June 2017 movie reviews: a guide for parents

"Cars 3" (Disney-Pixar)
"Cars 3" (Disney-Pixar) Photo: Disney-Pixar via AP

CARS 3 (G)

Released: June 22.

Story: Latest sequel in the animated fantasy series about a world populated by talking cars. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) begins to worry that he is past his prime when he loses a race and is taunted by younger rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Lightning recruits a new trainer called Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) but the pair end up competing in a demolition derby.

Language: One 'shut up'.

Romance: None.

Violence: Crashes, fires.

Ages:   3 – 6: Littlies at one multiplex session showed more interest in the accompanying animated short film Lou, probably because its relatable story was full of kids.

7 – 12: Mid-story chat and not enough action seemed to lose many pre-tweens at the session reviewed here. Ironically, news of lead female character Cruz apparently hadn't reached girl viewers: there were hardly any in the audience. Ageing themes won't appeal to this viewing group; male fans will be justifiably cheesed off at an odd, flat ending. It's not worth enduring the lengthy end credits for a final scene with tow truck Mater.

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13-plus: Too young even for motor-heads.

Adult Compatibility: The animation is marvellous but undermined by a scene which feels like a shameless merchandising display.

Critic's rating: 6/10

A QUIET PASSION (PG)

Released: June 22 (selected locations nationally, excluding Alice Springs).

Story: British-produced period drama about 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson. As a teenager, Emily (Emma Bell) rebels against her religious boarding school. Returning home, the adult Emily (Cynthia Nixon) spends the rest of her life writing, while her family suffers various crises, including her mother's melancholia and her brother's increasingly fraught marriage. Luckily, Emily has her devoted sister (Jennifer Ehle) to sustain her.

Language: None.

Romance: Adult themes, embraces.

Violence: Illness scenes, death themes.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: Mature poetry-lovers should check out this compelling if static portrait of one of literature's greatest talents. More exploration of Dickinson's writing life would have been nice, and well-read fans may quibble over the selected details. However, Nixon (Sex and the City) is phenomenal in the lead; Pride and Prejudice star Ehle lightens the relentlessly interior-set drama, as do frequent, witty comments from the entire screen family. The film sparingly but eloquently inserts some of Dickinson's famous poems.

Adult Compatibility: English director Terence Davies' creeping camera and lengthy fixed shots emphasize Dickinson's house-bound existence and later devastating illness. By the end of the two hour movie, you will feel you are there, in the Dickinson home.

Critic's rating: 8/10

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (M)

Released: June 22.

Story: Fifth in the live action Michael Bay-directed fantasy series about the strife between mechanized shape-shifting super-beings the Decepticons and the Autobots. A planet-full of Transformers plans to attack Earth; maverick inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) teams with a teenage rebel (Isabela Moner), an English academic (Laura Haddock) and an eccentric aristocrat (Anthony Hopkins) to find a powerful medieval talisman to stop the invasion.

Language: Fifty-one swear words.

Romance: A kiss, adult themes.

Violence: Shootings, explosions, chases, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: The series' merchandising might target them but this is too violent.

7 – 12:  Endless guns, gadgets, submarines, cars and drones, and superbly filmed medieval and intergalactic action, will please this crowd.

13-plus: A likable cast, including Wahlberg at his best and Megan Fox lookalike Haddock, can't redeem an incoherent plot which feels designed by a robot and jumps wildly between locations and subplots. Teenage Moner appears on-screen less than implied; Silence of the Lambs' Hopkins is frankly slumming.

Adult Compatibility: Kudos to director Bay for delivering a 3D print (reviewed here) which isn't murky; the stunning images should be equally good in 2D. But memorable action can't compensate for a plot which substitutes trite plotting for real heart.

Critic's rating: 6/10

ALL EYEZ ON ME (MA)

Released: June 15.

Story: Biographical drama about American rapper Tupac Shakur covers an unsettled childhood with his activist mother (Danai Gurira), his successful hip hop solo career, police harassment, his friendship with Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard) and controversial record label owner Suge Knight (Dominic L Santana) and Tupac's death-by-shooting at the age of 25.

