"Stage Beauty" (R, 1 hour, 45 minutes)
High-schoolers 16 and older who have fallen in love with English Lit. and/or theater will embrace this vivid, atmospheric tale of life on the stage in 1660s London. The rating reflects crudely explicit sexual language, less graphic sexual situations, partial nudity, issues of sexual orientation, as well as profanity and non-lethal violence.
All the key characters portrayed in Jeffrey Hatcher's script (adapted from his play) are based on real people and played by a gifted cast. Charles II (Rupert Everett) has been restored to the throne after years of exile during Puritan rule. He reopens the theaters and decrees that female roles, formerly played by male actors, will be played by women. This is a lightning bolt to Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), famous for his Desdemonas and Ophelias. His dresser, Maria (Claire Danes), who secretly adores him, gets her chance upon the stage and copies his stylized gestures. He feels betrayed, confused about his role in life.
"Saw" (R, 1 hour, 40 minutes)
In this clever but bloody thriller, a serial killer traps victims in grotesque, potentially lethal situations from which they can only escape by mutilating themselves or killing a fellow captive. The brainchild of Australian film students, Leigh Whannell and James Wan, "Saw" is a highly effective example of the genre -- if you like that kind of gross fright-fest. The title refers to the predicament of having to saw off your own foot to escape certain death. Arrgh. Despite its Halloween-timed opening, "Saw" is not for high-schoolers under 17.
"Birth" (R, 1 hour, 40 minutes)
Lugubrious, arty, illogical and never tricky enough to be a Halloween treat, "Birth" plays with ideas about reincarnation and how we cope with loss. Set in an upscale Manhattan milieu, the film's interiors and its actors gleam with elegance. It never ceases to hold one's interest, yet it leads to no emotional, intellectual or even chill-inducing payoff. Inappropriate for high-schoolers under 16, "Birth" contains an explicit sexual situation with nudity between adults, a subtly implied hint of sexuality between a woman and a boy, an infidelity theme, rare profanity, brief non-lethal violence, drinking and smoking.
Nicole Kidman plays Anna, a chic, widowed attorney about to remarry. (In the prologue we see her husband die while jogging; a baby is born at the same moment, setting up the plot.) At the engagement party, a 10-year-old (Cameron Bright) appears and says he is the reincarnation of Anna's late husband and must be with her. Anna's family (Lauren Bacall as her mother) and friends try to debunk his claims, but Anna half-believes him. The ickiest moment shows the boy getting in the bath with Anna, though the scene contains no overt sexuality. In two other scenes, she kisses him briefly on the lips.
"Surviving Christmas" PG-13 -- Ben Affleck stars as a big-time ad man who pays family of strangers living in his childhood home to pretend he's their son so he won't be alone on Christmas. Suggestive photos of women, teen boy's obsession with sexy Web sites; milder sexual innuendo; crude joke about baby's penis. High-schoolers.)
"Taxi" PG-13 -- Queen Latifah as speed-happy cab driver, Jimmy Fallon as barely competent, driving-challenged New York cop chase gorgeous female bank robbers. Occasional crude humor, profanity; sexual slang, innuendo; scene with female criminal frisking a female cop she's taken hostage in highly suggestive manner; wild car chases; rare, understated gun violence. 15 and older.