Family Filmgoer reviews ‘Transcendence,’ ‘Heaven Is for Real’ and ‘Bears’


Johnny Depp in “Transcendence.” (Peter Mountain/Peter Mountain)
April 18
8 and older

Bears (G). Nature cinematographers got incredibly intimate footage of a mother bear, whom they named Sky, and her cubs, Amber and Scout, for this Disneynature documentary. They followed the trio for a year on the wild Alaskan Peninsula, as they awake from hibernation, search for scarce food in the melting snow, feast on salmon in summer and then head back to dig a winter den. The cubs are adorable and Sky takes good care of them, but there are moments that may be too intense and seemingly fraught with peril for viewers younger than 8, and even some older kids.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A stretch of the film, when the salmon aren’t running and the bears are desperately hungry, could upset younger kids. In another segment, Sky confronts hostile male bears and a wolf stalking her cubs for food. No animals (except torn-up salmon and clams) are hurt on camera.

10 and older

Heaven Is for Real (PG). This film is better for kids 10 and older because it deals in questions of faith and nonbelief, and because it shows a child ill and in danger of dying. Todd Burpo, a cheerful contractor and church pastor struggling through the bad economy in the heartland, nearly loses his 4-year-old son, Colton, to a burst appendix. (The movie is based on Burpo’s memoir.) Though Colton does not die on the operating table, he later tells his parents that he visited heaven, met Jesus and chatted with a great-grandfather. Todd, nicely played by Greg Kinnear, is a devout Christian, but has trouble believing that Colton’s account is more than a dream.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Scenes of Colton on the operating table, and of his desperate parents praying nearby, are very emotional.

PG-13

Transcendence. Tech-savvy teens will find plenty to chew on in this sci-fi mishmash, an epic head-scratcher that raises moral ambiguities and doesn’t resolve them. Our narrator is Max, a computer scientist wandering through Berkeley, Calif., in the near future, to the home of his friends and former colleagues, Will and Evelyn. The world, he tells us, has no power and hence, no Internet. We flash back to learn why. Will, played by Johnny Depp, is a pioneer in artificial intelligence. Cyberterrorists shoot him, embedding a soon-to-be fatal radioactive isotope in his body. In the month before he dies, Will and Evelyn, with Max’s reluctant help, upload most of the contents of Will’s brain into a super-computer. After Will dies, Evelyn re-creates his consciousness in cyberspace, but Will’s mind takes over. The results are dangerous.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The violence, which includes artillery and handgun fire, is rarely gory, though we see some blood. The most graphic elements involve technology messing with humans, such as a tube moving directly into a blind man’s eye. The dialogue includes little profanity and very mild sexual innuendo.

R

Only Lovers Left Alive. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, a master of the offbeat, eccentric nighttime movie, hits a home run with this tale of vampires in love. It’s definitely better for the college crowd, due to its slower style and jokey literary references. Eve and Adam are chic, intellectual vampires, married to each other since 1868. They love each other, but live apart — Eve in Tangier, where she collects first editions and pals around with playwright Kit Marlowe, while Adam resides in a desolate Detroit, playing rock guitar and contemplating suicide. Eve flies (at night, of course) to see Adam and cheer him up. A visit by her chaotic sister, Ava, briefly causes trouble, since Ava kills humans. The nonviolent Adam and Eve get their O-negative from a cash-strapped hospital lab tech.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Very little violence takes place onscreen, but a human who was bitten and died is dropped into acid. The script includes frequent use of the F- and the S-words, and we see Eve and Adam sleeping nude, but not graphically so.

The Railway Man. Some scenes are tough to watch since this is the fact-based tale of a British prisoner of war who was horribly tortured by the Japanese army in Thailand and Burma. Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax, a bespectacled train fancier who marries a former nurse, played by Nicole Kidman. She realizes that Eric has what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, suffering with crippling nightmares and flashbacks. She tries to find out what happened to him in the war, but he won’t tell her. The facts, gleaned from Eric’s friend, gradually unfold in disturbing flashbacks. The middle-aged Eric becomes obsessed with finding and killing the Japanese interpreter who took part in the abuse. But his obsession eventually becomes something redemptive.

The bottom line: Torture scenes are extremely intense, depicting brutal beatings with heavy sticks, graphic waterboarding and slave labor, with Eric’s fellow prisoners dropping from exhaustion and thirst. There are a couple of very understated marital sexual situations.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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