April 2017 movie reviews: a guide for parents

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (M)

Released: April 25.

Story: Adventure fantasy sequel based on the Marvel comic book. Ragtag team the Guardians are pursued by intergalactic forces. Luckily, American pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana), foul-mouthed racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), strong-man Drax (Dave Bautista) and baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are helped by a powerful leader (Kurt Russell).  

TRAILER

Language: Thirty-one swear words.

Romance: Adult references, kisses.

Violence: Electrocution, vicious blows, shoot-outs, falls, crashes, explosions. Dead parent themes. Slimy but still nastily toothed monsters.

Ages:   3 – 6: Themes about dead mums and dads are too much for this group.

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7 – 12: This mash-up of cheesy backgrounds and costumes (which look lifted from any recent sci-fi tele-series), cheesy monsters, cheesy jokes and well-shot action will please tweens. The film's elastic plot – is there one? – and adorable 'twig' Groot balance the non-stop insults and jolts of violence.

13-plus: Best audience for a nicely-produced gimmick which succeeds mostly thanks to the cast's personality. The use of 1980s rock classics on Peter's 'Awesome Mix Tape Volume 2' also freshens a familiar plot.

Adult Compatibility: For fans of the original only. Despite being twenty minutes too long, it is worth staying for the four – yes, that's four – extra scenes scattered through the end credits.

Critic's rating: 7/10

MY PET DINOSAUR (PG)

Released: April 22 (Limited sessions scheduled).

Story: Australian-made adventure fantasy. When American youngster Jake (Jordan Dulieu) accidentally mixes the strange goo his friends found, he creates baby dinosaur Magnes. Jake wants to keep his new pet a secret but Magnes has a nasty habit of growing – and growing. From Dinosaur Island's director, using Blue Mountains locations.

TRAILER

Language: Ten swear words.

Romance: Discreet references.

Violence: A slap, threats, gunfire, chases, explosions, dinosaur stampedes. Death themes.

Ages:   3 – 6: The dead dad theme and enormous dinosaurs may worry littlies.

7 – 12: Perfect for younger viewers in this age bracket. Yes, the American-ized characters and simple story rarely feel original. But director Matt Drummond skilfully uses classic children's adventure suspense (intrepid kids, dark forests, rescue missions) in a neat mix of family drama, traditional chase action and funny slapstick. The only age-appropriate female character, science-minded Abbey, is played by talented Annabel Wolfe. One multiplex screening had an almost equal number of male/female pre-tween viewers.

13-plus: While the effects are frequently excellent, the film feels a tad too young for them.

Adult Compatibility: Unresolved plot issues confuse the ending but this is an impressive effort for an independently made feature. Effects expert-turned-director Drummond is getting better with every movie.

Critic's rating: 7/10

  

BERLIN SYNDROME (MA)

Released: April 20.

Story: Australian-made contemporary thriller. In Berlin, Australian backpacker Clare (Teresa Palmer) meets seemingly perfect Andi (Max Riemelt). But after visiting his apartment, Clare finds herself in a deserted building, with soundproof windows, in which no-one will hear her scream. Based on Melanie Joosten's novel. Occasional subtitles.

TRAILER

Language: Seven swear words.

Romance: Adult themes, sex scenes, nudity.

Violence: Threats, blows, stabbing, strangling, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Nein!

7 – 12: Doppelt ditto!

13-plus: Classic female-in-peril thriller explores obsession and delusion with deliberately placed violence, which means fans of tough-edged dramas get better rewards than romance lovers. Palmer is a likable heroine who is (mostly) believably overwhelmed by her situation; Riemelt is excellent in a tricky role. Always impressive Australian director Cate Shortland (Lore; Somersault) makes this far more compelling than plotline suggests. At one preview, viewers were talking to the screen, advising Clare what to do next.

Adult Compatibility: Occasional melodramatics are erased by oppressive, locked room suspense. Evocative Berlin locations help: the language barrier is another burden for Clare; interesting editing choices in the finale will leave you holding your breath. Talking points? The film digs deep into the same Stockholm Syndrome, captive-and-captor themes driving recent female-targeted romances (Beauty and The Beast; Passengers, etc).

Critic's rating: 7/10

TABLE 19 (M)

Released: April 20.

Story: Modern American romantic comedy drama. When Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is dumped by her boyfriend (Wyatt Russell), she must join the 'random' table of guests at a friend's wedding. Eloise meets a long-married couple (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson), a supposedly successful businessman (Stephen Merchant), an awkward teen avoiding his own prom night, a nanny with a secret, and a charming stranger.

TRAILER

Language: Thirteen swear words.

Romance: Kisses, sexual references.

Violence: Arguments. Drug use.

Ages: 3 – 6: Nothing for them at this big girl's table.

7 -12: Ditto.

