Kids 6 and older
"Brother Bear" (G) Beautiful animated feature inspired by Native American lore has humor, spirituality, heart -- but also violent scenes. Kenai (voice of Joaquin Phoenix) is a tribal youth in post-Ice Age northern Rockies who is transformed into a bear and sent on quest for enlightenment. He meets cute stray cub (Jeremy Suarez) and doofus moose duo (Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas), hitches ride on woolly mammoths. Humans, bears face off with spear and claw -- deaths not graphic but undeniable; grief, revenge themes.
"Elf" (PG) Will Ferrell earns occasional big laughs in cheesy holiday fable about power of Christmas spirit, cobbled together with every sentimental cliche. He plays clumsy 35-year-old Buddy, an orphan raised by Santa's elves (Edward Asner as Santa, Bob Newhart as Papa Elf). He comes to New York to meet his cranky real father (James Caan), falls for a girl (Zooey Deschanel) who works at a department store, and creates havoc. Elfin toilet humor; mild sexual innuendo; fight between Buddy and a little person (Peter Dinklage) he mistakes for an elf.
"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" (PG) Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and scads of Warner Bros. cartoon stars join Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin in often hilarious mix of 'toons and live actors, combining action and spoof. Studio exec (Elfman) fires Daffy, then panics and gets security guard DJ (Fraser) to go after him; DJ and Daffy go to rescue DJ's movie-star dad (Timothy Dalton) who's kidnapped by evil head of Acme Corporation (Martin). Too long, complex, dialogue-heavy for preschoolers. Cartoon mayhem throughout, sometimes involving human characters; robotic guard dog might scare tots; Martin orders Daffy rendered "extra crispy."
Kids 8 and older
"Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" (PG) Mike Myers goes for crude gags as title character in droll, cleverly designed, but rather plastic adaptation. Two siblings -- a slob (Spencer Breslin) and a goody-two-shoes (Dakota Fanning) -- are visited by an anarchic magic cat who shows them the beauty of finding a happy medium; with Kelly Preston as Mom, Alec Baldwin as mean neighbor, Sean Hayes as Mom's boss (all of them new characters). Cat offers sexual innuendo and puns based on swear words, shows his briefly bare derriere, gets hit in crotch by kids, spits hair ball.
Kids 10 and older
"Radio" (PG) Cuba Gooding Jr. in fine form as mentally challenged title character, a lonely soul in small 1970s South Carolina town. He's befriended by high school football coach (Ed Harris, also pitch-perfect) and invited to help in athletic department, despite some townsfolk's objections. Straightforward, heartwarming film is based on a true story. Upsetting scenes when people mistreat Radio and when he grieves for a lost parent; rare mild profanity; mild sexual innuendo.
The middle ground(PG-13 unless otherwise noted)
"In America" Jim Sheridan's tragicomic account of an Irish immigrant family's arrival in modern Manhattan is heartfelt and wonderfully acted. They're trying for a new start following death of a son, but father (Paddy Considine), a struggling actor, can't overcome grief. Mother and daughters (Samantha Morton, Sarah and Emma Bolger) turn tenement flat into a wonderland; eccentric artist (Djimon Hounsou) befriends them. Themes of loss, grief; death of adult with AIDS; nongraphic sexual situation of husband and wife; rare profanity.
"Intolerable Cruelty" Loony George Clooney is an upscale Los Angeles divorce lawyer, and carnivorous Catherine Zeta-Jones is the gold-digging, oft-married beauty who fascinates him. Consistently funny, highly cynical, it's a mainstream romantic comedy shoved nicely off-center by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. Much sexual innuendo; occasional strong profanity; bursts of comic violence, including an accidental suicide; could upset kids who have gone through parents' divorce.
"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" Russell Crowe stars as Captain Jack Aubrey of the British navy, circa 1805. Peter Weir directed this thrilling, gorgeous, old-fashioned adventure based on Patrick O'Brian novels glorifying courage, gallantry. Paul Bettany plays Aubrey's pal and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, a naturalist who notes new species in Galapagos pre-Darwin. Harrowing sea battles; injuries not graphic but bloody -- implied amputation of boy's arm, removal of bullet, patching of skull; hand-to-hand combat; suicide; flogging; rare profanity.
"Pieces of April" Unsentimental but touching comic story of tattooed and pierced daughter (Katie Holmes) living in grungy Manhattan walk-up with nice boyfriend (Derek Luke) and trying to cook a conciliatory Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family. Meanwhile the family driving tentatively toward New York includes her terminally ill mom (Patricia Clarkson), with whom she's never gotten along; kindly dad (Oliver Platt); and prim sister (Alison Pill). Sexual situation; sick mother smokes joint for chemo nausea; profanity.
"Runaway Jury" Glib, entertaining, but less than profound tale of backstage jockeying during civil suit against gun manufacturers (based on John Grisham novel). John Cusack plays a juror with an agenda, Rachel Weisz his girlfriend; Gene Hackman is the gun makers' amoral jury-selection whiz; Dustin Hoffman the lawyer for sympathetic plaintiff. Loud, scary shooting in office, no deaths shown; vicious fight; attempted suicide; mild sexual situation; drinking; rare profanity.
"Scary Movie 3" Dumb, tasteless, lewd, sexist, and given to racial stereotyping -- but often quite hilarious. Third edition of this horror spoof stars Charlie Sheen, Simon Rex as farmers who find ominous crop circle; Anna Faris as dim TV anchor; Anthony Anderson as hip-hop DJ. Racial humor; running gag about small boy surviving repeated lethal injuries; wake where guests tear corpse limb from limb; bobble-head dolls of Mother Teresa; priest as implied child molester; also sexual innuendo; toilet humor; rare profanity.
"The School of Rock" Wild-eyed bad boy Jack Black in fresh, subversive comedy about rock 'n' roll-obsessed slacker who poses as substitute teacher. Then he covertly coaches fifth-graders at chic prep school so he can enter them in a band contest. Mild sexual innuendo; jokey references to drug abuse; adults drinking beer; crude language; salute to rock culture may put off some parents; main character lies, cheats until moralistic ending.
"Shattered Glass" Hayden Christensen plays discredited journalist Stephen Glass, who as young hotshot in the 1990s wrote high-profile stories for The New Republic that were near-total fabrications, whether because of compulsion to lie or fear of failure. Writer/director Billy Ray's low-key, well-acted, palpably atmospheric dramatization of how Glass was caught makes great parable about intellectual integrity. Occasional profanity; mild sexual innuendo.
"Timeline" Chaotic, weak-minded mess of a time-travel adventure (based on Michael Crichton novel) in which student archeologists (including Frances O'Conner, Gerard Butler, and Paul Walker) digging at French castle must go back six centuries through newly discovered "wormhole" in space-time continuum to retrieve their professor (Billy Connolly); they get caught up in a medieval war. Battle scenes with swords, arrows are intense but not bloody; mild profanity.
"Under the Tuscan Sun" Diane Lane shines as newly divorced writer who goes to Italy on friend's proffered ticket, impulsively buys dilapidated villa, hires comical workers, and meets gorgeous man. Highly enjoyable, if totally improbable, fictionalized adaptation of Frances Mayes's nonfiction books is geared to adult women but fine for romantic younger ones. Sexual innuendo; rare strong profanity. Compiled by Jane Horwitz, Washington Post Writers Group.
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