The Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Friday, July 21, 2006

Monster House (PG, 87 minutes)

Funny and scary in nearly equal measure, the spiffily animated "Monster House" will give kids 8 and older a terrific ride. The operative word, however, is scary, which means kids younger than 8 and some older -- one hopes their parents know who they are -- aren't quite ready for this movie. "Monster House" is a trick-or-treat inspired tale about three friends who realize just before Halloween that the dilapidated house across the street and its screaming owner are swallowing up people (especially kids) who make the mistake of stepping on the lawn. The house becomes a face, a hall runner its tongue, the windows its eyes, etc. It creaks and grumbles and roars, swallows people and stuff, then goes back to "normal." Like "The Polar Express" (G, 2004), "Monster House" was shot first with live actors, that footage then used in a computer-animation process -- this time to far livelier effect than in "Polar Express." Though it loses a bit of momentum in its second half, "Monster House" largely rocks.

The house's smoke-belching chimney, crypt-like cellar and, of course, its ability to snatch people -- even cops -- off the lawn are all scary. Yet the movie's most disturbing scene is far more human. The house's owner, Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), seems to have a stroke or heart attack while holding 12-year-old hero DJ (Mitchel Musso) in his grip and yelling at him. (The old man survives.) The witty script contains mild sexual innuendo, including references to puberty, gross toilet humor and references to beer. Plot giveaway: The climax involves an explosion and a kind of secular exorcism of the house.

DJ lives across the street from Nebbercracker and can't stop spying on the old house with his telescope. He is convinced it's haunted and predatory. He and his candy-loving pal Chowder (Sam Lerner) begin their adventure when DJ tries to sneak onto Nebbercracker's lawn to retrieve Chowder's basketball. Bad idea. From there, the boys join with a smart new girl, Jenny (Spencer Locke), to solve the house's mystery.



"Lady in the Water." Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense," "Signs") takes his penchant for slightly obscure, mystical themes to even murkier depths in this intriguing, beautifully acted, but dimly lit, dimly understood fable; Paul Giamatti as a lonely, sad apartment house manager finds a water nymph, or "narf" (Bryce Dallas Howard), in the building's pool; she passes on a message about mankind's redemptive hopes; he, in turn, enlists the eccentric tenants to help her return to her world and avoid the mythic hyena-like beast stalking her. Beast's attacks are not graphic -- we see scratches; mild profanity, sexual innuendo; verbal references to a man's grief over violent deaths of his wife and children; implied marijuana use, regular smoking, drinking. Teenagers.

"My Super Ex-Girlfriend." Refreshingly smart, unpretentious, silly comedy about ordinary guy (Luke Wilson) who dates a woman (Uma Thurman) who turns out to be a flying, spandex-clad superhero called G Girl; when he breaks up with her, she goes into a superhuman jealous rage; with Rainn Wilson as his sex-obsessed pal; Anna Faris as the nice girl from work. Sexual content approaches R levels, with comical sexual situations in which the superwoman sends the bed slamming into a wall, cracking plaster -- a tad steamy, but far from graphic; other, more understated sex scenes, sexual innuendo, sexually tinged language; midrange profanity; back-view nudity; bloodness mayhem -- a killer shark and a wayward missile, car crashes. Too lewd for middle schoolers.

"Little Man." Crass, off-putting farce about a criminal with dwarfism (Marlon Wayans's head and voice, digitally attached to another body) who gets out of prison, steals a huge diamond, then loses it in a woman's (Kerry Washington) handbag; dressed as an infant, he turns up on her and her husband's (Shawn Wayans) doorstep, is taken in as a foundling, then plots to retrieve the gem; the clueless couple actually believe the adult-looking little person is a baby, though the woman's father (John Witherspoon) is dubious. Lewd sexual innuendo; hints of sexual situations; penis jokes; profanity; toilet humor; men hit in the crotch repeatedly; crazy driving; fights; profanity; drinking. Too lewd for middle schoolers.