13-plus: Fans of Pitch Perfect star Kendrick should know her latest is laidback to the point of meandering. Still, even if the plot occasionally vanishes, the laughs keep coming, thanks to television comedy experts Kudrow (Friends) and English actor Merchant. There's a lot of fun seeing how these mismatched strangers bond; the romance is certainly unpredictable. While there's nothing offensive, the sardonic approach may best suit older teens.

Adult Compatibility: This visually unambitious, slight (87 minute) movie plays more as a one-idea situation comedy than a fully fleshed film. Clever moves include The Oh Hellos redoing wedding party pop classics, to increase the ironic nostalgia. Not so clever is forgettable casting, notably Russell (son of star Kurt).

Critic's rating: 6/10

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (M)

Released: April 12.

Story: Number eight in the Fast & The Furious car-racing series. When Dom (Vin Diesel) meets a cyber-terrorist (Charlize Theron), he turns on his old team. Now Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges) must hunt their friend.

TRAILER

Language: Sixty-one swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Explosions, shootings, chases, fights, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: As Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson would say, 'Knock, knock – this ain't their stop.'

7 – 12: Nothing that tweens haven't seen before although the 136 minute running time and awkward flashbacks might exhaust them.

13-plus: Targeted audience for a sausage chain of impressive stunts and trite drama. Diesel and Rodriguez give the romance more heart than the hack script deserves; Johnson and Jason Statham keep the jokes – and hard-edged fights – coming. This film really uses the big screen. However, fans will miss the laid-back charm and sincere star-power of the late Paul Walker.

Adult Compatibility: The series' justly applauded multicultural approach has shrunk (no Asian stars?!!). Theron overacts in a dull part; a big name appearance is fun but cameo only. Car purists will yearn for uncomplicated car races, not rigidly choreographed, James Bond globe-hopping. The photography is stupendous, though.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THEIR FINEST (M)

Released: April 20.

Story: Romantic comedy drama from BBC Films. In London 1940, the understaffed government film division must – oh, dash it! – hire a female scriptwriter. Newly arrived Welsh lass Catrin (Gemma Arterton) and veteran writer Tom (Sam Claflin) create a stirring propaganda film about the Dunkirk evacuation, to raise home morale and convince the Americans to join the war. But will a fading British star (Bill Nighy) disrupt their plans? An Education's Lone Scherfig directs from Lissa Evans' book.

TRAILER

Language: Twenty swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult references, brief sex scene.

Violence: War themes, explosions, death themes. Gratuitous smoking.

Ages: 7 – 12: No.

13-plus: An absolute charmer evokes 1940s classics while cleverly and affectionately spoofing movie-making. Film buffs will have as much fun as romantics. Love Actually star Nighy hijacks the show which, interestingly, makes the understated romance more poignant. A huge plus is that the Dunkirk-film-within-a-film is also beautifully acted. Arterton (television's Lost In Austen) and Claflin (Me Before You) transform a familiar subplot. Authentic production design and period songs add atmosphere; frequent bomb blasts add suspense. The first hour was annoyingly murky at one cinema screening.

Adult Compatibility: No crude action? Genuinely likable characters? Memorable cameos from Jeremy Irons and Helen McCrory? Victory!

Critic's rating: 8/10

A SILENT VOICE (M)

Released: April 6 (limited release).

Story: Animated Japanese coming-of-age drama. Young high school student Shoya Ishida (voiced by Miyu Irino) thinks it's a joke when he torments hearing-impaired student Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami). Ishida's classmates ignore his bullying before turning on him, with devastating consequences for all over the next five years. With English subtitles.

TRAILER

Language: 10 swear words

Romance: Discreet references.

Violence: Shoving, pushing, blows, threats, suicide themes.

Ages 3 - 6: Way over their heads.

7 - 12: The subtitles will probably defeat them. That's a shame because many tweens will recognise the same bullying techniques (shoving, tripping and "you creep me out!" insults) they experience in Australian schools.

13-plus: Best for older teens interested in Japanese animation, especially those who know the manga (comic book) the film is based on. They'll sit through 130 occasionally sluggish-feeling minutes for the suspenseful finale. The pen-and-ink-ish visuals are often stunning. Problems? Colloquial variations on character names are confusing; ditto, the sometimes sloppy subtitling ("vault" for "fault").

Adult compatibility: Kudos for an ambitious portrait of the long-term impact of bullying, on target and perpetrator. The absence of father figures is interesting. Those weird shots of students' legs do (eventually) have a purpose.

Critic's rating: 7/10

COLOSSAL (M)

Released: April 13

Story: Fractured romantic comedy drama. New York party girl Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is kicked out by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens). She returns home and meets handsome bartender and former childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Gloria becomes convinced that a monster terrorising Korea is acting out her relationship dramas. But is the monster real or a party-hearty hallucination?

