Paul Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Greg Mottola  
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Everything you know about aliens from pop culture is true. At least that's the message from Paul, a swift, sharp, and very funny movie from the creative minds that also brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Superbad, and Adventureland. The British stars of the first two, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, also wrote the snappy screenplay, and director Greg Mottola shows that he can make human and sentimental both the slapstick and the subtle, self-referential humour the same way he did in Superbad and Adventureland. The premise Pegg and Frost have laid out for themselves as likable, sci-fi fanatic supernerds is a dream vacation starting at Comic Con, then continuing through the American Southwest in an RV visiting historic UFO sites like Area 51, the Black Mailbox, and Roswell, and finishing up at Devil's Tower in Wyoming, the iconic centerpiece from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After their inauspicious start, they happen upon an escaped alien who is 4 feet tall, and has the big head, classic diamond eyes, and features we've come to recognize as both the benevolent and evil kinds of space aliens from movies and TV. He is also the titular character, and as voiced by Seth Rogen, this CGI creature spouts a never-ending string of wisecracks, insider secrets, and frat-boy humour that comes loud and clear as classic Rogen in tone and attitude. As an aside and terrific example of the very clever throwaway punch lines that run throughout, there's a brief flashback to 1980 showing Paul on a conference call with Steven Spielberg (really), giving him advice about script development issues for E.T.

Paul crash-landed in the late 1940s and has been held prisoner by the government's men in black. They've not only been pumping him for knowledge, they've also leaked the fabric and features of his being to people who want to believe, especially the ones in Hollywood. Now Paul wants to go home, and he's found the perfect getaway with the want-to-believe team of Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), who take him to his rendezvous (at Devil's Tower, of course). The road movie that unfolds is consistently hilarious, moving nimbly through one-off gags and inside jokes, but also creating larger relationships and drawn-out humour that relies on us believing that the little CGI Paul is real. And mostly we do, again thanks to Rogen's delivery and distinctive vocalizing. Paul constantly quips, makes fun, gets drunk, smokes dope, and spouts a steady stream of patter about how aliens have been bowdlerized and reimagined in entertainment and the minds of people like Graeme and Clive. There's a jam-packed supporting cast that complements and complicates the story (in a good way), including Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as the bumbling men in black, and Jason Bateman as the scary man in black. Also passing through are some fun familiar faces like Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, and an iconic sci-fi actress who shall remain unnamed. Especially good is Kristen Wiig as a fundamentalist Christian whose mind is literally blown by Paul. Amid the broad humour and nonstop punch lines there's also a sweetness that stays with each finely drawn character (including Paul) and gives Paul an amiable sentimentality that runs throughout. Everyone clearly had fun making this movie, and that's exactly how it is to watch. —Ted Fry

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Just Go With It Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Dennis Dugan  
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It all comes down to chemistry. And the two main stars of Just Go with It, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, thankfully, have chemistry to spare. Both actors have plenty of sheer likability and honest ease, as well as sparks in just the right places, which helps propel Just Go with It to its satisfying (if a bit predictable) conclusion. (Hollywood execs: Consider an update of Moonlighting starring these two.) If the premise, loosely based on the Goldie Hawn film Cactus Flower, stretches reality, the capability of the whole cast makes Just Go with It an enjoyable ride. Sandler plays Danny, a surgeon who falls for a much-younger bombshell, Palmer (swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, a surprisingly natural actress). But when Palmer finds the fake wedding band that commitment-phobe Danny has used for his no-strings-attached previous relationships, the web of fibs begins. Danny asks his assistant, Katherine (Aniston), to pretend to be his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and Aniston plays it to the hilt. But soon Danny's wobbly house of cards includes Katherine's children—and, in the ultimate romantic-comedy trope, a group trip to Hawaii to work things out. The cast really is stellar, including very small supporting roles by Nicole Kidman and singer Dave Matthews, as an insufferable couple disliked intensely by Katherine. (Of course they end up in Hawaii with the gang, too.) Minka Kelly, Kevin Nealon, and Rachel Dratch also make memorable cameos. But it's Sandler and Aniston, along with the snappy direction by Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy), who make Just Go with It one of the more romantic—and funny—romantic comedies in recent memory. Our advice: Sit back, and just go with it. —A.T. Hurley

