NEW THIS WEEK
-- A CRACKERJACK JAMES BOND ADVENTURE, EXCITING, DARKLY HUMOROUS AND EMOTIONALLY SATISFYING:
"SKYFALL" PG-13 -- Teens who appreciate the PG-13 rated "Bourne" films will find plenty to savor (as will their parents) in this endlessly clever James Bond movie, with its dark humor, complex characters, moral dilemmas and high-stakes action, all directed with style and grit by Sam Mendes. The opening chase through Istanbul goes from motorbikes to a moving train, on which Bond (Daniel Craig) is shot, swallowed up by a waterfall and presumed dead. An unknown enemy holds the crucial computer drive he was after, using it to damage Britain's MI6 intelligence agency. M (Judi Dench), the head of MI6, has already written 007's obituary when he reappears, angry that she allowed a fellow agent (Naomie Harris) to take a shot while Bond was so near the man they were chasing. He goes through tests to prove he's ready for action, though he feels less than chipper, especially after meeting the new Q (Ben Whishaw). The agency's computer-savvy gadget inventor looks to be about 12. As agents are betrayed and killed around the world, M faces a government inquiry, possible forced retirement, and the views of a high official (Ralph Fiennes), who thinks Bond is a burn-out. She sends 007 into the fray anyway. The hunt eventually leads to a chameleon-like villain (Javier Bardem) who likes to torture people, and aims to bring down M herself. "Skyfall" is all about the morality of personal betrayal when it is in service of a greater good.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Amid the gunplay, including nongraphic murders, exlosions, high-speed chases, subway crashes, attack helicopters, fist and knife fights, there is little that is graphic or bloody, though the action is intense. A couple of point-blank killings are strongly implied. We see video of a betrayed MI6 agent as he is shot. The script includes occasional profanity, crude language, and frisky but mild verbal sexual innuendo. A brief shower scene with a beauty Bond encounters on his travels hints at nudity, but is nonexplicit. Characters drink. The villain removes a prosthetic part of his jaw to show a grievous injury.
-- SPIELBERG'S WILDLY ENTERTAINING AND INSPIRING MASTERWORK:
"LINCOLN" PG-13 -- Any fears that Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" would be a preachy epic will fall away for teens who see this extraordinarily entertaining movie about Abraham Lincoln's struggle in early 1865 to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Daniel Day-Lewis' magical, bone-deep Lincoln portrait is alternately -- and sometimes simultaneously -- kind, sly, funny, courageous, and briefly, thunderously angry. Tony Kushner's stunning script was partly inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals," about Lincoln and his Cabinet. Lucky as flies on the wall, we watch as the president conspires with Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) to reel in votes in the House of Representatives through blatant offers of patronage to get the amendment passed before the end of the Civil War and before Lincoln's second inauguration. He wants the abolishment of slavery to be a done deal before he makes peace. A trio of smarmy political operatives played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson start courting congressmen. All this unfolds amid the Lincolns' difficult but, as portrayed here, loving marriage, with Mary Todd Lincoln (wonderful Sally Field) unable to stop grieving over the loss of their son Willie. The president understands but can't help. He delights in their playful son Tad (Gulliver McGrath) and has strained relations with their grown son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who feels he should enlist, to his mother's horror. The debates in the House are gripping, and Tommy Lee Jones steals scenes as bewigged Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, an Abolitionist who hurls hilarious insults at opponents. A couple of scenes seem contrived or superfluous, but most of "Lincoln" is divine.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Three scenes make "Lincoln" problematic for some middle-schoolers: One shows soldiers knee-deep in a muddy battlefield, fighting intensely but nongraphically with bayonets; another shows Lincoln riding through a battlefield seeing endless bodies, at least one graphically gutted; and the third shows Lincoln's son Robert watching as a wheelbarrow full of severed limbs is dumped near an army hospital while his father visits amputees inside. Characters (though not Lincoln) smoke, drink, and cuss colorfully. The N-word is heard often, with other racial insults. A marital fight between the Lincolns feels so genuine, it is truly upsetting. They also discuss mental illness.
-- AN ENGAGING DOCUMENTARY THAT SHOWS HOW CRUCIAL ENRICHMENT PROGRAMS ARE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
"BROOKLYN CASTLE" PG, Limited Release -- Not sports, not music, not art, science, drama or debate -- the life-changing activity in which the middle-schoolers in "Brooklyn Castle" take part is chess. Their story could easily enthrall kids 10 and older. Filmed around the time of the 2008 financial collapse, the documentary follows the fortunes of the chess team from Intermediate School 318 in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y., where 65 percent of the kids live below the poverty line. Yet their public middle school, with its advanced academic and enrichment program, has developed a chess team that has won national championships, with kids who individually ranked near the top nationally. The movie shows how the principals, teachers, parents and kids, whom we get to know well, make it through a trying time when funds for I.S. 318 were drastically cut. They raised money, tightened belts, pushed ahead, and the kids got to their tournaments. The concentration and focus required for chess, of course, helps the kids in academics, too, and they vie for spots in New York's best public high schools, knowing that getting in will be their ticket to college. This is a heart-tugging story about a public school that works.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The emotional tension leading up to big tournaments and tears after a child loses are very real and may elicit similar reactions from empathetic children watching this film. They'll also hear rare crude language.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.