome visits from Pennywise, the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard), who uses his supernatural powers to torment them with whatever frightens them most. The images in director Andy Muschietti’s film can be harrowing and the children are in constant danger. From the very start, we see kids being attacked, often in bloody fashion. There’s also a disturbing subplot involving the girl in the group and her abusive father. The frights are powerful, but even more effective is the camaraderie between the well-chosen cast of young stars. One of the most believable elements of It is the way they talk – affectionately making fun of each other, often with profanity and sexual humor, as they try to act more mature than they really are to hide their fear. Anyway, it’s great, but it’s just not great for anyone younger than 14 or 15.


Home Again (2017) 33%

Rating: PG-13, for some sexual and thematic material.

Reese Witherspoon returns to romantic comedy, starring as a mother of two who goes back to her hometown of Los Angeles after separating from her husband (Michael Sheen). She moves back into her childhood home, and after a night of partying on her 40th birthday, invites three aspiring (and much younger) filmmakers to live in her guesthouse. They all form a makeshift family, which gets complicated with romantic entanglements. There’s a lot of kissing and discussion of sex, especially as Witherspoon’s character becomes increasingly involved with the cutest of the three young men, an overconfident director played by Pico Alexander. There’s also a ton of drinking, including the night she meets these guys and extending to long, wine-soaked evenings with her best girlfriends. There’s also a bit of violence, but it’s supposed to be comical. We see a bag of medical marijuana (briefly) and hear scattered language. And throughout the first film from writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer, there are adult discussions of a marriage dissolving. OK for viewers around 12 or 13 and older.

Almost everything new in theaters and on DVD this week is rated R, but there is a Steven Spielberg sci-fi classic returning to the big screen, and even though it’s about aliens visiting Earth, it’s a decidedly more hopeful take on the genre. If you never got to see it in theaters, now’s your chance, and you should feel free to take your kids. Read on for Christy’s assessment.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

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Rating: PG, for some intense sci-fi action, mild language and thematic elements.

The Steven Spielberg classic is getting a re-release this weekend in honor of its 40th anniversary, and if you’ve never seen it – or you’ve never seen it on the big screen – now is the time to do it. This is also a great opportunity to share the film with your kids. It’s signature Spielberg sci-fi through and through — certainly not as cuddly as E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, but similarly filled with awe and wonder about the possibilities of discovery and connection. But as is often the case in the master director’s films, Close Encounters features many moments that are mysterious and unsettling – even frightening – as it builds up to revealing what the aliens’ purpose is on Earth. Richard Dreyfuss stars as a man obsessed by visions he can’t explain and driven to determine what they mean. His quest connects him with a woman (Melinda Dillon) whose son was abducted and whisked away in a UFO. The two find themselves drawn to the imposing Devil’s Tower in Wyoming in search of answers. Some of the alien stuff might seem scary for little kids: the dramatic lights, the space ship, the iconic John Williams score. I showed Close Encounters to my son a couple summers ago – he’s now almost 8 – and he did fine, but seeing it in a movie theater might be an entirely different and possibly overwhelming experience for younger viewers. Still, the film is thrilling and ultimately hopeful, and it holds up beautifully all these decades later. I highly recommend it for viewers around 8 and older.

Of all the movies opening or expanding in wide release this week, only two are suitable for chidren: one is an animated film about a ballerina, and the other is an inspirational story based on true events. In other words, you’re probably pretty safe taking your kids to either one, even if one is likely to be more enjoyable for you. Read on for Christy’s take on both.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

Leap! (2016) 41%

Rating: PG, for some impolite humor, and action.

