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Actor! Actor!

State of Play and 17 Again both feature winning performances

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Previews

This weekend, the must-see opening for animal lovers is Earth, the feature length film version of the popular Emmy Award-winning TV series Planet Earth. James Earl Jones provides the narration as you follow the migration paths of four animal families. You know how it goes with animal-centric cinema ... Are tissues needed? My guess is yes, just in case a cute creature gets annihilated. Rated G. 95m. At the Broadway.

The obvious opening for music lovers to check out is Soloist, a Good Will Hunting-ish story of a classical music prodigy that has somehow wound up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Jamie Foxx plays the Juliard-trained musician and Robert Downey Jr. plays the journalist that befriends him and helps him get his life together. The film is based on a book written by L.A. Times reporter Steve Lopez about his real life discovery of incredible talent on Skid Row. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language. At the Broadway.

The action lovers are certainly not left out of the opening bounty. The must-see film for the fight scene freaks is called Fighting. Seriously. Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur is on the streets of New York City, just trying to survive by selling counterfeit goods. Lucky for him, a seasoned scam artist named Harvey recognizes his talent for street fighting. Almost overnight, Shawn becomes a star on the underground bare-knuckle circuit, but that dark world is not so good for his life. Rated PG-13 for intense fight sequences, a sex scene and brief strong language. 104m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Our well-rounded weekend of openings includes the latest stalker thriller, Obsessed. The film stars Idris Elba as Derek, an asset manager who's got a good life going on because his career is solid and he's married to a hot lady named Sharon, portrayed by none other than Beyonce Knowles. Too bad Lisa, the new temp at work (portrayed by Ali Larter) is a psycho stalker. Rated PG-13 for sexual material including some suggestive dialogue, some violence and thematic content. 109m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

The last opening for this week is definitely for the hip folk. Informers brings writer Brett Easton Ellis' (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) novel about the Los Angeles of the early 1980s to the big screen. The multi-strand narrative is centered on an array of characters representing both the highs and the lows of LA 80s society. Fittingly, the stars on the bill are Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, drug use, pervasive language and some disturbing images. 100m. At the Minor.

In other movie news, the 42nd Annual Humboldt Film Festival, the oldest student-run film fest in the world, runs through the Saturday the 25th. Thursday brings Tom McPhee (director of American Opera) with a workshop/screening and Documentary Night; Friday has Brian O'Halloran (Dante from Clerks) with a workshop/screening and Narrative (Fiction) Night; Saturday is the final day and will feature the Best of the Fest. O'Halloran's set to judge the final night of screenings, so be sure to come armed with your favorite Clerks quote to shout at him from the audience. How about "My present girlfriend has sucked 37 dicks"? Get start times and details at humboldtfilmfest.org.

-- Emily Hobelmann

Reviews

STATE OF PLAY: Although it's overcomplicated and ramped up with action scenes, this journalism-meets-politics thriller (based on the BBC series) has a smart script, a terrific cast and a skilled director who's able to hold everything together.

Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is a seasoned Washington DC reporter working on two stories: an apparent drug-related murder in the streets and the mysterious death of a woman who was having an affair with Cal's friend Stephen (Ben Affleck), a married congressman. When Cal begins to suspect that the two stories are related, he teams with young reporter Della (Rachel McAdams) to dig into what could be a massive conspiracy. Although their editor (Helen Mirren) isn't so sure.

With so many plot strands and far-reaching implications, the film feels unruly --too much be contained on screen. But by blurring the lines between what's a news story and what's a police case, it begins to make some serious points about politics and the media, all while tightening the screws of a ripping thriller. Ethics and morality are the big issues here, which makes it much more resonant than the usual mindless villain plotline.

And the heavyweight cast is excellent. Crowe plays Cal as yet another scruffy, seasoned hack with a nose for a story and everyone in town in his contacts book. Affleck is more interesting as the compromised politician, although we're unsure why they're friends in the first place. Robin Wright Penn is strong in her few scenes as Stephen's strained wife; Jason Bateman is terrific in a small but pivotal role; and Mirren steals the show with her tough-as-nails editor who wants to run the story but knows that her first job is to sell newspapers.

