WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (PG). Religious faith, purity of spirit, hard work and selfless loyalty are the qualities celebrated in this earnest but plodding parable, based on the career of real-life high school football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel). Kids 12 and older who find all sports sagas fascinating may click with this one, too, partly because it really delves into how players train. Non-sports-loving kids 12 and older, if they are religious or spiritually searching, may also like the story of Ladouceur, a.k.a. Coach Lad. He leads his 2003 team — some players are fictionalized, others based on real people — through a record-breaking win streak, but never stops telling them that making “a perfect effort” and growing up to be good men will serve them far better than victory. Coach Lad has a heart attack that takes him out for a bit. The winning streak ends, a player dies in a shooting, another loses his mother and another faces emotional abuse from his dad. Coach Lad learns to balance work, family and faith.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The shooting, although sudden and upsetting, is stylized and nongraphic. We do see the boy’s body loaded into an ambulance and his family overcome with grief. Coach Lad’s heart attack is briefly intense. He is a smoker before the attack. The many football sequences make a viewer feel how hard the hits and tackles are.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (PG-13). Many kids 12 and older will be familiar with the Ninja Turtles franchise in all its decades-old forms and will get a decent charge out of this slightly pretentious new film. As the human-size warrior terrapins explain to TV reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), they are named for Italian Renaissance artists: Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and Leonardo. April first glimpses the heroes while trailing the villain Shredder and his Foot Clan as they commit a crime. She can’t believe her eyes as the Turtles foil the bad guys, but when she sees them a second time, she knows they’re real. The Turtles’ wise master, Splinter, a mutant rat, feels they are not ready for battle in the limelight and tries to keep them safe in their sewer hideaway. But that proves impossible.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The fights are hard hitting, but bloodless. The gunplay and cliff-hanger stunts feel more dangerous in 3-D. Younger teens and grade-schoolers may cringe at flashbacks of a lab experiment with needles and baby turtles. The language is largely tame, except for “bad-ass,” brief toilet humor and mild sexual innuendo.
IF I STAY. Of all the young-adult novels recently brought to the screen, “If I Stay,” based on a novel by Gayle Forman, wins the wet hanky award. Long, repetitive and time-twisting it may be, but it coaxes out the tears and sniffles right on schedule, and it winningly portrays that rarity: a happy family. So, it’s a safe bet that teen fans of Chloe Grace Moretz and of the novel will find emotional fulfillment with the movie. Moretz plays high school senior Mia, a gifted cellist. Former punk rockers, her parents revel in her achievements. Mia meets Adam, a budding garage-band star. They fall for each other but hit some snags. Then, in an instant, all bets are off: Mia, her little brother and parents are in a terrible car crash. Mia separates from her injured body — a soul walking among the living, trying to decide whether to re-enter the world or disappear into the light. In her voice-over narration, Mia recalls her life in flashbacks, and how friends begged her to open her eyes.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The car crash is not portrayed graphically, but in dreamlike slow motion. The ambulance and operating room scenes are not graphic or especially bloody. The script features barnyard profanities, semi-crude sexual slang and the B-word. Mia and Adam are shown in bed together, but not in a sexual situation other than kissing.
THE GIVER. “The Giver” ought to fulfill the expectations of many teens who loved Lois Lowry’s 1993 young-adult novel. Those who haven’t read the book may still be transported by the sheer strangeness of the impressively visualized fable. The young hero, Jonas, lives in a sterile, isolated community. Colors are washed out; strong emotions banned; diversity nonexistent; population controlled; books unheard of. From puberty on, people take daily injections to mute their feelings. Upon finishing school, everyone receives a vocation. The Chief Elder assigns Jonas to be Receiver of Memories. He will study with the Giver (Jeff Bridges), a grizzled hermit. The Giver transmits to Jonas via telepathy memories of human existence: war, cruelty, pain, love, joy — things from which the community claims to shield people. The memories alter Jonas’s spirit. He stops taking the meds, realizes he loves his friend Fiona and decides that being human means experiencing everything. He must awaken the whole community or die trying.
THE BOTTOM LINE: One moment in the film depicts a caregiver injecting a baby with something that will gently kill it. It’s not graphic, but the scene is disturbing. In received memories, Jonas witnesses war and death — some blood, but not gory — and poachers killing an elephant.
EXPENDABLES 3. Sylvester Stallone and his growing posse of aging action stars crack wise and blow stuff up in this ridiculously enjoyable sequel, likely to divert action-loving teens who give it a gander. The loud, nonstop violence involves little blood or gore, and the actors invest full-tilt in their characters. The sheer intensity, however, along with verbal and visual references to war crimes, might be too much for some middle-schoolers. Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of freelance “black ops” fighters go on a mission to waylay a delivery of illegal bombs in Somalia. An arms dealer, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), outguns them. Ross recruits a younger, more tech-savvy crew to go after the dealer, but he’ll need fighters of all ages, including a CIA honcho (Harrison Ford), an ace pilot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a talkative nut Galgo (Antonio Banderas) to join the battle.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The massively destructive gun, tank, helicopter and hand-to-hand combat depicts countless fatalities, but hardly any gore. The script includes occasional profanity, including one or two F-words, and semi-crude sexual innuendo. Photos of war crime victims are grim, but not highly graphic.
FRANK. Set in the weird world of avant-garde indie rock — and based loosely on a couple of real people — “Frank” could captivate over-17s who appreciate fearlessly strange stories inventively told. Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a likable young office drone, nurses dreams of being a singer-songwriter, despite his limited gifts. Through utter happenstance, he fills in as a substitute keyboardist for The Soronprfbs, an alt-rock band comprised of talented misfits who don’t care if anyone listens to them. The lead singer and brains of the outfit, Frank (Michael Fassbender), wears a huge fake head with a face painted on it that he never takes off. Nearly as weird is the band’s theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who acts as Frank’s protector. Jon lives with the group for months while they work on an album. It takes him that long to grasp the dysfunctional dynamic going on.
THE BOTTOM LINE: One explicit sexual situation (no nudity) and a script bristling with F-words and a few stronger ones deserve the R rating. Themes dealing with mental illness and suicide also make the film for mature audiences only. Characters smoke pot and cigarettes. Someone gets non-lethally stabbed.
LIFE AFTER BETH. Horror-comedy fans 17 and older might glean a giggle or two out of “Life After Beth,” but the deeper they get into this clumsily rendered satire, the less satisfaction they’re likely to find. We meet Zach (Dane DeHaan) as he mourns the death of his girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza), from a mysterious snake bite. A second visit to her grieving parents reveals to Zach that Beth has somehow returned. He deduces that she escaped her grave and may now be a zombie. Beth’s delighted parents refuse to tell their clueless daughter what has happened to her. Zach argues that she ought to know. Beth’s behavior and appetites grow more bizarre, her strength more startling and her face more decayed. Soon she’s not the only zombie in town. Would that the script and direction were not as zombified as poor Beth.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Relatively understated zombie-movie violence takes over in the film’s third act, with gunplay, depictions of bloodied, impaled or charred corpses, and a living person with fingers hacked off. The R rating also reflects non-sexual nudity, a fairly explicit sexual situation, steamy but nongraphic make-out scenes, strong profanity and crude sexual slang. Characters smoke pot.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.