HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (PG, 161 minutes)

Every bit as fun as the first film ("Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," PG, 2001), with snazzier magical effects and darker mysteries, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" has some of the same flaws, too. It slows in the middle and becomes too much of a violent monster movie near the end. Though director Chris Columbus et al. couldn't include every incident or character from the book, they do author J.K. Rowling's imagination proud.

Most children 6 and older will delight in "The Chamber of Secrets," even the creepy bits. These include a giant talking spider and swarming smaller ones, a serpent monster, a petrified cat, ghosts, snakes, screaming mandrake roots, a harrowing trip in a flying car and a violent attack on it by the Whomping Willow while Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are still inside. Ron spits up slugs, the result of a wand error.

An elf named Dobby warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year, but with Ron's help the gifted young wizard escapes his Muggle (non-magic) aunt and uncle (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths), who confine and starve him. At Hogwarts he's happy to see pal Hermione (Emma Watson), groundskeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and professors Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith). Kenneth Branagh is a riot as foppish new instructor Gilderoy Lockhart. Nasty Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is back to harass Harry and friends. Draco and his evil father Lucius (Jason Isaacs) believe in a pure wizard race and scorn anyone with Muggle blood.

Harry is threatened by a disembodied voice, then bloody writing on a wall refers to a Chamber of Secrets. Harry, Ron and Hermione set out to find the Chamber and defeat the monster inside it.

HALF PAST DEAD (PG-13, 105 minutes)

Steven Seagal, beefy and poker-faced, teams amiably with lean, funny actor-rapper Ja Rule in "Half Past Dead." Teen fans of action films will probably judge this one a better-than-average roller-coaster ride. The improbable tale unfolds between shootouts, filmed in dizzying MTV-style. Writer-director Don Michael Paul draws little blood but raises plenty of havoc, even within the expanding PG-13 range. There are hostages held at gunpoint, scenes in a futuristic execution chamber, salty language and mild sexual innuendo.

Seagal plays an undercover FBI agent and Ja Rule a crook he's befriended who has no clue he's a Fed. After a confusing prologue they're caught and sent to a newly reopened high-tech Alcatraz. A government official gone bad (Morris Chestnut) breaks into the place with mercenaries and takes a visiting Supreme Court justice (Linda Thorson) hostage. He wants a con (Bruce Weitz) who's about to be executed to tell where he's hidden a lot of gold. Our hero must now arm and organize the inmates to stop the guy.

FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13, 107 minutes)

Only the most dedicated teen cinema buffs will be able to put this excellent, unusual film into context. Writer-director Todd Haynes intends "Far From Heaven" as an homage to lush 1950s Hollywood melodramas, but with modern resonances, exploring racial and sexual issues those films couldn't touch directly. Teens unfamiliar with the surging violins, gorgeous clothes and prim dialogue of the genre (Haynes has noted Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" [1955] as a major influence) will find the movie incredibly stilted. It contains non-explicit but unsettling sexual situations, a racist attack on a child, drunkenness and rare profanity.

Julianne Moore plays a socially prominent housewife whose home life falls when she realizes her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been having homosexual liaisons. Her chaste, intense friendship with their African American gardener (Dennis Haysbert) is a comfort until it embroils her in scandal.