"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+
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. In general, it's a bit of a misstep. Grade: C+
Director Stephan Elliott blasts some fresh air into British period pieces with his adaptation of a Noel Coward comedy about the post-World War I battle between a modern American woman (Jessica Biel) and her British mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's hell-bent on getting the new addition to the family away from her son. Though the witty barbs don't come in a barrage, they hit the mark, and every moment is made better by a fabulous ensemble cast. Grade: B+
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.
It's unapologetically lowbrow and lacks a ton of gut-busting gags. But there are plenty of snicker-worthy moments that will stick with you for days. Grade: B
The feature debut of director Duncan Jones is a nice reminder that good can still come from sci-fi, and it doesn't have to be big, loud and expensive. With limited means and a phenomenal performance from Sam Rockwell carrying virtually the entire film, 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, containing 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 the latest from The Notebook director Nick Cassavetes manipulative would be an understatement, as you're forced to watch the slow death of teenaged Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) from leukemia, and the film occasionally gets too graphic in its depiction. 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 just oozes cool, Johnny Depp is the perfect actor to evoke gangster 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, 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 sequel to the plot-holed but nonetheless cool Transformers: The Movie. 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 massive bunch of balloons and heads for South America with a young scout as an unwelcome traveling 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, bright balloons and aerial feats of derring-do to delight all ages. Grade: A
After the sunny break of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen dredges up some of the same bigotry and misogyny that's afflicted most of his later works. His story about a snotty Jewish intellectual (Larry David) who becomes a romantic, misanthropic Henry Higgins to Evan Rachel Wood's Louisiana cracker is meant to be absurd, but ends up dusty and hermetic, despite some lines that recall Allen at his funniest. Most damaging of all is David; as the latest of Allen's onscreen alter egos, he's never been more abrasive. Grade: C