Family Filmgoer: 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG, 153 minutes)
The saga of boy wizard Harry Potter (now almost a man-wizard) remains as fascinating as ever in this film, based on the sixth book in J.K. Rowling's series. Handsome but dark -- literally sunless -- the movie has fewer action sequences, a lot of thoughtful dialogue and assumes near-total knowledge of the books, though of course director David Yates had to leave some things out or change them for the film. In a way, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," despite a major incident in its closing scenes, is a sort of place-holder for the two-part finale of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," scheduled for 2010 and 2011.
The PG rating, as opposed to the last two films ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"), which were PG-13, reflects the fact that the action sequences are less violent and bloody. Yet the film is still iffy for children younger than 10. It has scary images, as when the Death Eaters collapse London's famous footbridge full of people and when skeletal beings swarm out of an underground lake to attack Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon).
With Harry and his friends now in their later teens and experiencing romantic longing, there is more sexual innuendo. After the Death Eaters attack London, Dumbledore takes Harry to meet professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). Slughorn knows crucial secrets about the early Hogwarts years of Tom Riddle, who became the villainous Lord Voldemort. Harry also suspects Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is a secret Death Eater. Draco does have a secret, but that's not it. And Harry still wonders which side mysterious professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is on.
Amid all this, Harry develops a romantic yen for his friend Ron Weasley's (Rupert Grint) sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) -- which leads inevitably to THE KISS -- and Hermione (Emma Watson) loves Ron, who is too busy flirting with Lavender Brown (Jesse Cave). Teen angst and magic create a heady potion.
8 and Older
"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (PG). Twenty-first-century slang and ageless slapstick still work in the third "Ice Age" feature. Like its two predecessors, the latest installment is funny but not transcendent the way Pixar movies tend to be. It's in 3-D, so kids may jump when an angry T. rex chases the heroes or when a flesh-eating plant briefly swallows two of them. The old friends are here: Manny the mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), his pregnant mate, Ellie (Queen Latifah), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary). Sid finds three large eggs that hatch into toothy dinosaur babies, and he, a vegetarian, can't handle them. The dino-babies' real mom arrives, snatching them and Sid. His cohorts follow and discover a tropical glade full of dinosaurs. Scampering behind all this is Scrat, the nonverbal squirrel-rat, still chasing the perfect acorn. There's a creepy skeleton graveyard and occasional semi-crude humor.
"(500) Days of Summer." When a genuinely fresh romantic comedy appears, it is cause for celebration. "(500) Days of Summer" ought to charm discerning high-schoolers. The film was shot in old Los Angeles, which gives it a timeless look, and during one ingenious interlude, it portrays Tom's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) romantic angst in parodies of classic European art films. Tom wants to be a writer but scribbles at a greeting card company instead. His story unfolds in a mix of flashbacks, tracing the 500 days that elapse between his falling hard for the boss's new secretary, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), how she broke up with him and how he eventually got over it. The film includes profanity, crude sexual slang, several implied sexual situations and drinking due to depression. Not for middle-schoolers.
"I Love You, Beth Cooper." An awkward, charm-challenged mix of fresh ideas and teen movie cliches, this losing-one's-virginity-after-high-school comedy shows promise early on. Shy, nerdy valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) bares his soul during his graduation speech. He tells cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of TV's "Heroes") he loves her. Beth's boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts), beats him up. That night, Beth and her pals (Lauren London and Lauren Storm) take pity and hang out with Denis and his friend Rich (Jack Carpenter), drinking, flirting, driving recklessly and harassing Rich about his vague sexual orientation. Pushing this PG-13 into R territory is the bawdiness, profanity, a couple of implied nongraphic sexual trysts, teen drinking and semi-explicit jokes. Not for middle-schoolers.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." In this endless, agonizing sequel, director Michael Bay lets actors play second fiddle to prolonged special-effects battles between giant, quick-changing robotic warriors: good Autobots and evil Decepticons. The plot is incomprehensible except to Transformers superfans and perhaps other sci-fi/action-loving high-schoolers. In addition to bloodless but intense 'bot battles, the movie contains human warfare and enough crude sexual innuendo to make it iffy for middle-schoolers.
"My Sister's Keeper." What nearly saves this turgid weeper (based on Jodi Picoult's novel) is plain, deeply felt acting that cuts through the syrupy montages. High-schoolers and mature middle-schoolers may be moved by the story because key characters are young. There is a graphic portrayal of leukemia and its treatment. In flashbacks we learn that Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric), upon learning their toddler, Kate, is seriously ill, have their next baby, Anna, genetically engineered so her blood and organs will match Kate's. Now 15, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) needs Anna's (Abigail Breslin) kidney. The movie has comic sexual innuendo, profanity, beer drinking, prostitutes on a street and an adult having a seizure.
"Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg." High-schoolers interested in American culture and the early days of television may find some fascination in documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner's loving profile of TV's earliest sitcom star, Gertrude Berg. Berg's show, "The Goldbergs," about Jewish housewife Molly Goldberg living with her family in a New York apartment, premiered on TV (after a run on radio) in 1949 and was a hit. Berg also wrote and produced the show, which made her a triple-threat TV pioneer. Berg had to deal with the McCarthy-era blacklists and other hurdles. Fans such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg talk about Berg's influence.