Monsters University (G). Kids 6 and older who loved the original “Monsters, Inc.” will be happy to see this 3-D prequel. We see how Mike fell in love with scaring as a child. He’s determined to get into Monsters University and major in scaring. Once there, he finds that his size and mild demeanor make him a laughingstock. Mike and Sulley are on the same team for the campus Scare Games. Eventually, Mike and Sulley find friendship, have each other’s backs, impress everyone and set their sights on jobs at Monsters, Inc.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Most of the monsters seem like harmless variations on animal themes. Only Dean Hardscrabble, who looks like a cross between a giant cockroach and a millipede, will put fear into viewers younger than 6. A 2-D showing might be preferable for them. The guys get stuck in a human kids’ summer camp, with police coming after them. There’s a bed-wetter joke.
White House Down. A lone hero defeats legions of bad guys to save the president, a kid in peril and his own career. It offers high-schoolers two hours of cheerfully mindless diversion. Some middle-schoolers may find the mayhem too heavy. Cale is a member of the Capitol Police who longs to join the Secret Service. He picks up his adolescent daughter, Emily, to go with him to the White House for an interview. Then a bomb shatters the Capitol dome. Soon, the White House comes under attack. Bad guys take the tourists hostage, and Cale and Emily get separated. He finds the president, and they take on the bad guys.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The PG-13 rating keeps us from seeing heads bashed in or bullets entering bodies or the deaths of hundreds of bystanders. All that happens, but just out of frame or at a distance. Even so, the film is riddled with high-caliber gun and artillery fire as well as huge explosions. Emily is held hostage with a gun to her head. The script includes rare midrange profanity and brief sexual innuendo.
20 Feet From Stardom. Love of music should draw many teens to this galvanizing documentary, which might be a revelation for them. It focuses on hugely talented backup singers since the late 1950s. The film includes discussion of the ups and downs of careers, the art of singing and the elusiveness of stardom. Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting and Bette Midler, among others, talk about the industry.
The bottom line: The film shows Tina Turner wearing a see-through blouse in an early performance, and Merry Clayton talks about the lyric “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away,” which she sang memorably in the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” Interviewees use occasional profanity.
Unfinished Song. Aimed at older audiences, “Unfinished Song” is a powerful showcase for teens who have an interest in acting. Seasoned pros do beautiful work here in front of a very intimate camera. Arthur and Marion are dealing with Marion’s failing health. She is an outgoing, friendly soul, while Arthur is sullen. Yet the pair love each other a lot. As her health fades, Marion grows more determined to perform with her choir while they prepare for a competition. She tries to get Arthur to take part, but he just drops her off and picks her up. Only after he finds himself alone does Arthur finally break out of his shell.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Characters occasionally shoot the middle finger and use rare mild profanity.
World War Z. A virus causes people to become “undead” and infect others. Gerry is a former top investigator for the United Nations. He, his wife and their two young daughters get caught in the middle of an outbreak, with zombies slamming their heads through windshields to get at people. The U.N. sends a chopper to pick up Gerry and his family; then Gerry’s old boss enlists him to find the suspected source of the zombie virus.
The bottom line: There is much point-blank gunfire and killing of the very disturbing zombies with knives and tire irons. Humans, too, get impaled. We rarely see metal entering bodies or much blood. Gerry cuts off the hand of an Israeli soldier who has been bitten to prevent her from getting infected. A plane-crash sequence is very scary. Early on, panicked people are shown looting. The script includes rare midrange profanity.
The Heat. For comedy fans 17 and older, “The Heat” delivers. Ashburn, an uptight FBI special agent, is sent from the New York office to nab an elusive drug lord in Boston. She’s forced to cooperate with the impossibly cranky, foulmouthed Mullins, a Boston detective whose captain is afraid of her and whose family members subsist as petty crooks. Her brother already sits in prison and might have a key to the case.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The script brims with profanity, crude anatomy jokes, crude sexual innuendo and rude hand gestures. There are fatal shootings, a knife in the thigh and a couple of head-banging fights. It’s clear that torture is about to happen. Racial and ethnic stereotyping for comedic purposes is uncomfortable.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
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