As it progresses, the story struggles through a couple of unlikely revelations and twists, as well as an indulgence in emotional scenes. But the script is packed with razor-sharp dialog and a clever exploration of a morally ambiguous situation. Director Kevin Macdonald corrals all of this into a thriller that has rare intelligence, keeping it pacey and busy, with an underlying creepiness that keeps us on our toes. He also beautifully puts the relationships at the centre of the plot, making it the kind of thriller that engages our both our hearts and minds. Rated PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references and brief drug content. 127m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

-- Rich Cline

17 AGAIN: Despite the predictable body-shifting premise and a heavy dose of sentimentality, this teen comedy is extremely enjoyable thanks to especially strong performances from Zac Efron and his costars.

Mike (Matthew Perry) hasn't done much with his life over the 20 years since he gave up on his basketball career. And he's about to lose his wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann) and teen kids Maggie and Alex (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight) due to his aimlessness. In a pit of depression, he wishes he could do it all over again, and next thing he knows he's a high school senior (now Efron), in school with his kids and trying to get help from his ├╝ber-geek best pal (Thomas Lennon).

The plot takes the well-worn path to the big climax with lesson-learning, family values and goofy asides along the way. Even with some hilariously warped comedy and a recognition that teens are preoccupied with sex, the film has a sweet, clean Disney tone. Which makes it perfect for Disney wonderboy Efron. He opens the film (in flashback) doing a riff on his High School Musical character before finding something much more interesting as the second-time teen Mike. Efron manages not only to add small touches of Perry throughout his performance, but he subtly and convincingly conveys how it must feel for an experienced man to be back in the body of a thrusting 17-year-old.

This leaves most of the comedy to the supporting cast, and the marvelous Mann, Lennon and Melora Hardin (as the annoyed principal) keep us laughing through their scenes. Lennon and Hardin even get some extremely amusing sequences all their own. And the teen actors are also very good. In fact, the entire cast is strong enough to overcome the limitations of the plot, making the most of the witty dialog and keeping things grounded in relative believability.

And director Burr Steers adds some nice directing touches. So it's a little annoying that the transition sequences are extremely dodgy (It's a Wonderful Life reference notwithstanding). As Jason Filardi's script grinds along into (a) the raucous house party and (b) the pivotal basketball game, it feels just a bit stale and under-imagined. But it's still extremely good fun. Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material and teen partying. 102m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

-- Rich Cline

Continuing

ADVENTURELAND. Recent college grad must abandon his dreams of world travel for lack of funds, but still has mad adventure at his new amusement park job. Rated R. 106m. At The Movies.

CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE. Hitman Chev Chelios pursues a Chinese mobster that stole his nearly indestructible heart through city of Los Angeles. Rated R. 95m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

FAST AND FURIOUS. Fugitive ex-con Dom Toretto returns to L.A. and to his feud with agent Brian O'Connor, all while pushing the limits of what's possible behind the wheel. Rated PG-13. 108m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HANNAH MONTANA THE MOVIE. Hannah Montana's popularity reigns, so Miley takes a trip home to rediscover her roots. Rated G. 102m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT. Family moves to Connecticut to have a nice place to treat their son for cancer, but too bad their new house is haunted. Rated PG-13. 92M. At the Broadway.

I LOVE YOU MAN. Straight dude embarks on series of "man-dates" to find a suitable best man for his hetero wedding and ends up in a serious bromance. Rated R. 105m. At the Broadway.

KNOWING. Professor finds terrifying predictions of doom in time capsule; now he must prevent said predictions from coming true. Rated PG-13. 122m. At The Movies and Fortuna.

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS. Ragtag crew of monsters must combat an alien robot to save planet earth from imminent destruction. Rated PG. 94m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

OBSERVE AND REPORT. Head of mall security versus police detective in the race to crack the case of who's flashing people at the local mall. Rated R. 86m. At the Broadway.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Mall cop must man up to save the day when Santa's helpers at the mall stage a coup. Rated PG. 91m. At The Movies.

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. Vegas cabbie and UFO expert must save two teens with supernatural powers from exploitation by evil peeps/aliens. Rated PG. 99m. At The Movies.

SUNSHINE CLEANING. Mom starts biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service to fund her son's private school education. Rated R. 92m. At Mill Creek and the Minor.

TAKEN. Former spy launches one-man war to bring down gang that kidnapped his daughter. Rated PG-13. 91m. At The Movies.

WATCHMEN. More vigilante superhero drama in film adaptation of sinister comic book series from the 1980s. Rated R. 162m. At The Movies.

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