Cameron 'CJ' Adams, right, and Jennifer Garner in a scene from 'The Odd Life Of Timothy Green.' (AP Photo/Disney, Phil Bray) Cameron "CJ" Adams, right, and Jennifer Garner in a scene from "The Odd Life Of Timothy Green."

Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Washington Post Writers Group / August 16, 2012

New releases

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" (PG)

Sentimental and a bit preachy though it may be, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" will entertain and move sensitive kids 10 and older with its magic-tinged tale of love between parents and child. The fact that it is acted with beautiful subtlety doesn't hurt.

Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) tell their story to skeptical social workers and it unfolds as a long flashback: After years of trying to have a baby, they had resigned themselves to a loving but childless marriage. To put their sorrow behind them, they wrote down all the wonderful traits a child of theirs might have had, and buried the scraps of paper in a box in their yard. Later that evening, a storm blew around their ramshackle house in the economically challenged town of Stanleyville ("pencil capital of the world").

Suddenly, a smiling, muddy little boy, perhaps between 8 and 10, appeared in their home. He told them he was "Timothy" and called them Mom and Dad. The couple were stunned, but thrilled. When they saw green leaves growing out of Timothy's legs and sensed what magic had occurred, they just decided to have him wear knee-highs and ignore it. At school, Timothy was considered an oddball and came in for bullying until he was befriended by Joni (Odeya Rush), an older girl who saw he was special. Even the soccer coach (rap star Common) felt protective of Timothy and reluctant to put him on the field. The townsfolk reacted narrow-mindedly at first to Timothy's oddness. By the end, the film becomes a testament to adoption.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Characters drink wine. There are jokes about flatulence. The school bullies are mean but not vicious. The storms are a little intense.

"Paranorman" (PG)

A little too spooky for kids under 10 unless parents determine they can handle it, "ParaNorman" tells a corker of a story about an oddball 11-year-old named Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) who sees and talks to ghosts.

The film bogs down briefly near the end, when it starts teaching too earnestly about accepting children who are different and avoiding mob thinking. But that's a mere detour on a great ride. Made with stop-motion animation using "real" (as opposed to computer-generated) characters and sets made of tangible materials, the film has a surreal picture-book look.

Kids under 10 might quail at the zombies and ghosts, exposed brains and decomposing corpses, though they're portrayed with whimsical humor, not realism. Norman sees ghosts and chats with them all the time, starting with his deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch), though the rest of the family can't see her. Norman's bellicose dad (Jeff Garlin) thinks his son's a weirdo and worries what will become of him. His teen sister (Anna Kendrick) thinks he's a loser.

At school, the bone-headed bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gives Norman a hard time. Only his classmate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who gets harassed for being overweight, offers friendship to Norman. Their hometown of Blithe Hollow has a history of colonial-era witch trials. Norman learns from his estranged and dying Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) that the town is under a curse from a "witch" who was executed in the old days, and he, Norman, must break the curse and stop an onslaught of zombies. It's complicated, but, with help, Norman does that and more, and becomes a hero.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While we see skeletal zombies and there's much talk about them eating brains, they don't really do it. There are decomposing bodies, though, with worms and bugs and such around them, but it's all quite artsy as opposed to naturalistic, so less scary for 10 and older -- similar to "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (PG, 1993) or "Corpse Bride" (PG, 2005). At the climax, Norman runs through the woods trying to find the witch's grave and risks impalement on branches that pop out at him. The witch conjures up scary, swirling clouds and lightning.

"Nitro Circus: The Movie" (PG-13)

The strongest profanity is bleeped out and the guys don't flash their privates for the camera, "Jackass"-style, so this reality-TV-style action comedy is OK for most teens.

A spin-off of the "Nitro Circus" TV series, the 3-D film adds little to the "Jackass" films (all rated R) and TV shows. ("Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville appears in the film to comment on the action; so does actor Channing Tatum). Except that this film, even in 3-D and with guys who are better athletes than the "Jackass" crew, manages to be really dull. Yes, they dive off skyscrapers (with parachutes); they ride buses, cars, motorcycles and tricycles at high speeds off ramps, hurtling through the air and crashing into dirt, or cardboard boxes or pools or lakes or the ocean. It's like one long fraternity initiation -- a blur of stupid human tricks. And it turns out that all the location stunts recorded for the film were just a warm-up for a "Nitro Circus" Las Vegas appearance, of which we only see a little snippet at the end.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Apart from the dangerous stunts the guys engage in, the banter includes mildish profanity and crude language, with all the stronger words bleeped out, though it's clear what they are.

