February movie reviews: a guide for parents

Photo: Phantom Thread
Photo: Phantom Thread 

DEN OF THIEVES (MA) 

Released: February 1.

Story: American crime action. Two highly trained Los Angeles gangs head for a violent confrontation. One is a team of bank robbers aiming for the biggest heist in US history. The other is a squad of cops who won't let ethics or the law get in their way. Starring Gerard Butler and O'Shea Jackson Jr.

Language: Non-stop.

 Romance: Divorce themes, sexual references.

Violence: Shoot-outs, blows, threats, deaths. Car chases. Explosions.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: And again …

13-plus: Exciting, beautifully filmed action for older teens redeems Butler after his cheesy Geostorm. His aggressive cop is not likeable or even logical but does carry this 140 minute movie with brute energy. Charismatic Jackson confirms his Straight Outta Compton success was no fluke; 13 Hours star Pablo Schreiber's whip-smart crime boss is a worthy villain for audiences who have seen too many dumb heists. 

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Adult Compatibility: These viewers will be less forgiving of an indulgent running time and too much chest-beating by dislikeable characters. Unlike that other Los Angeles cops-versus-crims drama – the revered Heat – this has little interest in female characters. However, adults will appreciate the time spent on weapons and planning details, which enhances the suspense. The result is abrasive but unexpectedly gripping entertainment.

Critic's rating: 8/10 

GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB (M)

Released: February 1 (selected locations).

Story: Australian-Chinese archaeological adventure. A rich businessman (Kelsey Grammer) sends two scientists to find the tomb of an ancient Emperor. When the pair disappears, a rescue team is despatched, with a former soldier (Kellan Lutz) and the sister (Li Bingbing) of one of the missing men. They discover a labyrinth of caves but what are those malevolent creatures lurking in the shadows?!! Directed by Australian Kimble Rendall (2012's Bait). In English with occasional subtitles.

Language: Seven swear words.

Romance: Discreet flirtation.

Violence: Falls, flames, deaths. Attacks by packs of eight-legged 'guardians'.

Ages:  3 – 6:  Those malevolent spiders are too freaky.

7 – 12: Tweens are the best audience. The horror touches toughen this plainly made, no-surprises archaeological adventure. Oddball star Shane Jacobson also offers friendly, funny support. However, despite a big budget, this never matches the slickness of Hollywood tomb-quest movies. 

13-plus:  This will score with any teen who has a phobia about spiders (and these are good old Aussie funnel-webs, which should make local viewers even jumpier). The acting ranges from the mostly competent (Twilight star Lutz) to the effortless (Transformers' star Li). 

Adult Compatibility: A few memorable scenes, but the rushed ending seems designed for a sequel. 

Critic's rating: 5/10



LADY BIRD (M)

Released: February 15.

Story: American coming-of-age comedy drama. Seemingly feisty but still insecure Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is grappling with the last year of high school. She wants to go away to college but money problems at home mean she keeps fighting with her mum (Laurie Metcalf). Another problem: how far should she go with the boy she likes? Written and directed by Jackie actor Greta Gerwig.

Language: Twenty-three swear words, two of them extreme (and criticised on-screen). 

Romance: Sex scene, adult references.

Violence: Drinking, smoking; drug references.

Ages: 3 – 6: Not the right family tale for them.

7 – 12: Ditto.

13-plus: Funny, perceptive, real-feeling drama is definitely the right family tale for older teens. Director Gerwig delivers the female version of a traditional coming-of-age boys' comedy but laces it with first class drama performances which sensitively capture love-hate family relationships. Christine's romantic encounters also believably show the disappointments when rushing into relationships. Female viewers will be laughing – and wincing. Atonement star Ronan is superb and justifiably Oscar-nominated. Girl viewers need more films like this. 

Adult Compatibility: Ninety minutes of smart black comedy is a pleasure to watch. Gerwig is also Oscar-nominated for both directing and screenplay.


Critic's rating: 9/10


MOLLY'S GAME (M)

Released: February 1.

Story: Based-on-fact American gambling drama. When aspiring Olympian Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is injured, she is hired by the shady host of an elite poker night. Molly decides to run her own, classier card game for high rollers from Hollywood and Wall Street. But her big winnings catch the attention of mobsters and the FBI. Based on Bloom's memoir.

Language: Thirty-one swear words.

Romance: Adult references.

Violence: A savage beating, threats. Drug references, smoking.

Ages: 3 – 6: The wrong game for them. 

7 – 12: Too much indoor chat will bore them.

13-plus: Real-life details give older teens an insider's look at a seemingly easy, glamorous job. (Annoyingly, the identities of the real Hollywood clients are hidden). Chastain (The Martian) is always watchable and should appeal to girls and boys. Debuting director Aaron Sorkin (who wrote the Facebook biopic The Social Network) doesn't sugar-coat gambling's violent side, with one scene verging on the gratuitous. Teens may find Sorkin's typically chatty approach and boxy interiors boring after a while; this lacks the more-youthful characters of Vegas casino drama 21, for example. 

Adult Compatibility: The film is energetic but choppy: appearances by Idris Elba and Kevin Costner feel crammed in while the games' suspense is undercut by a self-conscious voice-over. 

Critic's rating: 6/10



PHANTOM THREAD (M)

Released: February 1.

Story: British romantic drama set in the 1950s. London-based Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) designs clothes for the British and European aristocracy. Helped by his devoted sister (Lesley Manville) and dedicated seamstresses, Reynolds is obsessed with creating the perfect gown. But when he hires a waitress (Vicky Krieps) as a house model, she affects his life in unexpected ways. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson who worked with Day-Lewis on There Will Be Blood.

Language: Seventeen swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Threats, death themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: Aspiring fashionistas will be keen to see this fictionalized behind-scenes look at a top rank house; the gorgeous clothes are surely inspired by Balenciaga, the "designer's designer". Older teen viewers will appreciate scenes exploring how clothes can make a woman – and humiliate her. (See the excruciating moments with a desperately unhappy client). Older teens may also better accept a later plot twist which makes this often oppressively self-conscious, 130 minute film feel outlandishly Gothic.

Adult Compatibility: Day-Lewis is rightly nominated for a 2018 Best Actor Oscar. However, Reynolds' verbal abuse of his female companions – and their lack of agency in the story – means the personal drama is no fun to watch. 


Critic's rating: 6/10