Family Filmgoer reviews ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’

May 22, 2014
12 and older

Million Dollar Arm (PG). Kids 12 and older who’ve played Little League or just love professional sports may be drawn to this reality-based story. It takes its time getting told, however, and there are a lot of grown-ups having heart-to-heart chats that kids will have to tolerate along the way. Struggling sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), his business on the line, risks everything to hold a public search for pitching phenoms in India, where cricket is very popular. The first few hundred contestants barely throw 45 mph pitches, but eventually J.B. finds Rinku and Dinesh, two young men with real potential. He brings them to the United States without grasping the culture shock they’ll feel. He shows impatience when they don’t learn baseball instantly; it’s all about him and the risks he’s taking. J.B.’s tenant and love interest, Brenda, tells him he must mentor and protect these young men.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It is implied that J.B. and Brenda spend a night together, but we see only a kiss. There is other mild verbal sexual innuendo. Characters drink.

PG-13

X-Men: Days of Future Past. A smart and visually ravishing new 3-D chapter in the X-Men films, “Days of Future Past” should knock out teens and older fans, even if they can’t totally parse the whipsawing plot. This time, in order to prevent a disastrous war between humans and mutants, Wolverine travels back to 1973 to find the young Charles Xavier. Wolverine must persuade a depressed Xavier to use his mutant ability to hear people’s thoughts so that he can get into the head of the shape-shifting Mystique and stop her from assassinating a human scientist, Bolivar Trask. Trask wants the U.S. government to buy his mutant-killing robot warriors, called Sentinels, arguing that otherwise, mutants will destroy humanity. The film is full of deft period touches, bringing in the Vietnam War, President Nixon’s secret tapes and quantum physics references.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Scenes of the aftermath of a war between mutants and humans show piles of bodies and skulls. Fight scenes are largely effects-driven, with laserlike zapping, fire, ice, telekinesis, electromagnetism and occasional impalement, all of it bloodless, though characters feel pain. The script features occasional profanity, including one use of the F-word.

Blended. A broad comedy that earns its PG-13 with lots of semi-crude sexual humor, “Blended” is okay for teens, but parents of younger kids may find much that’s inappropriate for little ones. Then again, it’s an Adam Sandler movie, so duh. Jim (Sandler), a widower, and Lauren (Drew Barrymore), who’s divorced, meet on a blind date and instantly hate each other. They run into each other again at a drugstore, where Lauren helps Jim buy tampons for his older daughter, and he helps her choose a sexy magazine for her older son, to replace the one she reflexively tore up after finding it under the boy’s bed. But they still hate each other. By coincidence, Jim and his three daughters and Lauren and her two sons wind up at the same resort in South Africa, where they’re constantly thrown together because it’s “blended family” week. Jim teaches Lauren’s boys to play sports and blow off steam. Lauren helps Jim’s daughters fix their awful barbershop haircuts and feel pretty. Naturally, the grown-ups start to like each other, too.

The bottom line: The script is full of midrange profanity. There are jokes about teenage masturbation and adult sexual behavior. There is a quick shot of rhinos mating.

Ida. A quiet, slow, stunning film from Poland (with English subtitles), “Ida” tells a gut-wrenching story that true cinema buffs of high-school and college age may find surprisingly hypnotic. Set in Poland in the early 1960s under communism, it’s about a young novice nun, Anna, who is about to take orders and enter the convent for life. First, she is sent to meet her only surviving family member, an aunt, who turns out to be an embittered hang-’em-high judge. Anna learns from her aunt that she, Anna, was actually named Ida, and that they are the only survivors of a Jewish family wiped out in the Holocaust. Their story emerges slowly and with nongraphic but shattering effect.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Ida’s aunt drinks and smokes and picks up young men for overnight trysts, though these are not graphically shown.

Godzilla. Monster movie fans 13 and older can feast their eyes on this effects-laden, narratively murky update of the 1954 Japanese classic, in which Godzilla battles two monsters that look like human-cockroach hybrids. (Teens prone to nightmares and reptile phobias should skip this one.) The movie opens with a prologue set in 1999: A mine in the Philippines collapses, revealing huge, weird fossils, then a nuclear plant in Japan collapses due to underground tremors. The plant’s American boss loses his wife in the disaster. Fifteen years later, their son is a bomb disposal expert in the Navy. He reconnects with his dad, who is certain that whatever destroyed the nuclear plant is back, though the explanation is indecipherable. They investigate and get caught in a crisis: Two monsters of indeterminate origin feed on nuclear power and have awakened Godzilla.

The bottom line: Skyscrapers, railroad tracks and bridges are smashed, aircraft carriers upended and humans killed. It’s all pretty gore-free, computer-crafted and dimly lit. Many children are shown at risk. Characters use rare mild profanity.

13 and older

  Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago (Unrated). Teens of varying sensibilities — from those who are religiously or philosophically inclined to those who just love hiking and travel — can enjoy this documentary, which follows six people of different ages and origins as they walk the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail across northern Spain. The trail is 1,200 years old and was originally meant for Catholic pilgrims trekking from shrine to shrine. It is now a rugged and picturesque challenge for many people, who, the film says, find spiritual rebirth in the friends they make and the very act of walking so far.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Some of the pilgrims profiled suffer from severe tendonitis and blisters that bring them to tears. Others express emotional troubles they hope will be lessened by walking the trail. 

Teenage (Unrated). This eccentric, impressionistic film is part documentary and part new-made footage designed to look archival. It puts the “teenager” concept into historical context, starting with the 19th century Industrial Revolution, which led to laws banning child labor, which led to public education and extended childhoods for the non-rich. It explores the tug-of-war between childhood and adulthood that begins around age 13. Using film and diary entries of American, English and German youth, the movie touches on the destruction of a generation of young men in World War I, the abandon of the Roaring Twenties, the poverty of the Depression, the pull of the New Deal in the U.S. and of the Hitler Youth in Germany. “Teenage” shows how kids loved jazz and swing because it set them apart, even as World War II raged. It ventures only briefly into the 1950s, ’60s and beyond.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Some of the footage depicts teens and young adults in the 1920s and later smoking pot, drinking and using cigarettes, and implying non-explicitly that they are sexually active and exploring sexual orientation. The footage of World Wars I and II is not graphic. There is mention of teen pregnancy.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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