All Is Lost. Robert Redford gives a powerful performance as a nameless man stranded in the Indian Ocean in his badly damaged yacht and struggling to survive long enough for rescue. Some middle-schoolers and a lot of high-schoolers — it’s okay for most teens — could find this unusual film mesmerizing. Redford’s nearly wordless performance, apart from a brief voice-over at the beginning, is all in his eyes, facial expression and posture. Sailing alone on his small yacht, he’s awakened by a loud noise and finds water pouring in from a gash in the hull. A stray shipping container has collided with his boat. His calm, resourceful efforts to repair the damage are defeated by huge storms. He must eventually get into his life raft.
THE BOTTOM LINE: When things go badly, Redford’s character loudly curses at one point, but the film earns its PG-13 for the existential life-and-death nature of the yachtsman’s struggle and the possibility of a watery — perhaps shark-toothed — death. Close-up shots make certain moments harrowing.
Romeo & Juliet. Fast moving and gorgeously filmed against a backdrop of Italian Renaissance art and architecture, this could well draw in romance-minded teens of middle- and high-school age, as well as those with an early love of language and art. However, the film suffers from an ill-equipped Juliet in Hailee Steinfeld. So terrific in “True Grit,” here she is undone by the language. She hasn’t got the diction, and some of Juliet’s most beautiful speeches sound mushy and indistinct.
The bottom line: The sword and knife fights are highly choreographed and not bloody at all. Nor are Romeo and Juliet’s deaths graphic, though of course he does take poison and she stabs herself. Their one marital night together is not at all explicit.
Carrie. The 1976 film adapted from Stephen King’s novel is considered a classic of the horror movie genre, so this remake has a lot to live up to. It succeeds in many ways. It is not for middle-schoolers, but teens 16 and older could find this story of a girl smothered at home by religious fanaticism and bullied at school by mean girls a mighty ripping yarn. Carrie is a painfully shy, much-teased high-schooler with telekinetic powers. She has a horrendous moment in the locker room when she finds blood on herself and doesn’t realize it’s her first period. The other girls taunt her and pelt her with sanitary supplies. The meanest girl, Chris, shoots a video, posts it online and is banned from attending the prom as a result. Sue, a nice girl, gets her boyfriend, Tommy, to ask Carrie to the prom as a kindness. But Chris and her evil boyfriend, Billy, plan revenge. At the prom, when Tommy and Carrie are crowned king and queen, the plotters dump a bucket of pig blood onto Carrie. She uses her powers to turn the dance into a mass killing.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The horror elements are not exceptionally graphic for an R, though we do see people killed by falling objects and impaled by glass shards. Carrie’s mom cuts herself to assuage guilty feelings. The bad teens kill a pig with a sledgehammer. One teen couple has fairly graphic sex. The dialogue includes strong profanity.
Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa. This movie takes the “Jackass” film and television tradition — performing ridiculously dangerous stunts and lewd practical jokes before unsuspecting bystanders — to a new level. This time, a fictional story overlays the gimmick. (It is not for viewers younger than 17, though many will see it.) Johnny Knoxville, in heavy old-age makeup, plays 86-year-old Irving Zisman, a randy widower eager to celebrate the recent demise of his wife with a binge of boozing and womanizing. Unfortunately for Irv, his crack-addict daughter pawns off his 8-year-old grandson, Billy, on him because she must go to prison. Irv is supposed to deliver the boy to his deadbeat dad in North Carolina. Instead of adjusting his behavior, Irv includes the kid in his antics as they travel east from Nebraska.
The bottom line: Graphically visual penis jokes occur with frequency, and even though it’s obvious they’re using props, the gags are gross. Male strippers at a dance club use explicit sexual moves on women in the audience and are nearly naked. The language is profane and full of sexual slang.
12 Years a Slave. Based on the published memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was abducted and sold into slavery, this harrowing, stunning film offers a shattering insight into the South’s “peculiar institution.” Too disturbing and violent for middle-schoolers, it should perhaps be required viewing for high-schoolers who are mature enough to handle the material and are studying American history. Two white men invite Northup, a successful musician in Saratoga, N.Y., to Washington to perform. There, they ply him with wine, and Northup awakes in shackles in a cell. Transported south by riverboat with other abductees, Northup is sold, first to a relatively nonviolent owner, then to a new master, the drunken, violent Edwin Epps.
The bottom line: The beatings, whippings and torture to which Northup is subjected are intensely disturbing. Epps’s rape of a slave feels graphic but not sexual. Characters use the N-word often.
Horwitz is a freelance writer. Read her previous reviews at On Parenting.