A French orphan dreams of being a ballerina in this family-friendly – if mediocre  — animated adventure. Elle Fanning provides the voice of Felicie, a plucky 11-year-old who escapes her dreary, rural trappings in the late 1800s and makes her way to Paris to study dance. Along for the ride is her best friend, a wannabe inventor named Victor (Nat Wolff), who’s secretly in love with her. Both find themselves in marginal danger as they scamper about the city streets. Felicie lies about her identity, pretending she’s a mean rich girl to sneak into the prestigious Opera Ballet School. And the girl’s mom (voiced by Kate McKinnon) is an over-the-top villainess who’ll stop at nothing to destroy Felicie, including chasing her at perilous heights across Paris. There’s nothing really harmful here, and I guess the themes of being true to yourself, chasing your dreams, and persevering are worthwhile. But there’s very little in Leap! that truly soars.


All Saints (2017) 95%

Rating: PG, for thematic elements.

This faith-based film is inspired by the true story of a group of refugees from war-torn Myanmar who helped revive a bankrupt church in rural Tennessee. That’s a mouthful, and it may sound like there’s a lot going on here. But much of what makes director Steve Gomer’s film work is the understated way he approaches dramatic and potentially devastating situations. John Corbett stars as the pastor sent to All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, on a temporary assignment to oversee its sale. A big-box store is set to take over the land. But with the arrival of dozens of Karen farmers, who have no money and no place to go, the pastor sees an opportunity to turn the land into crops, give these folks a job and a home, and save the church. It’s an inspiring story of community and perseverance. And while All Saints is unmistakably a movie about faith, prayer, and signs from God, its religious element isn’t heavy-handed, which might make it more accessible for people of all beliefs (or lack thereof). The church members are tested both physically and spiritually. There’s discussion of the atrocities the refugees suffered before fleeing for the United States. And in one scene, the newcomers clash with police over a misunderstanding and a language barrier, but it’s quickly resolved. I’d say this is a fine and even worthwhile film for viewers around age 8 and older.


NEW ON DVD

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) 85%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

You probably saw the sequel to the 2014 surprise smash this summer – after all, it’s made nearly $863 million worldwide, making it the fourth-highest grossing film of the year so far. In case you haven’t, though, and you’d like to check it out, I’d say it’s suitable for viewers around 10 and older. Once again, the Guardians get caught up in another galactic adventure – and bicker with each other, of course. Along the way to saving the day, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – or Star-Lord, as he prefers to be called – learns the true identity of his long-lost father. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are along for the ride, as well as the tiny Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). And similar to Diesel’s Fast and Furious franchise, the Guardians sequel is all about #family. There’s a ton of big, shiny, comic book-movie violence and action here: fights, chases, swordplay and gunfire of the outer-space variety. There’s also a lot of language – mainly from the saucy Rocket. Star-Lord and Gamora enjoy some more romantic tension. And there’s some grown-up humor that’ll probably go over kids’ heads. I brought my son with me to a screening and he did fine – but he’s also seen a lot of Marvel movies in his 7½ years. The themes of loyalty, perseverance, and creating your own family are valuable. And kids will love the insanely adorable Baby Groot. You will too, actually.

Only one of the wide releases this week is rated PG-13 or lower, and it’s the Steven Soderbergh caper Logan Lucky, so your toddlers and pre-teens probably aren’t going to be interested. But if you’ve got older kids, and you’re really looking to see the movie yourself, here’s what you should know about it.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

Logan Lucky (2017) 92%

Rating: PG-13, for language and some crude comments.

Steven Soderbergh is back, four years after saying he was retiring from filmmaking, with another heist movie – but this one’s more down-home and low-key than the splashy Ocean’s trilogy. Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough play siblings who scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina during a major NASCAR race. Along the way they have to stage a prison break – in and out, then back in again – steal various cars, avoid the authorities, and still be done in time for Tatum’s character to attend a beauty pageant where his young daughter is competing. There’s language scattered throughout, a bit of violence during a bar brawl, some explosions, and general destruction in order to pull off the scheme. Plus, you know, these are criminals – but they’re quick-witted, clever criminals. The subject matter, the pacing, and the length of the film (a minute shy of two hours) will probably make this a tough sit for anyone younger than about 11 or 12 and up.