Language: Non-stop (and we do mean non-stop).

Romance: Nudity, sexual references.

Violence: Threats, beatings, shootings, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: Hear what I'm sayin'? Better start prayin' … if you take 'em there.

7 – 12:  Ditto.

13-plus: A classic rags-to-riches plot is entertaining; star Demetrius Shipp Jr. looks the part although end-credit footage of the real Shakur highlights gaps in Shipp's screen personality. There's almost enough music to please rap fans but this crammed, awkwardly paced 139 minute film may have worked better as a mini-series. Shakur admirers will either appreciate the effort or be disappointed by the uneven results. Yes, Woolard also played Biggie in 2009 bio-pic Notorious.

Adult Compatibility: Uninspired camerawork and plotting – many characters are barely introduced – can't match better rap bio-pic Straight Outta Compton. The film does try for nuanced lead female characters but support females are music video clichés.

Critic's rating: 6/10

DESPICABLE ME 3 (PG)

Released: June 15.

Story: Animated sequel. Former top villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is now a family man, with three adopted daughters and a wife (Kristen Wiig). But when he meets his long-lost twin brother Dru, Gru returns to villainy – for a good cause. But new top villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) swears revenge on Gru and his family.  

Language: None.

Romance: Discreet adult themes.

Violence: Threats, blows, chases. Bubble-gum missiles.

Ages:   3 – 6: The naughty Minions will please littlies; a family-focused plot shouldn't upset the over-fives. But this is relentlessly noisy – everyone shouts – and revved-up.

7 – 12: Target audience for an efficient but unoriginal-feeling sequel which lacks kid characters in the lead roles; unfortunately, there isn't enough Minion action to fill that gap. A brief detour to follow daughter Agnes' search for a unicorn feels like a clumsy attempt to lure girl viewers. On the plus side, the film is bright-looking and briskly paced.

13-plus: Without more Minion fun, only Pharrell Williams' original songs pep a familiar soundtrack of 1980s hits.

Adult Compatibility: Yawn. Some parents will also find villain Balthazar is a tad too creepy, thanks to South Park co-creator Parker.

Critic's rating: 6/10

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL (PG)

Released: June 29.

Story: Fourth in the live action series based on Jeff Kinney's books. Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) is desperate to escape social media embarrassment (think: a viral video called 'diaper hands').  So Greg enthusiastically votes for a family road trip even if it means spending time with annoying older brother Rodrick (Charlie Wright). Greg and his parents (Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott) encounter grotty hotel rooms, hungry birds and hostile travellers.

Language: A mean put-down.

Romance: None.

Violence: Shoves, threats; a runaway boat.

Ages:    3 – 6: Baby brother Manny, a cute piglet and light-hearted chases might hold the attention of the over-fours.

7 – 12: The slapstick and emphasis on toilet jokes amused the mostly pre-tween male viewers at one weekend preview. There are no age-appropriate characters for younger female viewers but these family-togetherness themes should score with boys and girls. Regular followers of the movie series will regret that Greg isn't at home, with friend Rowley. However, four movies in, a change of scenery was probably necessary.

13-plus: Nostalgic teens may be disappointed that key characters are played by new actors.

Adult Compatibility: A nicely made, predictable knock-off of the 1980s Vacation movies.

Critic's rating: 7/10

WONDER WOMAN (M)

Released: June 1.

Story: Live action version of the American comic book. Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised by female warriors on a secret island. But in 1917, American pilot Steve Taylor (Chris Pine) crash-lands and Diana learns of the war to end all wars in Europe. She and Steve try to stop a homicidal German commander (Danny Huston).

Language: Three swear words.

Romance: Kisses, discreet adult references.

Violence: Swordfights, shootings, explosions, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: Too vivid.

7 – 12: There's nothing to freak out tweens who saw World War Two-themed Captain America. 

