Chasing Mavericks (PG). Kids 12 and older who love water sports and surfing might just stay awake through this true-life saga. Based on the life of Santa Cruz surfing phenom Jay Moriarity, the film dramatizes his relationship with his surfing mentor and father figure Frosty Hesson. We meet Jay as an 8-year-old. He gets washed away and Frosty rescues him. Jump ahead and Jay is already a great surfer and a good kid, parenting his irresponsible single mom. One day, Jay hitches onto Frosty’s van as the seasoned surfer heads to a “secret” beach to catch a giant wave known as the Mavericks. Jay begs Frosty to train him to ride them, and Frosty agrees.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Jay gets bloodied once or twice and disappears under water for nerve-wracking stretches. He and Frosty encounter a shark. Jay’s mother is pushed around by a man and Jay throws him out. A character dies on-camera of a stroke. We see an implied drug purchase by a teen. A bully harasses Jay.
Fun Size. Lots of high-schoolers will be amused by this raucous Halloween farce. It may be too crude for middle-schoolers, and parents may be disturbed that the story hinges on a young boy who wanders off on Halloween. Wren is a nice teen in a Cleveland suburb. Her dad died about a year ago, and her little brother hasn’t spoken since. Her mother has taken to dating losers. Out trick-or-treating with her best friend, April, Wren must watch out for Albert. April just wants to get to the party thrown by their school’s coolest hunk. But while they visit a haunted house, Albert goes missing. The rest of the film cuts among Wren and Roosevelt trying to find Albert, Wren’s mom having an awful time with her date and Albert’s adventures with a ditzy convenience store clerk.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A child says, “You’re not my mommy, [rhymes with witch]!” Characters prank someone with firecrackers and dog poop. One character physically threatens Albert. The script includes sexual innuendo and barely subtle jokes about child molestation. There is mild profanity and toilet humor. An adult character drinks and drives.
Alex Cross. This film is far too graphic and violent for middle-schoolers. Even high-schoolers may have to look away, though perhaps they’ll get interested in the cops-vs.-psychopath story. Cross is thinking of joining the FBI. Meanwhile, he and his partner, Tommy, investigate a gruesome multiple murder. The cops quickly home in on a tattooed and sinewy psychopath assassin. The killer brings tragedy down on the detective. Cross and Tommy resolve to get vengeance and justice.
The bottom line: It is amazing that “Alex Cross” has a PG-13 rating. There is strongly implied torture, a kinky (though nongraphic) sexual situation that revolves around sadomasochism and turns lethal, and multiple murders shown in a flashback with point-blank shootings. The film includes thunderous shootouts, car chases and explosions. The dialogue includes occasional mild-to-midrange profanity.
Cloud Atlas. Inside this huge epic lurk two or three good little movies. But film buffs 16 and older will need a shovel to dig them out of this adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel. Even so, some teens 16 and older will find profundity in the nearly three-hour marathon. Tom Hanks plays six characters and Halle Berry seven. Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving play several villains.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The film is loaded with violence: stabbings, throat-slittings, shootings, gun suicide, the whipping of a slave and the tossing of a character off a high-rise to his death. A doctor poisons a patient. A couple of sexual situations become semi-explicit, some with nudity. The script contains occasional strong profanity, and various characters drink, smoke and use marijuana.
Paranormal Activity 4. Older high-schoolers may get a chill out of all the pent-up tension. The language more than the relatively understated violence earns the movie an R, but the film still creates enough implied menace to make it problematic for children younger than 16. It continues the story of “Paranormal Activity,” in which Katie became possessed, killed her boyfriend and stole her sister’s child. Now her demonic activities affect a new family. A strange little boy comes to stay with them for a while after his mom goes to the hospital. Right away, teenager Alex notices odd things. Her little brother Wyatt starts acting odd. Alex and her pal Ben set up the laptops around the house to record the goings-on.
The bottom line: The mayhem includes a snapped neck and victims thrown by an invisible force that kills them. One character is nearly asphyxiated when a car comes on by itself. Demonic spirits are depicted. Teen characters use a lot of profanity. Alex fears her parents may divorce.
The Sessions. The explicit sexuality in “The Sessions,” even though it is in no way pornographic, makes this a film for those in their 20s and older. Based on real events, it is the story of Mark O’Brien, a poet and freelance journalist paralyzed from the neck down from polio. At 38, he knows he won’t live to be old. Resigned to the idea that he may never have a romantic relationship, Mark hires Cheryl, a sexual “surrogate,” so he can at least have sex. He asks his priest whether this would be a sin, and the priest decides God will give Mark a pass. Even though Cheryl is married and keeps her private life private, she comes to care for Mark and their sessions change both their lives.
The bottom line: The sex scenes between Mark and Cheryl are very explicit and include female nudity. Characters occasionally use strong profanity.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.