Writer-director Greg Mottola hits a nerve with authentic characters and clever humor in his semi-autobiographical, '80s-era comedy about a college student (Jesse Eisenberg) who finds love with Kristen Stewart in a low-paying seasonal job at an amusement park.
This isn't the laugh-riot of Mottola's Superbad, but it shares that movie's sweet nature and the director injects just enough period detail to evoke the era without overkill, including an unbeatable soundtrack. Grade: B
Don't let the bland romantic-comedy wrapper fool you: Duplicity is one of the year's best surprises, a whip-smart and entertaining mashup of His Girl Friday banter and the intricate, big-business thrills of director Tony Gilroy's first flick, Michael Clayton.
Clive Owen and Julia Roberts have the ideal skill set and old-school charms for their roles as corporate spies who share a romantic past, and they get scene-stealing support from Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. Grade: B+
"The Great Buck Howard"
In his tale of a young man (Colin Hanks) learning about life while under the thumb of the title character, a forgotten but still-demanding illusionist (John Malkovich), writer-director Sean McGinly clings to the belief that there's nothing that can't be fixed by some celebrity cameos and a thick, sticky film of nostalgia.
Underneath those glossy features is a stale narrative, a bland leading man in a cipher character and, in Buck, a foil who's too annoying to earn our sympathy. But at least it's fun to watch Malkovich play him. Grade: C
"The Haunting in Connecticut"
For his based-in-truth feature about an average, innocent family moving into a malevolent haunted house, director Peter Cornwell chooses aping The Amityville Horror and other movies over originality. While the story leans more on family drama than you'd expect and strong performances come from Virginia Madsen, Elias Koteas and particularly Kyle Gallner, the filmmakers aren't much more successful at developing investment in the characters than they are at delivering fresh thrills. Grade: C
"I Love You, Man"
Writer-director John Hamburg takes the male bonding of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad to its next logical step, building a comedy around a mousy, friend-challenged real-estate broker (Paul Rudd) who embarks on a bromance with Jason Segel's crude but lovable slacker. The terrific cast has fun altering rom-com tropes to fit same-sex friendship. Grade: B-
Director Alex Proyas (The Crow) dumbs down his doomsday plot about a father (Nicolas Cage) whose son brings home a sheet of seemingly random numbers that are attached to actual catastrophes, making what amounts to disaster porn. He gets queasy thrills from mass chaos but seems unable to move the story forward without having Cage's character speak his every thought. Grade: C-
"Monsters vs. Aliens"
The new wave of 3-D has so far worked best with animation, and the latest from Dreamworks is no exception. It's a visual feast that's sure to look as good to parents as to kids. Unfortunately, the accompanying story about imprisoned monsters let loose to protect the planet during an alien invasion is a mess of B-grade sci-fi cliches and "jokes." If you're going to take the kids anyway, spend the extra few bucks to see it in its full-blown, 3-D glory. Grade: C
"Observe and Report"
Writer-director Jody Hill creates two movies in his polarizing comedic riff on Taxi Driver: The one in the head of mall cop Ronnie (Seth Rogen), in which he's a hero fighting a pervert for the honor of Anna Faris' damsel in distress; and the one on screen, in which Ronnie's angry, heavily medicated and highly unstable. You're never sure what he or the film will do next, and both can cop to a mean sense of humor. But it's also occasionally hilarious, and as twisted as it is, this comedy feels like a healthy alternative to more bland predictability. Grade: B+
"Sita Sings the Blues"
Cartoonist-turned-animator Nina Paley's award-winning, autobiographical feature debut is an extraordinary treat. Using a variety of styles of hand-drawn animation, along with collage and 1920s jazz recordings by vocalist Annette Hanshaw, Paley parallels the ancient Indian epic Ramayana with the story of her own marriage breakup. She marries the color and energy of Bollywood musicals to the irreverent humor of popular cartoons. It's a brave personal statement and an incredibly successful creative mashup, made even better by a unique sense of spontaneity. Don't miss it. Grade: A
In Christine Jeffs' remarkably contrived indie dramedy, Amy Adams' financially strapped, self-esteem-challenged maid-for-hire decides to follow the advice of her married lover (Steve Zahn) and go into the lucrative field of crime-scene cleanup with her ne'er-do-well sister (Emily Blunt). The strongly talented cast is almost enough to bring genuine life to the story, but in the end, they seem more stuck than their characters. Grade: C+