13-plus: Girls finally get a big budget female-led frequently exhilarating super-hero movie. Batman Vs Superman scene-stealer Gadot effortlessly handles action and comedy; she's a worthy successor to 1970s tele-series star Lynda Carter. Gadot and Star Trek charmer Pine create a tender romance, almost overcoming that big problem with recent superhero flicks: a ho-hum final quarter.

Adult Compatibility: Monster director Patty Jenkins delivers memorable visuals in a 'battle of the gods' backstory and a genuinely creepy confrontation. Classy co-stars Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis and Robin Wright finesse a traditional origin story. Remaining female characters – perky secretary Etta and anguished scientist Dr Poison – get less screen time than three clichéd recruits who needlessly extend the story. Generally impressive computer effects occasionally thin.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE MUMMY (M)

Released: June 8.

Story: Horror action adventure. When soldier turned antiquities 'liberator' Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) uncovers an ancient tomb in Iraq, he unleashes a vengeful Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella).

Nick must team up with a dedicated archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) and her boss, Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

Language: Fifteen swear words.

Romances: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Stabbings, chokings, punches, gunshots, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: Not the mummy they want.

7 -12: Fans of the high-spirited 1999 movie with Brendan Fraser should know this offers horror suspense, not desert hijinks, and is mainly set in gloomy England.

13-plus: Mostly for the boys judging by the audience at one multiplex screening (two-thirds teen and young adult male). The film boasts one stand-out, high altitude stunt; the rest is a sometimes incomprehensible mix of zombie buddy comedy, spooky horror thrills, predictable plotting and nicely shot but routine fights and chases. Crowe's Jekyll is so weird he's almost watchable despite the actor's strained British accent. Wallis's character is terribly written; Boutella (who hijacked Star Trek Beyond) says little but has more personality than everyone else combined. 

Adult Compatibility: In a better movie, the so-familiar-it's-dull plot would have barely rated as a prologue. Annoyingly, this raggedy ending was obviously designed for a sequel.

Critic's rating: 5/10

MY COUSIN RACHEL (PG)

Released: June 8.

Story: British period drama, based on Daphne Du Maurier's story. When his guardian dies in mysterious circumstances, unworldly country-dweller Philip (Sam Claflin) is suspicious of his 'foreign' cousin-by-marriage. But widowed Rachel (Rachel Weisz) upsets all Philip's notions of women, and love.  Directed by Notting Hill's Roger Michell.
 

Language: Five swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes. Brief nudity.

Violence: Threats, choking, falls, death themes.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Only mature tween romantics will swoon.

13-plus: You just can't beat the Brits for gorgeously produced, atmospheric period dramas which blend passionate romance and suspense. Weisz is perfect as the ambiguous Rachel; ditto Me Before You and The Hunger Games star Claflin, who expertly captures how passion devastates Philip. Excellent work, too, from Game of Thrones tele-series star Iain Glen and The Borgias' Holliday Grainger. You don't need to know the story to enjoy this but admirers of the book will appreciate a thoughtful, classy adaptation. Backed by first-rate camerawork, the clothes are gorgeous, and the Italian and English locations. Kudos to the evocative piano-violin music score.

Adult Compatibility: This psychological portrait is as gripping as any action thriller. Keep watching to the end – the he said/she said story will leave you debating the 'truth'.

Critic's rating: 8/10

BAYWATCH (MA)

Released: June 1.

Story: Movie version of the American television series. The tight-knit team of lifeguards led by Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) isn't impressed by a cocky new recruit (Zac Efron). But the team unites over a murder investigation involving a glamorous resort owner (Priyanka Chopra). From the director of Horrible Bosses.

Language: More than 100.

Romance: Kisses, full frontal nudity, sexual references.

Violence: Blows, falls, shootings, chases, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Parents should know that, despite the presence of appealing Moana star Johnson, this action comedy has explicit American Pie-styled jokes.

13-plus: Older teens are the target audience although apart from drooling shots of Efron and co-stars Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach, the plot is television-sized. The sidelined female characters, and the film's obsession with a certain male body part, make this a bit of a slog as a date night movie. That's not helped by occasional cheesy effects and blocky directing. Best rewards are for fans of Johnson and Efron, both very funny.

