Successful "spin-off" TV shows have given a showcase to fully fleshed-out second bananas. But in the movies second bananas don't always fare well as leads; case in point is Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the vain, addle-brained British Rock star from 2008's 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall.' He's licking his wounds after his most recent record flops, but a music-industry functionary named Aaron (Jonah Hill) wants Snow to mount a comeback through a concert at Los Angeles' Greek Theater. Grade: C-plus.
The revitalized 'Shrek Forever After' tosses our ogre friend and his Far Far Away pals into another homage to 'It's a Wonderful Life.' Fuming once more about being domesticated and forced to deal with husband/dad responsibilities, Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) wonders what it would be like to be his old, fearsome self again. Grade: B-.
Movies in which animals with computer-manipulated faces get involved in slapstick, groin-crushing, scatological mischief are grueling enough. But do I really need 'Furry Vengeance' to lecture me about valuing parental priorities over narrow-minded greed, considering the millions of dollars wasted here on perfecting a smirking raccoon? No, I do not. Grade: F.
Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud ('Winged Migration') offer up a lot of pretty pictures; what they don't offer is something that feels like a movie. It generally doesn't feel as though 'Oceans' has any clear sense of purpose. Grade: C.
I realize there's an 'A-Team' movie set to be released this summer, but after catching 'The Losers' I'm thinking I've pretty much got that ground covered. Yes, this is the story of a group of highly skilled U.S. military operatives framed for a crime they didn't commit and out to clear their names. You've gotta love it when a plan comes together, but you don't necessarily have to love the way it comes together. Grade: C.
At first glance, this doesn't seem like the kind of comedy that would succeed or fail on the basis of its stars, but pay close attention to the payoff scenes and consider whether any of it is funny without what Steve Carell and Tina Fey bring to the table. Making a successful Hollywood comedy is sometimes as simple as pointing talented performers in the right direction and getting the hell out of the way. Grade: B-.
An IMAX 3-D film becomes such an immersive cinematic experience that you become the character riding that dragon — which is fortunate, because you're probably more interesting than the character riding that dragon. Grade: B-.
As the films in the Sundance Film Festival's U.S. Dramatic Competition category — the centerpiece for potential discoveries — started to roll, it was easy to wonder if it was all worth it. Thank heavens for the documentaries, which again provided the brilliance so often missing from the fiction features.
Director Tom Vaughan ('What Happens in Vegas') grinds his way through a script that does nothing but occupy 105 minutes of your life and leave you feeling vaguely more uplifted afterwards. Turn on the Oxygen or Lifetime cable channels any weeknight evening and you can achieve the same result without leaving your couch. Grade: D-plus.
As Michael Bay has proved over and over again, writing bigger and bigger checks doesn't automatically make a director a better judge of a script. The story that matters — the only story that should matter — is what's on the screen. James Cameron puts a hell of a lot on the screen in 'Avatar,' but he still has to contend with something he can't finance his way out of: his own limitations as a writer. Grade: C plus.