THE BOTTOM LINE: Aside from the more intense 3-D scenes with the wolves, other elements that catch one’s attention two-plus decades later: The girls in Belle’s village are a tad more buxom than they’d probably be today. The big fight shows Gaston falling to his (presumable) death. The Beast is wounded.
We Bought a Zoo. Certainly the most family-friendly and mildest movie of the season, “We Bought a Zoo” offers kids 10 and older and their parents a heartwarming story, good acting and cool critters. The movie follows single dad Benjamin, a journalist grieving over his late wife. He decides to quit his job and move the family to a house in the country — even after he learns that a financially struggling private zoo comes with it. His sad adolescent son, Dylan, hates the idea, but daughter Rosie loves it.
The bottom line: The script includes rare barnyard profanity and mild sexual innuendo. A sick animal is put down. This happens off-screen. Dylan draws disturbing images that reflect his grief and alienation. Adult characters drink.
THE IRON LADY. It’s unlikely teens or even most college students, except perhaps history and poli-sci majors, will have much interest in this unusual, rather apolitical study of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Many will squirm through its stately pace. Teens interested in the finer points of acting, however, can delight in Meryl Streep’s infinitely detailed embodiment of the grande dame. Told from the point of view of a widowed and ever more distracted Thatcher, the film will disappoint those who wanted more of a critique of her policies. Instead they get her history in fragmented flashbacks.
The bottom line:
The film includes frightening reenactments of Irish Republican Army bombings, as well as raucous, occasionally violent anti-Thatcher demonstrations and strikes. There are archival shots of war violence and brief toplessness. A central theme is Thatcher’s slow descent into dementia. Some characters drink and smoke.
JOYFUL NOISE. Kids 12 and older who like comedies about grown-ups acting silly and stories laced with a touch of spiritual revival might have a little fun with “Joyful Noise.” Still, they’ll have to forgive the movie’s excessive two-hour length and disjointed mess of a story. Vi Rose Hill is named director of the church choir in a financially struggling Georgia hamlet, which miffs G.G., a wealthy choir member. G.G.’s wayward grandson comes to stay and immediately starts courting Vi’s daughter. There’s too much poorly directed plot, but the singing and corny humor make up for it — kinda.
The bottom line: The script includes a couple of barnyard epithets and mild sexual slang. Two secondary characters, both single, have sex out of wedlock.
CONTRABAND. Reformed smuggler Chris Farraday reluctantly takes up his old line of work when his brother-in-law gets in dutch with a vindictive drug dealer. Taut, dark and propulsive, the film is laced throughout with coarse language and contains a violent shootout during a smuggling run to Panama. Although the film attempts to excuse Chris’s illegal activities as necessary, the mounting death toll makes him a less than entirely admirable antihero.
The bottom line: Mayhem in the form of vehicular assault, hand-to-hand combat and extended gunplay make for a more than moderately bloody crime caper. Pervasive strong language, drug use and a woman and children in jeopardy ensure that the film is only for older teens.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY. College-age cinema buffs will be moved and impressed by this saga of the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s. There is never any sense that the film is a vanity project for writer-director Angelina Jolie. She has made a highly effective film, with a love story involving Bosnian artist Ajla and Serbian policeman Danijel. Motives grow blurred as the violence worsens.
The bottom line: Strictly for audiences older than 17, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” depicts rape, shootings of noncombatants and Nazi-style roundups for “ethnic cleansing.” Other mayhem includes bombings, point-blank shootings and the implied death of an infant. Consensual sexual situations, as well as the rapes, are explicitly portrayed.
CARNAGE. Only the most forgiving, theater-loving high-schoolers will be able to make it through this annoying film adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s hit stage play, the dark comedy of manners “God of Carnage.” Director Roman Polanski and his top-notch cast can’t make the dialogue-heavy script, set almost entirely in a living room, work on film. What starts out as a civilized, let’s-all-just-get-along meeting degenerates into a nasty contest of more primitive instincts.
The bottom line: The film includes strong profanity, gross toilet humor and drinking.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
Staff writer Michael O’Sullivan contributed to this story.