New in theaters this week, we have an animated sequel nobody really asked for and a remarkable memoir brought to life by some A-listers. It’s clear who the audience is for the former, but what do you need to be on the lookout for in the latter, which is rated PG-13? Read on for Christy’s assessment on both, plus a couple of new releases on DVD.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

The Glass Castle (2017) 51%

Rating: PG-13, for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking.

Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir about her horrific youth is now a feature film, and director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) doesn’t shy away from showing us the squalor, poverty, and hunger she and her siblings endured. The film flashes back and forth between Jeannette’s life as an up-and-coming New York journalist in 1989 (when Brie Larson plays her) and her uncertain childhood (when Ella Anderson plays her). The kids’ alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson) and flighty artist mother (Naomi Watts) wanted the family to live off the grid, which meant multiple moves from town to town, no school and — often — no food. Jeannette frequently suffers physical and mental abuse. In one scene, she severely burns herself on the stove because her mother can’t be bothered to feed her; in another, she nearly drowns in a public pool when her father throws her into the deep end to teach her how to swim. All of these perils are in the name of making her (and the other kids) stronger, of giving them independence and character. But it’s harrowing to watch. The film also includes scenes of abandonment and neglect, as well as a moment when the father encourages teenage Jeannette to visit the apartment of an older man who tries to sexually assault her. Ultimately, The Glass Castle is about forgiveness and redemption, but it’s a long and painful haul to get there. I’d say this is suitable for mature tweens and older.


The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (2017) 14%

Rating: PG, for action and some rude humor.

It may be hard to believe, but the world now has a second Nut Job movie. I can’t imagine who was clamoring for this, but here it is anyway. In this sequel to the 2014 animated original, Surly the squirrel (voiced once again by Will Arnett) and his pals must find a new place to pillage for food once the nut shop blows up and the greedy mayor (Bobby Moynihan) decides to turn their neighborhood park into a cheap amusement park for profit. The various furry creatures (voiced once again by Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph, Tom Kenny, and Jeff Dunham) wind up in danger when they try to take on giant pieces of construction equipment. The mayor is super evil, but mostly in a clownish way. And his daughter is shrieky and destructive, but she gets what’s coming to her for her awful behavior. There’s also a bit of romance between Precious, the pug Rudolph voices, and a French bulldog named Frankie (Bobby Cannavale), but it’s sweet and chaste. Fine for all ages, even though it’s not very good.


NEW ON DVD

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017) 18%

Rating: PG, for some rude humor.

Kids around 7 or 8 and older will be fine here, especially if they’re already fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The fourth film in the franchise, inspired by Jeff Kinney’s wildly popular books, finds middle-schooler Greg (Jason Drucker, leading an all-new cast) climbing in the minivan with his family to celebrate their Meemaw’s 90th birthday. Madcap hilarity and hackneyed road-trip hijinks theoretically ensue. The Long Haul earned a PG rating “for some rude humor,” and there’s actually quite a bit of it throughout. Scatological gags involving pee, poop and amusement park puke abound. It’s not offensive, but it’s also not terribly funny. Returning director David Bowers, who co-wrote the script with Kinney himself, stops everything to recreate a lengthy and loving homage to the iconic shower scene from Psycho, a reference you may have to explain to your kids afterward. Also, Greg gains Internet infamy (and subsequent shame) as the star of a gross-out meme. And he and big-brother Rodrick (Charlie Wright) lie to their parents (Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott) by reprogramming the GPS to get closer to a video game convention. Eventually, though, The Long Haul is about perseverance, forgiveness and family togetherness. It’s also not nearly as good as the first three films.


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) 31%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language.

This messy, noisy King Arthur origin story should be suitable for viewers around 12 or 13 and older. Director and co-writer Guy Ritchie mashes up the visual verve and verbal brio of his early gangster movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch with the massive action sequences and glossy CGI that are standard for summer blockbusters. At the center of all the sound and fury is Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, who rises from the obscurity of the streets to take his rightful place as king. There’s a ton of violence: fistfights, explosions, mass destruction and giant, marauding elephants. The usual. People kill each other — it’s an epic power struggle, after all. Because this is a Ritchie movie, there’s plenty of colorful dialogue and language. And a flashback to Arthur’s scrappy childhood reveals he was raised in a brothel.

