March 2017 movie reviews: a guide for parents

Batman discovers he may have to embrace teamwork.
Batman discovers he may have to embrace teamwork. Photo: Warner Bros

SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE (G)

Released: March 30 (Victoria, Queensland); April 6 (NSW, SA, WA, Tasmania, Northern Territory)

Story: Animated feature spin-off from the Hollywood live action movies and cartoon television series, in turn based on the Belgian comics. Smurfs Brainy (voiced by Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), Hefty (Joe Mangianello) and Smurfette (Demi Lovato) follow clues to other Smurfs living in the Forbidden Forest. But wicked wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) is secretly following them.

TRAILER

Language: None.

Romance: Hints only.

Violence: Blows, falls, vulture attacks, fire-balls, chases, threats. Sharp-toothed fish.

Ages:   3 – 6: Some tots at one cinema screening were notably restless, especially when a key character was (very upsettingly) turned to clay.

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7 – 12: Younger kids will appreciate bouncily paced, competent animation with much slapstick from Clumsy, and Gargamel and his menacing cat. But the plot feels like a thousand others; the Smurfs' rubber-toy faces are rarely expressive.  

13-plus: A scattering of songs from Tove Lo and Meghan Trainor, and famous voice stars, aren't enough. Smurfette, who wears high heels in the forest, has no female friends among the lead characters; later plot developments feel like a half-hearted, unresolved grab for girl viewers. Putting down male characters (even briefly) is not the answer.

Adult Compatibility: Non-existent unless you're child-minding. A mid-credits final scene is not worth staying for.

Critic's rating: 5/10

POWER RANGERS (M)

Released: March 23

Story: Origin story spin-off from the 1990s television series and movies. Five American high schoolers discover alien coins buried in a nearby mine. The coins turn disgraced football player Jason (Dacre Montgomery), rebellious cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), reckless Zack (Ludi Lin), brainy Billy (RJ Cyler) and loner Trini (Becky G.) into elite fighters. Their first opponent is malevolent alien Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Directed by Dean Israelite (Project Almanac).

TRAILER

Language: Thirteen swear words.

Romance: Sexual references in an odd frat-boy opening scene.

Violence: Explosions, car chases, crashes, fights, falls, threats, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: Definitely not a cartoon, parents.

7 – 12: Impressive alien effects toughen a standard teens-save-world fantasy. But the slow-motion car crashes, dead dad references and 120 minute running time are too much for younger kids.

13-plus: Best audience for efficient superhero adventure. Crucial time spent on characterisation enhances team-building themes; Australian Zac Efron-lookalike Montgomery leads a likable, and likably diverse, cast. Kudos for age-appropriate lead female characters; songs by Kanye West and Tove Lo boost an atmospheric orchestral score.

Adult Compatibility: Warning: Bryan Cranston's appearance is cameo only. Shameless product placement extends outside the toys. Even with talented Banks delivering real menace (despite a very silly villain name), you should leave this to the kids.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE BOSS BABY (G)

Released: March 23 nationally except Tasmania (April 6)

Story: Animated family comedy action. Seven year old Tim (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi) is determined to get rid of his strange new baby brother. This tot (Alec Baldwin) wears a suit, carries a briefcase and talks like a businessman on a mission.

TRAILER

Language: None.

Romance: None.

Violence: Baby slaps, blows. Also falls, chases, threats. A pirate swordfight, growling ape.

Ages:   3 – 6: Frequent screen chats made younger kids at one Saturday morning preview restless but patient six year olds will find plenty to amuse.

7 – 12: Perfect audience for a hardworking mix of classic slapstick comedy (baby farts! rocket launches!) with shrewd themes about using your imagination and how to cope with a new sibling. Parents should note the lack of age-appropriate lead female characters for girl viewers; friendlier baby talk was executed by Bruce Willis in Look Who's Talking. Stay for a mid-credits scene but don't bother waiting for a final snippet.

