Oz the Great and Powerful (PG). Kids 10 and older will be happy passengers on the lush fantasy train that is “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Some of the scarier bits make the film a little much for children younger than 10. Seeing it in 2-D instead of 3-D would tame some of that. We meet Oscar Diggs before he becomes a “wizard.” He’s a cheesy magician in a third-rate traveling carnival. His onetime girlfriend, Annie, tries to convince Oz that he can be a better man, but he runs off. Escaping in a hot-air balloon, Oz gets sucked into a cyclone and enters a new land that bears his name as we go from black-and-white to color. He encounters Theodora, who tells him that she is a good witch. When Oz rejects her love, she reacts in a fury. He meets Glinda, a truly good witch. With the help of new friends, he contrives to keep the evil witches at bay.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There are plenty of scary moments and images, especially in 3-D, that could give kids younger than 10 shivers. The flying apelike minions who work for the wicked witch are nasty looking, and the battles get loud and showily destructive. Early in the film, the cyclone is nightmarish.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Teen audiences will love the hilarious, flawed characters. They’re all outlandish, yet wonderfully human. We meet Burt Wonderstone first as a bullied, friendless tween. His mom leaves his birthday gift on the kitchen table — a magic set, complete with instructional video by magician Rance Holloway. Burt is instantly hooked, and finds a fellow magic lover in young Anton, another bully magnet. As 40-ish adults, Burt and Anton are Vegas headliners but no longer friends. Burt has turned into a vain, sexist, womanizing louse. When a bizarre magician named Steve Gray steals their thunder, Burt and Anton try a stunt that ends disastrously. They split up. Burt tries to do the act alone, but gets fired. Soon he’s doing card tricks at retirement homes, and it’s there that he meets the elderly Rance Holloway, who chides him for losing the joy in magic. This proves transformational.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The crazy stunts performed by Steve Gray involve bedding down on hot coals, holding his urine for days, drilling a hole into his skull and seeming to crush a puppy. The script contains midrange profanity, plus a lot of sexual innuendo. One trick involves the use of an illegal drug.
Upside Down. Even teens who relish science fiction may lose patience with “Upside Down,” though the striking visuals will enchant them for a while. In a prologue, Adam explains that he lives in a solar system where two worlds exist above and below each other, with opposite pulls. Adam’s world is poor and dystopian. The world above is rich and exploitative of Adam’s. As a teen, Adam climbs up a cliff where he can nearly touch the other world. There he meets Eden, an adventurous beauty above. One day, “interplanetary border patrol agents” chase them for illegal fraternizing. Adam eventually lands a job at a corporation that links the two gravitational planes. He finds Eden, who has amnesia.
The bottom line: The scenes of violence in “Upside Down” are not graphic, but there is shooting with intent to kill. The language in the script includes occasional mild profanity.
Emperor. World War II must seem a very distant set of events to teens today. But for those who like history, “Emperor” does a bang-up job of making one corner of that era come vividly to life. It dramatizes what happened in 1945 when the war was over and the U.S. military occupied Japan. Before helping to rebuild and democratize the bomb-shattered former empire, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his staff will decide which Japanese officers and cabinet ministers to prosecute for war crimes. MacArthur assigns Gen. Bonner Fellers to investigate whether the Emperor of Japan, worshiped by his people, should face trial and even execution.
The bottom line: The depiction of a bomb-ravaged Tokyo is highly evocative. There is a brief flashback sequence of war violence with bayonet stabbings. The dialogue includes rare mild profanity.
Dead Man Down. For crime movie buffs 17 and older, “Dead Man Down” offers multiple cinematic rewards — electrifying action sequences, inventive use of the camera lens and a script with a vengeful moral code that warrants post-movie debate. Victor is a hit man/enforcer for drug lord Alphonse. Alphonse has been receiving threatening letters containing bits of a cut-up photograph. He and his thugs want to piece the puzzle together and learn the identity of his tormenter. Living in the high-rise building opposite Victor’s is Beatrice, half of whose face was badly disfigured in a car accident. Beatrice often waves to Victor flirtatiously from her balcony, and they finally meet. Her reasons are not just romantic. From her window, she saw Victor kill someone and demands that he kill the drunken driver responsible for her disfigurement, or she’ll report him to the police. Beatrice and Victor enter a whirlpool of violence, possible romance and big moral choices.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Violent and morally complex, “Dead Man Down” is truly for viewers 17 and older. It features intense gun violence. The mayhem also includes strangulations, beatings and one unfortunate character who is set upon by sewer rats. The film contains a steamy sexual situation interrupted by violence. The script includes occasional strong profanity. Local teens shove and bully Beatrice and call her “monster” because of her facial scars.
Horwitz is a freelance writer. Read her previous reviews at On Parenting.