The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Teens will probably dive into this second film with gusto, whether they’ve read the books by Suzanne Collins or not. Haunted by dreams and PTSD-like flashbacks to her first, violent Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen isn’t celebrating her victory. She grieves and braces herself for the next challenge, knowing that President Snow, leader of the fascist, futuristic land of Panem, wants her dead. Her defiant performance in her first Hunger Games has inspired a budding revolt he needs to quell. Snow declares that the next games will be played not by new tributes from each district, but by past winners. Katniss, an ace with a bow and arrow, and Peeta, a gentle baker who can’t survive the games without her, must fight again. Competing in the jungle arena, they must fight other humans, predators and poisons. The finale makes it clear that the fight has just begun.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Violent sequences don’t show a lot of gore, but we see characters shot, stabbed and pierced by arrows; their skin ravaged by agonizing boils from a poison fog; their lives threatened by large, vicious monkeys, lightning and a tidal wave. The dialogue includes rare use of the F-word and the S-word.
Delivery Man. This story isn’t ideal for middle-schoolers. Many years ago, David made hundreds of donations to a sperm bank under a pseudonym, “Starbuck,” because he needed cash. The sperm bank messed up badly, using David’s sperm to help far too many women get pregnant. As a result, he now has 533 adult children, all of them half-siblings, and 142 of them are petitioning to learn his true identity. Panicked, David goes to his pal Brett, a lawyer raising four small kids alone. Brett promises to help David preserve his privacy. Then David learns that his girlfriend, Emma, is pregnant. Knowing how undependable David is, Emma is not sure she wants him involved with their child. That spurs David to open the file with profiles of the 142 offspring who want to know him. He starts meeting them without revealing his identity and gets involved in their lives as a sort of guardian angel.
The bottom line: The dialogue includes a lot of midrange profanity, mildly crude sexual humor, rare use of the F-word and oblique, slangy references to masturbation.
Thor: The Dark World. With a script full of humor (yet almost profanity-free) and mayhem that is largely bloodless, this sequel is fine for teens and even tweens who aren’t rattled by big 3-D effects. Since the first film, Thor has been busy in his native realm of Asgard, bringing peace as a rare convergence of the Nine Realms of the universe approaches. Thor’s father, Odin, king of Asgard, wants Thor to take the throne, marry a warrior goddess and forget the pretty scientist, Jane Foster, who captured his heart in the first film. Thor’s evil trickster of a brother, Loki, is imprisoned but remains as conniving as ever. On Earth, Jane checks out a warehouse where some kids have happened upon a weird wrinkle in the space-time continuum. Jane disappears into said wrinkle and inadvertently unleashes the Aether, a vaporous power source that awakens Asgard’s ancient foe, Malekith, who aims to destroy all Nine Realms during the convergence.
The bottom line: Battles are clamorous but involve almost no gore. Apart from a quick S-word, the language is mild. Characters drink wine and kiss once or twice.
Nebraska. The film is too profane and has too much sexual content for younger teens, but perceptive high-schoolers 16 and older might love it. Woody Grant lives in Billings, Mont., with his cranky wife, Kate. Police find him walking along the highway. It seems he received a sweepstakes letter and is convinced he has won $1 million and must get to Lincoln, Neb., to claim it. He can’t drive, and Kate won’t take him, so he starts to walk. Their younger son, David, agrees to drive Woody to Lincoln in hopes of a little belated father-son bonding. Always a heavy drinker, Woody was never much of a dad. The road trip leads through Woody’s home town of Hawthorne, Neb., where they visit family members and friends.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The R rating reflects dialogue peppered with strong profanity and crude sexual slang, and crude behavior in a cemetery. Characters drink and get into a couple of scuffles.
The Best Man Holiday. In 1999, the film “The Best Man” broke ground in its portrayal of upper-middle-class African American characters. Now, filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee happily revisits them and adds a dash of melancholy to the comic mix. The result is an upscale soap opera with a starry group of actors having fun reprising their roles. The film has too much sexual behavior, sexual slang and strong profanity for under-16s. Football star Lance and his wife, Mia, invite their old college crowd to spend Christmas week at their mansion. Add a slowly revealed subplot about impending loss, and you have a satisfyingly soapy mix of laughter and tears.
The bottom line: The script contains very strong profanity and joking racial slurs among friends. There are a couple of steamy, semi-explicit sexual situations and crudely explicit sexual slang.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
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