The Family Filmgoer
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (PG-13, 168 minutes)
The third time is not a charm in this case, me hearties. Clocking in at nearly three hours of overextended, special effects-laden semi-chaos, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is for the most part a crashing bore. That noted, it will no doubt draw teen audiences. Despite the confusing plot and stretches of tedium, this third and longest chapter (after "The Curse of the Black Pearl" and "Dead Man's Chest") has its stellar moments. When its actors get to do their pirate or villain thing front and center, it comes alive, if briefly.
The violence in "At World's End," though comically stylized, pushes the edge of the PG-13 rating, making the movie an iffy choice for middle schoolers (and 'tweens) of gentler sensibilities. Opening scenes show grim mass hangings of pirates and other scruffy ne'er-do-wells -- including a boy; we see nooses put around their necks, then their feet falling through trap doors, followed by the sight of bodies piled and carted off. Characters are run through with swords and shot point-blank in the forehead. In the icy Antarctic, when pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), along with callow lovers Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) -- or maybe they aren't in that scene; who can remember? -- seeks to rescue pirate legend Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones's (Bill Nighy, with a squid face) locker, one crewman breaks off a frostbitten big toe. There is Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook), the sailor who keeps losing his glass eye, which Barbossa licks and pops back in for him. And there are all those creepy fish-headed people -- former pirates caught in Davy Jones's purgatory. There are sea battles with bodies falling into the brine amid cannon fire and harrowing images of ships plummeting over waterfalls or whirling in a maelstrom. Sparrow, while stranded between life and death in Davy Jones's locker, hallucinates. The PG-13 also reflects mild sexual innuendo, occasional mild profanity and the drinking of rum.
Rush's growling, sunbaked Barbossa (everyone has blotchy skin, bloodshot eyes and rotten teeth) is more fun this time than Depp's Sparrow, who has become a caricature of a caricature. The plot is hopeless, but know that Sparrow must be retrieved from the dead so pirate leaders can hold a G-8-style summit and decide how to stop the British East India Trading Company from wiping them out.
6 and Older
"Shrek the Third" (PG). Deliriously droll sequel to computer-animated hits "Shrek" and "Shrek 2" keeps the medieval fairy-tale romp and thinly disguised spoofing of Hollywood afloat -- irreverent, inventive, with gentle messages about being responsible, making peace; chosen by his dying father-in-law, King Harold the frog (voice of John Cleese), to rule Far Far Away, Shrek (Mike Myers) cringes at prospects of being a king and a new dad; he, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) go off to find a teen (Justin Timberlake) who's next in line for the throne; evil Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) and his minions invade on broomsticks (briefly scary image) to take the throne, holding Shrek's ogre wife, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Snow White (Amy Poehler), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) hostage; Charming's buffoonery makes him non-scary. Gross humor; verbal hint that someone's tunic doesn't cover essentials; alcohol reference; hint that two teens get high on incense; mild sexual innuendo; threat to kill Shrek; fights; a stabbing quickly shown to be harmless; trees smack people; Cyclops; ugly stepsister (Larry King) seems transgendered.
"Away From Her." Julie Christie is luminous as Fiona, a woman gradually diminished by Alzheimer's; film examines the pain and sadness she and her husband (Gordon Pinsent) feel when moving her into a care facility; Canadian actress Sarah Polley wrote and directed in a spare, arresting style; Michael Murphy as a patient Fiona befriends; Olympia Dukakis as patient's matter-of-fact wife. Rare strong profanity; gently implied sexual situations; mild sexual innuendo; adultery theme; smoking; drinking. Not for middle schoolers.
"Waitress." Winning romantic comedy hovers near too-cute but rarely crosses line; Keri Russell glows as Jenna, a "genius" pie baker at a diner, her life a misery because of her jealous, sometimes violent husband (Jeremy Sisto); news she's pregnant makes her feel doubly trapped, her woes vented in plaintive letters to her unborn child and in naming pies -- i.e. the I Hate My Husband pie; she and her gynecologist (Nathan Fillion) share a passionate attraction that confuses her. One graphic sexual situation and other steamy, nonexplicit sexual ones; spousal abuse theme; adultery theme. Not for middle schoolers.
"Delta Farce." Low-rent comedy fueled by mild but insidious ethnic and homophobic stereotypes and slurs; redneck comics Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall, with spindly character actor DJ Qualls, star as three doofuses who use their weekends in the National Guard to goof off; a tough sergeant (Keith David) trains them for a tour in Iraq, but a transport plane accidentally dumps them in Mexico, which they mistake for Iraq; they become local heroes, helping villagers expel criminals. Weapons fire; fighting; profanity; crude language; sexual innuendo; toilet humor; drinking. Not for middle schoolers.
"Spider-Man 3." Overlong third film turns eloquent soul-searching of "Spider-Man 2" into pseudo-spiritual piffle; Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is so caught up in his Spiderman persona's fame, he fails to notice Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has career problems; headed for a fall, he must face enemies: his estranged pal Harry (James Franco) as the New Goblin; the shape-shifting Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) who, in human form, is the escaped convict who killed Peter's Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson); the lizard-toothed Venom (Topher Grace); and the slithery alien whatsits that infect Peter and turn him bad. Non-gory violence includes high-flying, blade-hurling battles; one character impaled, another shot; sad flashbacks of Uncle Ben's murder; Sandman turns into a cloud billowing down a street, an echo of 9/11; mild sexual innuendo; drinking; smoking. Too somber for some younger teens.
"Bug." Claustrophobic drama about two lovers' descent into insanity make you want to run screaming into the lobby; based on Tracy Letts's lauded off-Broadway play, the film feels thuddingly literal; brave acting can't save it. Ashley Judd stars as a waitress who smokes, drinks, gets high, lives in fear that her ex (Harry Connick Jr.) will get out of jail and find her; he does, briefly. A new guy (Michael Shannon) seems nice but turns out to be crazy; she lets him stay anyway and follows him into the abyss -- a delusion that their bodies are infested by bugs. Gory knife murder; bloody self-mutilations, including a tooth extraction; double suicide; woman getting punched; male and female nudity; explicit sexual situation; drug abuse; drinking; smoking; strong profanity; homophobic slurs; verbal recollection about a child's disappearance. 17 and older.
"28 Weeks Later." Bloody but highly evocative horror flick (sequel to "28 Days Later") creates stinging metaphors for war and genocide. In the aftermath of a pandemic that transformed people into raging, flesh-eating predators, a U.S.-led force has occupied Britain, creating a "Green Zone" for uninfected survivors; a man (Robert Carlyle) abandons his wife (Catherine McCormack) when they're attacked by infected zombie hordes, then lies about it to his kids (Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton); a new outbreak sparks military slaughter of innocents, but a medical officer (Rose Byrne) and an AWOL sniper (Jeremy Renner) help the two kids. Bloody mayhem; firebombing; chemical weapons deaths; strong profanity, sexual language; implied nudity. 17 and older.
"Georgia Rule." Lindsay Lohan in uneven movie about Rachel (Lohan), a snarky, sex-obsessed older teen spending a pre-college summer with her grandmother Georgia (Jane Fonda), whose rules she ignores; when Rachel needs our sympathy, it's tough to give because she's so obnoxious; scenes between Georgia and Rachel's alcoholic mom (Felicity Huffman) crackle. A mild R, but with extensive discussion of childhood sexual molestation as a key theme; alcoholism; references to teen drug use, promiscuity, lying; beginnings of implied sexual situations; strong profanity; crude sexual language; some may object to a comically pious portrayal of Mormons. Older high schoolers.