The umpteenth take on the tale of someone dissatisfied being magically made young or old has been digested and regurgitated with Zac Efron playing the less negative, teenaged version of Matthew Perry, who's sent back in age to get closer to his kids after his high-school-sweetheart wife (a wasted Leslie Mann) files for divorce. Efforts to generate laughter are strained and unsuccessful, and though 'tween girls may thrill at another 90 minutes of Efron, they'll get a lot more out of renting 13 Going on 30. Grade: D
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+
Matteo Garrone's drama about the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, knocks the wind out of the glamorous mob anti-heroics we know from movies. It's a portrait of an institution at war with itself, that's literally rotting the country's foundation. Yet this approach proves to be just as compelling as a standard mafia story, and Garrone is excellent at creating a sense of both the Camorra's weaknesses and its soul-crushing inescapability for some who get caught up. Grade: A
"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, and 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
"State of Play"
Directed by The Last King of Scotland's Kevin Macdonald and written by a team with credits including Michael Clayton and Shattered Glass, this drama based on a popular BBC miniseries is smart, mostly solid entertainment.
As an old-school Washington print journalist, Russell Crowe's Cal McAffrey has an inside track on stories involving the congressman (Ben Affleck) who was his college roommate and a disdain for the new-media ways of blogger Rachel McAdams. Soon the separate stories they're following - a double-murder and a scandal involving the congressman - converge, setting off a new partnership and a healthy dose of plot twists.
The film makes wise, timely points about how the Fourth Estate is increasingly at the mercy of the bottom line, and puts a watchable face on them with Helen Mirren's editor (she's on her game like the rest of the cast). Unfortunately the ending is rushed, and though it's no fault of the filmmakers, those plot twists can be easy to spot when a barrage of TV ads have told you to expect them. Grade: B
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+