Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (PG, 75 minutes)
Once again, filmmaker Tim Burton's witty, wicked, winsome vision (his "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," PG, is still in theaters) offers kids and adults some of the most imaginative entertainment in cinemas. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," a stop-motion animated film (a labor-intensive, handmade process using foot-high figures) set among characters both living and dead, is a tad too darkly ironic for kids younger than 10. Those 10 and older, however, ought to find the oddball romance a treat -- a sweet saga beneath its deathly pallor. Burton and his team show dead characters in various stages of droll decomposition, with bones and innards exposed. The Corpse Bride herself, though lovely, has a hole in her cheek revealing skull bone, plus a friendly maggot living in one eye socket. After initial shock, most kids will get used to the atmospherics and relax. They'll probably find the "live" characters (also animated figures) scarier, as they are overbearing Victorian meanies with huge, jutting jaws. "Corpse Bride" contains mild sexual innuendo and shows the deaths of two characters, one of natural causes, the other by poison. There is also a murder mystery subplot.
Based on a Russian folk tale, the film recounts how Victor (voice of Johnny Depp), the shy son of crass but wealthy fishmongers, is forced into an engagement with sweet Victoria (Emily Watson), the daughter of cash-poor aristocrats. They fall in love, but after he messes up at the wedding rehearsal, he enters the woods to practice his vows. He hears an "I do!" as the bony arm of the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) grabs at him. She takes him into her underworld -- a far more lively place than his world. The Corpse Bride was killed on her wedding day and thinks Victor is her dream guy. He must get back to Victoria without hurting the Corpse Bride's feelings.
Roll Bounce (PG-13, 108 minutes)
Good-natured, high-spirited and set in an era -- the late 1970s -- that looks like an age of innocence compared with the present, "Roll Bounce" could delight uncynical teenagers and some preteens. This is the story of a Chicago kid named Xavier (rap star Bow Wow in a sweet, unmannered performance) and how he handles the recent death of his mother, his rocky relationship with his airplane designer dad (Chi McBride), a budding teen romance and his ambitions to be a great disco roller skater. (Yes, roller skates, with four wheels.) Xavier (X for short) and his pals talk a lot of hilarious trash, mild by 2005 standards. The film does contain sexual innuendo, such as boys patting a girl's behind (sexist sexual innuendo?) and guys oogling girls in tight outfits. There is a verbal joke about prostitution, a reference to someone's mother having her "tubes tied" and a crude verbal gag about a boy's jockey shorts offering a glimpse of his privates. The script contains milder crudities, occasional profanity and remarks by African American kids at the fancy North Side rink about South Side "ghetto" kids. The romances are quite chaste. The only mayhem involves water balloons and body slams in the rink. The likable young cast members are clearly replaced by stunt skaters in wide shots and the skating is not well shot, but "Roll Bounce" has so much other fun stuff, that proves surprisingly unimportant.
"Flightplan." Jodie Foster is intense as newly widowed mother who believes her young daughter (Marlene Lawston) has disappeared during their transatlantic flight; the captain (Sean Bean), air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) and flight attendants think she's delusional, but she fights to prove her sanity and her daughter's existence; what starts as a psychological, even mystical drama takes an all-too-conventional turn. Hinges on idea of child in jeopardy; view of dead husband in casket; plane shudders creepily in turbulence; some fighting; rare profanity; scene with Arab passengers raises ethnic profiling issue. Not for preteens.
"Proof." Smart, intense rendering of David Auburn's hit play still feels dialogue-heavy and stagy, but could fascinate high schoolers who like deep character studies; Gwyneth Paltrow in raw, unglamorous, vulnerable turn as daughter of a newly deceased math whiz (Anthony Hopkins); angry, depressed, scared and having flashbacks of her dad, she wonders if she's inherited his genius, his mental illness or both; fine work by Jake Gyllenhaal as worshipful grad student; Hope Davis as her interfering sister. Implied overnight tryst; profanity; drug references; drinking, smoking.
"The Thing About My Folks." Peter Falk, Paul Reiser as father and son in thoroughly enjoyable, funny, sentimental tale (written by Reiser) about a middle-aged family man whose blunt-spoken seventyish dad (Falk) announces that his wife (Olympia Dukakis) of many years has left him; accusations, confession, catharsis and father-son bonding in a story more aimed at adults who know regret. Some profanity; sexual innuendo; issues of loss; drinking; smoking.
"Cry Wolf." Heartless, predictable teen thriller about prep school kids who raise stakes on their mean-spirited "lying game" by mixing facts from a recent murder with an invented serial killer profile they e-mail around campus. Nongraphic gun violence; hand of corpse with fingers missing; masked pursuer with hunting knife chases teenagers; talk of gory murders; muted kissing scenes; other sexual innuendo; joke about "sex offenders registry"; implied teacher-student affair; homophobic slurs; profanity; toilet humor; implied teen drinking. Too scary for preteens.
"Just Like Heaven." Modestly entertaining romance wastes a fine cast in tale of workaholic doctor (Reese Witherspoon) who has a car crash, then turns up as a spirit, haunting her own San Francisco apartment, now rented by a sad, beer-guzzling guy (Mark Ruffalo); after initial freak-out, he helps her trace her identity and an impossible attachment grows; film gets increasingly simple-minded, especially in cliched discussion about whether to stop life-support for long-term coma patients. Nongraphic medical procedures; car crash strongly implied; bare-bottomed elderly man in hospital; sexy neighbor's implied nudity; verbal sexual innuendo; crude gesture; no profanity; drinking. Teenagers.
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose." Relatively muted drama, purportedly based on real incidents, about alleged demonic possession of college student (Jennifer Carpenter); Tom Wilkinson as priest who tries to exorcise her demon, Laura Linney as lawyer who defends him, as tale unfolds in flashback; muted compared with "The Exorcist," but grim, lugubrious, almost comically laden with rain, shaky camera moves, eerie lighting. Hallucinatory images of faces morphing into demons, violent seizures, a fall through a glass window; disturbing scenes showing Emily apparently invaded by invisible demons, eating cockroaches; man hit by car; mild profanity; drinking, smoking. Not for nightmare-prone teens.
"Lord of War." Nicolas Cage stars as a sometimes conflicted but amoral international dealer in illegal weapons who narrates his own story, in well-researched saga also critical of U.S. role as legal arms seller; he recounts how, as a Ukrainian immigrant in the United States, he began buying weapons from dismantled Soviet Union and selling to Third World despots; Ethan Hawke as Interpol cop on his case. Bloody gun violence; children bearing arms in Africa; villagers killed with machetes (shown from a distance); explicit sexual situations with nudity; profanity; cocaine use; smoking, drinking. 17 and older.