May 2017 movie reviews: a guide for parents

A DOG'S PURPOSE (PG)

Released: May 4.

Story: American live action animal comedy drama. Exuberant dog Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) loves his young owner. But when an accident changes everyone's plans, Bailey begins living different lives: as a police dog, a pampered pooch and an abandoned mutt. Directed by Lasse Halström (Chocolat; Hachi: A Dog's Tale) from W. Bruce Cameron's novel.

TRAILER

Language: "Shut up" is it.

Romance: Kisses, discreet adult themes.

Violence: Death themes, chases, gunshots. Drinking themes. A fire. That now-notorious dog-in-water scene.

Ages: 3 – 6: The array of adorable puppies will delight them but Bailey's 'resurrections' won't soften the doggie deaths.

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7 – 12: The lead stars are superb … and the human actors aren't bad either. There's plenty of kid-friendly slapstick as Bailey has fun with food and tries to understand human behaviour.

13-plus: The romance between two schoolies (K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson) is charming. Superb photography helps contain the schmaltz.

Adult Compatibility: Not all dog-lovers will cheer this attempted celebration of animals. Recently leaked production footage reveals a clearly unwilling dog being forced into water; the remaining on-screen scene still hints at canine misery, calling into question the American Humane Association's end-credit certification ("No animals were harmed"). Memo to callous producers: use computer effects instead.

Critic's rating: 8/10

DON'T TELL (M)

Released: May 18.

Story: Australian based-on-fact crime drama about a ground breaking local court case. In 2001, lawyer Stephen Roche (Aden Young) has sworn off church-abuse lawsuits after the tragic end to his last case. But then he meets feisty but suffering Lyndal (Sara West), who was abused by a teacher (Gyton Grantley) at her church-run boarding school. What follows will involve secretive officials, a future Governor General, distraught parents (Susie Porter, Martin Sacks) and wily barristers (Jack Thompson, Jacqueline McKenzie). Directed by Tori Garrett (television's Wentworth Prison and Wonderland).

TRAILER

Language: Thirteen swear words.

Romance: Sexual references. Adult themes.

Violence: Threats. Gratuitous smoking. Drinking themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No.

13-plus: Even teens have seen this courtroom drama plenty of times before. However, especially for older teen viewers, a straightforward plot is electrified by the performance from ANZAC Girls television star West. Close-ups of Lyndal's troubled face transforms this into a memorable and empowering victim fightback tale. Interestingly, the apparently deliberately understated performances of the adult actors makes the story more effective.

Adult Compatibility: Adult fans who have followed Young's American-made returned convict television series Rectify will be interested in his return home here. Thumbs up for top-rank actors Thompson, Porter, etc, taking small but crucial roles.

Critic's rating: 7/10

EMO THE MUSICAL (M)

Released: May 4.

Story: Australian comedy musical. High school student Ethan (Benson Jack Anthony) is an emo (melancholy, sensitive and addicted to black). All he really wants is to compete in the upcoming rock music competition. Unfortunately, everyone is as confused as Ethan at his new school: devout Christian student Trinity (Jordan) finds herself falling for Ethan; rebel Roz (Lucy Barrett) secretly wants to play basketball while religious Peter gives himself electric shocks to stop homosexual thoughts. Meanwhile, everybody sings. Song sample? 'Jesus would have been an emo'.

TRAILER

Language: Two swear words.

Romance: Kisses, discreet sexual references.

Violence: Threats, punches. Suicide themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: Explain to them this is Emo, not Sesame Street's Elmo.

7 – 12: No, this is more blackly comic than School of Rock.

13-plus: A rare schoolie comedy which avoids the usual stupid frat-boy hijinks. Think a mix of television's Glee (at its most cheeky) and then add deadpan Australian humour. The school cliques are amusing; the plentiful songs (ballads and rock), while plain, nail the student band vibe. Thumbs up for extremely likable young actors, the confident colour-blindness when it comes to casting unsympathetic characters, and jokes about pharmaceutical companies funding Aussie schools.

