February 2017 movie reviews: a guide for parents

Luke Treadaway plays James Bowen in <i>A Street Cat Named Bob</I>. Bob plays himself.
Luke Treadaway plays James Bowen in A Street Cat Named Bob. Bob plays himself.  Photo: Andreas Lambis

A STREET CAT NAMED BOB (PG)

Released: February 9 (limited locations)

Story: English comedy drama based on James Bowen's best-selling memoir. Homeless busker James (Luke Treadaway) is trying to stay off drugs. But he struggles until he finds three new friends: a sympathetic doctor (Joanne Froggatt), a friendly neighbour (Ruta Gedmintas) and last but definitely not least, a green-eyed, ginger stray named Bob. From the director of Turner & Hooch.

TRAILER:

Language: Seven swear words.

Romance: A kiss, discreet references.

Violence: Threats, drug overdose, vomiting, death themes.

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Ages: 3 – 6: Despite plenty of amusing animals, drug references are too much.

7 – 12: Tweens should adore the serene Bob (who appears as himself, along with other real feline stand-ins – no computer cats here). Semi-tough scenes of street life are an effective anti-drugs message.

13-plus: Perfect viewing audience for a plainly made but enormously likable redemption tale which packs family drama, personal angst and animal slapstick into 102 efficient minutes. Stay for heart-warming photos of the real James and Bob at the end.

Adult Compatibility: Treadaway, twin of Penny Dreadful television star Harry), is believable. The film does feel mauled; several extremely abrupt scenes suggest last minute editing, which might explain the limited cinema release. Downton Abbey star Froggatt adds grace. Tailor-made for cat lovers.

Critic's rating: 7/10

HIDDEN FIGURES (PG)

Released: February 16

Story: Based on fact American space agency drama. In 1961, three brilliant women known as "the human computers" challenge NASA's status quo: mathematical genius Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) helps calculate astronaut John Glenn's earth orbit; aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) fights for the right to take night classes, while uncredited supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) solves NASA's non-human computer problems. With Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons.

TRAILER:

Language: Thirteen swear words.

Romance: Kisses, marriage themes.

Violence: Threatening language, crash themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: Too talky.

7 – 12: News footage of real American and Russian astronauts is exciting but race relations talk may not enthuse. However, this is sheer inspiration for would-be engineers and mathematicians, especially girls.

13-plus: Space race details blended with personal drama, minus violence, for impeccably produced and acted, uplifting entertainment? Priceless! Empire TV star Henson shines in moments which are enraging (see the segregated-bathroom scenes) and funny (see segregated-bathroom scenes). Nicely judged performances from Costner and a steelier Parsons (TV's The Big Bang Theory) acknowledge supportive male viewers; egalitarian astronaut Glenn emerges as a race relations hero.

Adult Compatibility: Slightly too long at 126 minutes; suspense remains mild. But Pharrell Williams' tender soundtrack demonstrates how to complement a film, not hijack it.

Critic's rating: 8/10

THE GREAT WALL (M)

Released: February 16

Story: American-Chinese action fantasy. In 11th century China, veteran soldier William Garin (Matt Damon) and friend Tovar (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal) discover an immense wall. William decides to help the local Commander (Tian Jing) stop an approaching horde of vicious monsters. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Minor subtitling.

TRAILER:

Language: Nine swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Beast attacks, arm-severing, sword fights, explosions, falls, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: Creature design by Weta Workshop (The Lord Of The Rings movies) has too many fangs for these viewers.

7 – 12: The battle-heavy plot suits mature tweens unfazed by LOTR-styled fantasy action.

13-plus: Best audience for this: they'll appreciate what is a monster fantasy, folks, not real history. Chinese settings and battle rituals add flavour to forgettable story-telling. Excluding dull monster computerisation, the 2D print reviewed here impressed, thanks to eye-popping aerial shots and whirling cameras.  Damon, Pascal and sweet-faced Jing are appealing but struggle with sketchy characterisations.         

Adult Compatibility: Zero romance, zero surprises, irregular suspense, erratic momentum. Damon's something-nationality accent comes and goes; dialogue is of the 'let me tell you this' variety. The 92 minute film (with ten minutes of end credits) needed more plot detail. White-washing accusations don't wholly apply to this Anglo-Asian co-production although superstar Andy Lau is shamefully underused.

Critic's rating: 5/10

FIST FIGHT (MA)

Released: February 23

Story: American comedy about an uncontrollable high school. When English teacher Andy (Charlie Day) accidentally offends hot-tempered history teacher Ron (Ice Cube), the scheduled fight in the parking lot gets everyone involved. With Tracy Morgan, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani.

TRAILER

Language: More than 100.

Romance: Explicit sexual references; kisses.

Violence: Punches, axe threats, falls. Drug references.

Ages:   3 – 6: Noooooo!

7 – 12: Ditto: tweens might love the idea of teachers fighting but with no lead child characters, this is a slog about adults behaving like brats.

13-plus: Individual pranks are often funny. Cube excels at super-cranky and flashbacks to Ron's supposed outrageous past are fun; it's a shame the story isn't told from his perspective. Older teens could be the only ones willing to watch 90 minutes of dislikeable characters; even they may yawn at what feels like an over-stretched short film.

Adult Compatibility: Sleazy teacher moves aren't justified because the character is a woman; female characters generally are illogical and badly written. Directing, photography, soundtrack and Horrible Bosses' actor Day are competent – and forgettable; the photography is better. It's great to see 30 Rock star Morgan back on the big screen – including in an after-credits snippet – but Veep tele-star Nanjiani steals more scenes.

Critic's rating: 4/10

RINGS (M)
Released: February 23

Story: Sequel to the 2002 American horror movie The Ring, itself based on the 1998 Japanese film and novel Ring. When her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) goes missing, college student Julia (Matilda Lutz) discovers he may have seen a deadly video. Julia's search for Holt leads her to a mysterious teacher (Johnny Galecki), a graveyard caretaker (Vincent D'Onofrio) and a distraught student (Aimee Teegarden) who wants Julia to watch the tape.

TRAILER

Language: Five swear words.

Romance: Kisses, brief bedroom scene.

Violence: Blows, threats, electrocution, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: A Saturday night cinema preview was jammed with young teens of both sexes. Good choice: this well-directed and elegantly photographed film is at the top end of contemporary horror entertainment for teens. Lutz's likable heroine leads an efficient cast; well-placed shocks give way to several truly spooky scenes in the last quarter. A supple music score included mournful violins and Bourne Identity-styled beats, helping to maintain a brisk pace for most of the 100 minute running time. All of which    kept a potentially rowdy Saturday audience glued to the screen. Verdict? A solid date movie.

Adult Compatibility: Those surreal girl-and-the-well images from the original are still unnerving. Otherwise, this is a horror rehash; leave it for the kids.

Critic's rating: 7/10