JUNE 2007

By John P. McCarthy

surfsup_web.jpgNEW YORK (CNS) -- Riding the wave of recent movies featuring penguins, most notably "Happy Feet" and the documentary "March of the Penguins," "Surf's Up" (Columbia) is an animated action-comedy with a relaxed summer vibe.

Directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck are aware that moviegoers may have had their fill of tuxedo-wearing critters. They set a swift pace and don't overwhelm with a surfeit of barely distinguishable characters. That said, some minor objectionable elements notwithstanding, the directors offer morsels aimed at pleasing even those who think they've had enough of penguins.

The warm-weather diversion earns low scores for originality but higher marks for execution and its winning-isn't-everything message: a lesson from which some hard-driving parents nowadays may benefit as much as their children.

Structured as a mock documentary, "Surf's Up" has a camera crew follow teen penguin Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) from Shiverpool, Antarctica, to the tropical island of Pen Gu. An avid surfer, Cody enters the Big Z Memorial Surf Off, named in honor of a legendary penguin competitor (Jeff Bridges). He befriends Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), a spacey fowl from Sheboygan, Wis., and falls hard for local lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel).

Most rewardingly, Cody learns the satisfaction of crafting his own board and occasionally taking the time to mellow out on a pristine beach. The movie-within-a-movie gimmick and other stock elements don't have a chance to wear thin. In light of the film's tidy 85-minute length, families so inclined will be able to celebrate the great outdoors themselves in what seems like a flash.

The film contains a fair amount of mildly rude language and toilet humor. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

Singapore rating: G - General

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 87 mins

By Harry Forbes

drew_web.jpgNEW YORK (CNS) -- This may not be your grandmother's Nancy Drew. But the latest screen incarnation of the popular book series penned under the pseudonym Caroline Keene works acceptably on its own terms, at least for its targeted female 'tween audience.

Formulaic yet reasonably involving, "Nancy Drew" (Warner Bros.) begins with the plucky titular teenage detective (Emma Roberts) coolly nabbing a couple of thieves in her fictional small town of River Heights, to the admiration of the local police and townspeople, who take the 16-year-old's latest triumph in stride.

Her widowed lawyer father, Carson (Tate Donovan), is about to accept a new job in Los Angeles, though before they leave home he admonishes her to stop "sleuthing" when they move to the big city of Los Angeles with its attendant dangers. Nancy, of course, has already finagled their living in the mansion once owned by Hollywood legend Dehlia Draycott, who died under mysterious circumstances years ago. Though she tries to keep her word, she can't resist investigating.

Among the biggest of her revelations: Dehlia had an illegitimate child, Jane (Rachael Leigh Cook), now a single mom living in modest circumstances.

She's aided in her quest by a 12-year-old admirer, Corky (Josh Flitter), and her shy boyfriend from back home, Ned Nickerson (Max Thieriot), who comes to deliver her blue roadster, and views Corky as a rival. Meanwhile, she holds her own with the bratty girls in high school -- Inga (Daniella Monet) and Trish (Kelly Vitz) who disparage her geeky ways and uncool fashion sense. (It's a plus for young viewers that Nancy cares more for the details of the important case than what the superficial girls think of her.)

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Drew aficionados may decry the contemporary spin director and co-writer Andrew Fleming has given their enduring heroine (created in 1930), and his occasional use of zoom shots and slow motion sometimes give the film a cheesy made-for-TV feel. But despite Nancy's aforementioned secretive snooping, and a few other elements which follow, Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen's script retains Nancy's overall innocent -- if savvy -- do-gooder spirit.

Less acceptable is Carson's tolerance of the wild party Nancy inadvertently hosts at the mansion, and we'll have to trust that viewing the emergency tracheotomy Nancy performs on an unconscious guest with a pen and a knife won't inspire young viewers to try the same. But these are minor blemishes in a film that, from a moral standpoint, tries to hit the right points.

Roberts, the niece of Julia, is acceptable, but there's more interesting work from Barry Bostwick, Marshall Bell, Caroline Aaron and Pat Carroll in supporting roles.

The film contains a character presumably born out of wedlock, light violence, mild innuendo and mild disobedience of parental authority. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

Singapore rating: PG - Parental Guidance

Genre: Thriller, Drama

Running Time: 99 mins

By Harry Forbes

four_web.jpgNEW YORK (CNS) -- Though not aspiring to the artistic heights of that other Marvel Comics franchise, "Spider-Man," "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (Fox) nonetheless proves an entertaining enough 95 minutes for the younger set and comic book fans of all ages.

As the film begins, preparations are under way for "the wedding of the century" between Reed, aka Mister Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), and Sue, aka Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba).

But you know there's going to be trouble as a mysterious cosmic force -- Galactus -- is wreaking devastating havoc in diverse locations across the globe.

The U.S. Army -- in the person of the imperious General (Andrew Braugher) -- demands Reed help defeat the evil force. Reed has promised Sue he won't let anything interfere with the wedding, but he secretly works on a detection device that will signal where the planet-devouring Galactus will next strike.

The New York wedding is well under way, but when destruction threatens to decimate the Big Apple the pair quickly ditches the nuptials moments before taking the final vows to join with Johnny, aka the Human Torch (Chris Evans), and Ben, aka the Thing (Michael Chiklis), in saving the world.

Their most tangible enemy would seem to be Galactus's emissary, a silver man (voice of Laurence Fishburne) on a flying surf board (the character looks something like a silver Oscar statuette come to life), while they must also contend with their old nemesis, Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who, seemingly reformed, is now helping the General.

Apart from the flagged elements below, director Tim Story's superior sequel (from a script by Don Payne and Mark Frost) -- with its personable leads, above-average special effects, and not-taking-itself-too-seriously tone -- makes for an engaging B-level adventure with a commendable message on making the right choices in life.

The film contains some mild innuendo and crass expressions, moderate action violence and implied nudity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

Singapore rating: PG - Parental Guidance

Genre: Action

Running Time: 89 mins

I FIND THE article "Why the need for reverence at Mass" (CN, Jun 10) very informative, especially the last paragraph, which says: "We should dress in a modest manner, wearing clothes that reflect our reverence."

Could the Catholic Church give guidelines for dress codes or photographs of what should not be worn? This would indeed be helpful for all parishioners.

Joseph Anne

Singapore 119009