"Away We Go"
Director Sam Mendes does an about-face from the doomed marrieds of Revolutionary Road with this charming, genuine and funny tale of a couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) with a child on the way that's looking for a new place to call home.
Married screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida pander to a hipster audience with some cartoonish supporting characters, but at the heart of their exploration of modern parenting is a unique view of stable romantic partnership, rare enough to catch a person off guard. Grade: B+
Sacha Baron Cohen's antics as a gay Austrian fashion journalist seeking American celebrity-hood inevitably loses some novelty after Borat - and it begs questions about what's staged and what's real in the supposed guerilla documentary - but it's still intensely funny at times.
His plunge into the depths of what can make people famous works especially well; less so, Cohen's efforts to make straight men uncomfortable around his character's sexual preference - mesh T-shirts, frontal nudity and all. These gags are more straight than satirical, and therefore a little more troubling. Grade: B
In his latest, director Stephen Frears turns to a tale of a courtesan cougar in 1920s Paris, featuring Dangerous Liaisons alum Michelle Pfeiffer having a lustful dalliance with a much younger man until feelings arise and complicate things. Christopher Hampton's surprisingly dull script vacillates unevenly between light farce and drama, while Pfeiffer turns in a lackluster performance in a pivotal role. Grade: C+
Director Robert Kenner explores the ways in which our food supply is produced and processed and finds a toxic stew of massive slaughterhouses controlled by a handful of companies, systematic worker and animal abuse, and profit-driven corporate infiltration of government regulatory agencies.
There's a powerful urgency to his work, but even when it's harrowing it has a certain style, and it's obviously got right on its side. As a result, the film has Inconvenient Truth-like potential to reframe the issue of food safety. Don't miss it. Grade: A
Todd Phillips' latest mines the comedic possibilities of being blackout drunk, marking a return to form for the Frat Pack director (Old School). It helps that he's assembled an ideal cast - Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis - to play the three groomsmen who take a buddy to Vegas for a bachelor party they'll never remember. Grade: B
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
With its latest addition, the Harry Potter series of films stands on the cusp of a maturity that's quite refreshing for a summer blockbuster. It's among the best of the Potter screen adaptations - solid and smart, visually striking without being showy and as adept at handling the pains of young love as any movie dedicated to the premise. Emotionally charged drama and sharp-witted humor are both deftly delivered in a film that rarely panders to the broader audience. Grade: B+
The feature debut of director Duncan Jones is a nice reminder that sci-fi doesn't have to be big, loud and expensive. With limited means and a phenomenal performance from Sam Rockwell, Jones creates a smart, thoughtful work about a man in the final days of three solitary years of work on the dark side of the moon, with some interesting parallels to 2001. Except this time, it's not computers we have to worry about. Grade: B
"My Sister's Keeper"
To call this film manipulative would be an understatement, as you're forced to watch the slow, sometimes graphic death of teenaged Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) from leukemia. But Keeper also shows the effects of the disease on her entire family, including the younger sister (Abigail Breslin) who was genetically designed to be Kate's donor match and who enlists a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to gain medical emancipation. Grade: B-
As a confirmed Hollywood rebel who oozes cool, Johnny Depp is the perfect actor to evoke John Dillinger and Depression-era America's romance with its common-law criminals.
That cool permeates Michael Mann's portrait of the last year of Dillinger's life, and though he creates delicious moments of tension, the director doesn't elicit a needed sense of desperation. Thankfully, Marion Cotillard brings it on as Dillinger's loyal love interest, revealing in just a few scenes the resigned deprivation of the era, the atmosphere that would propel a guy like Dillinger to the status of folk hero. Grade: B
Olivier Assayas' intimate family drama, following three adult children considering what to do with the rich collection of art and furniture left by their recently departed mother, brings up an ambitious and universal range of issues, from globalism to how each of us leaves a mark on the world. With a remarkably light touch, Assayas manages to leave a deep impression, and the effect of looking at a great, soul-nourishing work of art. Grade: A
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"
Michael Bay, the director known for the most brainless of big-budget action flicks, has cranked the dial to obnoxious levels for his Transformers sequel. Those hoping for the silly exhilaration of the first movie will be eye-humped by a disjointed barrage of effects-driven spectacle, half-baked wisecracks, "don't die on me" moments and a brutal two-and-a-half-hour running time. It's a mess even the fanboys can skip. Grade: C-
The latest from Pixar tells of an elderly widower (voiced by Ed Asner) who uproots his home with a bunch of balloons and heads for South America with a young scout as an unwelcome companion. It's an odd, mature and sometimes dark adventure, but it's a memorable one, filled with genuine heart as well as great gags. Grade: A
For Melissa Starker's review of "The Stoning of Soraya M.," opening Friday at the Drexel, click to the Bad and the Beautiful blog at ColumbusAlive.com