November movie reviews: a guide for parents

My Little Pony: The Movie
My Little Pony: The Movie Photo: Madman Entertainment

Find out what's on at the cinemas during this month, and what's suitable for your kids and teens to see.

MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (G)

Released: November 2.

Story: Animated feature-length movie spin-off from the children's television series. When Equestria is threatened, unicorn heroine Princess Twilight (voiced by Tara Strong) and her pony friends travel through bad-lands for help. They meet a charming cat (Taye Diggs), a pirate crew and damaged unicorn Tempest (Emily Blunt) who has rejected pony-goodness to work for the evil Storm King (Liev Schreiber). Screens with a five minute animated short.

Language: None.

Romance: None.

Violence: Falls, threats, chases, blows. Toothy beasts.

Ages: 3 – 6: Littlies might find the King's menacing guards unnerving but over-fours who watch the TV series should be fine. The colours are effervescent and friendship themes maintain a reassuring atmosphere. Pop songs and ballads are also first class, including a song and voice cameo by Sia. True, there are few positive or dominant male characters for much of the story; baby dragon buddy Spike (voiced by a woman) tags along. However, pirate action and regular suspense seemed to engage the few boys at one multiplex screening.

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7 – 12: Younger kids only.

13-plus: Unlikely.

Adult Compatibility: Inevitably, this has been made by a toy company. But production care and quality are impressive and give Disney movies serious competition for that most neglected movie-going group: the under-sevens.

Critic's rating: 9/10

DETROIT (MA)

Released: November 9.

Story: Based-on-fact American action drama. It's 1967: tensions explode in Detroit after brutal police raids on poor neighbourhoods. Lootings and shootings force a group of young African-American and Anglo friends to retreat to a motel just as three violent police officers begin searching for a suspected sniper. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (1991's Point Break; The Hurt Locker; Zero Dark Thirty).

Language: More than 50 swear words.

Romance: Sexual references, brief nudity, kisses.

Violence: Beatings, shootings, deaths. Drug references.

Ages: 3 – 6: Absolutely not.

7 – 12: Ditto.

13-plus: Bigelow's edgy camerawork, fast pace and superb cast turn this race relations drama into an action thriller. The 143 minute running time might weary some older teens but they should be hooked by a knock-out performance from John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as the law-abiding security drama dragged into the mayhem. Watch for Games of Thrones television actor Hannah Murray in excellent support. The 1960s settings (parties, clothes, music) should also please.

Adult Compatibility: This is already touted as Oscar material; movie fans will find Boyega channelling Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington in memorable close-ups. The corrupt cops drift close to melodrama but photos from the 1967 crime scene, interspersed through the film, reinforce the realism.

Critic's rating: 8/10

LOVING VINCENT (M)

Released: November 2 (selected cinemas).

Story: British-Polish period drama about 19th century Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh 'paints' its actors with animated brush-strokes and imitates Vincent's visual style(s) throughout. When young Armand (Douglas Booth) meets those who knew the painter (Robert Gulaczyk), he wonders if Vincent did commit suicide. In English.

Language: One swear word.

Romance: Adult themes.

Violence: Punches, bullying, death themes. Severed ear.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: No, this is not Captain Underpants or Frozen-ish animation.

13-plus: Art students and aspiring film-makers should check this out. The animated 'rotoscoping' (tracing over) the cast is more sophisticated than 2001's Waking Life; despite an early distracting flicker in the shifting oil-painted surfaces, this cleverly uses many of Van Gogh's famous works as backgrounds. It's also lots of fun guessing the actors playing key roles; as well as Romeo & Juliet star Booth, there's a big television-star contingent: Poldark's Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson; Girls' Chris O'Dowd and Penny Dreadful's Helen McCrory. Stay for end credits which show images from the characters' lives. This is more empowering than subject matter suggests.

Adult Compatibility: What starts as a gimmick develops into an engaging detective story which incorporates intriguing contemporary theories about Van Gogh's death. Recommended for Vincent fans.

