Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (PG-13, 160 minutes)
The onset of puberty, inklings of romance, the reality of death and the looming challenges of adulthood all inform this lengthy but mightily enjoyable -- and often gripping -- adaptation of J.K. Rowling's fourth book in the "Harry Potter" series. These elements also explain the PG-13 rating in what has been a PG series. Yet "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is a pretty mild PG-13. In fact, the movie is probably safe fare for most preteens, though it does contain nightmarish fantasy images, sometimes bloody violence, death-defying feats and mild sexual innuendo.
Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) says he loves seeing girls walk away, in a reference to their posteriors, and Hermione (Emma Watson) refers to her date as more of a "physical being" than a talker. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) remains largely free of entanglements as our mythic hero, facing dire tests of his wizardry in the Triwizard Tournament against older champions from Hogwarts and other schools, and ultimately against evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) himself. (Fourteen-year-old Harry's name pops out of the Goblet of Fire, allowing him to compete, though he's underage.) Scary bits include a huge serpent, a creepy spider and a pogrom-like attack at the Quidditch World Cup by the Death Eaters. Harry battles a flying, fire-breathing dragon and underwater monsters before taking on Voldemort. The evil lord's servant, Wormtail (Timothy Spall), cuts off his own hand and gashes Harry's arm for blood. With his snake-like face and skeletal body, Voldemort is very creepy. Their battle unfolds with intense pyrotechnics, resulting in a collateral death and grieving at Hogwarts. An adult character drinks strong brew, there is a droll reference by an adult to single malt scotch and the script contains an instance of mild profanity.
The young stars have grown in size and as actors. In showing more nuanced emotions, such as Ron's jealousy of Harry, they're better matched with the great British film and stage actors in the adult roles. (The newest is Brendan Gleeson as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, with a rather hilarious magic eyeball strapped over his bad eye.)
Kindergartners and Up
"Chicken Little" (G). Disney computer-animated feature (in 3-D at some theaters) updates Chicken Little fable with much humor, but less visual or narrative greatness; still smarting from his "big mistake" in claiming the sky was falling, tiny Chicken Little (voice of Zach Braff) tries to make his dad (Garry Marshall) proud again; a sports triumph helps, but then he raises the sky-is-falling alarm again -- it's an alien invasion, but no one believes him. Plot giveaways: Space aliens chase Chicken Little and pals in spidery machines with legs that become propellers, pincers; images of animal organs in jars on spaceship; aliens zap critter-folk of Chicken Little's town with rays; but all are fine by the end, as is a lost three-eyed alien tot; themes about missing a deceased parent; mild toilet humor.
8 and Older
"Zathura" (PG). Pleasantly ramshackle sci-fi thriller (based on Chris Van Allsburg's book) succeeds with humor, good acting, low-tech effects, minimum glitz; bickering brothers -- Jonah Bobo as 6-year-old Danny, Josh Hutcherson as 10-year-old Walter -- still smarting from parents' divorce, play an old space-travel board game, Zathura, that becomes real -- their house goes floating through galaxy. Younger kids may jump at (plot giveaways) meteors crashing through roof, robot stomping after the boys, reptilian meat-eating aliens (Zorgons) stalking the boys, volcanic planet and black hole nearly swallowing them up; don't-try-this-at-home trick -- setting a couch on fire; rare mild profanity; crude remark about "time sphincter"; mild sexual innuendo about meaning of "hooking up" to a teenage girl.
10 and Older
"Pride & Prejudice" (PG). Pleasantly unfusty, non-literary adaptation -- still set in period -- of Jane Austen's 1813 classic of love obstructed by misunderstanding and class snobbery between plucky Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley, who could've added more depth to Lizzie) and somber, smoldering Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen); a few too many whirling, MTV-ish camera moves and actors posed and messily coiffed like models, but overall a romantic treat with nary a kiss till the end. Mild sexual innuendo. Kids -- mostly girls -- with romantic hearts.
