The Greatest Game Ever Played (PG, 115 minutes)
This fact-based tale about a young man who overcomes class barriers to become a golf champion in early 20th-century America suffers from an over-earnest tone and an excess of dignity. Even so, the historic setting, the underdog's tale and cool telescopic special effects on the links will appeal to non-fidgety kids 10 and up. "The Greatest Game Ever Played" shows haunting childhood memories, a bar fight, adults smoking and drinking, and includes a mild curse word. Shia LaBeouf stars as Francis Ouimet, the son of immigrants, who becomes a great golfer in secret while caddying for rich folks. He qualifies for the 1913 U.S. Open and lands in a dead heat with the greatest player of the age, Britisher Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). Director Bill Paxton has fun showing snobs nearly holding their noses as Ouimet plays. Josh Flitter adds fun as Francis's grade-school-age caddy, dwarfed by the golf bag.
Serenity (PG-13, 119 minutes)
Eureka! A cool new sci-fi flick with an original premise, a distinctive look, actual acting and even a quaint dialect reminiscent of classic Westerns ("No more runnin'. I aim to misbehave.") Based on the canceled 2002 TV series, "Firefly," this film will satisfy old fans and win new ones, especially teen sci-fi action buffs. Writer/director Joss Whedon dumbs nothing down, letting novices scope out the world of "Serenity" with minimal exposition. It takes place about 500 years in the future, when humankind has left Earth and settled other planets. Our heroes, led by Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) are among those who have tried to rebel against the ruling Alliance and lost. They now troll space in the rattletrap ship Serenity, committing robberies to survive, loyal only to one another. Yet the presence of River (Summer Glau), a telepathic girl whose brain contains Alliance secrets, means the ruthless Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is hot on their trail. "Serenity" contains considerable violence, making it inappropriate for preteens and even a bit intense for some middle-schoolers. There are impalings, shootings, bone-cracking fights, and scary, though not graphic, attacks by mutant cannibals called Reavers. We glimpse their disfigured faces and see some of their ravaged victims. There are bumpy spaceship dogfights and the script includes understatedly witty sexual innuendo and occasional profanity.
10 and Older
"Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" (PG). Visually inspired, droll, surprisingly sweet animated film (using stop-motion techniques) set in 19th century European milieu, about shy young Victor (voice of Johnny Depp), who is snatched into the world of the dead by the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) -- a girl who was murdered on her wedding day -- after she hears him rehearsing his wedding vows; he struggles to return to his fiancee, Victoria (Emily Watson). Dead folks in various stages of decomposition -- skeletal bones, occasional innards exposed; a chatty maggot in the Corpse Bride's eye socket; most kids will relax after the initial shock; "living" characters scarier than dead ones -- overbearing meanies with huge jutting jaws; mild sexual innuendo; a natural death, a death by poison; murder mystery subplot. Too dark, ironic for most under-10s.
"Into the Blue." Cheesy adventure flick features tanned, toned cast (Paul Walker, Jessica Alba, Scott Caan, Ashley Scott) in cynically concocted story about scuba-diving treasure hunters in the Bahamas who find a downed plane full of cocaine and get in over their heads with ruthless drug lords while trying to unearth a legendary shipwreck. Too violent for younger teens; guns and harpoon killings; bloody shark attacks; implied hacking off of a dead man's hand; profanity; sexual innuendo; suggestive dancing, briefly glimpsed toplessness; implied drug use; drinking. High-schoolers.
"Oliver Twist." Roman Polanski's grim, darkly witty rendering of Dickens's classic looks like "Masterpiece Theatre," but feels grittier; tale of orphaned Oliver (Barney Clark) buffeted by a cruel society in 1830's England, taken in by a gang of London pickpockets run by aging, gin-soaked Fagin (wonderful Ben Kingsley), threatened by vicious Bill Sikes (Jamie Foreman); a hard journey to a happy ending. Murder committed just off-camera, with blows heard, blood shown; shootings; an accidental hanging; bullying; some boys drink. Literary-minded teens.
"Everything Is Illuminated." Funny, off-center, heartrending tale (based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel) about a nerdy writer (sad-eyed Elijah Wood doubling as Foer) on a journey to Ukraine to find his grandfather's village; with a punky, gold-chain-wearing Ukrainian kid Alex (Eugene Hutz) and his grumpy grandfather (Boris Leskin) as guides; secrets are revealed, hearts enlightened. Flashbacks to Nazi firing squad shooting Jewish men; bloodied bodies in pit; graphic verbal description of atrocities; comic sexual innuendo; profanity; dog kicked, just off-camera; strongly implied suicide -- tubful of bloody water. Thoughtful high-schoolers.
"Flightplan." Jodie Foster as newly widowed mother who fights to prove that her little daughter (Marlene Lawston) has disappeared aboard their trans-Atlantic flight in drama that starts intriguingly as a psychological, even mystical tale, but takes an all-too-conventional turn that drains it of fun at a key plot 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.
"Roll Bounce." High-spirited, sweet-natured, funny teen tale about roller disco craze in the comparatively innocent 1970s; rapper Bow Wow (doing nice, unmannered work) stars as a kid trying to deal with the death of his mom, issues with his dad (Chi McBride) and still keep up with his skating as he and pals practice for a big contest. They trash-talk hilariously, but mildly by today's standards; sexual innuendo -- a boy patting a girl's behind, guys ogling girls' tight outfits; jokey references to prostitution, someone's mother having her "tubes tied," a kid's jockey shorts offering a glimpse of his privates; rare profanity; cutting remarks by African American kids at a fancy rink about visiting "ghetto" kids; body slams at skating rink. Teens, some preteens.
"Proof." Smart rendering of David Auburn's hit play feels a bit dialogue-heavy and stagey, but could fascinate high-schoolers who like deep character studies; Gwyneth Paltrow shines in raw, vulnerable turn as daughter of a newly deceased math whiz (Anthony Hopkins) -- angry, depressed, scared, and wondering if she's inherited her dad's genius, his mental illness or both; Jake Gyllenhaal as a worshipful grad student; Hope Davis as her interfering sister. Implied overnight sexual tryst; profanity; drug references; drinking, smoking.
"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 in her own San Francisco flat, now rented by a sad, beer-guzzling guy (Mark Ruffalo); film starts cute but grows simple-minded, especially in a treacly, try-to-please-everyone discussion about whether to stop life-support for patients with fading brain activity. Nongraphic medical procedures; car crash only strongly implied; bare-bottomed man in hospital gown; sexy neighbor's implied nudity; verbal sexual innuendo; a crude gesture, but no profanity; drinking. Teens.
"Lord of War." Nicolas Cage stars as a sometimes conflicted, mostly amoral international arms smuggler who supplies Third World despots; a Ukrainian immigrant in America, he narrates his own story; well-researched parable tries to convey a hip, cynical, condemnatory view of geopolitics, but is often disjointed. Bloody point blank gun violence; children bearing arms; villagers killed with machetes (shown from a distance); explicit sexual situations with nudity; profanity; cocaine use; smoking, drinking. Could fascinate news junkies 17 and older.