TRAILER

Language: Frequent

Romance: Kisses, adult themes, bedroom scenes.

Violence: Punches, fights, threats, death themes. Drug references. Gratuitous drinking.

Ages 3 - 6: Drunken adults will scare them as much as the monsters.

7 - 12: This has fun with Godzilla-ish rampages; the special effects are surprisingly good. But more chat than action will weary them.

13-plus: The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada star Hathaway is terrific as the imploding but still sympathetic Gloria. The story offers a powerful message for older teens (both girls and boys) about gratuitous partying-turned-addiction but never feels like a lecture. Unusually for a modern romance, it's impossible to pick Gloria's potential love interest.

Adult compatibility: See the above and add gutsy work from Sudeikis in a tricky role and great ambiguity from Stevens (television's Downton Abbey; Beauty And The Beast) as the seemingly perfect boyfriend. Weirdly, the monster scenes work.

Critic's rating: 8/10

DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE (PG)

Released: April 6

Story: Australian-made dance drama spin-off from the popular television series. Sydney-based Tara (Xenia Goodwin) is devastated after a potentially career-ending injury. A trip to New York offers tricky choices: join a professional ballet company, and risk further injury, or work with friend Ben (Thomas Lacey) to choreograph a new show, and risk losing boyfriend Christian (Jordan Rodrigues).

TRAILER

Language: None.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: A scary fall, illness themes.

Ages 3 - 6: Adult-sized problems are too much.

7 - 12: Younger kids should see animated Ballerina instead. Tweens already watching the show should have no problems with this glossy but thoughtful spin-off.

13-plus: Engrossing, addictive, authentic-feeling entertainment about the modern dance world; it's not just for existing fans but series newcomers and any aspiring dancer. Yes, occasional wish fulfilment moments involve luxurious American settings, but many scenes (competitive auditioning, painful injuries) have a tough, realistic edge. Big applause for the expert, intimate cinematography. The fast-paced, female-led story is boosted by sympathetic male characters; this easily passes the Bechdel Test. An energetic, emotional soundtrack includes Taylor Swift and Sia, and eloquent orchestral.

Adult compatibility: Adult non-dancing chaperones can enjoy sly jokes about Natalie Portman's ballet melodrama Black Swan.

Critic's rating: 8/10

DENIAL (M)

Released: April 13

Story: Based-on-fact drama from BBC Films. American history teacher Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is shocked when she is sued by British Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). Deborah must travel to England to defend herself in a court case which is as much about public impact as historical fact. Script by David Hare (The Reader).

TRAILER

Language: 3 swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Threats, concentration camp themes.

Ages 3 - 6: Too much chat for them.

7 - 12: Not enough action for them.

13-plus: Older teens interested in history, legal stoushes or media studies should appreciate this quiet but engrossing look at a famous recent court case. The debate over free speech and falsified history is timely in the Donald Trump era, as are inane media soundbites ("no holes, no Holocaust!") which impact public opinion. The Bourne Legacy star Weisz is likable; Tom Wilkson drily funny as the lead lawyer. References to Steven Spielberg (who contributed to the defence fund) and Princess Diana (her divorce lawyer worked on this case) will add interest.

Adult compatibility: Essentially a well-made tele-feature which could be seen on video. However, grown-ups desperate for drama driven by dialogue and ideas will find this worth a cinema outing.

Critic's rating: 7/10

GHOST IN THE SHELL (M)

Released: March 30

Story: Hollywood live action version of the famous Japanese comic book and 1995 animated movie. Cyber-enhanced elite soldier Major (Scarlett Johansson) and ace fighter Batou (Pilou Asbæk) are ordered by their boss ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) to investigate cerebral hacking and murder at the same robotics corporation which modified Major herself.

TRAILER

Language: Two swear words.

Romance: Stylised nudity.

Violent: Shoot-outs, chases, explosions, falls, deaths.

Ages 3 - 6: Not the right cartoon for them.

7 - 12: A plot using themes from Blade Runner (false memories), The Matrix (virtual worlds) and Johnny Mnemonic ('jacking in' to transfer data) will exhaust them.

13-plus: Visuals of geisha robots, bionic-eye implants, 'spider' tanks and holograms used in street advertising will entertain science fiction lovers. The excellent international cast includes Juliette Binoche, Anamaria Marinca and Borgen tele-star Pilou Asbæk. Legendary Kitano's role is subtitled cameo only.

Adult compatibility: More slick, undemanding world-building from Snow White and The Huntsman director Rupert Sanders. Result? A simplified adaptation designed for Western audiences; viewers at one multiplex screening included teens to older adults, male and female. That controversial 'white-washing' of an iconic Asian role is problematic. But American Johansson is sympathetic, and action-fit in a skin-tight costume which leaves nothing to the imagination.

Critic's rating: 7/10