First Position (Unrated). Teens and tweens who love dance and/or are athletes could be transfixed by this fast-moving documentary. It follows several teen and preteen dancers from vastly different backgrounds who enter the Youth America Grand Prix; at stake are full scholarships and potential careers. Twelve-year-old Miko is a talented and determined competitor. Her younger brother, Jules, is less enthusiastic. Joan Sebastian Zamora, a teen from Colombia, has true lead-dancer quality. His family encouraged his dancing to keep him off the streets. Aran Bell, 11, is a hugely talented young dancer with stunning discipline and love for his art. Michaela DePrince is 14. She is from Sierra Leone and was adopted by a New Jersey family. She’s determined to show the dance world that a woman of color can do classical ballet as well as anyone.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The young dancers’ overworked feet are often bloody and have bumps and bunions normally seen on older people. Some sustain injuries that take them out of competition. They are shown doing painful, even dangerous-looking stretches to increase flexibility. One mother might trouble moviegoers with the way she pushes her two kids to dance and underfeeds them to keep them thin.
Dark Shadows. Although there’s not much here that’s inappropriate for them, high-schoolers might lose interest in this slow-moving vampire comedy well before it’s over. The film’s sexual content might be a little too much for middle-schoolers. When the very funny Johnny Depp is on camera as gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins, awakened in the year 1972 after 200 years in a coffin, the film is fun — at first. He is droll, though, in his long nails and and cutaway coat, shocked at all things modern and apologizing before drinking people’s blood and killing them. Barnabus returns to his family’s mansion in Maine. He’s determined to help his descendants restore the family business and stop their arch rival, who turned him into a vampire.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Most of the mayhem in “Dark Shadows” is not especially gross or graphic, although Barnabas Collins drinks the blood of several human victims and tosses others around, implicitly killing them. The finale grows more violent, with one character morphing into a werewolf and another cracking and disintegrating before our eyes. The sexual innuendo gets R-ish in one scene with Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, implying oral sex, but it’s not explicit.
Last Call at the Oasis. Some teens are already versed in conservation issues, but the fact that water is a finite resource is not as widely known in this country. “Last Call at the Oasis” is not so much a documentary as advocacy journalism. It looks at water scarcity issues around the world but focuses on the United States, arguing that Americans know far too little about water and use far too much of it. Southern California’s dwindling supply, agriculture’s problematic use of irrigation in arid climates and industrial waste seeping into rural drinking water are all explored, with environmental activist Erin Brockovich featured in the latter issue. Water conservation, it turns out, is a hugely thorny issue. Some teens could find careers in it.
The bottom line: The film shows children and animals sick with cancer from industrial waste that has seeped into their drinking water; farmers whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by lack of water; cattle dead from drought; and raw sewage in a waste treatment plant. Interviewees use occasional profanity, including one muffled F-word.
Marvel’s The Avengers. Most teens and lots of tweens will enjoy this witty, raucous ride, which doesn’t push PG-13 boundaries much at all. Joss Whedon’s eardrum-blowing, property-destroying mash-up keeps humor and characterization simmering nicely amid the 3-D, special effects and mayhem. The villain, Loki, invades the secret Earth-protection agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and grabs a renewable energy Cosmic Cube. He aims to use it to subjugate humankind. Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., puts out the call to the superheroes, asking them to set aside their egos and defeat Loki and the invading army he aims to unleash.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The mayhem rarely gets graphic. Natasha is smacked hard by Russian “interrogators.” Loki warns Natasha that he’ll kill her “slowly, intimately.” The rest of the violence involves arm-bending, neck-cracking, head-banging, body-hurling fights, as well as massive property destruction in car chases and aerial dogfights. Younger audience members might recoil to see Bruce Banner morph into the Incredible Hulk. The exploding arrows shot by Hawkeye aim for eyeballs, but not graphically. There is mild sexual innuendo.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Here’s the film that parents and grandparents can enjoy while the kids give their eyes and eardrums a workout at “The Avengers.” That noted, there’s nothing in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” that’s inappropriate for high-schoolers, although some of the mildish innuendo about elder-sex could make middle-schoolers cringe. A group leaves England for India to spend their twilight years in a hotel in Jaipur. The rundown place was heavily Photoshopped by the host, the charming but disorganized Sonny Kapoor. Director John Madden does a lovely job tracing the separate stories, giving the film narrative cohesion.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The dialogue includes rare profanity, including one nonsexual use of the F-word. There is considerable sexual innuendo, most of it mild but some of it bawdy for a PG-13. One comic scene with mild sexual content includes implied nudity. Maggie Smith’s character, without using actual racial slurs, is clearly racist in the beginning and uses nasty stereotypes.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.