THE BOTTOM LINE: Kids 8 and younger may be scared when the protagonists are chased by giant lizards and hummingbirds. Flying into the hurricane is also a little frightening. Underwater scenes are tense, and a volcano erupts. There is very mild toilet humor and sexual innuendo.
10 and older
Big Miracle (PG). This 1980s true story, based on news accounts and a 1989 book, could have been a treacly, unchallenging “family film.” Instead, it’s a sharply defined, lightly comic slice of Americana for anyone 10 or older. The story is about three whales trapped under ice off the coast of Alaska, and the film examines the political and philosophical fault lines of the Reagan era as different people work together to save the whales.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The strongest element for kids will be the sheer suspense about whether the whales will survive. The script contains some salty language. Spoiler alert: There is one whale death. We don’t see it happen, but we do see its injured snout and hear its labored breathing.
The Woman in Black. Based on a novel by Susan Hill, this movie is a well-made throwback — a handsome rendering of a ghost story set in Victorian England. Many high-schoolers will revel in its rich atmosphere and shriek-inducing ghostly visits. That overall spookiness may be too much for middle-schoolers. In a prologue, we see three girls jump to their deaths, seemingly hypnotized by the spirit of the title. Years later, lawyer Arthur Kipps has come to the village to settle a dowager’s estate. He is determined to get to the bottom of the ghostly mystery.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The film depicts ghostly spirits, many of them children. Children are led to their deaths by the Woman. A spirit reenacts a hanging suicide, and other flashbacks show a child drowned. We see bloody sheets where Arthur’s wife died in childbirth. Characters drink.
Chronicle. On a whim, three high school boys explore an unusual cave in this cleverly made sci-fi saga, and the telekinetic powers they develop after their exposure to an unearthly material there leads them first to fun and then to tragedy. “Chronicle” is an absorbing adventure but perhaps too violent and emotionally tortured for middle-schoolers, despite its rating.
The bottom line: One of the boys lashes out violently. The violence is not graphic, but it is loud, fast and upsetting. One incident involves an impalement. Characters use occasional profanity, and it’s implied that teens drink beer. One boy’s dad is usually drunk; his mother is on oxygen and looks very ill.
One for the Money. Katherine Heigl is bumbling bounty hunter Stephanie Plum in this comedy/crime thriller. Though rated PG-13, the movie contains a lot of crudely implied sexual humor, and some rough gun violence nears R range, so it’s not for middle-schoolers. High-schoolers may find it puzzling, as it never locks onto a particular tone, beginning in a sort of offbeat Coen brothers style, then wandering into farce and back again.
The bottom line: The script includes a lot of midrange profanity, occasionally stronger stuff and sexual innuendo with briefly implied nudity. The gunplay gets intense in a couple of scenes. Characters drink and handle a shipment of heroin.
Safe House. High school movie fans 15 and older will be carried along by sheer adrenaline in this deliberately convoluted, breathlessly nonstop spy saga. Matt, a young CIA operative, runs a safe house in Cape Town. Matt longs to prove himself to his superiors back at CIA headquarters. His life changes when an “extraction team” brings in Tobin Frost, a former agent who has been selling state secrets for cash. Unidentified assassins are close on Frost’s tail. Matt takes Frost on the run, never knowing whether Frost will try to kill him.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The violence in “Safe House” is constant. In one scene, agents use waterboarding on Frost. The level of on-screen gore is somewhat understated for the R rating, but there’s still plenty of blood. The script contains rare barnyard profanity. We see Matt in the shower with his girlfriend, but there is no sexual situation or nudity.
W.E. A present-day Manhattanite named Wally Winthrop becomes obsessed with Wallis Simpson, the (in)famous love of King Edward VIII. The movie, conceived and directed by Madonna, toggles between the abused Winthrop and the scandalous marriage between Wallis and Edward that threatened the British monarchy. This is an R-rated movie and probably more for older teens.
The bottom line: There are some pretty disturbing scenes of marital abuse, one involving nudity. Also lots of smoking and some language.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.