GODS AND GENERALS (PG-13, 220 minutes)
Though they'll find a treasure trove of history in it, high schoolers may have trouble concentrating on this reverential, epic-length drama about the early days of the Civil War. Stilted scenes in parlors and headquarters are interspersed with harrowing battle reenactments. The PG-13 rating reflects that fighting. While not graphic in the "Saving Private Ryan" (R, 1998) sense, the film shows battlefield horrors and woundings by artillery, musket and bayonet. These may be too much for younger teens.
Based on a book by Jeff Shaara, "Gods and Generals" is the second in a planned trilogy (the first was "Gettysburg" [PG, 1993], based on "The Killer Angels" by Shaara's father Michael). Authentic-looking as can be, the film's events take place before Gettysburg, focusing largely and rather piously on the Confederacy. Though Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) of Maine, the hero of "Gettysburg," sometimes takes the screen, the movie really belongs to Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) and his boss, Gen. Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall). The dialogue sounds archaic, as if copied from the historic figures' journals. And under director-screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell's heavy-handed guidance, it's spoken as if those heroes were already cast in bronze. In this world, the slaves desire freedom and love yet respect their masters unquestioningly. High schoolers may wonder at that.
OLD SCHOOL (R, 91 minutes)
Ewwww, gross. A movie about 30-year-old guys who start a fraternity near a college campus so they can date coeds, hold boozy rush parties and have stupid hazings -- all because they don't like grown-up responsibilities. Actually, that's not a bad idea for a smart comedy, but "Old School" is not smart, it's a mess. A distant ancestor, "National Lampoon's Animal House" (R, 1978), seems like Shakespeare by comparison. Whole explanatory scenes seem to be missing here. The few laughs are but oases in a desert.
Even if a comedy about men acting like kids sounds ho-hum to high schoolers 16 and older (the film's too bawdy for younger teens), they may want to see Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell, all skilled comic actors. Wilson's character leaves his promiscuous girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) and rents a house. Vaughn and Farrell are his old married pals who concoct the frat idea. Yet even those dudes can't save this film. The R rating is earned by female toplessness, male near-nudity, graphic sexual language and visual innuendo, muted sexual situations, drinking and profanity.
DARK BLUE (R, 118 minutes)
High schoolers of 16 and 17 could be attracted to what seems like raw honesty in this bleak melodrama about police corruption on the mean streets of Los Angeles. They may forgive director Ron Shelton for laying on the hyperrealism in "Dark Blue" so thick. Older moviegoers may see the film as a near-parody of all the hard-boiled, sweaty, unshaven, boozy cop dramas ever made, from "Serpico" (R, 1973) onward. The rating covers bloody gun murders, a sexual situation, sexual language, topless dancers, strong profanity and racial slurs.
Set in Los Angeles in 1992, just before the riots that exploded when LAPD officers were acquitted (in their first trial) for beating Rodney King, the story recounts the undoing of a rogue homicide detective, played by Kurt Russell as a man one spark away from burnout. When his corrupt superior (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to frame two guys, he reaches a crisis point.