Adult Compatibility: More juvenile and forgettable than grown-ups might expect although affectionate references to the TV show – and two big name cameos (do we even need to say whom?) – will please tele-fans.

Critic's rating: 5/10

THE PROMISE (M)

Released: June 15.

Story: Historical romantic drama. In 1914, ambitious Armenian villager Mikael (Oscar Isaac) uses his dowry money to study medicine in Turkish capital Constantinople. There he falls in love with artist Ana (Charlotte Le Bon). But when Mikael is sent to a labour camp, Ana is helped by an American journalist (Christian Bale) who is also in love with her. Directed by Hotel Rwanda's Terry George. In English.

Language: Three swear words.

Romance: Kisses, discreet bedroom scenes. Adult themes.

Violence: Shootings, explosions, executions, war images, surgery scenes, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Ditto.

13-plus: A sweeping romance just like they used to make 'em? Well, in parts. The plot rips along at a dizzying speed, full of betrayals and separations; many sequences are suspenseful and the landscapes and Bon's costumes are gorgeous. But with lumpy dialogue and several fake-looking backdrops, this ain't Doctor Zhivago.

Adult Compatibility: Isaac works hard but can't make Mikael the hero the story needs. Bon is always radiant; the big surprise is Bale who sheds his usual chilliness for a soulful performance. The film's impassioned re-enactments of long-denied forced round-ups and executions may have worked better in a mini-series. Also with Jean Reno, Shohreh Aghdashloo and inevitably, Rade Zerbedzija, all muted by snippety roles.

Critic's rating: 6/10

20TH CENTURY WOMEN (M)

Released: June 1.

Story: Family comedy drama set in 1979 California. Single mum Dorothea (Annette Bening) worries that she is not communicating with her 15 year old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). So she asks younger photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie's teenage friend Julie (Elle Fanning) to help out. But while Jamie is learning about women's lives, Dorothea is learning about herself, with help from a hippie mechanic (Billy Crudup). Directed by Mike Mills (Beginners).

Language: Eleven swear words.

Romance: Kisses, bedroom scenes, nudity, sexual references. Adult themes.

Violence: Punches. Gratuitous smoking. Drug references.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: They'll come to see Maleficent's Fanning and stay for a rare female-led film which explores life for women at all ages, from teen romance to being the only adult in a punk club. As with many male-directed and scripted movies, none of the female characters seem to have age-appropriate female friends. However, they do at least discuss their hopes and dreams.

Adult Compatibility: Plenty of music and jokes, and snapshots of key events of the last century make this a rare film which acknowledges the complexities of modern life. But it's not a downer, thanks to a snappy pace and great performances all round, led by Bening.

Critic's rating: 8/10

UNA (TBC)

Released: June 22.

Story: British drama thriller about a young woman who confronts the man jailed for what he did to her when she was 13 years old. 'I hate the life I've had,' says Una (Rooney Mara) who tracks down her family's former friend Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). But when Una arrives at Ray's workplace, the repercussions involve his employee (Riz Ahmed). Directed by debuting Benedict Andrews, based on John Harrower's play Blackbird.

Language: Twenty-seven swear words.

Romance: Sex scenes, nudity, adult themes.

Violence: Threats, blows. Gratuitous drinking.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: Best suited to older teens who will appreciate a film which works as well as a psychological drama as a classic crime thriller. Terrific Mara (the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is superbly matched by Australian Mendelsohn who has been on a winning streak ever since transforming US tele-series Bloodline. Yes, that's Mendelsohn's Star Wars: Rogue One co-star Ahmed.

Adult Compatibility: This is a rare drama which explores complicated relationships and the immense psychological damage of abusing a child's trust, without revelling in gratuitous details or dis-empowering the victim. The film socks an even bigger punch because it uses believable characterisations to drive the suspense. Kudos for transferring the play so well to screen.

Critic's rating: 8/10