13-plus: Sardonic voice star Baldwin suits this group better although they may want more contemporary songs. The pace, and cute subplot about a puppy-baby rivalry, should entertain them.

Adult Compatibility: More gimmick than heart but you can take your 16 year old, as well as your six year old.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (PG)

Released: March 30

Story: Spin-off from the animated superhero spoof The LEGO Movie. Vigilante Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) realises he can no longer fight arch-enemy The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) alone, especially when Joker recruits many other super-villains. Enter eager young orphan Robin (Michael Cera). Co-starring Channing Tatum and Mariah Carey.

TRAILER

Language: Two 'shut up's.

Romance: Discreet references.

Violence: Chases, explosions, punches, falls, parental death themes; threat of The Unnecessarily Complicated Bomb.

Ages:   3 – 6: Imposing city scapes, hectic action and Batman's gloomy mansion are too much for younger viewers.

7 – 12: Every character is constructed from (computerised) LEGO, which makes this one long product placement. Female characters are mere tokens. Still, this viewer age group will love the cartoonish action, nifty gadgets and cameos from Superman and more.

13-plus: They'll enjoy this for funny send-ups of famous superhero movies, and for the song-jammed soundtrack. The high profile voice cast includes amusing Ralph Fiennes as butler/father substitute Alfred.

Adult Compatibility: Despite the occasionally cluttered-looking screen, which was hard to absorb in the 2D print reviewed here, this does sustain a one-joke concept.  Don't come late: the opening credits narration is worth catching. Thumbs up to a holiday release which should please most of the family.

Critic's rating: 8/10

PEPPA PIG: MY FIRST CINEMA EXPERIENCE: PEPPA'S AUSTRALIAN HOLIDAY (G)

Released: March 16 (limited run scheduled)

Story: Compilation of nine new segments from the hugely popular animated British television series. Peppa, little brother George and parents visit Kylie Kangaroo in Australia, see the Great Barrier Reef and try surfing and boomerang-throwing. Back in England, Peppa and classmates meet the Queen, visit the zoo and learn bike-stopping skills.

TRAILER

Language: Peppa's class says, 'OOOOOOO!' (Translation: no bad language!)

Romance: None.

Violence: Almost-scary wave.

Ages: 3 – 6: The only March offering for littlies is a winner, as demonstrated by a packed Sunday advance screening. Colourful visuals showcase a clever pace designed to vary activity with calm-down time. There are also singalongs with happy host Daisy, hiding games and seat-dancing. This preview audience (approximately 60% girls, 40% boys) seemed entertained to the last, 73rd minute. Yes, male characters occupy more screen jobs but – how radical! – females enjoy the workplace, including a puddle-jumping Queen who drives a double-decker bus.

7 – 12: Only for nostalgic Peppa fans.

13-plus: Too young.

Adult Compatibility: A rare chance to share quality entertainment with your littlies, parents, so quit texting and join in. You'll enjoy quiet jokes about a neighbour who actually doesn't mind his windows being broken.

Critic's rating: 9/10
 

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (MA)

Released: March 16

Story: Gothic horror drama. Ambitious young American worker Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is ordered to retrieve a top executive from a Swiss health clinic. But when Lockhart befriends a female patient (Mia Goth), he suspects the clinic's director (Jason Isaacs) is experimenting on, not curing, his clients. From the director of the first three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies and the US version of The Ring.

TRAILER

Language: Nineteen swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes. Nudity.

Violence: Punches, falls, car crash, a fire, deaths; attempted assault. Attack by eel; anaesthetic-free dentistry.

Ages: 3 – 6: The doctor recommends … not!

7 – 12: Your little pirate won't find swashbuckling joy here.

13-plus: Older teens will enjoy 146 minutes of expertly filmed suspense: kudos to making viewers flinch by mostly using suggestion, and with genuinely creepy scenes (see the above eels, dental work). Downside? The length becomes a burden; the film wanders between sardonic satire about corporate stress and poignant scenes involving kids. Charismatic DeHaan (Chronicle; Amazing Spider-Man 2) balances melodramatic co-stars.

