Captain Phillips. Not graphically violent but still too intense for middle-schoolers, this sharp dramatization of a 2009 incident will give high-schoolers more than just action-movie thrills. Tom Hanks adds a fine character study to his résumé as Richard Phillips, captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama, who faces a life-altering test when pirates board his ship off the coast of Somalia. He tries to get them to leave with just $30,000 from the ship’s safe, but their leader demands millions in ransom. The pirates, unhappy with the way negotiations are going on the ship (the crew cleverly evades the invaders for many hours), take Phillips hostage aboard a lifeboat and aim it toward the Somali coast. It is in that tight, podlike space that the drama plays out, to point-blank effect.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Throughout most of the film, the intensity comes more from a sense of menace than from actual violence. Guns are fired in the air, and there is punching and shouting. At the end, there are lethal shootings and much spattered blood. The script includes rare use of the S-word.
Parkland. High-schoolers interested in history could be transfixed by this exceedingly well-wrought drama about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film is too intense and confusing for middle-schoolers. But even if “Parkland” captures high-schoolers’ attention, the film won’t awaken in them the vivid emotional memory their grandparents must have of that day. Director Peter Landesman nails that shellshocked feeling among all the people he follows, including the young emergency room doctor and veteran nurse on duty at Parkland Hospital in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, when they wheel in the mortally wounded president, and Abraham Zapruder, realizing that the little home movie he was making of the presidential motorcade is now key evidence and iconic history.
The bottom line: Scenes in the crowded emergency operating room are full of blood, yet not exactly graphic. Replayed portions of the Zapruder film cut away just before the “kill shot.” It’s the reactions of viewers that we see. The script includes occasional salty profanity. Characters chain-smoke.
Gravity. All teens should find “Gravity” to be an amazing ride. The more sophisticated among them will key into the film’s existential, alone-in-an-unfeeling-universe subtext. If possible, see it in 3-D and on an Imax screen, because the images are so you-are-there breathtaking. Ryan Stone is a medical engineer and new astronaut on her first mission. As the film opens, she’s working outside the shuttle, making repairs with a seasoned astronaut, Matt Kowalski. With only seconds of warning from the space center in Houston, metal debris from a destroyed Russian satellite hurtles toward them, killing a colleague and cutting their tethers. They realize the shuttle has been wrecked and those inside killed. They try to maneuver themselves toward a Russian space station to use its remaining rescue pod and head back to Earth.
The bottom line: The language in the script is surprisingly restrained, except for one outburst of the F-word. Mostly, the PG-13 rating reflects the intensity of the danger the astronauts face and the sense of being so alone.
A.C.O.D. The title is an abbreviation for “adult children of divorce,” the topic of this riotous, raunchy but emotionally honest comedy about the ripple effect of family breakups. “A.C.O.D.” has too many sexual situations, and too much bad behavior and bad language, for viewers younger than 17, but college-age kids might find it funny. Carter has a good life, but when his kid brother, Trey, gets engaged, Carter wigs out. He has always run interference for Trey, especially when they were young and their incompatible parents were fighting like hyenas. Carter seeks out the therapist who treated him and Trey as kids when their parents were breaking up. It turns out Dr. Judith was not a therapist: She was an author doing research for a book about children of divorce. Carter and his folks were in her bestseller, but with their names changed. Seeing Carter again inspires Dr. Judith to research a new book on adult children of divorce.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The film includes several humorous, semi-explicit sexual situations and rear nudity. Characters use strong profanity, crude sexual slang and toilet humor. Some of them drink and smoke.
Runner Runner. All the tropical resort glamour in the world can’t make “Runner Runner” an interesting or emotionally engaging movie. High-schoolers 16 and older (and it’s okay for them) who see it because it stars Justin Timberlake will feel bereft of 90 minutes of their lives. The subject, online poker and offshore gambling operations, has potential. But the more showily the film spouts the inside lingo, the more phony it sounds.
The bottom line: The mayhem is pretty moderate: Someone is tossed into crocodile-infested waters but sustains only a minor injury. Characters make frequent use of the F-word. Despite a lot of mild sexual innuendo, the film has only one steamy but nonexplicit sexual situation.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.