The family filmgoer

The family filmgoer

Tale” (PG, 2011), this fact-based marine animal saga will entertain all ages on all levels

“BIG MIRACLE,” Rated PG — What a nice surprise. This true story, based on news accounts and a 1989 book, “Freeing the Whales” by Thomas Rose, could have been a treacly, unchallenging “family film.” Instead, director Ken Kwapis and his team have created a sharply defined, lightly comic slice of Americana for anyone 10 and older to enjoy. It’s about people who came together to rescue three gray whales in 1988. The leviathans are trapped under expanding winter ice off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, and the film drolly examines the political and philosophical fault lines of the Reagan era as different people collaborate to save them. It shines a particularly welcome light on native Alaskans. John Krasinski plays Adam Carlson, an ambitious Anchorage-based TV reporter whose story gets picked up by the network and seen in the White House. Soon there’s tremendous pressure to save the whales. Adam’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Drew Barrymore) is a tireless activist with Greenpeace and makes a major fuss. An oil man (Ted Danson) seeking good PR pays for fuel so the Alaska National Guard can haul an ice-breaking barge to the site. Even a nearby Soviet ship gets into the act. A TV reporter from Los Angeles (Kristen Bell) thinks the story is her ticket to the networks. Everyone has an agenda, yet the people bridge their differences. What a concept.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The strongest element for kids under 10 will be the sheer suspense about whether the whales will survive and make it to the open sea. The script contains some salty language, and adults drink. SPOILER ALERT: Though it isn’t shown, there is one whale death. We don’t see it happen, but we do see the creature’s injured snout and hear its labored breathing.

Daniel Radcliffe is a sympathetic protagonist in this shivery Victorian ghost story

“THE WOMAN IN BLACK,” Rated PG-13 — Based on a novel by Susan Hill, this movie is a well-made throwback — a handsome rendering of a ghost story set in, of course, Victorian England. Many high-schoolers will revel in its rich atmosphere and shriek-inducing ghostly visits. That overall spookiness might be too much for middle-schoolers. In a chilling prologue, we see three little girls jump to their deaths from their playroom windows, seemingly hypnotized by the veiled, black-clad spirit of the title. Years later, mild-mannered attorney Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe, of “Harry Potter” fame) checks into that same room, now the attic of an inn, knowing nothing of what happened there. A grieving widower with a young son, Arthur has come to the village to go through the papers of a deceased dowager. Working in her musty manor, he glimpses the Woman in Black that the townsfolk fear. They believe whenever someone sees her, a child dies. This time a little girl succumbs after drinking lye, and the people blame Arthur. He is determined to get to the bottom of the ghostly mystery and is aided by the local rich man (Ciaran Hinds). The washed-out color and gorgeous settings lend great atmosphere, and Radcliffe is appropriately haunted by grief.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The film depicts ghostly and occasionally skeletal spirits — many of them dead children. In several scenes, children are led to their deaths by the Woman in Black. A spirit re-enacts a hanging suicide, and other flashbacks show a child drowned in a marsh. We see bloodied sheets where Arthur’s wife died in childbirth. Characters drink.

Violence and emotional torment in this ingeniously made teen sci-fi drama pull the film into R territory

“CHRONICLE,” Rated PG-13 — On a whim, three high-school guys explore an unusual cave in this cleverly made science fiction saga, and the telekinetic powers they develop after their exposure to the unearthly material they find there leads them first to fun and then to tragedy. A strong cast of young actors and clever visual effects created on a budget make “Chronicle” a totally absorbing adventure, but perhaps too violent and emotionally tortured for middle-schoolers, despite the PG-13 rating. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a friendless, introverted kid whose unemployed father (Michael Kelly) drinks and beats him up, and whose mother (Bo Petersen) lies terminally ill. After Andrew explores the cave with his thoughtful cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular high-school celeb Steve (Michael B. Jordan), he reacts to their newly acquired powers differently. While Steve and Matt enjoy making Legos float in the air, or moving a lady’s car from one parking spot to another, Andrew can’t stop himself from using telekinesis to express his anger. Once the three guys realize they can fly into the clouds, the action takes a darker turn.

THE BOTTOM LINE: As Andrew’s unhappiness at home increases, he lashes out violently, and the results are bloody injuries and eventually mayhem and death. The violence — people thrown to their deaths, explosions, buildings wrecked — is not graphic, but loud, fast and upsetting. One incident involves an impalement. Characters use occasional profanity, and it’s implied that teens drink beer at a party. Andrew’s dad is usually drunk, with bottles all around. His mother is on oxygen and looks very ill.