"Azur & Asmar"
Working in 3-D computer animation for the first time, French filmmaker Michel Ocelot unveils a look that's at once painted and pixilated, lifelike and artificial. His family-friendly tale, which follows two brothers of the spirit on a quest to free a spellbound fairy, works at a slower pace than American kids are used to. In Ocelot's favor, however, are two irresistible qualities: a singularly delightful way of animating children and delightfully rich and layered, Middle Eastern-inspired imagery. Grade: B+
On the face of it, Laurent Cantet's Oscar-nominated, documentary-style drama about a year in the life of a high school French teacher in an immigrant-heavy section of Paris is little more than a succession of classroom encounters that present a clash between elder authority and youthful rebellion. But Cantet delivers something unique with a taste of reality, in the myriad, mind-boggling ways in which the teacher's good intentions are derailed. Grade: A
"Friday the 13th"
This isn't a remake of the 1980 original but a revamping, and that's not a compliment. At least a faithful redo would have an excuse for compositing every slasher movie cliche imaginable. The modern return to Camp Crystal Lake almost plays as a Scream-like satire, but it's far too stupid to be that clever. Grade: F
Sure to be remembered as the movie that signaled Joaquin Phoenix's retirement from acting and prompted his infamous recent Letterman appearance, this flawed flick about a man torn between you-guessed-it (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw) aims to be a morally ambiguous romantic drama for grown-ups, but director James Grey fails to develop the love triangle. On the other hand, Phoenix is a talent who will be missed, and let's hope for his legacy that this isn't his last movie. Grade: C+
"Waltz with Bashir"
Though it lost on Oscar night in the Best Foreign Language Film category, Ari Folman's animated documentary about the things he'd witnessed and forgotten in younger years, while serving with the Israeli Defense Forces, is a winner nonetheless. As his extraordinary story sheds light on dark but fascinating elements of modern Israeli history, his experiences both in the past and in its rediscovery should touch a universal nerve among veterans of war. Grade: A
For better or worse, Zack Snyder has made a pitch-perfect, grittily stylized adaptation of Alan Moore's dark graphic novel. This is way more of a superhero drama riddled with angst and existential dread than a pre-summer popcorn flick. It's got splashes of bone-splintering violence and some sexual politics in play, but also a labyrinth of a plot and little of the crowd-pleasing flair of most big-screen spectacles. Fanboys, rejoice; the rest, be warned. Grade: B+
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