SWEET AND LOWDOWN (PG-13, 95 minutes)
Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown" is a terrific character study -- a portrait of the artist as a thirtyish creep, scraping by in the world of jazz during the Depression. The subject of a jazz artist in the 1930s isn't exactly designed to fascinate teen audiences, except those whose parents have instilled an interest in the music itself and in bygone eras. Mature elements in the film include profanity, sexual innuendo, unmarried co-habitation, very understated love scenes, discussion of prostitution, drug use, smoking and drinking.
Jazz guitarist Emmet Ray (Sean Penn in a delicate, perfect-pitch performance) is an egotistical, boozing, womanizing, gun-toting loser when he isn't playing music. When he riffs on "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" or "Just a Gigolo," he's angelic. Allen's anti-hero is a fictional character who idolizes a real-life jazz guitarist of that era, Django Reinhardt, several of whose recordings are on the soundtrack. Constructed like a documentary, a la Allen's 1983 "Zelig" (PG), "Sweet and Lowdown" depicts a gifted artist bereft of any real feeling, until he plays.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (R, 162 minutes)
Oliver Stone's mega-flick about the greedy world of professional football doesn't kick up much new dirt, is about as subtle as body-slam and lasts for an eternity. Still, sports fanatics of high-school age will go for its gritty, convulsive playing field realities and its tug-of-war between humaneness and pure capitalism. The movie isn't for kids under 15 or 16 because of its continuous stream of profanity, locker room (full frontal) nudity, on- and off-field mayhem featuring blood, sweat and vomit, racist and sexist slurs, drug use, liquor and cigarettes.
Al Pacino, in fine rumpled form, plays Tony d'Amato, veteran coach of the fictional Miami Sharks. Near the end of a tough season, he's faced with an aging quarterback (Dennis Quaid), a young star player (Jamie Foxx) with an attitude and a dictatorial owner (Cameron Diaz) who doubts that Tony can lead her franchise to glory. The drama plays out on the field, in bars and at wild parties, intercut with Tony's boozy visions of a misspent life. Stone touches superficially on issues such as the owners' treatment of African American players as gladiators, the athletes' fear of retirement and the crass commercialism of the game today. But the movie itself is sexist. If she were a male, the owner would be a forceful guy, but as she's female, she's described as one who would "eat her young." Other women in the film are drunks, trophy wives, or hookers.
MAN ON THE MOON (R, 118 minutes)
Jim Carrey does an uncanny turn as the late comic performance artist Andy Kaufman in this clinically accurate but emotionally arid portrait. Teens who've seen Kaufman on "Saturday Night Live" reruns may be curious to know more, and they'll see how some of today's comics drew inspiration from Kaufman, who died in 1984 at age 35. Many people who worked with him reprise their roles here, like the cast of "Taxi" minus Danny DeVito, who instead plays Kaufman's agent. A relatively mild R, "Man on the Moon" contains profanity, topless dancers, sexual innuendo and sexist humor.
Neither Carrey, nor filmmaker Milos Forman, nor the writers were able to reach the core of Kaufman the man -- when he wasn't "on," he was apparently at a loss, not an uncommon trait among compulsive showbiz types -- so "Man on the Moon" doesn't illuminate his inner life. Spookily genuine re-creations of Kaufman on "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night With David Letterman," playing Latka on "Taxi," taking his Carnegie Hall audience out for milk and cookies, imitating Elvis and wrestling with women, offer a look at the most off-the-wall comic of his generation, but no insight.
Okay for Most Kids
"Stuart Little" (PG). Droll, touching, slightly smart-alecky take on E.B. White kid lit classic about mouse who becomes youngest son of nice human family; lacks book's dignified tone, but still mighty entertaining. Tots may jump when cats chase Stuart; cats also swear once or twice.
"Toy Story 2" (G). Clever, touching sequel has cowboy doll Woody kidnapped by toy collector, as Buzz Lightyear and fellow toys go to rescue. Idea that kids outgrow toys, leaving toys lonely could upset littlest; some kids spooked by idea of toys coming to life. Six and older.
"The Cider House Rules." Tobey Maguire as innocent, orphanage-raised Homer Wells, off to see the world while Michael Caine as his mentor worries in gentle, luminous adaptation of John Irving novel. Strongly portrayed themes of abortion, incest; sick child dying; semi-explicit sexual situation; drug abuse; fighting; drinking; smoking; profanity.
"Anna and the King." Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens, Chow Yun-Fat as king of Siam who hires her in 1860's to teach royal children in absorbing, visually rich, nonmusical look at "The King and I" story with new anti-colonial tone. Violent for PG-13: off-camera executions with splattered blood; enemy soldiers kill villagers.
"All About My Mother." Glamorous, affectionate, happily subversive tale from Spain's Pedro Almodovar, about nurse who loses her son and in her grief forms familial bonds with actors, nuns, prostitutes, transgendered folk. Graphic sexual innuendo; sexuality issues; profanity; smoking; drinking. Subtitles. 16, 17 and older.
"The Green Mile." Tom Hanks as prison guard heads fine cast in mystical take on Stephen King fable about condemned African American man with healing powers in 1930's South. Nauseating electric chair deaths; gun, fist violence; profanity; racial slurs; sexual innuendo; toilet humor; non-sexual nudity. High-schoolers.