Family Filmgoer reviews ‘Quartet,’ ‘The Last Stand’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

January 24, 2013
PG-13

Quartet. Fine for most teens, but unlikely to interest many, “Quartet” paints a charming portrait of four faded opera stars living in an English country mansion. The arrival of grande dame Jean Horton, a famed soprano, causes ripples at the home. Her long-ago ex-husband, Reginald, doesn’t want her there, as she broke his heart. His pal Wilf urges reconciliation, though he still chases the ladies himself. Their friend Cecily had a lesser career than Jean’s and seems to be developing dementia. When all four are asked to perform a famous quartet at a fundraising gala, they must overcome differences and fears.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Characters occasionally talk about sex and use sexual slang, but nothing too explicit. Billy Connolly’s character is the most blatant of skirt chasers. The script includes some profanity.

Mama. Too creepy for middle-schoolers — and certainly too nightmarish for tweens — “Mama” has style and sensibility that will appeal to high-schoolers who like their horror done with more art and less gore. The vengeful phantom of the title reveals herself only a little at first, flitting darkly behind characters, then disappearing. It is the foreboding and the mystery of her that keep this ghost story engaging. We learn of a troubled corporate executive who kills his wife. He takes his two daughters away in the car and crashes. The three take refuge in a small abandoned house in the woods. A phantom in the house stops the father from hurting the girls. Then the film jumps five years — the girls’ uncle, Lucas, has been trying to find his nieces ever since. Trackers finally discover them living in the cabin. Lucas and his girlfriend, Annabel, try to raise them. The phantom that protected the girls in the cabin has a jealous nature and a tragic back story.

The bottom line: As the spirit of Mama grows stronger and more aggressive, she becomes more visible. Her face starts to emerge. Stains in the walls, like rot, grow larger and release tentacles or noisy moths that portend death. Later scenes of violence are stylized and not graphic. The film includes occasional profanity and a brief non-explicit love scene.

R

Broken City. All the characters in this neo-noir drama, even the so-called good guys, are less than pure. The complexity of the story and its emphasis on sharp dialogue will appeal to high-schoolers 16 and older. The relatively understated violence, if not the strong language, makes that mostly okay. Billy Taggart is a New York police detective suspected of killing a rape-and-murder suspect. The mayor and commissioner of police force Billy to quietly resign, but they don’t prosecute. Billy becomes a private investigator, and years later, the mayor calls him: He wants his wife followed and her lover identified. Things get complicated.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The violence in “Broken City” is relatively infrequent and not too graphic. We see one point-blank shooting on video and a head-banging, kicking fight. Billy secretly photographs a woman in lingerie about to engage in a sexual encounter, but the film cuts away. There is a more explicit sex scene with toplessness. Characters use strong profanity and sexually explicit language.

The Last Stand. A clumsily constructed plot doesn’t prevent “The Last Stand” from being entertaining, as we watch Arnold Schwarzenegger lock, load and lumber back into action. The occasionally gory violence and strong profanity, lightened by a tongue-in-cheek style, make the movie okay for high-schoolers 16 and older. As R-rated films go, it’s not horrific. As the sheriff of a tiny Arizona town, Ray Owens’s big-city years serve him well when the FBI loses a prisoner — the head of a drug cartel. The agent in charge calls to warn Sheriff Owens that the convict may be heading his way.

The bottom line: Loud gunfire from all sorts of weapons — from antique guns to assault rifles to machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades — fills the movie. However, with a couple of exceptions, the depiction of wounds and the spattering of blood are relatively understated for an R-rated film. Characters use a lot of profanity and there is brief, mild sexual innuendo.

Zero Dark Thirty. The graphic al-Qaeda terrorism and the torture used by CIA operatives in this account of the search for Osama bin Laden make “Zero Dark Thirty” truly for viewers 17 and older. CIA agent Maya has made it her business to find bin Laden, despite colleagues’ doubts about her theories. Maya deduces that the path to bin Laden is through al-Qaeda’s elusive couriers. It takes years before she is certain. The last 30 minutes or so follow the raid closely, and filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatization is utterly riveting.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Scenes in which CIA operatives use coercive methods on terror suspects are graphic and disturbing, both as simple violence and as nuanced moral choices. Other violence includes frightening suicide bombings telegraphed with incredible tension. Characters smoke, drink and use strong profanity. The movie opens in blackness, with emotional recordings of phone calls made by victims trapped in the burning World Trade Center towers to their families on Sept. 11, 2001.

Horwitz is a freelance writer. Find her previous reviews on The Post’s On Parenting page.

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