PG-13s and One That Should Be
"Walk the Line." Great lead performances, foot-stompin' music raise this traditional biopic; Joaquin Phoenix stunning as young, troubled country music legend Johnny Cash, with Reese Witherspoon his equal as singer June Carter, with whom he shared a stifled passion for years while they were married to others; both do their own singing. Strongly implied premarital tryst between Cash and Carter, cuddling on a bed -- a lapse in restraint; sexual innuendo involving groupies; early scene shows child dying of wounds from unseen buzz saw accident; drug use; drinking, smoking; rare profanity; Cash's verbally abusive dad. High schoolers.
"Bee Season." Affecting if overly reticent film, about travails within a gifted family; Richard Gere, a tad miscast but solid, as professor of religious studies and Jewish mysticism who shifts his focus at home when his preteen daughter (Flora Cross) reveals an uncanny ability to win spelling bees; he teaches her Kabbalistic word games and meditation; his teenage son (Max Minghella) and wife (Juliette Binoche) feel neglected, distracted. Explicit though clothed marital sex scene for PG-13; mental illness; child shown in seizure-like state; profanity; smoking. High schoolers.
"The Legend of Zorro" (PG). Exuberant, lavish, cleverly plotted (though unconvincing on historical references) sequel to "The Mask of Zorro" is great fun but far too violent for a PG; set in 1850, it finds Zorro/Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) and Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) married, with a 10-year-old son (Adrian Alonso); they split up over Alejandro's refusal to give up fighting evil as Zorro. Deafening, sometimes point-blank (though bloodless) gunplay; swords, daggers, head-banging fights; explosions -- one engulfing a man; infant, older child in jeopardy; vicious threats; implied nudity; sexual innuendo; crude ethnic slur; drinking; smoking. Teens, some 'tweens.
"Derailed." Humorless, predictable vengeance thriller (based on James Siegel's novel) about executive (Clive Owen) with a dull marriage and a sick child, whose brief liaison with a sexy woman (Jennifer Aniston) turns sour when a thug (Vincent Cassel) invades their illicit hotel room, rapes her, then blackmails him; Wu-Tang Clan rap star RZA as acquaintance who tries to help. Rape scene strongly portrayed, with brief, graphic glimpses, intense sounds; bloody gun violence, beatings, stabbings; family threatened; strong profanity; smoking. 17 and older.
"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." Ultra tongue-in-cheek comic thriller sinks under too-intricate plot and overly arch tone; yet Robert Downey Jr. charms as petty thief who recounts how he evaded New York cops by running into a movie audition, got the job, went to Hollywood, got caught up in a suicide/murder/mistaken identity mess with a private eye (Val Kilmer) and a dame (Michelle Monaghan). Very strong profanity, sexual slang; explicit sexuality; strong sexual innuendo; homophobic humor; shootings, fisticuffs; toplessness; naked dead body; suicide theme; drinking, smoking. 17 and older.
"Get Rich or Die Tryin'." Handsomely made but violent, profane, ultimately cliched street saga about a boy who grows up selling drugs, terrorizing enemies, but eventually realizes dream of making music; based on life of hip-hop star Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who plays fictionalized antihero. Fine supporting cast (chiefly Terrence Howard, Joy Bryant, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) help the inexpressive Jackson. Bloody gun battles, knifings, beatings, torture, asphyxiation; child held hostage at gunpoint; steaming profanity; explicit sexual language; racial slurs; verbal recollection of rape-murder -- flashback to dead victim set ablaze; male, female nudity; explicit sexual situation; drug use, sales. 17 and older.
"Jarhead." Riveting tale set during first Gulf War about Marines keeping combative spirit alive while awaiting orders in Saudi desert; film plumbs disconnect between ultra-macho, profane, sexualized behavior, language and men's peacetime selves; Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford; Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper as a pal, a sergeant and a lieutenant colonel. Hellish images of charred Iraqi corpses on so-called Highway of Death; Marine killed during training exercise; highly graphic sexual language; graphically implied masturbation; flashbacks, videos of explicit sexual situations with nudity; men in showers with discreetly placed shadows; argument involving a gun; ethnic slurs; gross toilet humor; smoking, drinking. 17 and older.