6 and Older
"Pinocchio" (G). Weird, joyless live-action take on beloved fairy tale, with adults jumping around in children's and puppets' roles. Manic, unfunny Roberto Benigni, who also directed, as Pinocchio. Some kids may shudder seeing grown-ups in kid disguise; scary whale with shark-like teeth. Artistic kids may like old-fashioned picture-book studio sets. Awkwardly dubbed from Italian.
"The Wild Thornberrys Movie" (PG). Delightfully offbeat, funny, informative animated adventure based on Nickelodeon show about spunky 12-year-old Eliza Thornberry, who secretly talks with animals and whose family shoots nature documentaries in Africa; she escapes from school to rescue a cheetah cub. Under-6's may cringe at chase scenes, Eliza dangling from helicopter, animals wounded or threatened by poachers.
10 and Older
"Nicholas Nickleby" (PG). Marvelously acted, witty adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel traces adventures of naive 19-year-old Nicholas (bland Charlie Hunnam), trying to save family following father's death, despite evil-intentioned uncle (Christopher Plummer). Vivid depiction of school where boys are starved, beaten; death from illness; suicide; baby about to have umbilical cord cut; mild sexual innuendo.
"Catch Me if You Can." Leonardo DiCaprio shines in Steven Spielberg's sly, hugely entertaining 1960s saga of real-life con man who, as unhappy teen posed as airline pilot, doctor and lawyer, cashing bad checks and fleeing a dogged FBI man (Tom Hanks). Themes of adultery, divorce; mild sexual situations; profanity; sexual innuendo; graphic depiction of bloody broken leg.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers." Equally magical second installment of writer-director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, in which Hobbits Frodo and Sam continue quest to destroy the evil Ring while heroic warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) rallies troops. Intense medieval warfare, little gore; head on a stake, burned corpses, dead faces under water, walking, talking trees.
"Antwone Fisher." Wonderfully acted, heartwrenching tale of sailor Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), who untangles memories of childhood in abusive foster care with help of kind Navy psychiatrist (Denzel Washington, who directed). Real-life Fisher wrote screenplay. Implied off-camera sexual abuse of child; racial slurs; rare profanity; gun violence, fights; talk of sexuality. More for high-schoolers.
"Two Weeks Notice." Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock well matched in smart romantic comedy about the jokey, platonic (at first) rapport between a millionaire playboy and the ultra-ethical, workaholic public interest lawyer he hires to organize his philanthropy and improve his image. Sexual innuendo; toilet humor; drunkenness.
"About Schmidt." Jack Nicholson in stunning, ego-less performance as retired, repressed, widowed Omaha insurance man, unable to connect with anyone, driving RV to his daughter's wedding on journey of something less than self-discovery. Profanity; mild sexual situations; nudity; drunk scene. 16 and older.
"The Pianist." Director Roman Polanski's urgent, you-are-there depiction of life in the Warsaw Ghetto is an intensely specific Holocaust story based on the memoir of Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody, transcendent as the flawed, fascinating character). He escapes deportation to death camps, is hidden by Polish Resistance members, nearly starves but survives, chancing no heroics. Graphic scenes of Nazi brutality. 17 and older.