America's foolhardy occupation of Afghanistan, in the interest of huge private military contracts and maintaining an oil pipeline that the U.S. media ignores, is examined in microcosm via one platoon's deployment in Afghanistan's dangerous Korengal Valley. Filmed from June 2007 to July 2008, documentarians Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger put faces to the names of soldiers from Second Platoon Battle Company as they secure outpost 'Restrepo,' named after one of their early fallen comrades. Grade: B.
A vast improvement over the 2005 franchise introduction of co-writer/actress Emma Thompson's Mary-Poppinsish household savior, Nanny McPhee Returns finds modern-day meaning in its World War II-era English trappings. Grade: B.
Lean, mean, funny and chockablock with fast-twitch demolition spectacle, 'The Expendables' represents a grand finale for several generations of action cinema stars (Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc.). Although there are obvious political influences at play, the film walks a fine generic line of idealism that errs on the side of graphic novel cartoonishness without succumbing entirely to style. Grade: B.
The ancient city of Jaffa is a famous melting pot. Jews, Muslims and Christians coexist and collide amid an atmosphere of drugs, violence and religious discipline. Over the course of five chapters the interconnected narrative follows a romantically inclined Israeli Arab, a kind-hearted a Palestinian illegal refugee, a Jewish police detective and a well-heeled Palestinian. Grade: B-plus.
Great comic pairings don't come along often, yet Steve Carell and Paul Rudd strike a snappy chemistry as straight-man Tim Conrad (Rudd) to funny-man Barry Speck (Carell) in this adaptation of Francis Veber's 'Le Diner du Cons' in 1998. The reason to watch 'Dinner for Schmucks' is to enjoy the off-kilter harmony of two great comedians working off one another in a vaudeville style that's just as fresh today as when Laurel and Hardy or Martin and Lewis did it decades ago. Grade: B.
In a quiet borough of Lower Merion, Penn., sits the greatest collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art that people have never heard of. Don Argot’s passionate documentary examination of the art collection's outright theft by Philadelphia power mongers could help change that level of ignorance, but not in time to prevent it's seizure by the Philadelphia Museum of Art — scheduled for 2012.
Director Philip Noyce keeps the action red hot for a laughably implausible espionage story about Angelina Jolie's Russian double-spy character Evelyn Salt. It seems like the producers want to pursue 'Salt' as a female Jason Bourne-type franchise if Jolie's star power is strong enough to warrant it, but the screenwriter might want to work on things like intention, subplots and tone. Grade: B-.
The second installment in the film adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson's large-scale crime trilogy 'Millennium' pales in comparison to 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.' The compelling Noomi Rapace returns as the series' bisexual goth-girl computer hacker heroine Lisbeth Salander, but the sequel can't sustain thematic energy and emotional truth. Grade: C.
James Mangold pawns off his directing credentials to shepherd through this spastic piece of celebrity eye-candy action drivel. Tom Cruise might look better than most 47-year-old movie stars, and Cameron Diaz isn't exactly hard on the eyes, but you need more than looks to keep an audience's attention. Grade: C-.
Michael Douglas has some masterful surprises up his sleeve as Ben Kalmen, a once honest car salesman who abandons interest in both his reputation and his family after learning of an irregularity in his heart. The film wouldn't work with anyone other than Douglas, for whom the part was written by the writing/directing team of Brian Koppleman and David Levien ('Rounders'). Grade: B.