Adult Compatibility: It feels like a one-idea show, with typically simple indie-movie framing. But it is memorable.

Critics rating: 7/10

GET OUT (MA)

Released: May 4.

Story: American horror drama. Easy-going African American college student Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is looking forward to a weekend at the posh, Alabama home of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). He dismisses the worries of buddy Rod (Lil Rel Howery) about southern racists. But while Rose's parents are welcoming, their employees seem unusually tense. And what about Rose's strange brother?

TRAILER

Language: Frequent.

Romance: Kisses, sexual references.

Violence: Threats, blows, chases, shootings, deaths. Gory home surgery.

Ages: 3 – 6: Get out of this cinema!

7 – 12: And again!

13-plus: A cracking pace which still allows for stealthy suspense made older teens at one packed Saturday night preview jump and yelp at the shocks. Perfect casting starts with Kaluuya and is backed by Girls television star Williams. Howery provides much-needed comic relief.

Adult Compatibility: What gives this horror film such a kick is its race-relations context. Sure, that often delivers funny jokes about the ethnic divide (handshakes, not fist bumps) but it also adds a hard realistic edge to the set-up for what is, after all, a classic us-versus-them horror film. You can expect plenty of gore but this smart script unexpectedly revitalizes the genre. Impressive work from comedian turned director Jordan Peele.

Critic's rating: 9/10

PORK PIE (M)

Released: May 4.

Story: New Zealand comedy chase movie. After a catastrophically bad decision, Jon (Dean O'Gorman) is desperate to apologise to his ex-girlfriend. But a simple cross-country road trip turns into a national man-hunt when he accepts a lift from runaway car thief Luke (James Rolleston). The pair meets up with quick-thinking Keira (Ashleigh Cummings) who also wants to escape …. from a boring job. The title refers to an item of clothing, not food.

TRAILER

Language: Frequent.

Romance: Kisses, sex scene, adult themes.

Violence: Car chases, crashes, threats, gunshots, explosions. Drug use.

Ages: 3 – 6: Too much chasing will over-rev their system.

7 – 12: It isn't as family-oriented Hunt for the Wilderpeople and lacks age-appropriate characters for this group.

13-plus: Older teens should enjoy a fast-paced blend of runaway romance and teenage outlaw wish fulfilment action without trying it at home. The frequent car chases are extremely well-filmed; stunning aerial shots of the countryside fill the big screen. Boy star Rolleston proves he has leading man charisma while it's always a pleasure to see talented Australian Cummings, from Galore.

Adult Compatibility: Best for younger viewers although O'Gorman (who played Kirk Douglas in Trumbo) is amusing as the irresponsible adult.

Critic's rating: 7/10

ALIEN: COVENANT (MA)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ibf46kh2Ec

Released: May 11.

Story: Science fiction horror action. An accident in deep space wakes the hibernating crew of a colony ship. The crew (Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir) and their android servant (Michael Fassbender) detour to a seemingly idyllic planet. There, they discover a survivor of the Prometheus spaceship which disappeared ten years before. They also discover vicious aliens with acid for blood. Directed by Ridley Scott.

TRAILER

Language: Forty-eight mostly lazily-placed swear words.

Romance: Kisses, brief nudity. Sexual references.

Violence: Attacks, stabbings, crashes, explosions, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Getoffthisplanet!

7 – 12: Keep going!

13-plus: Only for older teens who liked the psycho-babble about gods and creation in 2012's prequel Prometheus. Director Scott always delivers stunning-looking entertainment; non-stop horror gore here will please teens. But too many moments nod to the prequels, dulling a plot which is further doomed by Fassbender's unemotional android. The sketchily-written female characters are a backwards step, considering this series launched iconic action heroine Ripley.

