Maleficent (PG). Kids 8 and older may be pulled into — but not truly charmed by — this rather dark and meandering fairy tale from Disney. The 8-and-older recommendation reflects the live-action, 3-D nature of the film; the effects-driven violence and magical creatures seem more “real.” The movie offers a back story for the evil Maleficent, from the 1959 Disney animated classic, “Sleeping Beauty.” In a prologue, we meet Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as a cheery young fairy. She makes friends with a human boy from a nearby kingdom that is hostile to the fairy realm. As a man, he betrays Maleficent by drugging her and cutting off her wings (not shown) as a trophy to gain the crown. Maleficent wakes in agony and is bent on revenge. After the new king and his queen have a child, she bursts into the castle and places a curse on the infant Aurora: At age 16, she will prick her finger and fall into a deathlike sleep, never to be awakened except by “true love’s kiss.” The king orders three pixies to raise Aurora in hiding, but Maleficent secretly watches the girl grow up. A teenage Aurora befriends Maleficent and the plot thickens.
THE BOTTOM LINE: When Maleficent wakes without her wings, she wails in such pain that it could upset some kids. A climactic battle in the castle gets serious, with guards in armor going after a key character with daggers, spears and an iron net. Someone falls to their death. There are big, snarling wolves and large creatures with lizardlike features.
The Fault in Our Stars. Teens in love with the bestselling book, a love story about two young people who have cancer, will likely approve of the adaptation, even if it doesn’t include every bit of the novel. The irony and sarcasm used by Hazel (Shailene Woodley), the 16-year-old who is the film’s narrator, remains strong, yet the overall effect will still leave teens in tears. That’s because the unsentimentality so clearly masks deep feelings. Hazel — sick with cancer that has spread to her lungs, depressed and always attached to a portable oxygen tank — meets the smiley but sarcastic Gus (Ansel Elgort) at a teen cancer support group. He has lost a leg to the disease. They fall into instant mutual adoration, supported by Hazel’s parents, especially her mom. A trip to Amsterdam to meet the revered author of a novel about cancer proves eye-opening, as does a visit to the Anne Frank house. The disease doesn’t leave Hazel or Gus alone. The film concludes on a note of shattering loss, then a bit of hope.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A non-explicit sexual situation begins with kissing on a bed and ends with removal of a bra, seen only from the back. The language is only occasionally crude or profane, with one strong use of the F-word. Hospital scenes are not graphic, but they do involve long needles and distraught parents. Hazel is shown to be very ill in flashbacks, and Gus’s illness becomes briefly graphic near the end.
Edge of Tomorrow. It may not feature iconic sci-fi monsters or comic-book heroes, but true teen science-fiction and action buffs should eat up “Edge of Tomorrow.” It’s a nifty blast of summer entertainment with an ingeniously twisted plot. In a grim future, the world is at war with invading aliens that look like wiry, metallic giant squid or spiders. It opens as Tom Cruise, as a slick military press officer named Cage, is forced into combat despite his lack of training or, for that matter, courage. He’s berated by a drill sergeant, assigned to a tough-looking unit, and killed in his first battle with alien forces. Then he wakes up and does it all again — over and over. Cage seems to be the only person experiencing deja-vu, until he meets Rita (Emily Blunt), a soldier who recognizes his story.
The bottom line: The battle scenes are loud and full of violent death and destruction, yet virtually gore-free. In quieter moments, we see the main characters nursing injuries. The dialogue includes occasional barnyard profanity and rare mild sexual innuendo.
Words and Pictures. It’s hard to know whether teens will connect with this prickly love story about a couple of academics going through life crises while they teach at a private school. The film contains a tad too much profanity and sexual content for middle-schoolers, but high-schoolers who love art and literature would be a prime audience. There is a teen-oriented subplot that touches on bullying and sexual harassment. Clive Owen plays Jack, a brilliant English teacher who was originally hired because he was a published poet and short story writer. Now he drinks instead of writes and is in danger of losing his job. Dina (Juliette Binoche) is the new art teacher. A highly respected painter, she is retreating to academia because of a debilitating illness. Sharp, subtly flirtatious hallway banter between Jack and Dina morphs into a school-wide debate over whether words or pictures reveal more truth. Meanwhile, personal flaws could destroy what seems like an ideal mid-life romance.
The bottom line: The script contains a lot of midrange profanity and occasionally something stronger. Jack drinks himself into stupors. There is a strongly implied though nongraphic sexual tryst. One student humiliates another with sexually explicit sketches posted online.
A Million Ways to Die in the West. The movie is too lewd, profane and gross for viewers younger than 17 without a parental okay, but it is a pretty dadgum good spoof of westerns. Writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane plays Albert, a doofus sheep farmer who lives near a lawless desert town in Arizona in 1882. After his girlfriend dumps him for the owner of a mustache supply shop, Albert pours his heart out to his best friend, Edward, and Edward’s prostitute fiancee. Albert hates life in the West and is pondering suicide or moving to San Francisco when he meets a mysterious beauty (Charlize Theron) who teaches him to shoot so he can face the mustache man in a gunfight. But the mystery woman is married to a very jealous outlaw.
The bottom line: The R rating is well-deserved because of: nonstop crude and graphically worded sex jokes; sounds of a prostitute with a client; monumentally gross toilet humor; strong and constant profanity; a few bare behinds; and violence ranging from mere slapstick to graphic skull-crushings, bone-crackings and impalements.
Night Moves. Slow moving, softly spoken and dimly shot, this indie thriller has power as a character study, but, as with all of indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s work, it requires patience and the ability to forget Hollywood style for a bit. A few high-school and college-age kids might well have the patience for it. Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard play three Oregon environmental activists who move into eco-terrorism. They fashion a huge fertilizer bomb to blow up a dam. We see all the preparation, tension and secrecy, but not the explosion, which is a distant boom as they drive away. The aftermath does not go as planned and Eisenberg’s character, the silent, scowling one, finds something far worse than idealism in his soul. His transformation, which becomes the focus, is fascinating to watch.
The bottom line: The R rating reflects some nudity early in the film as women climb into a hot tub. There is occasional profanity (mostly the S-word), the brief, muffled sounds of an unseen couple having sex, and an understated scene of violence.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.