Critic's rating: 9/10

ONLY THE BRAVE (M)

Released: November 30.

Story: Based-on-fact contemporary American drama about rural fire-fighters. After years of waiting, leader Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) finally gets his dedicated crew onto the Arizona front-lines. But their first major call-out is a devastating wild-fire. Will their training be good enough? With Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch. From the director of TRON: Legacy.

Language: Fifty-plus swear words.

Romance: Discreet adult themes, occasional sexual references.

Violence: Brush-fires, injuries, death themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: No way.

7 – 12: When the special effects are good, they are truly scary. Maybe hold off showing this to the aspiring fire-fighter in your house until s/he is older.

13-plus: This well-produced man-against-elements tale has all the obligatory big speeches, hero shots and family drama. Despite sensitive work from Jennifer Connelly, the female roles are walking clichés. The show is saved by another believable performance from Brolin, backed by appealing work from Miles Teller as a troubled recruit, and the touching photos of the real crew at the end.

Adult Compatibility: A too-reverential approach will grate on some viewers; the film will play better in America than here. However, efficient effects, expert aerial photography and genuine suspense ultimately trump familiar sentiment.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (PG)

Released: November 30 (sneak previews November 24 – 28).

Story: British-set period comedy drama. Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is stressed: he's promised to deliver a new story but he's stuck for ideas – and family and friends keep intruding. As Charles struggles to write what will become A Christmas Carol, other unusual visitors arrive: characters from the story and ghosts from his own past.

Language: Eight swear words.

Romance: A kiss, discreet adult themes.

Violence: A punch, bullying. Drinking scenes.

Ages: 3 – 6: While this is huge fun, it lacks the talking vegetables (and Kermit) from The Muppet Christmas Carol.

7 – 12: Tweens might sit through chat for dramatic scenes about Dickens' childhood.

13-plus: Fans of Downton Abbey television star Stevens, book lovers and anyone who enjoys classy period pieces get the best rewards. Stevens deserves kudos for his interesting post-Downton drama choices but there's no doubt he excels at this kind of warmly funny, easy-watching family tale.

Adult Compatibility: Adults will enjoy Christopher Plummer as Scrooge and Miriam Margolyes in too-brief support; ditto the amusing encounters with rival author William Thackeray who keeps talking about the bad reviews for Dickens' previous work. Parents could try this as a family outing with their teens and mature tweens.

Critic's rating: 8/10

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (M)

Released: November 9.

Story: Remake of author Agatha Christie's mystery. When a businessman (Johnny Depp) is murdered on the luxury Orient Express, famous 1930s detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) must solve the case before the killer strikes again. Likely suspects include an arrogant Russian princess (Judi Dench), a smart governess (Daisy Ridley) and a pushy American widow (Michelle Pfeiffer). Also with Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz and Olivia Colman. Directed by Branagh.

Language: Nine swear words.

Romance: Kisses, romance themes.

Violence: Blows, chases, shootings, deaths.

Ages:   3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Train buffs will enjoy puffing-steam detail but child-kidnap themes are too much.

13-plus: Deluxe clothes and period trimmings? Young Star Wars talent Ridley leading a cavalcade of famous faces? Commendable restraint re the violence? Yes, please! Branagh takes time to position a more vigorous Poirot in occasional action scenes. Melancholy music aids the poignant flashbacks.

Adult Compatibility: Even fans of David Suchet, television's best-known Poirot player, should admire Branagh's hard-working performance. Pfeiffer continues her mother! comeback; Depp's committed bad-boy portrayal may apologise for off-screen behaviour. Yes, viewers who know the plot get less rewards but snowy visuals fill the big screen. The result is polished and entertaining.

Critic's rating: 8/10
 

DADDY'S HOME 2 (PG)

Released: November 23 (sneak weekend previews).