There isn’t anything new in theaters this week that’s aimed squarely at kids, but on first glance, the Stephen King adaptation The Dark Tower may look a bit like a kid-friendly fantasy adventure… albeit an intense one. Christy tells you what you need to know about it if you plan on taking the family to see it, plus offers her assessment on a couple of newly released DVDs. Read on for details.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

The Dark Tower (2017) 15%

Rating: PG-13, for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.

The long-awaited big-screen version of the revered Stephen King series will be too much for young viewers, yet not enough for everyone else. It’s about portals and time travel and monsters and gun battles, but while the original mythology is dense, director Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of it feels truncated and rushed. Idris Elba stars as the legendary Gunslinger, who’s long been searching for the devilish Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) to keep him from destroying the Dark Tower, which stands in the middle of the universe to protect against evil forces. Only the psychically gifted Jake (Tom Taylor), a misfit Manhattan kid who’s had visions of such destruction, can save us all. While the visual effects often look muddled, the violence within them is unmistakable: vicious beasts that attack out of nowhere; fiery, hellish images of mass suffering; prolonged gun fights that result in many casualties. Children are abducted from around the world and placed in torturous devices to do The Man in Black’s bidding. Both Jake and the Gunslinger must deal with the deaths of people who are important to them. And McConaughey’s character also has psychic powers, which he usually uses to kill people. Overall, it’s not very good, but it is intense. OK for tweens and older.


NEW ON DVD

 

The Circle (2017) 15%

Rating: PG-13, for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use.

Tweens and up should be fine watching this thriller about the evils of the internet – although by the time they see it, they’ll probably think it’s lame and outdated. This cautionary tale, based on Dave Eggers’ bestseller, covers much of the same ground as countless technological thrillers before it. The film from director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) is glossy but ultimately feels choppy. Emma Watson stars as a wide-eyed new employee at a shiny social media behemoth called The Circle. It’s sort of like an extreme version of Google, and it’s similarly situated smack in the middle of the Bay Area. Watson’s Mae is super excited to leave her small town and take an entry-level job there, and quickly succumbs to the corporate culture of sharing everything, all the time, as the company’s gregarious CEO (Tom Hanks) instructs. But when she agrees to take part in a live experiment that destroys all notions of personal privacy, bad things happen. There’s quite a bit of language throughout, including Hanks’ use of the one F-word you’re allowed in a PG-13 movie. Mae accidentally broadcasts an embarrassing sexual situation involving her mother (Glenne Headly) and her father (Bill Paxton), who suffers from multiple sclerosis. A character dies. And there’s just general tension as Mae gets closer to the truth about the company’s intentions.


Going in Style (2017) 47%

Rating: PG-13, for drug content, language and some suggestive material.

Viewers around 10 or 11 and older will be OK watching director Zach Braff’s remake of the 1979 comedy which starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg as elderly, lifelong friends who rob a bank. This time, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin play elderly, lifelong friends who rob a bank – but instead of doing it for kicks, as the characters did in the original, these guys do it out of revenge. There’s quite a bit of language throughout, as well as gunfire – some real, some blanks. Arkin’s character engages in some hot and heavy frolicking with Ann-Margret’s character, a pretty, flirty grocery store clerk. Part of the scheme involves a medical marijuana dealer, which leads to these old-timers getting high and having the munchies. And of course, at the center of all these antics is a massive, federal crime. Going in Style offers some decent laughs here and there, and the three stars are such pros and have such lovely chemistry with each other, they’re enjoyable to watch – even if the movie itself is forgettable.

Yes, there’s a decent chance your kids have seen the colorful, zany ads for The Emoji Movie, and with little else playing for the little ones in movie theaters, you may find yourself standing in line for tickets to see it. Christy offers some advice for those of you who are thinking about doing this, and she also has an alternative to offer. Read on for details.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

The Emoji Movie (2017) 6%

Rating: PG, for rude humor.

