"The Grudge" (PG-13, 1 hour, 28 minutes)
High-school horror fans may enjoy this cross-cultural remake of the hit Japanese horror film "Ju-On: The Grudge" (R, 2003) in which chalk-faced specters of a murdered family exact lethal revenge against anyone who comes near the house where they died. Again directed by Takashi Shimizu, the story also takes place in Tokyo and loops around on itself, remaining quite a head-scratcher, despite changes and explanations added for American ears. After the first few gasps and shudders it elicits from an audience, the movie's slow pace and repetitive circumstances grow tedious, as with the original.
"The Grudge" is rarely graphic but remains a problematic choice for middle-schoolers, with its family violence subtext and scenes in which the ghosts lurk, pounce and snatch the breath out of people. They materialize in bathwater, closets and on ceilings and rasp death rattles while stalking their victims. At times they are bloodsoaked.
Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as a rookie social worker training at a care center in Tokyo, while her boyfriend (Jason Behr) studies architecture.
"Surviving Christmas" (PG-13, 1 hour, 32 minutes)
When comedies don't work, they can be painful and "Surviving Christmas," though it lands a few lucky laughs here and there, is a real joy-killer. It is an impossible, charmless blend of crass humor and phony sentiment. Stars Ben Affleck, Christina Applegate, James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara, all actors with comic gifts, can't give the movie what it needs -- better writing and direction. High-schoolers who like Affleck and Applegate may want to check it out anyway. They will laugh, perhaps uncomfortably, at the movie's portrayal of an adolescent boy who cruises sexy Web sites with photos of buxom women while his folks think he's doing homework. The movie further earns its PG-13 with other sexual innuendo, a crude joke about a baby boy's penis, incest humor, rare profanity, a visual suicide joke and a marijuana joke.
Beyond the ratings game
"Shark Tale" PG (Jack Black voices a timid great white shark who is scared to tell his dad he's a vegetarian. Sharks bare teeth, chase fish, talk tough; one shark slams into ship's anchor and dies; whale poo joke; mild sexual innuendo.)
"Team America: World Police" R (Guffaw-inducing spoof of post- 9/1 1 world and Hollywood hooey by makers of Comedy Central's "South Park" using marionettes on little sets; anti-terrorist Team begins by laying waste to central Paris in pursuit of terror cell. Searing profanity; highly explicit montage of sexual situations (all with marionettes); repeated, unfunny oral sex jokes, homophobic slurs; bloody gun violence; shameless ethnic stereotypes of Arabs, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. 17 and older.)