Story: Sequel to the 2015 family comedy. Hot-tempered Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) has learnt to get along with his wife's new husband, sensitive Brad (Will Ferrell). But then Dusty's insensitive dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad's chatty pop (John Lithgow) come to stay. Cue exploding Christmas decorations, runaway babies and mega-misunderstandings.

Language: Twenty-one swear words

Romance: Adult references. Kids with guns. Ill-judged kissing 'ambush' plan.

Violence: Falls, blows, threats, fights.

Ages: 3 – 6: Too much shouting.

7 – 12: Son Dylan offers an age-appropriate character to follow although there's less care paid to the young female characters. However, most of the pre-teen viewers at one multiplex screening seemed to thoroughly enjoy this movie's Vacation-ish, bumbling-dad formula.

13-plus: Transformers' action man Wahlberg scores with teens, while shrewd Gibson adds genuine edginess to the father-son themes.

Adult Compatibility: Classic pratfalls benefit from plain framing reminiscent of television comedies. Parents will find they can take most of the family to this: kids of all ages secretly love Christmas-togetherness themes even if the inevitable sentimental finale comes with applauding crowd (why do American movie characters always need an audience for their finishes?). Yes, the title on the print reviewed here was Daddy's Home Two, not the one advertised (above).

Critic's rating: 6/10

HEY DUGEE CINEMA EXPERIENCE (G)

Released: November 16 (limited season scheduled).

Story: Hour-long collection of short animated stories for littlies, featuring the characters from the British television series. Seven adventures see young Norrie, Tag, Betty, Roly and Happy learn to build a fire, where the planets are and how to overcome fears (hint: think happy thoughts). The friends earn badges awarded by best friend Duggee. There are sing- and dance-a-longs and – of course – frequent Duggee Hugs.

Hey Duggee

https://www.hoyts.com.au/movies/2017/hey_duggee_cinema_experience.aspx

Language: Woof! Woof! Nothing!

Romance: One kiss.

Violence: A green sea monster is big, round and cheerful. The friends earn their Brave Banana Badge by coping with thunder and lightning.

Ages: 3 – 6: Triple woof! These colourful, simply-outlined characters look like paper cut-outs, which is reassuring. The actors voicing them sound like little kids which also reassures viewers under four years. The brief length of each episode won't test littlies' patience; the dance-a-longs should suit fidgety rug-rats. Thumbs down to only two lead female characters; all the voices of authority are male which will make parents roll their eyes at out-of-date writers. It's lucky that perky Betty wants to go to space which gives girls one interesting character to follow.

7 – 12: Too young.

13-plus: Ditto.

Adult Compatibility: Efficient, soothing and upbeat entertainment lets parents relax.

Critic's rating: 8/10

JUSTICE LEAGUE (M)

Released: November 16.

Story: Action fantasy based on the comic books and a sequel to recent Batman and Wonder Woman movies. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) search for fighters to defeat demon leader Steppenwolf. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead so Batman and WW try to recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and The Flash (Ezra Miller). But the team also needs tech genius Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Directed by Zack Snyder (Batman Vs. Superman).

Language: Five swear words.

Romance: Kisses.

Violence: Fights, missiles, shootings, explosions, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Many scenes are brief in this action-joke-action structure, which suits short attention spans; the violence is also mostly lightning-enhanced collisions. Tweens should have no troubles, especially with cheeky young Flash to follow.

13-plus: It helps if you've seen the prequels. The cluttered opening is almost incomprehensible even for the initiated but once the team unites, the two-hour story settles. Picturesque locales (hello, Iceland!) add texture to routine computer-generated backgrounds. Tiresomely, WW is the only woman in yet another bro-team; it's lucky Gadot is so appealing. Still, viewers out for date night should skip this for the more enjoyable and inclusive-feeling Thor: Ragnarok.

Adult Compatibility: Even fans may object to drool-y shirtless-male shots. Bonuses? Two end-credits scenes; excellent songs.

Critic's rating: 6/10