The Great Gatsby. Teens will be surprised at how the excesses of the Jazz Age echo the excesses of today. The international cast may speak in unplaceable accents, but they get the emotions right, amid lavish decor and with a soundtrack that mixes 1920s jazz with new works by Jay-Z and other Billboard-toppers. Narrator Nick Carraway tells the story from a sanitarium where he’s in treatment for alcoholism. Nick rents a cottage in the toniest part of Long Island to spend the summer studying bond trading in hopes of landing a Wall Street job. In the towering mansion next door lives Jay Gatsby, a charming mystery man who throws huge parties. Gatsby befriends Nick because he hopes to reconnect with Nick’s high-born cousin Daisy, a former love who’s now married to Tom Buchanan. The Buchanans live across the bay. Nick arranges a meeting with Daisy.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A violent hit-and-run fatality takes place near the end of the film and is replayed in flashback and slow-motion. All the characters drink and smoke a lot. Gatsby and Daisy begin an affair, though the bedroom scenes never show any nudity. Tom Buchanan harbors viciously racist and ignorant conspiracy theories. He also has a mistress.
Tyler Perry Presents Peeples. A little too full of sexual humor for middle-schoolers, “Peeples” takes a sitcomish look at family dynamics. This movie always goes for the cheap, predictable laugh, but a cast of A-list comedic actors makes it an entertaining enough escape that many high-schoolers will buy into it. Wade Walker is a gifted but as yet uncredentialed social worker and child psychologist who supports himself by performing at kids’ parties and giving music classes. Wade’s live-in girlfriend Grace Peeples adores him, but doesn’t feel ready to bring him to a holiday weekend at her family’s palatial Sag Harbor compound. Wade shows up anyway and makes an instant bad impression.
The bottom line: Issues that weave comedically throughout the film include substance abuse and alcoholism, breast enlargement, nudism, gay adults afraid to come out to their parents and teenagers stealing and pretending to be streetwise. The dialogue includes frequent sexual innuendo and mild sexual slang. A white character makes a mildly racist remark.
Venus and Serena. Even if teens are not into tennis or familiar with champion players Venus and Serena Williams, they may enjoy this intimate portrait of the famous sisters. The film looks into the hard work and dedication it took for Venus and Serena to reach the pinnacle of their sport, fighting racism and stereotypes the whole way. We see their contrasting personalities and their loss of privacy. The film follows the sisters during the 2011 season, during which they struggled with health and emotional issues. Archival footage of the girls practicing with their eccentric dad, Richard Williams, who coached them from early childhood, is very revealing. Former tennis stars John McEnroe and Billie Jean King, fashion arbiter Anna Wintour and former president Bill Clinton all contribute observations.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The documentary contains some PG-13-ish sexual innuendo and flirting. There’s also discussion of Venus and Serena’s dad Richard’s infidelities and children he fathered in and out of wedlock.
Iron Man 3. Thunderous explosions, dizzying falls and much destruction of property figure in this third installment of the movies based on the comic book character Tony Stark, the rich inventor of the Iron Man warrior suit. Teens will savor the witty mayhem. The villains now looking to destroy Stark are a scientist gone power mad, Aldrich Killian, and his apparent boss, the Mandarin, a creepy terrorist with a ponytail. After his near-death experiences in “The Avengers,” Stark has trouble sleeping. Though in a happy romance with his corporate whiz Pepper Potts, he’s frustrated that the government won’t let him in on efforts to stop the Mandarin, who already has killed many innocents. Scientist Killian has a process that can transform his thugs into indestructible fighters. When injured, their bodies turn molten, then regenerate. The action is big and bold in 3-D, but the best fun emerges from little smart-alecky scenes between Stark and a kid named Harley whom he befriends after crash-landing near a small town.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Most of the mayhem, from explosions to fistfights, is thunderous and destructive but not graphic. A group of people are sucked out of a damaged Air Force One and seem to free-fall to their deaths. A key character falls into a raging fire. Another chugs a lot of beer. There is very little profanity. Tony Stark engages in lots of mildly naughty verbal sexual innuendo. A flashback implies he spends the night with a fellow scientist, Maya.
Kon-Tiki. If teens enjoyed “Life of Pi,” they will find similar but more realistic thrills in “Kon-Tiki,” as it dramatizes an iconic true story. Scenes involving sharks make the film iffy for kids younger than 13. The film dramatizes Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition and opens with the young Heyerdahl living in the South Pacific with his new wife Liv. He becomes convinced that the islands of Polynesia were settled not by ancient peoples coming east from Asia, but by South American Indians floating west across the Pacific on rafts. With a crew of five other men, he sets out to prove the possibility as they sail on a balsa wood raft, letting ocean currents and winds carry them for three harrowing months from Peru to Polynesia.
The bottom line: Hungry sharks surround the raft at various times, but none of the crew is hurt. Someone falls briefly overboard.
Horwitz is a freelance writer. Read her previous reviews at On Parenting.