Sure, you could take your kids to see The Emoji Movie, but should you? Its 3 percent Tomatometer score –- a truly impressive feat to achieve –- should tell you everything you need to know about it. Still, kids are kids, and they’ll probably be drawn to the colorful characters and their wacky antics. And of course, because one of the main characters is the Poop emoji (voiced by Patrick Stewart, of all people), there’s plenty of potty humor. Basically, the movie explores what it would be like if the emojis inside your smartphone were sentient beings with personalities -– albeit, one-note personalities dictated by the emotions they express. But ultimately, its message is the same trite one so many animated movies offer: Find your own voice and be true to yourself. Not a terrible concept, but not an especially novel one, either. At various points, the characters find themselves in the midst of danger and destruction. There’s a bit of kissing as well as a scene in a dive bar. Overall, it’s harmless for children -– but soul crushing for adults.


An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017) 80%

Rating: PG, for thematic elements and some troubling images.

Eleven years after the release of the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore is back, still fighting climate change with the same passion he’s shown for decades. This sequel has a bit less punch than its predecessor, and it’s so worshipful of the former vice president that it often plays like an infomercial. But the topic is unfortunately more relevant than ever -– especially with President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord earlier this summer -– and Gore’s dedication is undeniable. As he travels on his worldwide lecture circuit, Gore shows dramatic videos revealing the increasing power of natural disasters because of the effects of global warming. Countless people find themselves homeless and in harm’s way. And Gore gets fired up as he addresses large crowds on the subject, his intensity often turning to anger. But both the sequel and the original could be useful teaching tools for young people, especially if they have an interest in science. Fine for viewers around 8 or 9 and older –- if you can convince them that they won’t be bored.


NEW ON DVD

 

Ghost in the Shell (2017) 43%

Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images.

This movie truly earns its rating; I’d say it’s really only suitable for more mature kids who are 13 and older. Scarlett Johansson stars in a live-action version of the influential 1995 Japanese anime film about a futuristic society in which a young woman’s brain is placed in a synthetic body. Johansson’s Major is a trained killing machine, but she’s haunted by glimmers of memories of her human past, many of which are frightening. This is an extremely violent movie with punishing fight sequences, extended gun battles and major explosions. The world in which the characters live is dark and gloomy (despite bursts of high-tech color) and it’s full of danger. Much of the imagery is extremely creepy, such as the sight of a robot geisha being shot in the face. Also, there are many scenes in which it appears that Major is fighting while completely naked, but it’s actually just the way her flesh-colored “shell” was designed. And there’s a scene in a club with strippers, but we don’t see much.


The Boss Baby (2017) 53%

Rating: PG, for some mild rude humor.

Your own babies around 5 or 6 and older should be fine watching this animated comedy, even though it’s truly bizarre. A 7-year-old boy named Tim (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi) is living a perfectly happy, suburban life with his mom (Lisa Kudrow) and dad (Jimmy Kimmel). Then one day, a baby brother arrives –- and he’s wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, tossing cash around and talking with the voice of Alec Baldwin. He’s an infant and a grown-up at the same time, and he’s here on a mission involving puppies and a rocket ship…? Anyway, it’s very confusing, but ultimately harmless. Tim has an active imagination, which leads to some wildly colorful fantasy sequences, but they’re more playful than scary. There are the obligatory diaper and potty jokes, and we see some naked baby butts. A trip to Las Vegas involves some slightly racy humor that kids won’t get. And a mad scientist holds Tim and the baby captive, briefly, but they ultimately save the day.

You may be itching to see Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed new war epic, and you might be tempted to take your kids, considering it’s rated PG-13. But before you do that, have a look at what film critic — and mother — Christy Lemire has to say about it, plus her thoughts on Luc Besson’s colorful and bizarre space adventure, in case your kids see the trailers and beg you to see it.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

Dunkirk (2017) 92%

Rating: PG-13, for intense war experience and some language.

Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama is a masterful, compact pressure cooker of tension and technical prowess. It’s at once intimate and epic – deceptively simple yet dazzling with the kind of complex narrative that’s long been a signature of the writer-director of Memento, Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy. From a trio of interwoven perspectives, Nolan depicts the evacuation of the beach at Dunkirk as Allied soldiers found themselves surrounded and forced to flee. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Harry Styles are among the players whose fates intersect. Dunkirk features nearly non-stop violence and peril, as you would expect from a war picture. The soldiers are under attack from the air, ground and sea. Many characters (and extras) are shot to death, but there’s barely any blood. And there’s surprisingly only a bit of language, but that includes the one F-word you get in a PG-13 movie. Mostly, though, the unrelenting suspense on display here is what may disturb younger viewers. That, and the noise – the sound design is exquisite, but the gunfire is very loud, as are the screams as men find themselves trapped, abandoning ships, drowning or burning to death. I brought my 7 ½-year-old son to see it in IMAX (because I’m that kind of mom, and because he can handle heavier material); the one scene that bothered him takes place in a boat as men are being shot at and drowning. Mostly, though, I’d say this is OK for mature tweens and older. And at an hour and 46 minutes, it’s surprisingly short.


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) 48%

Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language.

Good lord, this is a strange movie. Deliriously, delightfully strange, but still. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s certainly never dull, and it’s frequently a lot of fun. This shiny, colorful extravaganza from sci-fi master Luc Besson is an intergalactic roller coaster ride with bits of snappy (albeit clunky) romantic banter tossed in between. It starts out hundreds of years in the future with the fiery destruction of a beach planet where parents watch their alien daughter perish. But the main story focuses on humans: a special ops team (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne) trying to determine the origin of a hidden force buried deep within Alpha, the aforementioned City of a Thousand Planets. They also have to babysit a rare, miniature dinosaur that poops out powerful pearls. No, really. Characters are constantly in danger, and there are several outer (and inner) space battle scenes. Eventually, Rihanna shows up as an eager-to-please shape-shifter who performs a sexually suggestive dance sequence in a brothel. No, really. There’s a mind-boggling variety of creatures — some of them cute, some of them bizarre, some of them just plain off-putting. At 2 hours and 17 minutes, Valerian will be a long sit for younger kids. And even though it’s based on an influential comic book series, you might find it hard to follow, regardless of your age. OK for mature tweens and older.


NEW ON DVD

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017) 75%

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

Kids around 9 or 10 and older will love this big, dumb monster movie — and I say that as a total compliment. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ action epic has the spirit of a classic Ray Harryhausen film with the benefit of high-tech special effects. It’s about a group of explorers who visit an uncharted island in the South Pacific in 1973 and find more danger than they ever could have imagined. They include an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a war photographer (Brie Larson), the head of a shadowy government agency (John Goodman) and a military team with a no-nonsense leader (Samuel L. Jackson). But you’re not here for the people. You’re here to see King Kong, who rules the island as a fearsome and deadly but ultimately gentle giant. This is not a spoiler: If you’ve ever seen any incarnation of King Kong, you know he’s misunderstood. But he might be super-scary for very little kids, especially as he battles the many other oversized monsters that happen to call this island home. (What’s in the water surrounding this place anyway?) I brought my 7-year-old son to see Kong: Skull Island when it came out theatrically and he had a blast. It is pretty intense, though, with a lot of violence, gunfire, monster action and helicopter destruction, and not everyone makes it out alive. There’s also quite a bit of language, including the one F-bomb you get in a PG-13 movie, courtesy of the great John C. Reilly.

Audiences showed up for battle as the summer’s latest threequel, War for the Planet of the Apes, opened at number one at the North American box office. The Fox release grossed an estimated $56.5M from 4,022 locations for a strong $14,048 average. The latest Caesar adventure debuted 22% below the last one which was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which premiered to $72.6M this same month in 2014. War opened just 3% higher than the first film of this trilogy, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Reviews were fantastic for War with many critics calling it the best of the three with wonderful use of technology to advance the art of storytelling. Ticket buyers were also very pleased with the film as the CinemaScore grade was an A-. Studio data showed that the crowd was 57% male, 63% over 25, and 52% non-white. War cost $150M to produce. It rolled out in parts of the world day and date with domestic and the weekend opening was $46M for a global launch of $102.5M. However, most key overseas territories will be debuting in the weeks to come.