"2 Days in New York" (R)

College-age cinema buffs with sophisticated taste can savor the character-driven comedy in this intermittently charming slice-of-life tale about arty New Yorkers.

Writer/director Julie Delpy has moved her character Marion from "2 Days in Paris" (R, 2007) to New York. She lives with her new boyfriend, good-natured public radio host and print journalist Mingus (Chris Rock), who, in his home office, secretly talks to a life-size cardboard cut-out of President Obama. Marion and Mingus each have a child by previous relationships and everyone gets along fine. Marion, a fine art photographer, prepares for an exhibit of her conceptual series about relationships. Then her semi-hygienic father (Albert Delpy, Julie's real father) comes to visit, along with her exhibitionist sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Rose's dilettante boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon). Manu buys pot from a drug dealer in front of the kids. Rose walks around partially nude. Marion's dad understands no English, and the little apartment quickly descends into chaos. You want to throw the visitors out yourself.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The dialogue features much strong profanity, and characters engage in sexual situations that aren't visually explicit, but which include explicit noises or explicit discussion of sex acts.

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KIDS 8 AND OLDER

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" (PG)

Kids 8 and older will no doubt enjoy the further farcical adventures (following "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," 2010, and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules," 2011; both PGs) of middle-schooler Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), who in this cheesy-looking film gets into more trouble during the summer after 7th grade.

Still a nervous social outcast who fibs too easily and rarely says the right thing, Greg schemes to find a way to be near his crush, Holly Hills (Peyton List). His best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) invites Greg to be his guest at the country club where his family belongs, and where Holly teaches tennis. Greg starts sneaking into the club on his own, taking advantage of Rowley's generosity. He even lies to his dad (Steve Zahn), telling him he has a job there. Then his icky big brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) insists that Greg get him in, too, so he can ogle Holly's uber-mean older sister, Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). Greg is found out, of course, but his failure to mature from film to film has become off-putting. He remains nearly inarticulate, except in his occasional voice-over "diary" narration. (There are also a sparse few animated graphics resembling the drawings in Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, on which the films are based.) Greg and Rowley have additional slapstick adventures camping with a wilderness scout troop and riding a scary amusement park ride. Rodrick and his band, Loded Diper (sic), perform disastrously. And, by the way, the family gets a big, shaggy dog they name Sweetie.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A scene in a community pool involves a lot of toilet humor -- kids peeing in the pool or holding up icky diapers. A locker room scene right before that shows Greg horrified at the sight of men with hairy backs or bending over in swimsuits and showing a little derriere cleavage. Later, big brother Rodrick pretends to be drowning and is rescued by a man who gives him mouth-to-mouth. The scene is played as farce, but it and the locker room scenes have a weird, homophobic vibe that seems tasteless and unnecessary.

KIDS 13 AND OLDER

"The Bourne Legacy" (PG-13)

The brainy, frenetic action sequences in "The Bourne Legacy" will surely capture the imaginations of high-schoolers. The level of violence is awfully high for a PG-13 (though not very gory), so the film is iffy for middle-schoolers. High-schoolers may also be better equipped to follow the incredibly complex narrative, which moves cleverly, if circuitously, beyond the novels of Robert Ludlum, introducing a new protagonist in Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner).

We meet Cross, a secret agent on the run in Alaska, as he comes to understand that his own bosses -- particularly Edward Norton as retired Col. Eric Byer, U.S. Air Force -- in the post-9/11 intelligence complex are trying to kill him and his fellow operatives in a program called Outcome. Col. Byer worries that the secret program, which trained and chemically enhanced Cross and others, may be exposed. Down in the Lower 48, a worker (Zeljko Ivanek) in the lab that makes the serums for Outcome pulls a gun and mows down his co-workers. The only one to escape is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Cross finds her in hopes of getting more doses of his "chems." They go on the run from various secret agencies. The body count is high in this sometimes incomprehensible thriller, though all you really need to know is the government has lied to and murdered its own agents in the name of national security.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The mayhem features drone attacks, explosions, gun battles, and bone-cracking hand-to-hand combat, as well as occasional midrange profanity. The multiple murder of his co-workers by a researcher in the pharmaceutical lab is very realistic and unsettling.

