MAGNOLIA (R, 195 minutes)
In this deftly structured dramatic comedy, nine seemingly unrelated characters face major life crises in the course of a day. Their connectedness is gradually revealed. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who created "Boogie Nights," the much-praised 1997 R-rated dramedy about porno filmmakers, again explores mature themes. "Magnolia" isn't appropriate for high-schoolers under 16, as it involves attempted suicide, gun violence, drug abuse, the implication that one character has molested his daughter, and psychological child abuse. Other mature elements include graphic verbal sexual innuendo, strong profanity, brief but explicit sexual situations, semi-nudity, smoking and drinking.
Fresh, contemporary and fast-moving despite its three-plus-hours, "Magnolia" portrays vivid characters as they deal with sin, forgiveness, regret and mortality. The big ensemble cast shines, including Jason Robards as a dying TV mogul, Tom Cruise as a sleazy sex guru who teaches men how to seduce women and "fake like you are nice and caring," Jeremy Blackman as an unhappy child prodigy, and John C. Reilly as a sweet cop. "Magnolia's" central theme -- that life is short, so wise up -- may not resonate with older high schoolers, but its mystical view of coincidence could intrigue them.
THE HURRICANE (R, 146 minutes)
Older teens will find much to admire and inspire in this sometimes disjointed but always absorbing fact-based story. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who served some 20 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction before the courts freed him. There are brief scenes of point-blank gun violence and bloodied corpses, the implication that a secondary character preys sexually on boys, racial slurs and profanity.
Based on Carter's autobiography, "The Sixteenth Round," and "Lazarus and the Hurricane" by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton, two of the group who helped win Carter's release, "The Hurricane" moves up and back in time from Carter's boxing career and arrest in the 1960s to his difficult childhood, to his time in prison and retreat into himself when all seemed lost. One of the film's most touching elements is his correspondence with an inner city boy named Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon) who reads Carter's book and writes to him in prison. Lesra and the Canadian activists who are his guardians and tutors invest years of effort in helping Carter win his freedom.
THE END OF THE AFFAIR (R, 102 minutes)
This oh-so-English saga, positively soggy with rainy evenings, cups of tea, whiskey-and-sodas and spots of brandy, could send TV-bred high-schoolers straight to sleep. Those who keep their eyes ajar, however, will witness a fine, subtly acted and directed fable about an adulterous liaison that leads its participants into spiritual turmoil and finally redemption -- a journey of the soul. R-ish elements include explicit sex scenes with some nudity, smoking, drinking and some frightening moments when bombs fall in World War II-era London.
Ralph Fiennes plays Maurice Bendrix, a writer patterned on Graham Greene, on whose autobiographical novel the film is based. Bendrix begins an affair with Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore) the wife of a nice but dull civil servant (Stephen Rea). After she ends their affair, he nurses a bitterness toward her until he sees her again years later and learns her true motives. "The End of the Affair" has an unsentimentally Christian moral center, but older teens of all religions could find it apropos ofclasses they'll take and books they'll read in the course of a liberal education -- and of their own lives.
Okay for Most Kids
"Fantasia/2000" (G, only at IMAX theaters in selected cities). Interesting blend of old and new animation techniques and classical music; only Mickey Mouse in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" retained from 1940 original. Some kids will yawn, others grin. Under-6's may be scared by certain images, sounds, a mean jack-in-the-box.
"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 few kids spooked by idea of toys coming to life. Six and older.
More for Kids 10 and Older
"Galaxy Quest (PG). Has-been stars of "Star Trek"-style 1970s TV show beamed up by real space aliens in brilliant, droll send-up of original "Star Trek" and its cult. Mild profanity; sexual innuendo; battles with space creatures like lizards, pigs, giant squid, rock monsters, may scare tots.
"Bicentennial Man" (PG). Robin Williams as post-Millennial robotic house servant with glitch that makes him long to be human in ruminative, sometimes drab adaptation of Isaac Asimov-Robert Silverberg book. Mild sexual innuendo; rare profanity; inevitability of death theme.
"Sweet and Lowdown." Sean Penn as fictional 1930s jazz guitarist who's a lyin', cheatin' bum when not making angelic music in Woody Allen's witty, wise pseudo-documentary. Rare profanity; sexual innuendo; unwed co-habitation; muted love scenes; prostitutes; drugs, smoking, drinking.
"Anna and the King." Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens, Chow Yun-Fat as king of Siam who hires her in 1860s to teach royal children in rich, nonmusical re-telling of "The King and I" story. Violent for PG-13: off-camera executions, splattered blood; murdered villagers.