"You, Me and Dupree." Owen Wilson uses his good-guy-doofus persona amiably in otherwise pallid comedy as unemployed Peter Pan type who moves in with newly married pal (Matt Dillon) and his wife (Kate Hudson), turning their life upside down; Michael Douglas as father-in-law who adds pressure with creepy Oedipal jealousy, control of son-in-law's career. Midrange profanity, toilet humor, crude sexual slang; back-view nudity; other milder sexual innuendo; gently implied marital sexual situations; drinking, smoking; film grows increasingly lewd in second half: a seduction interrupted -- not graphic, but with near-nudity, hints of slathered butter; women dressed as dominatrixes looking for "bad boys"; a guy caught masturbating with very strongly implied details; references to porn, vasectomies. Not for middle schoolers.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Frequently diverting, funny-scary sequel (to "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl") is far too long, confoundingly plotted; Johnny Depp keeps bloated production afloat as pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow, a drunken charmer with golden luck, this time pursued by ghostly, squid-faced lord of the deep, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and an 18th-century corporate villain (Tom Hollander); Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley as lovers Will and Elizabeth from the first film also seek the slippery Sparrow. Nongraphic swordfights, a stabbing, a whipping (bloodied back shown); subtle remark about sexual passion; joke implying a man is a eunuch; cool-but-gross imagery of undead pirates in thrall to Davy Jones, their decaying bodies encrusted with sea creatures; Sparrow munches on a severed hand while a captive of cannibals; crows peck out prisoners' eyeballs (mostly sound effects); monster squid attacks ships, snatches men; man's false eye pops out; ghost pirate's conch-shell head falls off, sprouts crab legs; beating heart lives outside a body; rum guzzled. Iffy for preteens, grade schoolers.

"Superman Returns." Wonderfully entertaining, occasionally profound, gorgeously designed new spin on Superman yarn is reverent, yet fresh, exploring loneliness of heroes, even echoing New Testament in non-sectarian ways; Superman (Brandon Routh) returns after five years away searching for remnants of his destroyed home planet; his love, reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), is engaged to editor Perry White's (Frank Langella) nephew (James Marsden) and has a 5-year-old son (Tristan Lake Leabu); villain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is out of jail. Nongraphic, intense confrontation with beating, kicking, stabbing; people trapped in burning plane hurtling toward Earth; characters nearly drown; child endangered; vague talk of prison violence; Lex Luthor boasts he'll cause billions to die; mild sexual innuendo; rare profanity; unwed motherhood theme.

"The Devil Wears Prada." Delectable, gossipy comedy (based on Lauren Weisberger's novel) about idealistic journalism grad (Anne Hathaway) who lands a job as assistant to terrifying grande dame fashion editor (Meryl Streep in a triumphant turn) and gradually morphs from shlumpy nerd into fashion-plate workaholic who ignores her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier), family and pals; droll Stanley Tucci as fashion mensch who re-dresses her; acid-tongued Emily Blunt as harried top girl who trains her. Mild profanity, sexual innuendo; understated kissing scenes; models in lacy underwear; unmarried couple cohabiting; drinking; young woman describing her starvation diet; view of career women as crazed harridans is very retro, though comically intended.


"Clerks II." Writer-director Kevin Smith cleverly revisits New Jersey convenience/video store clerks Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) and graffiti-spraying, marijuana-dealing slackers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) -- 12 years after they surfaced in his low-budget 1994 hit "Clerks"; in their thirties now, they remain profane, sex-obsessed, iconoclastic, hilarious cases of arrested development; Dante and Randal work in a fast-food place; Jay and Silent Bob loiter outside, selling pot; Dante has marriage plans but also feelings for their boss (Rosario Dawson). Intense profanity; lewd, explicit sexual slang; sexual innuendo; nudity; racial, homophobic, sexist slurs; strongly implied (nearly NC-17) portrayal of an act of bestiality; unwed pregnancy; toilet humor; drinking; smoking. No one younger than 17.

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