Slipping from first to second place was the summer’s latest super hero tentpole Spider-Man: Homecoming which declined by 61% in its sophomore session to an estimated $45.2M. The drop was sizable, but not unexpected for the sixth film from a comic book franchise since fan turnout is intense upfront most of the times. Spider-Man 3 dropped by 62% in its second weekend in 2007 and there were no Thursday pre-shows back then to boost opening weekend numbers. The Homecoming fall was also in line with the 60% of last year’s Captain America: Civil War which introduced Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker and did not face any major competition from new releases.

Sony’s cume rose on the latest Spidey pic to $208.3M after ten full days which is already bigger than the $202.9M of the last film, 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Homecoming is on track to break the $300M domestic mark in the coming weeks. Overseas markets collected an additional $72.3M this weekend boosting the international take to $261.1M and the worldwide tally to $469.4M.

Taking third place and dropping a reasonable 44% was the toon threequel Despicable Me 3 with an estimated $18.9M. Universal has banked $188M to date which is off 28% from Minions and down 27% from DM2 which were both north of $250M at this same point. DM3 may finish its domestic run just shy of that mark. But overseas audiences are still turning out in healthy numbers for Gru with the international cume now up to $431.4M (led by China’s $113.6M) and global at a solid $619.4M on its way to at least $850M.

For the fifth consecutive weekend, the box office was led by a tentpole that is film number three or beyond from a big-budget franchise. The current top three were preceded by Transformers and Cars sequels. All five debuted at number one, however three, or possibly four, will end their domestic runs at new franchise lows. Plus the latest Pirates movie from May can be added into this crop too.

Following these franchise flicks were original films that have been enjoying prolonged runs thanks to excellent word of mouth. Sony’s Baby Driver eased only 33% in its third lap for an estimated $8.8M pushing the cume to $73.2M. Amazon and Lionsgate went nationwide with the Sundance hit The Big Sick which jumped into the top five with an estimated $7.6M lifting the total to $16M.

Super hero sensation Wonder Woman posted its fifth straight weekend with a decline in the low 30-40% range by slipping only 30% to an estimated $6.9M in its seventh frame. Cume is up to $380.7M and the DC star has climbed up to number 30 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters. $400M seems likely. Overseas markets have contributed $384.2M for a new global tally of $764.9M on its way into the $800M club.

The horror film Wish Upon was a blip on the summer movie radar opening poorly in seventh place with an estimated $5.6M. Broad Green averaged a weak $2,483 from 2,250 locations from just the U.S. as Canada did not open this weekend. Reviews were mostly bad and buzz was never strong.

More sequels followed with Cars 3 taking in an estimated $3.2M, off 41%, for a $140M sum for Disney. It will end as the second lowest grossing Pixar movie ever with even 1998’s A Bug’s Life making more. Paramount’s Transformers: The Last Knight fell 56% to an estimated $2.8M for $124.9M to date. This is by far a franchise low. Global is $517.3M led by China’s $225M. Rounding out the top ten was the comedy flop The House with an estimated $1.8M, down 62%, and $23.1M overall for Warner Bros.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $157.2M which was up 4% from last year when The Secret Life of Pets stayed at number one with $50.8M; but down 12% from 2015 when Ant-Man debuted in the top spot with $57.2M.

The latest entry in the Planet of the Apes franchise barrels its way into theaters this week, and by most accounts, it’s a fantastic film. But if you’re looking to catch up with Caesar and his battle with humanity, you may want to leave your kids at home. Christy explains why, then offers her thoughts on a few DVD releases.


NOW IN THEATERS

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) 94%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.