"Hope Springs" (PG-13)

Stars Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones will inspire high-schoolers interested in the finer points of great acting, and perhaps psychology. "Hope Springs" will prove both entertaining and full of emotional rewards for them. For most high-schoolers, however, watching a long-married couple in their 60s undergo soul-baring marital counseling -- and even worse, try to rekindle their sexual relationship -- will not be their idea of entertainment. (The film has too much emphasis on adult sexuality, including some fairly specific sexual situations, for middle-schoolers.)

Streep and Jones play Kay and Arnold, middle-class empty-nesters from Omaha whose marriage has gone cold. Lonely and desperate, Kay longs to restore romance and true connection to their union. Without asking Arnold, she signs them up for a week of intensive counseling in Maine with a famous marriage expert, Dr. Feld (Steve Carell, playing it straight). As Feld gently explores their dysfunction, the gruff, uncommunicative Arnold and the shy, eager Kay have moments of agonizing -- and funny -- awkwardness. And when Feld asks them to try having sex again, awkward doesn't cover it.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The film includes several quite explicit (for a PG-13) sexual situations as Kay and Arnold try to renew their relationship. There is no nudity, but some of the sex scenes feel quite intimate and real. There's even one encounter in a movie theater. They also discuss sexual acts fairly graphically in the counseling sessions, drink wine and use occasional profanity.

"Total Recall" (PG-13)

Action and sci-fi fans in high school will get plenty of thrills in this slick-looking (very "Blade Runner," R, 1982) update of the R-rated 1990 film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It may be too relentlessly intense for middle-schoolers. The film sticks to its PG-13 range, albeit the outer edges, but the atmospherics are very dark.

Parents who've seen the original (both are based on sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale") may note that Colin Farrell, who stars in the new film, is a better actor, but that the earlier film felt more bold. This one becomes a total chase-fueled formula flick in its last act, and the dialogue sounds leaden throughout.

A century-plus from now, the world is largely contaminated due to past chemical warfare. The population is centered in two habitable areas -- United Federation of Britain, and the grungy so-called Colony, in Australia. Workers from The Colony travel in an ingenious transport through the center of the Earth to get to work. Lowly factory worker Douglas Quaid (Farrell) has a recurring nightmare in which he's on the run, targeted for death, and trying to save a woman (Jessica Biel) who is not his wife (Kate Beckinsale). Eager to shake the dream, he goes to a place called Rekall, where happy memories are implanted in one's brain. But when they inject him, he's suddenly a target of federal police. Is he waking or dreaming? Rather like Jason Bourne, he discovers combat skills he didn't know he had. His "wife" now tries to kill him, explaining that their life together is a fake memory and he is a renegade federal agent -- a traitor who sided with rebels in The Colony. He fights to save himself and learn the truth.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The fights are bone-crushing, the chases more cool than scary, with futuristic vehicles zooming along elevated highways. There is little actual gore, but Quaid (Farrell) uses a glass shard to cut an under-the-skin cellphone/global positioning device out of his hand -- bloody. Early on, there is understated sexuality. In a red light district, we see prostitutes in suggestive clothes and one who bares her triple-breasted chest to the Quaid. The script includes midrange profanity.

"The Dark Knight Rises" (PG-13)

Circuitously plotted and heavy with echoes of 21st-century terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and official lies, this big finish (or is it?) to the "Batman" trilogy by director Christopher Nolan will surely transfix high-schoolers, despite its nearly three-hour length.

As with "The Dark Knight" (PG-13, 2008), the PG-13 rating seems wrong. Much about the movie strays into R territory -- not with graphic violence, but with a dark, apocalyptic tone. Nolan and his star Christian Bale aren't comic-booking; they're saying existential things about the modern world. Having taken the blame as Batman for crimes committed by Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) in the last film, Bruce Wayne (Bale) and his crime-fighting persona have gone underground and into a depressive funk.

Gotham City is corrupt, despite the best efforts of police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Wayne's butler Alfred (Michael Caine) urges him to get back into the world, not as Batman, but as himself. So Wayne goes to a charity ball and allies with philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to power Gotham with clean fusion energy. A hulking, vengeful masked villain named Bane (Tom Hardy) and his thugs hijack a plane and a Russian nuclear physicist, and head for Gotham. They steal the fusion reactor. Meanwhile, jewel thief Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) steals not only Wayne's mother's pearls, but his own fingerprints, which she sells to his business rivals who are in league with Bane. Soon Wayne, collaborating with the president of his company, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), dons the bat suit and fires up the Batmobile.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The film is too full of realistic death and destruction for most middle-schoolers. SPOILER ALERT: A terrorist act causes buildings, bridges and streets to explode, trapping Gothamites on their island and threatening nuclear annihilation. Other action sequences include bone-crushing fights and heavy gun battles as well as explosions and chases. The villain Bane wears a creepy black rubber mask over his nose and mouth. Scenes in an underground prison somewhere in the Middle East are gruesome without being graphic. Flashbacks of the villain Two-Face show part of his face badly disfigured. The language is generally non-profane. There is one subtly implied overnight tryst

