Rise of the Guardians (PG). This animated film delves at times into the darker side of childhood (nightmares) in ways that kids younger than 8 may find unsettling. The movie reimagines the story of Jack Frost. Jack is not one of the vaunted Guardians of the title, like the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Pitch is the bringer of nightmares who wants kids to stop believing in those other nice creatures and to fear him.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The magical powers wielded in battles between the Guardians and Pitch get pretty intense, if not downright scary in 3-D. Early in the film, Jack takes Jamie on a harrowing sled ride. Spoiler alert: Late in the film, Jack learns that he drowned as a child while rescuing his little sister.
Life of Pi (PG). Some members of the 12-and-older crowd will lose patience with the film’s visually stunning but lengthy middle section and philosophizing. The movie features life-threatening survival issues for the teen protagonist, adrift in a lifeboat on the stormy Pacific with a wild and hungry tiger. Based on Yann Martel’s novel, the movie chronicles the tragedy and adventure in the life of Pi Patel, a smart, spiritually searching lad who lives with his family in India, where they own a zoo. Pi’s father decides that the family should move to Canada. While at sea, their ship capsizes. Pi lands on a lifeboat with the tiger.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Early in the film, Pi’s father teaches him about the danger of wild animals by feeding a live goat to the tiger and making Pi watch. The animal violence is surprisingly graphic. There is toilet humor. Pi kills a big fish with an ax. Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, the older Pi tells a violent story.
Playing for Keeps. George, the protagonist in “Playing for Keeps,” is a handsome former soccer star who can’t seem to fight off the advances of single and married moms. Thus the film is not quite for middle-schoolers. The one-time Scottish sports hero only moved to this Virginia suburb to be near his ex, Stacie, and their 9-year-old son Lewis. Determined to show Lewis he’s a dependable dad — while winning back the newly engaged Stacie — George decides to coach Lewis’s soccer team.
The bottom line: In addition to all the implied sexual liaisons and infidelities, adult characters use crude language and mildish profanity. Father and son take a joyride in a Ferrari and nearly crash it.
Waiting for Lightning. Professional skateboarder Danny Way prepares to jump over the Great Wall of China in a documentary that focuses less on the 2005 stunt than on its subject’s difficult childhood. Much is made of how skateboarding offered Way a means of overcoming the emotional trauma resulting from the death of his father and the loss of subsequent father figures.
The bottom line: Young skateboarding fans will probably enjoy the action sequences, though there are some dangerous tricks, resulting in injuries. Most of the film, however, is taken up by less exciting interviews with Way’s friends, family members and such skating legends as Tony Hawk.
Deadfall. Too violent and sexually explicit for most children younger than 17, some 17 and older will appreciate the snowy northern setting, gruff characters and snowmobile chases. Addison and Liza are adult siblings. We meet them in the snowy north near the Canadian border, where they’ve just committed a big robbery. They are in a car accident and Addison shoots a policemen who comes to help. He and Liza split up, planning to reconnect after she’s found someone she can seduce into helping her. She targets Jay, a former boxer who’s just out of prison. He’s returning to see his parents for Thanksgiving. The mess comes to a head at Jay’s parent’s house.
The bottom line: The point-blank gun deaths and non-lethal gunshot wounds are not portrayed especially graphically for an R rating. However, “Deadfall” is graphic when showing a character losing a finger in a fight and later cauterizing the stump. A police officer dies when he rides his snowmobile into a barbed-wire fence, which cuts his throat. Jay and Liza engage in explicit sexual situations that contain no nudity. The script includes strong profanity.
Killing Them Softly. A comic tale of boneheaded criminals, “Killing Them Softly” is too profane and violent for viewers younger than 17. It is, however, a neat little gangster saga for film buffs college age and older. A couple of incredibly stupid jailbirds, Frankie and Russell, rob an illegal poker game. The mobsters who own the illegal poker game want revenge. They suspect Markie, who operates the game. The mobsters bring in Jackie, a super-cool hit man, to clean house. A lawyerly fellow who represents the mobsters tries to limit the carnage, but people die.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The actual on-screen violence occurs less frequently than one might expect, but when it does, it involves much blood and often unfolds in slow-motion. One character gets a jaw-crushing beating. The dialogue is highly, comically profane. One character uses extremely crude and explicit sexual language. Several characters drink heavily and use drugs.
Michael O’Sullivan contributed to this report.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.