April movie reviews: a guide for parents

Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs 

ISLE OF DOGS (PG)

Released: April 12.

Story: American stop-motion animated comedy drama. In a future Japan, all dogs have been banished to an island of trash. But when a young boy arrives looking for his mutt, a group of dogs join him in the search – and the chance for escape. With voice stars Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Wes Anderson. With occasional subtitles.

Language: Three swear words.

Romance: Puppy-love themes.

Violence: Threats, attacks, falls, deaths. Gratuitous scratching.

Ages

3 – 6: The deadpan doggie voices and simmering violence (courtesy of a corrupt Mayor) will be too much for them. This lacks the fable-like feel of Anderson's previous stop-motion movie Fantastic Mr Fox.

7 – 12: This is a better fit, thanks to the funny characters and intrepid tween boy rescuer. The use of silent close-ups of the puppets will remind fans of the jaunty English Wallace & Gromit stop-motion adventures. Constant flashbacks and detours may untether these viewers.

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13-plus: They'll appreciate the voice cast and futuristic Japanese visuals which gives this a (Japanese) comic book feel. It's a pity the female characters are both dull and sidelined; a late entry female student is meant to be quirky but feels tiresomely male-focussed.

Adult compatibility: A cute gimmick which almost outstays its welcome.

Critic's rating: 7/10

A QUIET PLACE (M)

Released: April 5.

Story: Action drama with science fiction touches. A family in rural America can rarely speak. Otherwise, they attract the attention of creatures that have already destroyed much of the population. Tragedy has taught Dad (John Krasinski) and Mum (Emily Blunt) ingenious ways to survive. But now Mum is pregnant again. Directed and co-written by Krasinski.

Language: None.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes, pregnancy references.

Violence: Deaths, attacks, shootings, injuries.

Ages

3 – 6: Too freaky

7 – 12: Periods of excruciating quiet are too much for popcorn-munching tweens.

13-plus: Some viewers at one preview seemed restless in the oppressive quiet. The film does offer enough later, noisy moments so patient older teens should check this out: the screen kids are as resilient as the adults. Girl viewers have a stake in this: director Krasinski gives real-life wife and always terrific Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) many key confrontations; Millicent Simmonds is a knockout as the hearing-impaired daughter. Aspiring film-makers should also note this is a textbook example of a constantly entertaining but compact (90 minute) thriller which uses a small cast to emphasise suspense over special effects (and to, presumably, keep the budget tight). Enjoy a tender dance scene.

Adult compatibility: High.

Critic's rating: 9/10

HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? (M)

Released: April 5 (selected cinemas).

Story: Australian documentary about a teenage graffiti artist. Skate-boarding street 'tagger' Anthony Lister gets a job painting Brisbane traffic signal boxes – and ends up having his work shown in art galleries around the world. With success comes temptations: he's torn between partying hard or being a good dad to his young kids.

Language: Thirty-three swear words.

Romance: Kisses, marriage themes. Brief full frontal nudity.

Violence: Drug themes, gratuitous smoking.

Ages

3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: We don't think so, despite plentiful and warm-hearted family scenes (thanks to the extensive home movies) and the Australian flavour.

13-plus: Best for older teens: they'll relate to Anthony's candid comments on his wild teen years, on making good and bad choices, and clashes with authorities. The exciting globe-trotting approach is a bonus, as is the discussion about what is (street) art. This isn't just for skate kids but anyone interested in drawing and creating.

Adult compatibility: High, thanks to Lister's impressive honesty. This is one of the best ever non-fiction portraits of modern fatherhood. Lister is smart enough to draw comparisons with his own dad's parenting approach which gives later scenes even more impact.

Critic's rating: 8/10

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (M)

Released: April 19.

Story: British romantic drama based on the best-selling book. In 1946, successful author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) travels to the British island of Guernsey. She plans to interview a book club for a light-hearted assignment but instead uncovers the members' turbulent war-time experiences. Directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral).

Language: Six swear words.

Romance: Kisses.

Violence: A fight, threats, death themes.

Ages

3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: They might like the sound of pie, while two adorable kids and menacing Nazis add interest. But the emphasis here is on kissy stuff.

13-plus: Perfect audience for a painstakingly traditional romance. Cinderella star James is, as always, efficient but slightly bland. The scene-stealer is Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay as a feisty Guernsey lass. And Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones) charms as a caring farmer. Bonus? This two-hour movie extracts poignancy from carefully paced revelations, without overt violence or language.

