HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (PG,142 minutes)
Humor, whimsy and magic still rule in this excellent, fast-moving and quite beautiful new film based on the third Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling. But the adventures have darkened, with images of death and more intensely frightening creatures and situations. This new film is fine for kids 10 and older, but an iffier choice for younger ones. If under-10s have read the book or had it read to them, that will help a lot, but seeing the creepier stuff on a big screen could spook some. Some parents will have religious objections to the witchcraft and wizardry theme.
New director Alfonso Cuaron and his designers have woven the special effects more subtly into the film's texture and drawn fine performances from the young cast and the British stars who play professors and villains. (Michael Gambon makes a good new Dumbledore, if a less twinkly one than the late Richard Harris.) Daniel Radcliffe as Harry shows particular growth as an actor.
Though rated PG, "The Prisoner of Azkaban" ranges near PG-13 territory. There are specters of icy-fingered Death in the form of demons that steal souls, a dog and a werewolf battling and threatening Harry and friends, a giant spider, a giant snake, shrunken heads that talk, the implied beheading of a half-eagle/half-horse called Buckbeak (we see the blade rise; the rest is off-camera), which elsewhere in the film is shown eating dead ferrets and bats.
We find Harry spending another sad summer with his awful relatives. He uses magic illegally to make a nasty aunt (Pam Ferris) inflate and float away. He runs away, gets picked up by a crazy night bus and dropped at the Leaky Cauldron pub. With pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), he returns to Hogwarts. News of an escapee from Azkaban prison, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), could mean danger for Harry, since it is believed Black betrayed Harry's parents and caused their deaths.
SAVED! (PG-13, 92 minutes)
Hot issues like teen pregnancy, sexual preferences and prom night get a different spin in "Saved!" because it takes place in a Christian high school. Smarter and better acted than your average teen flick, "Saved!" still falls into cliches in its portrayal of born-again Christians and conjures up little profundity with its pat ending and message of tolerance. But it is different, and high schoolers may find it both humorous and intriguing. A little too adult for middle-schoolers, the movie contains a strongly implied sexual situation and rather romanticizes the idea of being an 18-year-old unwed mother. Other elements include profanity, sexual slang, homophobic talk, drunkenness, smoking and a jokey reference to bombing abortion clinics.
Jena Malone plays Mary, who sleeps with her boyfriend to "cure" him of being gay. Instead, his parents send him away (still gay), and Mary learns she's pregnant. She hides it for months from her single mom (Mary-Louise Parker) and her fake-pious best friend (Mandy Moore). Mary finds kinship with two nonbelievers, the school's rebel Jewish student (Eva Amurri) and a disabled kid (Macaulay Culkin).
SOUL PLANE (R, 86 minutes)
This lewd spoof of African American pop-culture stereotypes and sexual mores will offend many with its politically incorrect humor. Then again, inflating stereotypes until they explode can be a worthwhile comic cause -- and "Soul Plane" is occasionally hilarious. Patterned on "Airplane!" (PG, 1980) and its sequels, but far raunchier, the movie is not appropriate for high schoolers under 17. It contains crude and explicit sexual language and situations, a tasteless and troubling subplot about the proposed sexual initiation of an 18-year-old girl, many references to sex organs, strong profanity, racial slurs, drinking, smoking and drug use.
Kevin Hart plays Nashawn, a failed entrepreneur who wins a $100 million lawsuit against an airline after his tush gets caught in an airplane toilet. He and his pal (rap star Method Man) start their own airline with a purple Boeing 747, a stoned pilot (Snoop Dogg), passengers ready to party and a clueless white guy named Elvis Hunkee (Tom Arnold).