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Red Riding Hood Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Catherine Hardwicke  
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This is not your grandmother's Red Riding Hood. There's a basket of goodies (not exactly the edible kind), a sweet grandma, a winsome young lass in a beautiful red hood, and a Big Bad Wolf. But there the similarity ends. This Red Riding Hood is shot through the lens of the Twilight films—for wide appeal to the tween and teen audiences, and definitely not a bedtime story for the little ones. Helmed by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, Red Riding Hood bears a lot of the moody trademarks of the vampire series. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), the plucky girl in the stunning cape, lives in a tiny medieval village whose geography is not specified—it's just very mountainous and remote. Valerie's heart belongs to her childhood friend Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but as Red Riding Hood opens, she learns she has been betrothed to Henry (Max Irons). As if that love triangle weren't enough, it seems a dangerous wolf—or is it werewolf?—has been terrorizing the town for years, and its killing sprees have intensified. When the townsfolk kill a wolf, they think they have finally freed their town from tyranny, and throw a giant bacchanal—like Burning Man in the snow. But then Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, in wickedly good form) appears on the scene to tell the villagers they've killed only a gray wolf—not, in fact, the werewolf he knows is the true villain.

So the romantic pulls of Valerie, Peter, and Henry play out with a backdrop of true chills and mystery. The atmosphere created by Hardwicke, along with production designer Thomas E. Sanders and cinematographer Mandy Walker, is perfect for a goose-bumpy horror story with teen hearts caught in the balance. The set design of the village, especially, is rich with detail—even the trees in the surrounding forest seem to have branches made of threatening spikes. Seyfried is willful, passionate, and perfect as Valerie, and easily anchors a film that could have spun out. Other standouts include Virginia Madsen, Valerie's mother who has a dark secret in her own past, and Julie Christie as Valerie's rather peculiar grandmother. All Twilight fans, and those who love a good tale of star-crossed (or perhaps full-moon-crossed) lovers will enjoy Red Riding Hood. Just don't go walking in those big bad woods alone. —A.T. Hurley

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Ides of March George Clooney  
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Director-star George Clooney's The Ides of March is the perfect film to mirror our time, when the approval rating of the United States Congress is at an all-time low and the divisions between the two major parties and their constituents are wider than ever. Everyone'll have some kind of nit to pick with this rather self-serious film. Right-wingers won't like the fact that the central politician (Clooney's Governor Mike Morris of Pennsylvania, who's running for president) is a liberal Democrat who advocates raising taxes on the rich, supports a woman's right to choose, and may be an atheist ("My religion is the Constitution."). But the Left won't be thrilled by the notion that even among the most seemingly high-minded, the desire for victory and the behind-the-scenes maneuverings and compromises made to achieve it easily trump quaint notions like loyalty and integrity, and secrets are like bullets to be fired at close range, where they can do the most damage. The backdrop is the Ohio Democratic primary, a tight race between Morris and a senator from Arkansas. Both candidates have smart, able folks working for them, with Morris's world-weary campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and idealistic press secretary, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), countered by the opponent's shrewd campaign leader, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). But smart people make mistakes too, and when Stephen meets semi-publicly with Duffy, who tries to lure the young man over to his side, he opens a can of worms with a stink that leads to some very dark places; nor does his dalliance with a young campaign volunteer (Evan Rachel Wood) turn out to be a great idea, to say the least. With Marisa Tomei (as a reporter) and Jeffrey Wright (as an Ohio senator whose endorsement may decide the race) also along for the ride, this is one of the best-cast movies in recent memory, and they're all excellent—especially the ever-reliable Giamatti and Hoffman, whose old political vets have some wonderfully juicy scenes. The dialogue is literate and sharp; the story's twists and turns are, for the most part, surprising enough to keep you in your seat. Best of all, it's another chance to shake our fists at the hubris and cynicism of the people who're supposed to be representing our best interests. —Sam Graham

