The Astronaut Farmer (PG, 105 minutes) This family film about a former astronaut determined to get into space on his own was made by the sibling team of Michael and Mark Polish (they wrote and Michael directed), normally creators of avant-garde films ("Twin Falls Idaho"). This creative departure seems to have left the gate without a flight plan. The film feels oddly inert, underwritten, narratively disjointed and emotionally flat. Despite the film's flaws, some kids 10 and older may be able to ignore its droopier scenes and be intrigued by the premise and caught up in the ex-astronaut's dream. The movie contains occasional profanity and crude language, mild sexual innuendo, a scary accident with injuries, subtle themes about depression and suicide, a grandparent who dies while sleeping, a marital argument and beer drinking.
Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) walked away from the space program as a young astronaut before he ever got to leave Earth. He did so because his dad died, but to NASA, it meant he didn't have the right stuff. Now a Texas rancher, Farmer has courted bankruptcy and foreclosure to build a space-worthy rocket in his barn, complete with a capsule for orbiting the planet. His son (Max Thieriot) is prepared to run "mission control" from an RV on their land. Farmer's wife (Virginia Madsen) supports his dream but never quite believes he'll risk it. When he buys thousands of gallons of high-grade fuel, the FBI takes notice and sends agents and an old astronaut buddy of Farmer's (Bruce Willis) to threaten him and/or talk him out of it.
8 and Older "Bridge to Terabithia"(PG). Touching story about a deep friendship between fifth-graders Jesse (Josh Hutcherson), a budding artist from a poor rural family that largely ignores him, and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a free-spirited daughter of wealthy writers who move nearby. Leslie and Jesse create their own fantasy world, Terabithia, in the woods; they free their imaginations and face down bullies in real and fantasy worlds. The film's gritty naturalism is marred by over-technical, computer-animated attempts to visualize Terabithia. Kids younger than 8 may be scared by swooping furry vultures, giant trolls, armored attack squirrels, a huge tree that turns into a troll in Terabithia; adults use mild profanity; kid scuffles with bloodied noses; verbal references to a girl whose dad hits her; kids discuss religion. Plot giveaway: The central theme in the last act deals with grief and loss.
PG-13s and a PG"Amazing Grace" (PG). Fascinating, fact-based, happily unstuffy costume drama with A-list British cast about 18th-century parliamentarian William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), who, after years of struggle, got a bill through Parliament in 1807 abolishing the British slave trade (though not slavery itself, abolished in British colonies in 1833); Albert Finney as pastor John Newton, Wilberforce's longtime mentor and a former slave ship captain who spent his life in repentance and wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace"; not so much a film about the lives of slaves as about oppressors stepping back. Images of slaves in shackles; a brand on a former slave's chest; talk of appalling conditions on slave ships, though ships are shown empty; man beating a fallen horse; Wilberforce's addiction to an opiate painkiller; drinking. More for high schoolers.
"Ghost Rider." Glitzy, energized, diverting, if nonsensical fable (based on the Marvel comic) about a superstar stunt motorcyclist, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), who as a teen (played by Matt Long) sold his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) to save his dad from cancer. As an adult he tries to be a good person -- doesn't drink, listens to the Carpenters -- in hopes of negating his deal with the devil; a reacquaintance with his old sweetheart, now a TV reporter (Eva Mendes), raises his hopes. But the devil wants Johnny as his bounty hunter, going after rogue demons led by Blackheart (Wes Bentley); as the devil's Ghost Rider, Johnny goes out after dark on a bike, all ablaze, trying to use his new powers against ordinary human evil as well as demons. A mysterious church "caretaker" (Sam Elliott) helps him. Fights full of lightning flashes; demons with skull-like faces; middling profanity, crude language; smoking; drinking; mild sexual innuendo.
"Breach." Utterly gripping, unfussy "process" movie recounts how the FBI snared Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a traitorous high-level agent who, for more than 20 years, had been selling secrets to the Soviet Union, then Russia, under the noses of his colleagues while living as a pious family man and gruff, dedicated counterespionage expert. Ryan Phillippe plays agent-in-training Eric O'Neill, chosen to be Hanssen's clerk and to keep him oblivious while a huge team (Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Gary Cole as central players) waited to catch Hanssen in the act. Steamy, though nonexplicit bedroom scenes; nongraphic references to Hanssen's sexual habits: videotaping "rough" sex with his wife, his relationship with a stripper; crude sexual and other language; fairly strong profanity. More for high schoolers.
"Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls." Preachy, broadly played, yet entertaining comedic melodrama about a good-hearted inner-city man (impressive Idris Elba) who served time for a rape he didn't commit and now works as a mechanic and chauffeur, trying to raise three young daughters and keep them away from their gang- and drug-involved mom (Tasha Smith) and her thug pals. When his ex gets a judge to place the kids with her for their "safety," he asks a hotshot lawyer (the always excellent Gabrielle Union) he has been chauffeuring to help; at first she is too snooty to respect such a humble man and finds his family troubles distasteful, but she eventually sees the light. Passionate sexual innuendo; drug theme; mild violence, threats; rare profanity; drinking. High schoolers.
"Music and Lyrics." Smart, hilarious, humane, wonderfully performed and visualized romantic comedy about a washed-up '80s pop star (Hugh Grant in fine form) who teams with a ditzy former writing student (ebullient Drew Barrymore) to create a new anthem for a Britney-esque teen icon (Haley Bennett). It's a big chance, but the pair's insecurities and eventual romantic involvement thicken the plot -- though not much; riotous spoofs of pop music and music videos past and present. Implied overnight tryst shows kissing and morning-after snuggling; other sexual innuendo in the form of dance moves; occasional mild profanity; verbal references to drugs; comic description of a pop artist's latest video looking like an "orgasm set to the 'Gandhi' soundtrack."
"Norbit." Crass, crude, politically incorrect but often funny farce celebrates Eddie Murphy's gift for bringing wildly diverse characters to life through pounds of makeup; Norbit (Murphy), a milquetoast married to big, mean Rasputia (also Murphy), gains the gumption to stand up to her and her thuggish family after his lovely childhood pal (Thandie Newton) comes to town. Much sexual innuendo, including lurid view s of Rasputia in a bikini, the tub, bed; all outfits outlining breasts; nongraphic jokes refer to bedroom antics, the size of a little boy's penis, pimps (played by Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams), prostitutes, condoms; threats of violence, comical fights; middling profanity (lots of rhymes-with-witch and the s-word); sexual language; ethnic stereotyping; Rasputia drives over a dog on purpose; we later see the pooch wearing wheels to get around; Rasputia yells "Don't think I won't kill a child" while chasing kids; flatulence jokes. Iffy for middle schoolers.
Rs "The Number 23."Jim Carrey in visually inventive but narratively muddle-headed thriller that starts out tantalizingly with mystical numerology ideas, then veers into tiresome psychological stuff -- a disappointing mess. Animal control officer Walter Sparrow (Carrey) is a happy family man, whose simple life disintegrates after his wife (Virginia Madsen) buys him a strange novel titled "The Number 23," about a tattooed, sax-playing, film-noirish police detective (also Carrey). As the detective becomes obsessed with mysticism surrounding the number 23, so does Walter, who visualizes himself in seemingly real reenactments of the book. Recurring suicide theme, stylized depictions of throat slitting, jumping out of buildings, hanging, slit wrists; murder victims lying in pools of blood; semi-explicit sexual situations, some with implied sadomasochism or death obsession; other sexual innuendo; profanity.
"Hannibal Rising." Lurid, often laughable, but now and then creepily effective prequel cynically cannibalizes World War II and Holocaust themes to imagine how the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter came to be; Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel), a young scion of a once great Lithuanian family, escapes a communist orphanage, enters medical school in France, gets a tad too chummy with a mysterious, widowed aunt (Gong Li) and becomes a cold, sword-wielding psychopath bent on vengeance; his motive lies in World War II memories (introduced in a prologue) of him (Aaron Thomas as 8-year-old Hannibal) and his little sister (Helena Lia Tachovska) terrorized by starving deserters, with a heavy implication the men killed and ate the sick little girl; Dominic West as war crimes investigator wise to Lecter's obsession. Bloody, though stylized stabbings, beheadings, drownings; Hannibal's early cannibalism; war scenes; crude racial and sexual insult; implication of kidnapped women used as sex slaves; milder sexual innuendo; rare profanity; ethnic slurs; drinking, smoking. 17 and older.
"The Lives of Others." Quietly thrilling, exquisitely acted, highly atmospheric tale of a government cog reclaiming his humanity in 1984 communist East Germany, a few years before the Berlin Wall fell; Wiesler (Ulrich Muehe), a cold snoop for the ever-present Stasi secret police, is transformed, much to his own amazement, by art and ideas while spying on a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress-lover (Martina Gedeck); he begins trying to protect instead of entrap his "targets." The film's surprising coda is as moving as any finale in cinema today. On-screen suicide and verbal reference to another; stressful interrogation; subtle threats; explicit and semi-explicit sexual situations; partial nudity; drug abuse; profanity; drinking, smoking. In German with subtitles. College cinema buffs.