Life of Pi (PG). 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 the family should move to Canada. While at sea, their ship capsizes. Pi lands on a lifeboat with a wild, hungry tiger. The movie features life-threatening survival issues for the teen protagonist.
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. Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, the older Pi tells a violent story.
The Central Park Five (unrated). This Ken Burns documentary explores the 1989 conviction of one Hispanic and four black teenagers in New York City who had been charged with the rape and near-fatal beating of a white woman in Central Park. The teens were described in the press as part of a “wolf pack” who had been out “wilding,” but the evidence was flimsy and their confessions coerced. After the teens served time, a serial rapist confessed to the attack and a new investigation exonerated all five in 2002.
The bottom line: The film briefly shows gruesome photos of the Central Park jogger’s face after the attack. Videos of the teenagers’ confessions include graphic language, words often put in their mouths by detectives in the background. The five themselves, in present-day interviews, occasionally use profanity.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A decade later, director Peter Jackson and his team happily revisit Middle-earth, adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, which told of events preceding “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and was written with children in mind. (They’re telling the story in three films also.) Long and complex, yet always engaging, the film spins a ripping, fantastical yarn of bravery and camaraderie vs. darkness and evil. The atmosphere may be lighter and funnier than in the earlier films, but the mayhem gets heavy. Jackson’s new high-speed 3-D film technique makes the film seem more realistic and potentially scary for younger kids.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Battle scenes in which the dwarfs, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins fight giant, vicious orcs, gross trolls and cave-dwelling goblins involve beheadings, lopping off of arms and runnings-through with swords. Little if any blood flows, but the mayhem is definitely PG-13-worthy. Gross humor about smelly behinds and loogies seems worse in 3D. Characters smoke pipes, drink and refer to a woodland wizard who “eats too many mushrooms.” Gollum, computer-enhanced, bug-eyed and insane, continues to be a scary screen creation.
Playing for Keeps. George is a handsome former soccer star who can’t seem to fight off the advances of single and married moms. Thus the film is not quite for middle-schoolers. The one-time Scottish sports hero only moved to this Virginia suburb to be near his ex, Stacie, and their 9-year-old son, Lewis. Determined to show Lewis he’s a dependable dad — while winning back the newly engaged Stacie — George decides to coach Lewis’s soccer team.
The bottom line: In addition to all the implied sexual liaisons and infidelities, adult characters use crude language and mildish profanity. Father and son take a joyride in a Ferrari and nearly crash it.
Hyde Park on Hudson. Our narrator is Daisy Suckley, a distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, despite her shy mousiness, becomes his sometime mistress at the Roosevelt country estate. (The film is partly based on a diary discovered after her death.) The film covers a few days in June 1939, when FDR and his entourage are hosting the new king of England and his wife. The late-1930s atmosphere and Bill Murray’s charismatic but non-mimicking turn as FDR could appeal to history-loving teens 16 and older. The movie’s sometimes obscure references and other narrative hiccups nearly derail it at times, but it survives on the charm of its cast.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Only one scene earns the film an R rating. FDR and Daisy have a sexual encounter in his car, shown mostly from a distance, but strongly and rather graphically implied with movement. The film includes little profanity. There are a few veiled verbal jokes about Mrs. Roosevelt’s friends, whom the president calls “she-men.” Characters drink and smoke constantly.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.