Rise of the Guardians (PG). This animated film delves at times into the darker side of childhood (nightmares) in ways that kids younger than 8 may find too unsettling. The movie reimagines the story of Jack Frost. Jack is not one of the vaunted Guardians of the title, like the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Pitch is the bringer of nightmares who wants kids to stop believing in those other nice creatures and to fear him.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The magical powers wielded in battles between the Guardians and Pitch get pretty intense, if not downright scary in 3-D. Early in the film, Jack takes Jamie on a harrowing sled ride. Spoiler alert: Late in the film, Jack learns that he drowned as a child while rescuing his little sister.
Life of Pi (PG). Some of the 12-and-older crowd will lose patience with the film’s visually stunning but lengthy middle section and philosophizing. The movie features life-threatening survival issues for the teen protagonist, adrift in a lifeboat on the stormy Pacific with a wild and hungry tiger. Based on Yann Martel’s novel, the movie chronicles the tragedy and adventure in the life of Pi Patel, a smart, spiritually searching lad who lives with his family in India, where they own a zoo. Pi’s father decides that the family should move to Canada. While at sea, their ship capsizes. Pi lands on a lifeboat with the tiger.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Early in the film, Pi’s father teaches him about the danger of wild animals by feeding a live goat to the tiger and making Pi watch. The animal violence is surprisingly graphic. There is toilet humor. Pi kills a big fish with an ax. Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, the older Pi tells a violent story.
The Waiting Room (UNRATED). High-schoolers with an interest in public issues and/or medicine will find high drama and brain-bending questions in this documentary. In 2010, filmmaker Peter Nicks spent five months filming in the emergency treatment and waiting rooms of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif. His 83-minute film is a composite that feels like it unfolds over one day. You get to know patients, nurses and doctors, including a little girl with such severe strep throat that her tongue is swollen and she can’t open her mouth; a young man diagnosed with testicular cancer who can’t afford the urgent surgery; a helpless drug addict with no place to go. Doctors and nurses try to help all the poor, uninsured people of every age and background who fill that waiting room. High-schoolers may come away with the sense that our health care system certainly needs something to improve it.
The bottom line: One older kidney patient takes out all his anger, fear and depression on a young doctor, using every curse word in the book. That would earn an R rating. The rest is more PG-13-ish — nongraphic glimpses of emergency surgery on teenage gunshot victims, with understated shots of blood on the floor, bloodied bandages and instruments. There’s a brief view of a partially naked patient on an examining table.
Red Dawn. North Korean forces invade the Pacific Northwest and a feckless group of teens reconstitute themselves into a resistance force. It’s okay for most teenagers because the level of violence stays within the PG-13 range. Jed Eckert is an Iraq War vet. After the invasion, which they learn has taken place all over the United States, Jed trains his kid brother, Matt, and his friends to become a guerrilla team. When seasoned military veterans show up, they’re impressed with the kids.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The action sequences feature gunfire and explosions. None graphic, but we do see a wound being sewn up. Jed and Matt see their father shot by the North Koreans. The resistance fighters kill locals they believe collaborate with the enemy. The dialogue includes occasional crude language, mild profanity and one rude gesture. Characters drink beer and occasionally use understated sexual innuendo. They shoot a buck in the woods and make someone drink the deer’s blood as a prank.
Killing Them Softly. A comic tale of boneheaded criminals, “Killing Them Softly” is too profane and violent for viewers younger than 17. It is, however, a neat little gangster saga for film buffs college age and older. A couple of incredibly stupid jailbirds, Frankie and Russell, rob an illegal poker game. The mobsters who own the illegal poker game want revenge. They suspect Markie, who operates the game. The mobsters bring in Jackie, a super-cool hit man, to clean house. A lawyerly fellow who represents the mobsters tries to limit the carnage, but people die.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The actual on-screen violence occurs less frequently than one might expect, but when it does, it involves much blood and often unfolds in slow-motion. One character gets a jaw-crushing beating. The dialogue is highly, comically profane. One character uses extremely crude and explicit sexual language. Several characters drink heavily and use drugs.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.