REVIEW: Is ‘Trolls’ OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)

REVIEW: Is 'Trolls' OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)Princess Poppy and all of her colorful troll friends living in Troll Village believe they have discovered the source of happiness: It’s singing, dancing and hugging.

Well, sort of.

The true source of happiness, they tell everyone, is internal.

“Happiness is inside you,” Poppy says. In fact, she adds, it’s inside everyone.

That’s why Poppy is always perky – to the point of being naïve about the realities and dangers of life. One of those dangers: the Bergens, the dreadful-looking creatures who live in the same forest and who believe that the source of happiness comes only by eating those cheerful trolls.

DreamWorks’ Trolls (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, and thanks to an all-star cast and partnerships with McDonald’s, General Mills, Rice Krispies Treats and Pillsbury, lots of children are likely going to want to watch it. It stars Anna Kendrick as Poppy and Justin Timberlake as her friend Branch, and also includes characters voiced by Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani and James Corden.

But is Trolls family-friendly — and is it too scary for kids? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Doctor Strange’ OK for kids? (And how scary & violent is it?)

REVIEW: Is 'Doctor Strange' OK for kids? (And how scary & violent is it?)

Perhaps you thought that the Avengers – that’s Iron Man, Captain America and their friends – were more than enough to protect Planet Earth. If so, you would be wrong.

That’s because – as we learn in the new movie Doctor Strange (PG-13) – the Avengers only protect Earth from physical threats. Superhero sorcerers protect us from mystical threats that originate from other dimensions and universes. Yes, there are multiple realities and multiple universes in the world of Marvel’s latest movie, which easily lives up to its “strange” title.

The “Dr. Strange” is Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who is known as much for his ego as for his world-renowned skill. His life takes a turn during a horrific car crash in which he loses full movement of his hands, and, desperate to regain his career, he travels to Nepal to find the person he was told healed a paraplegic. Strange believes he is looking for a traditional doctor, but he instead discovers a group of sorcerers who are led by a thin, bald woman known as the Ancient One. It is there that he himself becomes a sorcerer, learning to teleport from one location to another and even travel from one universe to the next time. He also figures out how to reverse time.

Strange becomes Earth’s protector against the bad sorcerer Kaecilius, who wants to destroy our planet and discover the power to have eternal life.

The Marvel superhero films have been wildly popular among children, who likely will be asking to go to this one, too. So, should mom and dad take them? Let’s find out. Continue reading

REVIEW: Rachel Scott no modern-day saint in ‘I’m Not Ashamed’

REVIEW: Rachel Scott no modern-day saint in 'I'm Not Ashamed'It would be easy to make Rachel Scott into a modern-day “evangelical saint” if filmmakers wanted to do so.

Thankfully, though, the writers and director behind the new movie I’m Not Ashamed (PG-13) did not do that – and it is far more powerful and believable for it. The movie hits theaters this weekend.

Scott was the first person killed during the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999, and her Christian walk and testimony became the subject of several books, including the bestseller “Rachel’s Tears.”

In her final seconds on Earth Scott refused to deny Christ. When asked by one of the gunmen, “Do you still believe in God?” she reportedly responded, “You know I do” – before being shot. The morning of the shooting, she even drew a picture of two eyes shedding 13 tears – and later that day the gunmen killed 13 people. Lots of Christians consider it a prophetic drawing.

But the Rachel Scott (Masey McLain) depicted in I’m Not Ashamed is no, well, Mother Teresa. She struggles with a temptation to drink and smoke, and she desperately wants to date the cutest boy around – although he wants her for only one thing. (Don’t worry – the film remains family-friendly.) Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ family-friendly? (And is there too much violence for kids?)

REVIEW: Is 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back' family-friendly? (And is there too much violence for kids?)If you ever decide to venture into a dark alley, late at night with bad guys all around, then you might want to take Jack Reacher with you.

Reacher is the hero in the popular book series by Lee Child and the film series starring Tom Cruise, and it seems there’s nothing he can’t escape. Sure, he might kill a few people and break a few necks along the way, but the odds are that he’s walking out alive.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13) hits theaters this weekend, bringing us the second installment in the movie series that follows a former major in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps who travels the country and constantly finds himself in the middle of trouble. But somehow, he always ends up on the right side of things.

He’s part James Bond, part Jason Bourne and part Ethan Hunt – and 100 percent testosterone.

In the newest movie, Reacher (Cruise) is framed for murder and his friend Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is wrongly accused of espionage, but both escape custody (thanks to Reacher) and begin trying to find the people who truly were responsible for the crimes.

It won’t be easy, though. They’re not only being chased by military police but also by the bad guys – the bad guys who actually did commit the crimes. And those bad guys not only want Reacher and Turner dead, but they’re also after a girl, 15-year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who is believed to be a daughter that Reacher never knew.

There are 20 books in the Jack Reacher series, so there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing this character for many years to come on the big screen.

But is Jack Reacher: Never Go Back family-friendly? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

REVIEW: ‘Birth of a Nation’ is full of Scripture, but is it family-friendly?

REVIEW: 'Birth of a Nation' is full of Scripture, but is it family-friendly?

R-rated films typically aren’t known for their spiritual themes, sermons and biblical references. There is the rare exception – The Passion of the Christ comes to mind – but in most cases R-rate movies carry content that most Christians simply would rather avoid.

This weekend, another exception – The Birth of a Nation (R) — hits theaters, telling the true story of Nat Turner, the slave/preacher who shared the good news of Scripture to his fellow slaves and anyone who would listen, and who felt led by God in 1831 to lead a violent revolt against plantation owners in Virginia that led to his death.

Not since The Passion has an R-rated movie contained so much Christian content in a positive light. In fact, it’s not hyperbole to say that The Birth of a Nation, which was directed by and stars Nate Parker, includes more faith-based and biblical content than 90 percent of faith-based films, not to mention many Sunday morning sermons I’ve heard during my life.

This does not mean, though, that The Birth of a Nation is a film for everyone. It is very violent, contains some language and also has a very brief nude scene (details below). Continue reading