Adult compatibility: Yes, the story feels overstuffed with every possible romantic cliché (cue the violins and piano). Director Newell's abrupt edits are sometimes confusing though they do maintain pace. Luckily, the torn-between-two-lovers set-up, period clothes and typically glorious English scenery will please.

Critic's rating: 7/10  

WALKING OUT (M)

Released: April 5.

Story: American father-son wilderness drama. Fourteen year old city-based David (Josh Wiggins) lives with his mum. He reluctantly goes on a moose hunt in wintery Montana with his father (Matt Bomer). But an accident means Dad is badly injured. David must choose to stay or go for help – alone.

Language: Nine swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Hunting scenes, gun use, bear attack, death themes.

Ages

3 – 6: Walk away from this one.

7 – 12: It's a terrific set-up but the slow-burn drama and tough love themes are too much for this group.

13-plus: This sensitive not sentimental look at tricky father-son relationships is best for older teens. The focus on male characters (no female leads) explores tradition, as Dad remembers hunting with his own father (Bill Pullman), and emotional change. White Collar television star Bomer often seems to be underplaying but his rigid gaze makes this father as much of a potential threat as the wild animals. Boy-next-door Wiggins should connect with (male) teens. The snowy landscapes in the advance print reviewed here were starkly beautiful – and scary.

Adult compatibility: Plenty of issues – like hunting versus killing – for a parent-son discussion later.

Critic's rating: 8/10

RAMPAGE (M)

Released: April 12.

Story: Hollywood monster action. After a spaceship carrying lethal pathogens crashes nearby, primate specialist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) discovers his rescue animal – lovable gorilla George – has turned violent. When George teams up with other genetically-affected creatures, they cause mayhem across America. From the director of Johnson's San Andreas; based on the video game.

Language: Fifty-one unnecessary swear words.

Romance: Discreet references.

Violence: Animal attacks, chases, shootings, crashes, explosions, deaths.

Ages

3 – 6: Giant fangs and claws will freak them out.

 7 – 12: This extremely well-shot, nicely paced adventure is B-grade monster carnage at its technical best. Tweens who've seen Jurassic Park, Pacific Rim and/or King Kong should have fun here.

13-plus: Target audience. Charming action man Johnson pleases guys and girls after hits Jumanji and Moana. His rapport with George (computer-enhanced actor Jason Liles) adds A-grade emotion. The script doesn't do much with co-star Naomie Harris' scientist but it keeps the mansplaining to acceptable levels; female viewers won't feel too excluded. Did we mention the fantastic photography?

Adult compatibility: Only for those who like over-heated B-movies with a sense of humour (and occasional genuine suspense). A solid support cast includes one very effective cameo. Final kudos to a music score which knows when to quiet down.

Critic's rating: 8/10

TRUTH OR DARE (M)

Released: April 12.

Story: American horror thriller. Six young college students return home from a Mexican holiday cursed to play a deadly game: if they don't tell the truth, or do the dare, they will be cruelly punished. Best friends Olivia (Lucy Hale) and Markie (Violett Beane) find their relationship tested as the group begins to die, one by one.

Language: Twenty-two swear words.

Romance: Kisses, brief sexual references, bedroom scene.

Violence: Blows, falls, threats, knife attacks, shootings, deaths. Suicide references. Tongue severing. Intensive drinking followed by intensive vomiting.

Ages

3 – 6: No, baby.

7 – 12: While the BFF themes and romance soften the violence, this still has more horror than angst.

13-plus: The efficiently made, fast-paced, 100 minute film scored, judging by the schoolies who, at one afternoon multiplex session, actually put away their phones.  Essentially, it's a classic murder elimination tale, redone for the social media age. Time spent on the group's relationships pays off; some plot twists truly surprised. The cast are typically Hollywood luminous but watchable, especially Pretty Little Liars tele-star Hale. This passed the Bechdel Test, thanks to pro-active female leads. Some viewers will feel the ending cheats. The trailer gives away key points.

Adult Compatibility: One for the kids.

Critic's rating: 7/10

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (M)

Released: April 25.

Story: Hollywood superhero sequel. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) needs help defeating villain Thanos (Josh Brolin). He recruits billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), time-hopping soldier Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Peter 'Spider-Man' Parker (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana).

Language: Twenty-two swear words.

Romance: Kisses.

Violence: Blows, falls, chases, stabbings, 'separation' scene, explosions, deaths.

Ages:  

3 – 6:  There was a smattering of smaller kids at one multiplex session and this does offer youthful Spidey in support. But 'separation' torture with a screaming character could induce nightmares.

7 – 12:  Cramming in nearly all the Avengers (Ant-Man and Hawkeye are missing) should delight fans although the 150 minute running time is a slog.