Adult Compatibility: Yes, it's hard to reinvent a series, six movies in. But this still doesn't answer questions raised in Prometheus. Biggest surprise? American comedian McBride is convincing. Still, the characters from the decades-old prequels are more memorable than this personality-less lot.

Critic's rating: 6/10

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (MA)

Released: May 18.

Story: Sequel to the surprise 2014 action hit. Keanu Reeves is back as Wick, hitman-of-few-words. Still grieving from his wife's death, Wick turns down a job from an Italian mobster (Riccardo Scamarcio). Now he is the target of every killer listed in the assassins' guild overseen by the mysterious Winston (Ian McShane). Directed by Chad Stahelski who made the prequel.

TRAILER

Language: Eight swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Car chases, crashes, explosions, shootings, wrist-cutting, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Not their bedtime story.

7 – 12: Ditto.

13-plus: An exhilarating opening includes two car chases to rival Fast & The Furious and two effective fights, all in the first 20 minutes. The remainder is one long shoot-out, carried out on various continents, and intercut with Winston's dry jokes. Scenes set inside mansions and catacombs make this looks like a first person shooter video game, which will please older teens.

Adult Compatibility: Australian Ruby Rose plays a mute bodyguard which sums up the film's attitude to its female characters. The crisp metal rock soundtrack is a bonus as is Peter Stormare as an amusingly irate criminal. It's a pity the plot couldn't be inventive in the second half or in the ending.

Critic's rating: 6/10

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE (M)

Released: May 4.

Story: Based on fact WW2 drama. In Poland, 1939, Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) run the Warsaw Zoo. When the Germans invade, and Hitler's zoologist (Daniel Brühl) takes their prize animals, the Zabinskis decide to help Jews escape from the Warsaw ghetto. Whale Rider's Niki Caro directs from Diane Ackerman's book. In English.

TRAILER

Language: None.

Romance: Kisses, brief nudity.

Violence: Threats, shootings, bombings, deaths. War themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: This is not Zootopia.

7 – 12: Nor is it We Bought A Zoo.

13-plus: A traumatised assault victim and the Zabinskis' young son (both superbly portrayed) should hook mature teen viewers, as will tender scenes with the animals and the ticking clock suspense as the couple hide families, arrange fake passports and bluff Nazis. The Martian star Chastain is at her best here, helped by luminous close-ups. Her scenes with equally excellent Brühl (who played Niki Lauda in Rush) add sultry tension.

Adult Compatibility: An empowering drama, as memorable as Schindler's List. New Zealand director Caro avoids gratuitous images of animal and human deaths without lessening impact; the ghetto scenes are especially effective. Some dialogue is fuzzed by heavy accents and a tad too much crying.

Critic's rating: 8/10
 

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (M)

Released: May 18.

Story: Fantasy action. After England's King Uther (Eric Bana) is betrayed by brother Vortigern (Jude Law), Uther's orphaned son Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up on the capital's mean streets. Then paranoid Vortigern orders all young men to pull Uther's sword Excalibur from the stone it is encased in. What happens next sends Arthur on a journey with his closest friends. Directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch; Sherlock Holmes).

TRAILER

Language: Ten swear words.

Romance: Sexual references, brief nudity.

Violence: Stabbings, sword fights, fist fights, attacks by monstrous beasts, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: This is not a tot-friendly cartoon like The Sword In The Stone.

7 – 12: Those fantastic creatures and dark vistas are too Lord Of The Rings.

13-plus: Director Ritchie's frenzied camerawork is designed for those with short attention spans. The sketchy plot is just an excuse for a rambling lads' adventure. London-urban accents throughout mean David Beckham's cameo isn't as bad as rumoured. Some visuals are stupendous.

Adult Compatibility: Sons of Anarchy television star Hunnam will please some, bore others. Co-star Law survives a silly role; female characters are sidelined, except Astrid Bergès-Frisbey who redeems her clichéd witch-seer. Ritchie's modern soundtrack revs up the energy but arguably only historical realism could steady this muddle.

Critic's rating: 6/10