"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (PG-13): High-school-age science-fiction buffs will likely be hooked by this clever, if not transcendent prequel to the original "Planet of the Apes" (G, 1968) and all its film, TV and video game progeny. Be warned that the use of "motion-capture" technology now allows the chimps and gorillas to seem as full-blooded as any of the human characters -- the result of computer animation overlaid on human performances. So the violence and mayhem in the film could make it too real and heavy-duty for middle-schoolers. Intermediate string overflow
Pushing the PG-13 rating to its limit, there are scenes of violence against animals and of violence between humans and animals that are intense and upsetting and very probably too much for some middle-schoolers. Such moments occur early in the film in brief sequences, but by the end there is widespread mayhem. Though the encounters and the wounds are not highly graphic, there is blood and death on both sides and weapons include electric prods, iron fence spikes, tranquilizer darts, guns and more.
"The Smurfs" (PG): Little ones 5 and older may giggle their way through this labored mix of live-action and animated comedy, which brings the tiny blue beings out of their isolated, timeless woodland village. Pursued by their longtime nemesis, the evil but inept wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, in unrecognizable makeup), they pass through a whirling portal and land in New York's Central Park. Intermediate string overflow
The littlest children may cower when the wizard Gargamel chases the Smurfs through the portal, and other times he tries to capture and hurt them, though these chases and bangs on the head are always played for slapstick. Toilet and gross-out humor involves the cat coughing up a hairball. Gargamel gets tasered.
"Cowboys & Aliens" (PG-13): High-schoolers may find this ultraviolent (for a PG-13) sci-fi western pretty gosh-durn cool. That's because it's straightforward storytelling, not camp. (The film is loosely based on a graphic novel.) From the start, you know something's odd when a tough-looking man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert -- New Mexico Territory, 1875 -- can't remember who he is, and has a futuristic-looking metal bracelet around his wrist that he can't take off. It's only later that he learns his own name again -- Jake Lonergan -- and that he's wanted for robbery and murder. He wanders into town, and when a drunken young man named Percy (Paul Dano) causes trouble, Jake takes him down a peg. Turns out Percy is the son of a local cattle baron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a gruff son-of-a-gun. Just as everyone starts squarin' off for a fight, in swoop alien aircraft, blowin' up the town and yankin' away some inhabitants on cables.
The gun battles and alien attacks with their weird-looking aircraft come off as intense as in a war movie. Human characters engage in more than one head-banging, bone-crushing fight, sometimes with blood spattering. The climactic battle features guns, bows-and-arrows and dynamite.