The latest film in the epic Planet of the Apes saga is beautifully acted, exquisitely crafted and unexpectedly emotional. It’s the best blockbuster of the summer and it might end up being one of the best movies of the year. But while it features apes on horseback – many of whom can talk, and some of whom are funny – this definitely isn’t a film for the entire family. Director Matt Reeves’ movie – the third in a reboot trilogy, following Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – is extremely intense and violent, with protracted battle sequences and multiple deaths. Caesar (Andy Serkis in yet another powerful, detailed performance-capture role) wants to lead his apes to safety, but they all end up in a brutal struggle against the humans, led by the sadistic Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Bullets and arrows fly and many people and apes die, including key characters. Several of the apes are held prisoner for an extended time and are whipped, beaten and forced into hard labor. While it features massive explosions and destruction, War is also disturbing in some of its quieter, darker imagery. And the bold, percussive score from the great composer Michael Giacchino adds to the overall feeling of danger and suspense. But for more mature kids – around 11 and older – it’s a spectacular, thrilling time at the movies.


NEW ON DVD

 

The Fate of the Furious (2017) 67%

Rating: PG-13, for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language.

If you and your kids have seen any of the previous movies in the Fast and Furious franchise, you know what you’re in for here. This eighth film in the series is just as nutty as its predecessors in terms of giant action set pieces, but it’s also extremely violent in ways large and small, making it suitable for viewers around 12 or 13 and older. It’s got everything from hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, shootings and stabbings to cars dropping out of windows in the middle of New York City and a submarine emerging from the ice in middle-of-nowhere Russia. And for one extended sequence aboard an airplane, a baby in a car seat is in danger. Oh, and there’s a plot, too: A hacker (Charlize Theron) forces Dom (Vin Diesel) to turn against his F&F fam and help her with a nuclear terrorism plot. Not that it matters. Massive, fiery destruction ensues. Director F. Gary Gray’s film also features quite a bit of language scattered throughout and the requisite amount of gyrating, scantily clad ladies. It’s all about family, as always, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suitable for everyone in your family.


The Lost City of Z (2016) 86%

Rating: PG-13, for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.

Kids around 12 or 13 and older should be fine watching this historical drama, and they might be interested in its many adventurous elements. But the deliberately languid pacing, which is a trademark of writer-director James Gray’s style, will make it a tough sit for younger viewers. Charlie Hunnam stars in this true story of Percy Fawcett, an explorer who set out in the 1920s to prove the existence of a long-lost South American civilization. He made several journeys to the Amazon, all of which were treacherous and potentially deadly. But Fawcett kept going back for more – and even brought along his teenage son at one point — as new clues tantalized him and stoked his obsession. There are plenty of guns and shootings, including hunting, with smoking and language throughout. The natives frequently seem threatening. And the ending is a bit ambiguous, which could lead to some confusion.


Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017) 40%

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

If you’re looking for a movie the whole family can watch together, the all-new Smurfs animated adventure is a solid pick. It’s better than you might expect – despite what the Tomatometer suggested when it came out theatrically. Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato) wonders what her purpose is in life while every other Smurf’s abilities are clear from their names alone: Brainy, Hefty, Jokey, etc. When she and her friends learn there’s another entire village of Smurfs, they set off to find them – and to warn that Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) is after them to drain them of their power. This is a vibrant and lively film with a valuable central message about female identity and empowerment. It’s also about strong women supporting each other, as Smurfette finds and connects with a tribe of female Smurfs (voiced by Julia Roberts, Ellie Kemper and Michelle Rodriguez, among others). The humor is mostly light and playful and often extremely slapsticky. Kids will enjoy the cute and clever creatures. Gargamel flies into full-on, villainous rampages a couple times, accompanied by dramatic music and lighting, which might seem slightly scary for extremely young kids. Mostly, though, he’s a buffoon whose bumbling schemes are played for laughs.

RT Senior Editor Grae Drake went to Universal Citywalk, and challenged movie fans to a round of “Guess It w/Grae” — War for the Planet of the Apes edition (featuring Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, and director Matt Reeves). See how your answers stack up to theirs about Apes history, makeup budgets, and code names!