July 2017 movie reviews: a guide for parents

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 Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures-Sony

With winter school holidays on around the country, there are some big movie releases for kids, teens and young adults.

(Don't forget to look through the June 2017 movie guide for some of the kids movies released last month including Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight, Diary of a Wimpy Kid; The Long Haul)

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (M)

Released: July 27.

Story: Third in the recent Hollywood action series, inspired by the 1968 movie. The ape community led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are hunted by a renegade Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' Matt Reeves directs.

Language: Two swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Shootings, explosions, attacks, deaths.

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Ages:   3 – 6: This monkey business is too harsh for them.

7 – 12: One long prison break movie is only justified by the superb 'talking apes' facial effects. A simple story will suit tweens but the butt-numbing length will not.

13-plus: Biggest drawcards are the compulsively watchable performance by Serkis (who created Gollum in Lord of the Rings) and a few striking visuals which really fill the big screen; the old-fashioned orchestral soundtrack is also bold. But teens expecting non-stop action will yawn at a woefully stodgy middle hour. Too many dull subtitles of the ape language don't help a story which confuses constant beatings and rants about the nature of violence with philosophical debate. Walking clichés include the mad Colonel, a little mute blonde girl and a painstakingly presented 'comic' ape which only the young at heart will enjoy.

Adult Compatibility: Without exciting plotting, 140 minutes of special effects become a slog.

Critic's rating: 5/10

DUNKIRK (M)

Released: July 20.

Story: Action thriller about the 1940 evacuation of trapped British soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk, France. The lives of soldiers and civilians intersect including a young recruit (Fionn Whitehead) trying to board a departing boat; a Spitfire pilot (Tom Hardy) hunting German bombers and a fisherman (Mark Rylance) crossing the Channel to help. Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy; Inception).

Language: Seven swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Shootings, explosions, drownings, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Nothing to upset tweens familiar with classic British war movies although superb camerawork and sound effects make this unbearably tense.

13-plus: A teen audience will appreciate a pure sensation ride: little dialogue and no back story also mean less clichés. Hans Zimmer's ticking-clock soundtrack enhances the mostly blood-less action suspense and helps tie together Nolan's typical time-jumps. Yes, some dialogue is hard to understand but it doesn't matter. Pop star Harry Styles' cameo is competent but unneeded.

Adult Compatibility: Think of this comparatively short (for director Nolan) 107 minute film as a portrait of survival, like The Revenant and Gravity, which deliberately uses a minimalist dramatic approach and sudden shocks to grab viewers. Like it or hate it, it is one of the most memorable movies of 2017.

Critic's rating: 8/10

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (M)

Released: July 6.

Story: Action fantasy based on the comic book. Fifteen year old high schooler Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is desperate to join the Avengers crime-fighting team. He gets a chance to prove himself when he discovers a gang selling lethal alien-enhanced weapons.

Language: Eighteen swear words.

Romance: A kiss, sexual references.

Violence: Blows, falls, crashes, fires, shootings, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: Michael Keaton's mechanically-winged villain is too disturbing.

7 – 12: No problems, if they've seen previous Avenger flicks. They'll enjoy non-stop gadgets, baby-faced Holland and a relaxed pace which detours to homey, teen angst issues. It helps to know this is set after the events of Captain America: Civil War.

13-plus: They'll appreciate a kid-centric high school romp with amusing slapstick and nicely filmed, real world and fantasy action. Yes, it's worth staying for two extra end-credits scenes. Older teens who grew up with previous Spidey reboots will be less exhilarated.

Adult Compatibility: This plays very young; only Keaton (in a sly nod to his Oscar-nominated Birdman role) and Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr. offer any personality. Female characters are underwritten bystanders; television star Zendaya is barely there. Of the approximately 100 viewers at one multiplex screening, less than a fifth were female.

Critic's rating: 7/10

A MONSTER CALLS (PG)

Released: July 27.

Story: Animated and live action drama based on Patrick Ness's book. When his mother falls ill and he is bullied at school, 12 year old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) feels threatened by a large tree which seems to be growing into a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). Co-starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones.

Language: None.

Romance: A kiss.

Violence: Swordfight, stabbing, bullying themes, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: The animation is too vivid for them.

7 – 12: This coming-of-age tale has a fable-ish feel (think Where the Wild Things Are) but ailing-mum themes may be too much for everyone but robust tweens.

13-plus: Best audience for an empowering portrait of a boy in distress. MacDougall is terrific; Neeson is eloquent – and intimidating – voicing the tree monster. The varied animation includes stories within stories. The result is a rarity these days: a thoughtfully written kids' flick which delivers gripping drama with carefully considered (not gratuitous) violence.

Adult Compatibility: An excellent film to start a discussion with your kids about loss, anger and coping with worries. Thumbs up for offering an age-appropriate character in a story targeted at younger viewers. But the impressive animation means that film buffs should check this out too.