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Battle: Los Angeles Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Jonathan Liebesman  
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Battle: Los Angeles is a war movie first, science fiction second. It's got it all: a burned-out retiring sergeant who gets drawn back in because, dammit, the Marines need him; the guy who's about to get married; the guy who's still a virgin; the guy suffering from shell shock and who just might crack; the newbie officer with a lot of book learning who you just know is going to freeze under pressure and have to be shepherded by that burned-out sergeant, who learned his lessons on the battlefield… and so much more. There's not a moment in this movie you haven't seen before—the only twist is that the enemy is alien, so whatever shred of concern you might have for raining heavy artillery on a fellow human being can be cheerfully cast aside. But clichés are clichés because they are efficient and effective, and despite the profound familiarity of Battle: Los Angeles, there's no denying the movie rips along (though two-thirds of the way through you may have forgotten who was the virgin and who was the shell-shocked guy—but really, does it matter?). The look owes a debt to District 9, a hand-held, vérité grittiness, with most of the CGI carefully given a dingy, dirty look so that it meshes with the urban landscape. Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) does an impressive job of spitting out ham-fisted dialogue like he really, really means it, while the rest of the cast is suitably generic. This is an unrepentant love letter to the military; many viewers, faced with the unsettling chaos and moral ambiguities of real wars, will find this mythologizing not only soothing, but even moving. —Bret Fetzer

Special Features
Behind the BattleAliens in L.A.Preparing for BattleCreating L.A.

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Cowboys & Aliens Jon Favreau  
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Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford star in this action-packed sci-fi western from the director of Iron Man (Jon Favreau) that critics call "wickedly original, unlike anything you've ever seen" (Jake Hamilton, Fox-TV Houston, TX). A stranger (Craig) stumbles into the desert town of Absolution with no memory of his past and a futuristic shackle around his wrist. With the help of mysterious beauty Ella (Olivia Wilde) and the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford), he finds himself leading an unlikely posse of cowboys, outlaws, and Apache warriors against a common enemy from beyond this world in an epic showdown for survival. Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera Directed by: Jon Favreau

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Bad Teacher Jake Kasdan  
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Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a foulmouthed, ruthless, and inappropriate teacher. She drinks, gets high, and can’t wait to marry a meal ticket to get out of her bogus day job. When she’s dumped by her fiancé, she sets her sights on a rich, handsome substitute (Justin Timberlake) while shrugging off the advances of the school gym teacher (Jason Segel). The consequences of her wild and outrageous schemes give her students, coworkers, and even herself an education like no other!

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Contagion Steven Soderbergh  
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Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston, along with medical journalist Sanjay Gupta, explore the real science of global viruses and what they mean to the human race. The world is preparing for the next biological disaster...but is it too late?

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The Eagle Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Kevin MacDonald  
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Epic filmmaking has fallen out of favour, but The Eagle fights hard to bring it back. Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) chose to lead a Roman garrison in occupied Britain because that's where his father lost a military standard—a metal eagle, representing the glory of imperial Rome—on an expedition into the northern wilds. To reclaim his family honor, Aquila sets off into native territory to recover the eagle, with only a slave named Esca (Jamie Bell) to help him—but the more Aquila learns about Esca's history, the more he has reason to doubt his slave's loyalty. The Eagle starts with engaging momentum; this is a work of fiction, but there's an impressive commitment to the details of life, evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of a raw and brutal time. (Director Kevin Macdonald began as a documentarian, which no doubt contributes to his appreciation for grit and sweat.) Tatum is not the most versatile actor but he has enough solid charisma to anchor the movie; Bell's fluid emotional presence keeps their relationship dynamic. The movie loses steam in the last third, as the outcome is never really in doubt and the plot mechanics start to feel a bit rote. But for anyone with an interest in the era, or who simply enjoys a taste of blood and thunder, The Eagle has pleasures aplenty. —Bret Fetzer

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