RATED R

"The Campaign" (R)

Profanity, graphic sexual situations, ethnic stereotyping and general nastiness pervade this truly hilarious satire (not all that exaggerated, really) of modern American politics, so The Family Filmgoer cannot recommend it for anyone under 17. College-age moviegoers and any other adults who pay attention to politics -- as long as they aren't easily offended -- will be wiping away tears of laughter.

Slick, insincere and lazy, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) has had a multi-term lock on his district in North Carolina, always running unopposed. But a pornographic phone message intended for a mistress has gone viral and his numbers are dropping. An unlikely opponent enters the race -- Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a sweet but clueless and wimpy family man. He's forced into it by his moneybags father (Brian Cox) and his father's influential cohorts, the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who secretly donate millions to politicians who favor their laissez-faire business ideas. They send macho handler Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to help Marty man up. The contest gets ugly fast.

THE BOTTOM LINE: In addition to graphic sexual situations, steaming profanity and sexual slang, the film shows, for comic effect, Cam accidentally punching a baby in the face -- in a slow-motion close-up of the infant getting hit. A dog comes in for similar treatment. This is obviously fake, but some people won't be amused. Fundamentalist Christians are also the target of much ribbing. An Asian-American housekeeper is forced to affect a stereotypical African-American dialect because it reminds her boss of the Old South. Characters drink and smoke.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (R)

(Limited release) -- Though the narrative meanders frustratingly in its second half, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" has many charms, with wise and witty things to say about modern romance that will appeal to audiences 17 and older. The script bristles with strong profanity and crude sexual slang, so it's not for under-17s without a parental OK.

Celeste (Rashida Jones, who co-wrote the script with Will McCormack) is a busy PR executive. Her ex, Jesse (Andy Samberg), is an artist who lacks ambition. Though divorcing, they're still best friends. He even lives in the garage/studio behind her house. They still hang out together and talk in their special jokey language. Their best friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) think it's totally weird that they don't move on. Then Celeste and Jesse have drunken sex and regret it; then Celeste finally starts dating, which upsets Jesse; then Jesse finds out a woman he dated briefly is now pregnant, so he commits to staying with her, which devastates Celeste; then Celeste meets a nice guy (Chris Messina) at yoga class. And on and on. It takes them an age, but Celeste and Jesse finally grow out of their failed marriage and into adulthood.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The script features strong profanity and sexual language, a graphic sexual situation and other more understated ones. Characters smoke and drink and use marijuana. A subplot involves an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

"The Watch" (R)

Darkly hilarious and too profane, full of crass sexual language and sci-fi gore for under-17s, "The Watch" unintentionally harkens to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida and the recent attack at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. If older teens and college-age kids can put those real-life tragedies out-of-mind, "The Watch" will prove a droll, anarchic hoot.

Evan (Ben Stiller) loves his town and has no yen for excitement, though his wife (Rosemary DeWitt) wouldn't mind some. He manages the local Costco store. When his nighttime security guard (Joe Nunez) is found not only murdered, but minus his skin (not shown on camera, though later victims are shown) and in a pool of green slime, the town's doofus cop (Will Forte) suspects Evan. Evan, meanwhile, recruits a neighborhood watch to solve the crime. His cohorts are: Bob (Vince Vaughn), a nice-guy motormouth obsessed with keeping his teen daughter (Erin Moriarty) a virgin; Franklin (Jonah Hill), a police-academy reject who lives with his mom and has an arsenal under his bed (not funny at the moment); and Jamarcus (British comic Richard Ayoade), a bespectacled oddball eager for friends. All they do is drink beer at first, not taking Evan seriously, but eventually they encounter the aliens and must defeat the coming invasion.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The dialogue bristles with profanity and crude, graphic sexual slang. A secondary character has an orgy in his basement, with graphically implied sexual situations and toplessness. There is also a teenage make-out scene in which the girl has to fight the boy off. Evan and his wife discuss having sex so she can get pregnant. The alien invaders are humanoid/lizard hybrids, with razor teeth. They impale victims on pincerlike arms. The dead are all minus their innards and skin. The final battle involves gunfire and explosions.