Adult Compatibility: Think Shutter Island meets The Game, with a dash of 12 Monkeys' skewed angles. While the film plays older than the trailer suggests, adult viewers will find a jokey finale doesn't answer key questions.

Critic's rating: 6/10

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (PG)

Released: March 23

Story: Live action redo of the 1991 animated musical romance. Village girl Belle (Emma Watson) is regarded as odd because she invents household gadgets to spend more time reading. When her father (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned in a cursed castle, Belle meets an unhappy man-beast (Dan Stevens).

TRAILER

Language: 'Shut up' is it.

Romance: Themes, a kiss.

Violence: Threats, blows, falls, death themes; scary wolf pack attack.

Ages: 3 – 6: Special effects make this more vivid than the cartoon.

7 – 12: Talking candlestick Lumière (voiced by Ewan McGregor), anxious clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and affectionate tea-pot Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) will delight. New and old ballads are performed by the cast and music stars Ariana Grande and John Legend.

13-plus: Yes, especially for fans who grew up with Harry Potter's Watson. She's a likable heroine although more reserved than vivacious cartoon Belle. While this film fails the Bechdel Test, bookish themes counter fairy-tale-princess clichés. Kudos for gorgeously costumed, Technicolor Gothic entertainment without sex and gratuitous violence.

Adult Compatibility: It's a pity computer effects tweaked Stevens' beast because the Downton Abbey star is genuinely melancholy-funny. Luke Evans amuses as pompous Gaston but that supposed gay subplot about sidekick LeFou is merely sly hints.

Critic's rating: 8/10

BEFORE I FALL (M)

Released: March 2

Story: American teen drama based on the book by Lauren Oliver. Sam (Zoey Deutch) is one of high school's popular girls. But when she and her friends bully another girl at a party, the consequences are weird: Sam begins living that day over and over again. When she tries to change her behaviour, she discovers what it's like to be the outsider. With Goosebumps' Halston Sage.

TRAILER

Language: Twenty-five swear words.

Romance: Kisses, brief sex scene, adult references.

Violence: Blows, threats, car crashes, bullying themes, deaths. Drinking themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: Way over their head.

7 – 12: A subplot about Sam's friends pressuring her to have sex with her boyfriend is too much even for mature tweens. A pity: this is a terrific exploration of how bullies are often driven by fear and shame.

13-plus: Clever, entertaining portrait of the often unintentionally cruel side of modern 'girlworld' is also a suspenseful drama-thriller variation on Mean Girls. Deutch is perfect as the privileged girl who realises – too late – how she has been treating others. Bonuses? Excellent songs from Grimes, Kurt Vile, Yeah Yeah Yeahs; classy production values.

Adult Compatibility: This Groundhog Day teenage redo packs a wallop. Parents should see it with or without their teen and discuss.

Critic's rating: 8/10

JASPER JONES (M)

Released: March 2

Story: Australian coming of age drama based on the book by Craig Silvey. In a small West Australian town in 1969, supposed troublemaker Jasper Jones (Aaron L McGrath) unexpectedly asks bookish fourteen year old Charlie (Levi Miller) for help. When Jasper is linked to a missing local girl, Charlie searches for the truth. With Hugo Weaving, Toni Collette. Directed by Rachel Perkins.

TRAILER

Language: Seven swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Threats, death themes, violent images. Smoking.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Doubtful, even for tweens: this teen detective tale focuses on family secrets not clue-tracking adventure. The only laughs come courtesy of Charlie's cricket-mad friend Jeffrey (Kevin Long, in a too-brief appearance).

13-plus: Best audience for a neatly made if unsurprising drama. Charlie is a likable hero for young teens, and the film scores (literally) with an exciting cricket match. However, there's little here for female viewers, with the character of fellow student Eliza (Angourie Rice) suffering from the usual dream girl clichés.

