Intense, over-full sequel has lots of wizarding violence.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” — the second movie in the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” series (all of which are prequels to the Harry Potter films) — is quite intense. It has even more violence than the previous movie did, with character deaths, injuries, magical battles and lots of mass destruction. Set in 1927, the movie still centers on magizoologist/Hogwarts textbook author Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). When dangerous wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes and rallies his followers, a much younger Professor Dumbledore (Jude Law) asks Newt to intervene. These characters may be adults, but other than their tendency to get into danger and magical duels, they’re pretty tame: There’s just a little bit of (butter) beer drinking and cuddling and a noticeable lack of cursing (Ron Weasley swore more than they do!). And the story’s themes of courage and teamwork are clear. Still, the movie’s often-dark tone and battle standoffs may be too much for the youngest Potterheads. (134 minutes)
Heartwarming family dramedy has some mature moments.
“Instant Family” is a dramedy based on writer-director Sean Anders and his wife’s real-life experiences fostering and eventually adopting three young siblings. The couple in the film (Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne) hit pretty much every road bump on the way to becoming a forever family. Expect occasional strong language (including “f---,” “b----,” “s---,” etc.) and some drinking and drug/addiction references. There are comic accidents and one serious one (with a little bit of resulting blood). When a pedophile gets beaten up, it’s played for laughs, as are some supporting characters’ unrealistic/not genuine reasons for wanting to foster/adopt — which could bother some families. The pedophile subplot isn’t a major one, but it does involve an older (though still young) man preying on a teen. Ultimately, the movie champions unconditional familial love and perseverance and argues that kids coming from extremely difficult circumstances are still kids who deserve love and a chance to flourish. (118 minutes)
Crowd-pleasing drama explores race, class, friendship.
“Green Book” is a drama set in the 1960s about a racist Italian American man (Viggo Mortensen) who takes a temporary job chauffeuring an acclaimed black pianist (Mahershala Ali) during his concert tour of the Midwest and Deep South. Called by some a “race-flipped ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ ” the crowd-pleasing story explores how the two men had to abide by the titular Green Book, a “traveling-while-black” guide to restaurants and accommodations that allowed black guests in the ’60s. Characters are beaten and threatened (including with a shotgun), there’s a fistfight, and two people are handcuffed after being caught engaging in sexual activity (nothing sensitive shown). There’s also quite a bit of language (including “s---,” and the n-word) and drinking/smoking. But the film’s messages about empathy and the danger of prejudice and stereotypes are important and thought-provoking. And the story is a timely reminder of how, just a few decades ago, there were whole parts of the country where segregation kept African Americans from fully participating in civic life. (130 minutes)
Royals fall for commoners in feel-good Christmas romance.
“The Princess Switch” is a feel-good Christmas-themed movie starring Vanessa Hudgens that parents and tweens will enjoy watching together. This one will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a version of “The Prince and the Pauper,” in which a prince swaps places with an identical-looking commoner, and/or “Roman Holiday,” in which a princess plays hooky from her royal duties to enjoy a few days as a regular girl. Iffy content is minimal: A couple kisses under the mistletoe, a man falls off a balcony into the soft snow below and a nasty rival deliberately spills coffee on a main character and cuts the cord on her electric mixer. Themes focus on the importance of helping others and Christmas being more than just a gesture. (101 minutes)
Available via Netflix streaming.
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