Amour. Only the most sophisticated high-schoolers will be able to handle this quietly magnificent film because of the subject matter — growing old and disabled and dying. If they also happen to be interested in film acting of the highest order, they’ll be transfixed by co-stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who are so believable as an elderly couple that you never feel anyone is “acting” at all. The PG-13 rating notwithstanding, the pace of “Amour,” its somber themes and the necessity of reading subtitles will appeal only rarely to middle-schoolers. Georges and Anne are a married couple in their 80s. Now retired, both were esteemed classical piano teachers whose students (especially Anne’s) went on to great heights. Anne suffers a couple of strokes and goes from being an active, mobile person to needing a wheelchair and around-the-clock care. Georges lovingly insists on caring for Anne. The film recounts the day-to-day difficulties as Anne’s condition worsens, yet it is beautiful in its portrayal of their large, run-down Paris apartment, as Georges shuffles through its hallways and rooms, tending to his wife.
THE BOTTOM LINE: One scene involves nudity as Anne is bathed by a nurse. SPOILER ALERT: There is a disturbing euthanasia theme.
Zero Dark Thirty. The graphic al-Qaeda terrorism and the torturous “enhanced interrogation” used by CIA operatives in this account of the search for Osama bin Laden make “Zero Dark Thirty” truly for viewers 17 and older. Older teens will better understand the deep complexity of the issues, too. Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who collaborated on the multiple-Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” continue their reality-based filmmaking about the war on terrorism. This time, they use accounts from various sources to dramatize how CIA operatives tracked down bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is steely, humorless and obsessive as the female agent, Maya, who made it her business to find bin Laden, despite colleagues’ doubts about her theories. She watches a fellow agent use waterboarding and other interrogation methods. But Maya gets used to the process and becomes a tangential part of it. She 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 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.
Gangster Squad. Too deafeningly violent and full of profanity and graphic sexual slang for moviegoers younger than 17, “Gangster Squad” could also put off older teens and adults who may have seen enough violence in the news and on film. However, taken solely as a cops-and-gangsters movie, “Gangster Squad” works. It looks and sounds like a high-class graphic novel, with everyone and everything in it bigger than life and twice as sarcastic. The film takes its inspiration from a special police unit created in the late 1940s to extricate Los Angeles from killer crime boss Mickey Cohen. Chief Parker orders a tough-as-nails sergeant, John O’Mara, to set up a take-no-prisoners squad to clean up Cohen’s empire of gambling, prostitution and heroin. With the help of his pregnant wife, Connie, O’Mara studies the files of potential squad members and puts together a team of tough guys, plus one expert wiretapper. A dandified cop too busy chasing women to care about fighting crime changes his mind and joins O’Mara after he falls for Cohen’s mistress.
The bottom line: The film opens with mobsters tricking a young woman into a fake movie audition, which turns into an attempted rape, from which O’Mara rescues her. It never becomes graphic. Shootouts are loud, bloody and frequent. The violence includes stabbings and bone-breaking fist fights. A stripper in a club is nearly topless. The script is riddled with profanity and explicit sexual slang. A few ethnic slurs are used.
Not Fade Away. A talented but cocky and immature teen named Doug has rock ambitions in 1960s New Jersey, and a gift for infuriating his hardworking dad and depressed mother with his loud music and new-minted political beliefs. High-schoolers age 16 and older who are into classic rock and 1960s culture will see this film as a slice-of-life drama that feels truthful. Doug and his friends form a garage band and get to be good, but not everyone in the group has the same hunger for success or willingness to work at it. Good music peppers the soundtrack. Writer-director David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” captures with bittersweet poignancy that 1960s feeling, especially the cultural and political friction between teens and parents.
The bottom line: Some characters use strong racial and homophobic slurs. Teen characters use strong profanity and graphic sexual slang. They also drink and smoke pot and cigarettes. One sexual situation is quite graphic. Others are more understated make-out scenes, but still exude strong sexuality. An adult character is diagnosed with cancer, and another expresses suicidal thoughts. A teen girl is committed to psychiatric care by her parents and we see her carried off. The script includes some toilet humor.
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Horwitz is a freelance writer.