Critic's rating: 9/10

FIRST GIRL I LOVED (M)

Staggered release, selected locations (June 29: Victoria; July 13: NSW, Queensland).

Story: American coming of age romantic drama. Anne (Dylan Gelula) is in her last year at school when she realises she wants to be more than friends with popular Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand). But Anne's attempts to reveal her feelings have disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, her best friend Clifton (Mateo Arias) has a revelation of his own: he's in love with Anne.

Language: Forty swear words.

Romance: Kisses, sex scene, sexual references.

Violence: Threats.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: This fast-paced, twisty drama plays like a classic teenage romance. Unusually effective realism comes courtesy of an aggressive bedroom encounter, as well as risky drinking in a bar, enhanced by the suspense of a story that jumps back and forth in time. The three young leads shine in roles which are a world away from the usual Hollywood clichés. You can see the low budget in some plain camera set-ups but the should-she/shouldn't-she-tell? set-up carries viewers through. No wonder this won the 'Best of Next' Audience Award at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

Adult Compatibility: Best rewards for parents wanting to find a non-threatening way to talk to their teens about feelings – both their own and other's.

Critic's rating: 8/10

IT COMES AT NIGHT (MA)

Released: July 6.

Story: Horror drama thriller. After the outbreak of a devastating plague, an American couple (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) and their 17 year old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) retreat to a house in remote forest. But when a young man (Christopher Abbott) appears begging for help for his own family, his hosts find their survival techniques are undermined.

Language: Seventeen swear words.

Romance: Kisses.

Violence: Blows, shootings, a fire, gory plague images, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Wrong bedtime story for them.

7 – 12: The presence of a young child character doesn't soften the many scary scenes set at night.

13-plus: Perfect for older teens who should appreciate the traumas suffered by Travis. Apart from its classic bump-in-the-night frights, this clever story captures the impact of isolationist life on a teenager and his parents: from freaky nightmares to daytime paranoia. The result injects fresh energy into the cabin-in-the-woods horror genre, much as the equally inventive Get Out did for redneck-showdowns.

Adult Compatibility: High. At just 92 minutes, this superbly filmed and paced flick offers both memorable psychological shocks and traditional horror movie confrontations. Australian Edgerton demonstrates again what a great, thinking actor he can be in silent close-up.

Critic's rating: 8/10

PARIS CAN WAIT (PG)

Released: July 20.

Story: French-set American road trip. After 20 years of marriage, Anne (Diane Lane) feels neglected by her film producer husband (Alec Baldwin). So she accepts an offer by business associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) to drive up from the South of France to Paris. But a short trip becomes a meandering detour, via exquisite restaurants, riverside picnics and memorable ruins. Written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, in English.

Language: Four swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Gratuitous smoking, drinking.

Ages: 3 – 6: Too chatty for them.

7 – 12: Ditto.

13-plus: Teenage fans of Lane, extremely likable star of American-in-Europe hit Under The Tuscan Sun, should know her latest is quieter and quirkier. Reserved Frenchman Viard may lack the obvious charm teen viewers expect; they should rent the effervescent Kevin Kline/Meg Ryan road trip charmer French Kiss instead. However, with Baldwin stealing all his scenes, this love triangle is certainly suspenseful. And the food is mouth-watering.

Adult Compatibility: Director Coppola, documentarian and wife of The Godfather director Francis, delivers what looks like a Woody Allen comedy about second chances. But her relaxed and very appealing feature film debut (at age 80) offers genuine emotion – and a finale which female viewers at least should appreciate.

Critic's rating: 6/10

THE BEGUILED (M)

Released: July 13.

Story: American period drama. An authoritarian headmistress (Nicole Kidman) and her emotionally fragile assistant (Kirsten Dunst) maintain discipline at an isolated girls' school during the Civil War. Then a wounded soldier (Colin Farrell) arrives. Directed by Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette; The Bling Ring).

Language: Two swear words.

Romance: Kisses, bedroom scene. Adult themes.

Violence: War images, home surgery. Death themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: No place for them in this class.

7 – 12: Nor them.

13-plus: This Southern Gothic drama is often sourly funny, thanks to Kidman's over-the-top performance. This drama is also often ludicrous, thanks to Kidman's performance: many viewers at a Sydney Film Festival screening were guffawing (and not in a good way). That's a shame because terrific Farrell keeps audiences guessing, while Dunst is the film's melancholy heart. Older teens will also appreciate Maleficent star Elle Fanning as a precocious schoolgirl.

Adult Compatibility: This re-envisioning of the pulpy, 1971 Clint Eastwood movie will divide audiences. However, Coppola excels at tense screen relationships, particularly between so-called allies. Her leisurely pace, rigid framing and lyrical images of the secluded Southern mansion maintain suspense to the end. The flawed result may have needed elaboration, and an extension of its 93 minute running time.

Critic's rating: 6/10