The Family Filmgoer
Dan in Real Life (PG-13, 95 minutes)
"Dan in Real Life" is easy to fall for, even if closer inspection indicates a tad too much preciousness. It is geared to adults and high schoolers. Although there are middle schoolers in the film, themes of teen lust and parental grief as well as scenes of suggestive dancing and brief toplessness make it not ideal for them.
Dan Burns (a likably loony Steve Carell) is an advice columnist who seems to ignore his own best ideas. He has lived, as one of his three daughters says, "like a monk" since the death of his wife four years ago. His middle child, teenage Cara (Brittany Robertson), has a boyfriend and exchanges passionate text messages and e-mail full of romantic longing, freaking Dan out. Jane (Alison Pill), the level-headed eldest, is fed up that her dad still won't let her drive. Only little Lilly (Marlene Lawston) cuts him a break. When the extended Burns clan gathers at Dan's parents' (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) rambling cabin for a weekend, Dan falls for a woman he meets at a bookstore. Unfortunately, the lovely Marie (Juliette Binoche) turns out to be his brother Mitch's (Dane Cook) new girlfriend, also a guest at the cabin. Dan spends an awkward weekend trying not to hurt Mitch, lose Marie or embarrass his girls with his weak-kneed, love-struck behavior. It's contrived, and Marie seems more of an ideal than a person, but it's all quite charming under director/co-writer Peter Hedges's mostly light touch.
"Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour." Although a few tweens will glean a brief flutter of fun and fright from this stunningly amateurish ghost story, most will not be impressed. While visiting the grandmother (Jane Harris) of a deceased childhood pal, Sarah Landon (Rissa Walters) learns of a young man (Brian Comrie) living in fear of a psychic's prediction that the spirit of a dead man will kill him on his 21st birthday. Sarah joins him and his brother (Dan Comrie) in an effort to prevent it. There are a few ghostly images, gunfire and mild profanity. Best for kids 10 and older.
"Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993). Spiders pop startlingly out of the eye sockets of the evil singing goblin Oogie Boogie (voice of Ken Page) in this 3-D rerelease of the animated musical. It is stop-motion animation as high, witty art. Jack Skellington, the long, lean pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with his holiday. He sends his spooks to kidnap Santa so Jack can deliver Christmas to the world's children. But kids don't react well to shrunken heads or bats. Only Sally (Catherine O'Hara), the rag doll, can make Jack see his error. The rich humor helps kids handle the scary bits with ghosts, ghouls and bugs, made more vivid by the 3-D, but the tale is deliciously dark.
"The Game Plan." Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson grimaces and lumbers through this harmless but clumsy family comedy, as he tries to show emotional growth in his character. Kids 8 and older may be entertained, but adults will note the movie's utter artificiality. Johnson plays Joe, a star Boston quarterback whose selfish life goes haywire after an 8-year-old daughter (Madison Pettis) he never knew he had shows up. Scenes gently imply footballers partying, with no details; mild hints that Joe has a girlfriend who stays overnight; a child's life-threatening food allergy; themes touch on a child's fear of abandonment, grief over a lost parent.
"The Comebacks." This utterly brainless, poorly made spoof of high school and college sports sagas is more an extended sitcom episode than a movie. It is 90 minutes of breast and crotch jokes, crude sexual slang and tired ethnic stereotypes geared to anyone who giggles about smelly athletic cups, penis size and masturbation. David Koechner plays a moronic new coach at a Texas college who urges his players to flunk courses, drink and do drugs to prepare for the Toilet Bowl against a prison team. The quarterback (Matthew Lawrence) practices his grip on the coach's daughter's (Brooke Nevin) breasts and her football-design bra. The film includes profanity, homophobic humor, drinking and drug references. Its sexual crudeness makes it a poor choice for middle schoolers.
"Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?" A solid cast lends weight and elegance to this sudsy adult melodrama, based on a play by writer-director-actor Perry. It is just as preachy but less free and funny than his earlier films (all PG-13s). Four African American couples on a luxurious therapeutic retreat led by a psychologist (Janet Jackson) and her husband (Malik Yoba) unpack emotional baggage that wrecks the gathering. References to venereal disease, having one's tubes tied; marital bedroom cuddles; adultery theme; sexual innuendo; mild profanity; talk of the death of a child; drinking. Not for middle schoolers.
"Lars and the Real Girl." Terrific ensemble acting and a fresh, unsentimental script propel this uplifting parable about a tiny Midwestern town that unites to help someone through mental illness. Ryan Gosling plays Lars, a damaged, socially inept young man who sends away for a life-size sex doll, which he introduces to his brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer). The doctor (Patricia Clarkson) advises them and other townsfolk to go along with his delusion. We never see the doll naked, but a character notes it is anatomically correct. No sex scenes, but a pointed question about the doll's flexibility; mild profanity; talk of loss, grief. Too adult for middle schoolers; older teens able to leave cynicism in the lobby may enjoy it.
"30 Days of Night." Chalk-faced vampires with retractable razor teeth, their faces and claws caked with blood, chomp on the necks of victims in this smart, strikingly designed horror film, based on graphic novels by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. This is not for anyone younger than 16 or anyone else whose stomach churns at decapitations, ax-killings, skull-crushings, point-blank gun deaths, a vampire child killed off-camera and a man who kills his family to protect them. Josh Hartnett plays Eben, the sheriff in far-north Barrow, Alaska. Just as the frontier town battens down for a month-long stretch of no sunlight, a posse of vampires (led by a creepy Danny Huston; Ben Foster as their advance scout) appears. Eben, his estranged wife (Melissa George) and other townsfolk must struggle to survive. Strong profanity in addition to violence.