Although Baz Luhrmann's lavish return to the big screen after a seven-year absence covers a large part of the Australian Outback, it's engorged with a sincere appreciation of classic Hollywood spectacle. He aims simultaneously for a love story, a Western saga, a WWII docudrama and an Aboriginal history lesson, which makes for a whole lot of movie to take in at once. Some may find it too much, but Luhrmann's work is meaty with entertainment and gorgeous to behold, between the natural scenery and co-stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Grade: B
The new Disney animated movie looks great, and its tale of a dog TV actor (John Travolta) who believes he's a superhero traveling cross-country to find his "person" (Miley Cyrus) is full of action. But it's actually a newfound buddy, fat trailer-park hamster Rhino (voiced by animator Mark Walton), who steals almost all the laughs in the film, along with a couple of story-pitching pigeons. As for the dog star, the slow, painful awakening to his utter normalcy involves physical punishment that one-ups Bambi's mother in the area of animated animal cruelty for dramatic effect. Grade: B-
"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas"
Writer-director Mark Herman's holocaust movie - for kids! - is one seriously miscalculated effort. While it offers a committed cast and an imaginative view of life next to a concentration camp through the eyes of the eight-year-old son (Asa Butterfield) of a Nazi commander (David Thewlis, with Vera Farmiga as the boy's mother), it also employs an especially ruthless form of audience manipulation, the kind that makes you feel like walking it off. Grade: C-
This tale of a happily unmarried couple (Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn) forced to give up their tropical holiday vacation and spend Christmas with each of their divorced parents is an agreeable addition to the holiday genre, even if it's not destined to become a classic. In typical date-movie form, some of the gags are targeted exclusively at men or women, and the couple's story plays out a little too predictably. But Vaughn and Witherspoon have a comfortable chemistry, while the supporting cast is full of great heavyweights (Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek) and nice surprises (cameos by Dwight Yoakam and A Christmas Story's Peter Billingsley). Grade: B-
British veteran Mike Leigh isn't really thought of as a feel-good-movie kind of guy, but he makes up for it with his character study of ebulliently positive 30-year-old schoolteacher Poppy (an extraordinary Sally Hawkins). Her outfits may be loud and her first impression is ditzy, but Poppy's truly remarkable, as much for her willed optimism as the effect it has on others like her sad, hateful driving instructor (Eddie Marsan). Though there's some strong apprehension created by their scenes together, in the end, you'll be sharing Poppy's infectious grin. Grade: A
"Quantum of Solace"
In his second outing as James Bond, Daniel Craig's hard face and physique serve the spy's newly consuming anger well, with Judi Dench's M distilling a fear chaser after discovering that a shadowy global crime operation has gotten very close to her. Based in such primal emotions and an in-your-face aesthetic from director Marc Forster, Quantum has the capacity to hit on a visceral level, especially in the opening and closing action scenes. But its immersion in darkness keeps the story from cohering and, sadly, French film star Mathieu Amalric is underutilized as Bond's new nemesis. Grade: B-
"Rachel Getting Married"
Director Jonathan Demme adopts handheld camerawork and natural lighting, while star Anne Hathaway takes on bad hair and a damaged, ragingly narcissistic character, for this intense view of a deep family wound reopened by a weekend wedding. Unwelcome distraction comes from the more exhausting parts of her performance and a forced feeling of multiculturalism throughout. If you can tune out that loudness, you'll find a touching statement about punishing the ones you love, made in a style that's right for the material. Grade: B
If you're not a fan of live-action medieval role-playing, you might want to steer clear of David Wain's comedy about a couple of slackers (Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott) who end up as mentors in a Big Brothers-like program in a community service plea bargain. Most of the laughs come from the early, pre-mentoring scenes, but there's plenty that's not funny, including jokes about one boy's obsession with breasts and bad language and the other's all-consuming mock swordplay habit. Grade: C
"Synecdoche, New York"
Like all the movies made from his pretzel-logic screenplays, Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut isn't really light watching, even when it's funny. Yet like Kaufman's best work, its portrait of an artist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose life culminates in an epic theater piece explores something universal and surprisingly touching. The filmmaker's ambitious vision, along with Hoffman's excellent performance and a supporting cast of some of the best actresses working, yield a truly fascinating film, one of the year's best. Grade: A
Making his U.S. debut, French director Olivier Megaton jumps on the Transporter formula of intricate conspiracy plot for the sake of insane car stunts and bone-breaking fights that often leave star Jason Statham shirtless. While those stunts and car chases are undeniably cool, Megaton's style is so frenetic, at times the only tool the viewer has to make sense of things is the predicable fact that whichever blur is doling out the biggest whomping must be Statham. Grade: C
Playing tortured-yet-hunky vampire Edward in the first movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's hugely popular teen-romance novels, Robert Pattinson has been christened as the Tiger Beat model for a new generation. Fortunately, he isn't a bad actor either, even when he and his excellent co-star Kristen Stewart are forced into simple, slightly cheesy dialogue exchanges. Meyer's emphasis on forbidden vampire-human relations and the associated teen angst reveals a heart that's more romantic than horror-minded, and her output can sometimes resemble bad poetry. But director Catherine Hardwicke mostly triumphs over the material, turning it into a realistic portrayal of the messiness of young love. Grade: B