Adult Compatibility: Efficiently made version of a best-selling book has problems cramming everything in, including themes of small town racism. Collette does her best with the under-written role of discontented mum. Leave it for the teens.

Critic's rating: 7/10

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (M)

Released: March 9

Story: Hollywood monster movie. In 1973, an American-led expedition investigates a mysterious South Pacific island. The group includes an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a photo-journalist (Brie Larson) and a ruthless soldier (Samuel L Jackson). After a disastrous encounter with a giant ape, the survivors discover a stranded WW2 pilot (John C Reilly) who reveals disturbing secrets about the island.

TRAILER

Language: Twenty swear words.

Romance: Discreet adult themes.

Violence: Shootings, crashes, explosions, severed limbs, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: No way!

7 – 12: Only for tweens untroubled by the Jurassic Park movies. Parents should note that expert special effects make this battling-monsters flick extremely vivid in places.

13-plus: Target audience for a brisk, hardworking, action adventure. The often jokey approach, led by charming Reilly, nods to monster classics and lightens the mood but sometimes trivializes the violence. The second half is mostly a guessing game to see who will be eaten next. Stay for another scene after the credits.

Adult Compatibility: The latest version of 1933's King Kong is more extravagant eye-candy than involving story-telling. Luckily, Jackson excels at this kind of scenery-chewing role; Thor star Hiddleston and Room Oscar-winner Larson sensibly under-play. The soundtrack includes obligatory period rock songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival and Black Sabbath.

Critic's rating: 7/10

LOGAN (MA)

Released: March 2

Story: Sequel to the Wolverine series. It's 2029: former X-Men member Logan (Hugh Jackman) works as a chauffeur on the American Tex-Mex border while caring for ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When Logan meets an unusual little girl (Dafne Keen), he and the Professor find themselves hunted by killers.

TRAILER

Language: Fifty-eight swear words.

Romance: Nudity.

Violence: Frequent stabbing, shooting, beatings, deaths. Decapitation.

Ages: 3 – 6: Absolutely not: Logan/Wolverine's finger-blades feel borrowed from A Nightmare On Elm Street horror flick villain Freddy Krueger.

7 – 12: Ditto: This doesn't offer the breezy comic book action of the early X-Men flicks but increasingly grim violence. Scenes of killer children are also too much.

13-plus: Older teens are the best audience for a classic reluctant-hero chase movie with often ominous suspense, and terrific performances from Jackman and young Keen. The finale isn't as memorable as it should be, maybe because the film is over-long. But key confrontations are finessed by Cop Land director James Mangold, backed by another memorable music score. Downsides? Pursuing thugs look like Mad Max rejects.

Adult Compatibility: Jackman is likable enough to maintain interest despite gratuitous violence. If you avoid the annoyingly blabby trailers, the story expertly doles out plot surprises.

Critic's rating: 7/10

MISS SLOANE (M)

Released: March 2 (selected cinemas)

Story: American drama about a Washington power-player. Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is renowned for creating political campaigns that influence government and public opinion. But when she takes on a project involving America's powerful gun lobby, Sloane discovers she is the one being targeted. With Mark Strong, John Lithgow. Directed by John Madden (The Debt; Shakespeare In Love).

TRAILER

Language: Forty-one swear words.

Romance: Kisses, sex scene, adult themes.

Violence: Threats, a shooting. Death themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: This smart talky slow-boil suspense drama will only suit mature teens. However, for the budding activist, lawyer or anyone interested in politics, this delivers an insider's look at American deal-making, ethics and corruption. It's also a rare film portrait of female lobbyists in modern Washington. The professional jargon in early scenes is hard to follow but the 132 minute film gets better as it goes; even a seemingly melodramatic subplot makes an impact. A detour into surveillance gadgets amps up the thrills.

Adult Compatibility: The emotionally isolated, seemingly friendless manipulator is nothing new – but Chastain makes the role her own. Too many boxy interiors are dull to watch but do maintain the claustrophobic atmosphere.

Critic's rating: 7/10