13-plus: This delivers all the flying scenes and giant-fisted smack-downs devotees could want; jokes from Thor, Stark and the Guardians lighten the load. However, too many characters make this a parade in search of a plot. The photography and effects are lavish but often feel repetitive (like the orchestral score).

Adult Compatibility: Grown-ups may groan at (spoiler alert!) the sequel-primed finale. More groans for the merchandising table outside and only one end-credits scene.

Critic's rating: 7/10

UNSANE (MA)

Released: April 25.

Story: American horror thriller. When a mix-up sees Sawyer (Claire Foy) briefly confined to a psychiatric institution, she is convinced a worker there once stalked her. Sawyer tries to complain – and is committed to stay even longer. Director Steven Soderbergh is in hallucinating Side Effects mode not Ocean's Eleven prankster-ing.

Language: Forty-six swear words.

Romance: Sexual references, kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Blows, punches, stabbing, electrocution, chases, deaths.

Ages:  

3 – 6: No way!!!!!!!

7 – 12: Ditto!

13-plus: The stalker set-up is a solid premise; at least two moments here made preview viewers jump and/or yell in their seats. English actor Foy (The Crown tele-series) hits exactly the right notes. But there's a nasty sadism to later scenes, not helped by weak support performers and plot holes. Sawyer's endless suffering and an over-the-top finale will turn off many viewers.

Adult Compatibility: Horror thrillers about wrongful incarceration never go out of fashion and this dishes all the Gothic trimmings (hallucinations, freaky camera angles), enhanced by harshly lit camerawork. Soderbergh filmed this on an iPhone – with arguably less skill than Sean Baker's Tangerine. However, a healthcare-for-profit riff will score with Australians who saw the horrifying Four Corners nursing home documentary (in which a female resident was threatened with psychiatric treatment when she complained).

Critic's rating: 6/10

I FEEL PRETTY (M)

Released: April 19.

Story: American romantic slapstick. When a head injury convinces insecure Renee (Amy Schumer) that she has become outstandingly beautiful, her confidence soars. She begins changing everything about her life: her job, her clothes, even her friends.

Language: Twenty-one swear words.

Romance: Kisses; adult themes; brief sex scene.

Violence: Falls; frequent drinking.

Ages:  

3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Ditto.

13-plus: Schumer's usual raunchy approach is toned down, thanks to the writers of Never Been Kissed and How To Be Single. This isn't a fat-shaming exercise (like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black's offensive Shallow Hal) but a study of confidence, capped by a terrific speech about what happens to little girls' bravery. Schumer at her most appealing rules in the film's final shot, helped by scene-stealing Michelle Williams in a rare slapstick turn. Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips inject genuine realism as Renee's screen friends. This passes Bechdel easily; occasional emotionally raw moments transcend traditional rom.com. shenanigans. The pop soundtrack with Alicia Keys and Tove Lo is also terrific.

Adult Compatibility: Ruthless editing maintains pace but also makes the film feel uneven as it abandons some sub-plots. Still, a classic get-your-wish set-up has inbuilt suspense as Renee's 'beauty' creates funny and painful complications.

Critic's rating: 8/10

THE LITTLE VAMPIRE (PG)

Released: April 19 (selected cinemas).

Story: New European-made English-language animated version of Angela Sommer-Bodenburg's book. Rudolph (voiced by Rasmus Hardiker) has been aged 13 for 300 years. But a family gathering turns into an escape from vampire-hunter Rookery (Jim Carter) and his 'infra-dead' detection machine. Rudolph teams up with 13 year old human boy Tony to save his family.

Language: Four 'shut up's is it.

Romance: Rudy's sister Anna casts a love spell on Tony.

Violence: Falls, chases, crashes, explosions. Electrocution. Un-dead themes.

Ages:  

3 – 6: Two tots at one multiplex screening seemed to have no problem with the non-stop action.

7 – 12: Gadgets like a garlic gun, flying scenes and boy friendship themes should score with males here. Unless they're vampire-mad, there's not much for girls, with Anna mostly sidelined. The big screen shows off gorgeous animation especially the well-lit night forests and impressive clothing and hair detail.

13-plus: A plot mostly made of rushing (and flying) about is best for younger teens.

Adult Compatibility: Good, thanks to distinctive voice stars Miriam Margolyes and Downton Abbey's Carter. Parents should shop around: movie tickets currently seem to be in free-fall, with up to a $6 difference in price between cinemas (for adult tickets). We'll keep you updated.

Critic's rating: 7/10