Family Filmgoer

Watching With Kids in Mind

Anakin Skywalker is back, with a teenage apprentice.
Anakin Skywalker is back, with a teenage apprentice. (Lucasfilm)
By Jane Horwitz
Friday, August 15, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars(PG, 98 minutes)

This computer-animated tale marks the seventh theatrical feature in George Lucas's "Star Wars" series, but it suffers by comparison to its live-action predecessors.

The animation has an impressive three-dimensionality and depth, yet it feels antiseptic, and the characters and story translate as pale imitations. The Family Filmgoer was bored at a recent showing but noticed that little kids were rapt.

The action takes place between "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" (PG, 2002) and "Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" (PG-13, 2005). Anakin Skywalker (voice of Matt Lanter) is still on the good side of the Force. His mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), hoping to engage the hotheaded Jedi's nurturing side, assigns him a feisty teenage apprentice, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Evil separatists Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) kidnap the son of Jabba (Kevin Michael Richardson) to frame the Jedi.

There are scenes showing creatures sipping something probably alcoholic and dancers doing mildly suggestive moves at that intergalactic cantina. Jabba the Hutt's uncle puffs on a hookah. Battle sequences show androids beheaded. There are aerial dogfights, tank attacks and light-saber duels. Some of the aliens are monsterish. A baby "Huttlet" nearly dies.

Also Playing

6 and Older

"Fly Me to the Moon" (G). Three young flies stow away on the Apollo 11 spacecraft and go to the moon and back in this marginally entertaining computer-animated 3-D feature. The eye-popping visuals put the moviegoer in the thick of things and outstrip the charmless story. Kids might not get the Cold War references to evil Russian spy flies. Nat (voice of Trevor Gagnon) gets his friends, I.Q. (Philip Daniel Bolden) and Scooter (David Gore), to sneak aboard with him. Nat's mom (Kelly Ripa) panics, but his grandpa (Christopher Lloyd) thinks it's great. The film's realistic rendering of the moon shot might enthrall science-savvy kids. If only "Fly Me to the Moon" had more humor and poignancy to complement the technical pizazz. The film contains mildly crude language, and we see an ashtray full of cigarette butts. There is a Russian-vs.-American fly-fight finale.

PG for Teens and PG-13

"Henry Poole Is Here" (PG). Luke Wilson plays the title character in this sweet-natured drama with a spiritual theme. Henry Poole moves into a modest house in Los Angeles and sets about trying to drink himself into oblivion. Except his neighbors intrude. The film is clumsily episodic, but the story still has power. Henry's neighbor (Adriana Barraza) thinks she sees the face of Jesus in a stain on the wall of his house. Her priest (George Lopez) and friends start coming by. Friendship offered by the little girl (Morgan Lily) next door and her divorced mom (Radha Mitchell) could be his salvation. There are hints of parental abandonment, sad childhoods and terminal illness. There is rare mild profanity and mild sexual innuendo.

"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2." The four brainy gal pals in this sequel have separate summer adventures after their first year at college. Teen girls might like the way the heroines pursue challenging careers, but more grown-up romance plays a part, too. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) has a pregnancy scare. Lena (Alexis Bledel) has a fling. Bridget (Blake Lively) learns more about her mother's long-ago suicide. Carmen (America Ferrera) has a lead role at a theater festival. The film includes a muted but strongly implied sexual situation, semi-frank talk about a torn condom and implied nonsexual nudity.

"Bottle Shock." A hippie eventually finds his calling, so it might engage a few high-schoolers. Cranky Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) owns the struggling Chateau Montelena winery in Napa. His slacker son (Chris Pine) is of little help. Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), who owns a Paris wine shop, plans a blind tasting among experts in France. He searches for California wines fit to compete. To his shock, he finds some. The film includes midrange profanity, brief pot smoking and a nongraphic sexual situation.

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor." Teens who like action-fantasy flicks might get a charge out of this "Mummy" sequel. But it is a tedious mess of explosions, chases, dreadful dialogue and overdone effects. Archaeologist Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello), learn their son Alex (Luke Ford) has found a statue of the ancient Chinese emperor Han (Jet Li). In a prologue (the best part), we learn how the emperor was cursed by a witch (Michelle Yeoh) and put in suspended animation with his army. They come to life and the chase is on. The film includes monsters, implied beheadings and impalings, mild sexual innuendo, profanity and drinking.

"Swing Vote." This breezy comedy triumphs despite a couple of weepy scenes that feel fake. Kevin Costner is Bud Johnson, a hard-drinking assembly-line worker who lives with his super-smart 12-year-old daughter, Molly (the excellent Madeline Carroll). When Bud's uncounted ballot is the one that could decide a presidential election, an army of media and politicians tries to win Bud's vote. The movie has profanity and mild ethnic slurs.

"The Dark Knight." The late Heath Ledger is a great Joker, a villain he plays as a kind of terrorist: maniacal, funny, pathetic in his lack of human feeling, and a potential cause of many kids' nightmares. Not a film for middle-schoolers or grade-schoolers, "The Dark Knight" depicts hostage situations with kids, shootouts and assassinations.

"Mamma Mia!""Mamma Mia!" should lift teen and adult audiences into a zone of kitschy good humor. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) invites three men to her wedding (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth), one of whom she thinks may be her father. Her mother, Donna (a bubbly Meryl Streep), is stunned when her ex-lovers appear. The rating reflects drinking, talk of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and youthful promiscuity, mild sexual innuendo and rare semi-crude language.


"Tropic Thunder." This rude, ingenious spoof of Hollywood, directed and co-written by star Ben Stiller, is funny but inappropriate for kids younger than 17 without a parental okay. The dialogue is profane and sexually crude. War scenes show grossly bloody fake wounds. The movie insults African Americans, Southeast Asians, Jews, gays and people with cognitive disabilities -- or at least how they're portrayed in films. A film company is shooting "Tropic Thunder." The stars are Tugg Speedman (Stiller), a fading action hero; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a comic with a drug habit; and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who is playing an African American. That steams cast member Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), a rap star. The director (Steve Coogan) decides his stars will film in the jungle. But they encounter a real-life heroin-cultivating thugs.

"Pineapple Express." The antiheroes of this adult action comedy are stoners (Seth Rogen and James Franco) on the run from a murderous drug kingpin. Many parents won't want older high-schoolers to see it. The movie does have a moral, which is that being a stoner is wasteful and stupid, but not everyone will notice. This film has graphic violence, profanity and explicit sexual slang.

"Step Brothers." More annoying than funny, this lewd farce stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as two 40-ish slackers who become feuding stepbrothers when one's mom (Mary Steenburgen) marries the other's dad (Richard Jenkins). There is profanity, crude sexual slang, explicit sexual situations, partial frontal male nudity, toilet humor and homophobic slurs.

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