Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Emily Blunt PG-13 |

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COMEDY

Years ago, after seeing Barbra Streisand's Yentl, a friend offered a shrewd appraisal: "I went expecting a C movie, but I'm happy to say that was a B movie." The same applies to Dan in Real Life, an agreeable comedy by director-cowriter Peter Hedges (he made the admirable Pieces of April?), which brims with familial warmth and easygoing humor.

Dan (Carell), a widower with three daughters, is instantly smitten after meeting Marie (Binoche) while both are browsing in a bookshop. Hours later his younger brother Mitch (Cook) shows up with Marie on his arm at a family reunion weekend because—did you see this coming?—she's Mitch's girlfriend. Now Dan must decide how far he'll go to win Marie for himself.

Carell continues to grow exponentially as an actor (let's all just agree to forget Evan Almighty), managing to make wallowing in self-pity seem sympathetic and amusing. Sadly, the lovely Binoche is given too little to do; she's mostly onscreen for Dan to pine over. But what really keeps Dan from soaring is that it can't seem to decide whether it's a quirky little love story or a slick Hollywood star vehicle. When the movie opts for the latter—serving up strained scenes showcasing Carell engaged in "wacky" antics, such as dancing geekishly or getting soaked in a shower while fully dressed—it just becomes Dan in Hollywood.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei | R |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

CRIME

An older brother (Hoffman), seemingly prosperous but with a heroin habit that's draining his wallet, proposes to his ne'er-do-well younger bro (Hawke) that they rob a jewelry store. What happens next—and its tragic consequences and reverberations—is the subject of this beautifully acted film that's as much a psychological character study as a crime drama. Director Sidney Lumet, whose first film, 12 Angry Men, came out 50 years ago, is working here at the very tippy-top of his considerable game. Don't miss it.

Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden | PG-13 |

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DRAMA

If there's such a thing as a quality tearjerker, Rails qualifies. It's a bittersweet look at a husband (Bacon) and wife (Harden)—she's fatally ill—who find happiness in her final days caring for an orphaned boy with whom they have a sorrowful connection. The plot is contrived, but first-time director Alison Eastwood wisely plays it straight, aided by moving, unshowy performances from her two talented stars.

Eastwood, 35, becomes a first-time director with the drama Rails & Ties.

WOW, TALK ABOUT BIG SHOES TO FILL! Believe me, I've been having to deal with being in the shadows of that—my father being such an icon. But I just do my thing.

DID CLINT GIVE YOU TIPS? He doesn't say much, besides "Make sure you get a lot of sleep and take care of yourself." He shows you, instead of talking.

YOU'VE MODELED, ACTED AND ARE NOW DIRECTING. WHAT'S NEXT? I guess get married and have kids. That's something I haven't done!

• The Paris-bred Oscar winner (for The English Patient), 43, goes for laughs in Dan in Real Life.

WHAT'S IT LIKE STARRING AS THE LOVE INTEREST OF TWO COMEDIANS? I think for Dane [Cook] and Steve [Carell], I represented this serious French actress. But the director made me sing in this Barbra Streisand voice, so they got over their awe of me quickly.

THE MOVIE IS ALL ABOUT MEETING A BOYFRIEND'S FAMILY. ANY TIPS? It will make or break a relationship if his mom likes you.

SO, WHAT'S YOUR SECRET TO WINNING A FAMILY OVER? I make good crepes!

• Look out, Lion King, here comes Ariel—on Nov. 3, Colorado native Sierra Boggess, 25, makes a splash on Broadway in the stage musical version of Disney's beloved The Little Mermaid

YOU WERE 7 WHEN THE LITTLE MERMAID CAME OUT. WERE YOU A FAN? Of course! My two sisters and I would swim in the pool and all pretend to be Ariel. I remember being sad because I was blonde and I thought, "If only I had red hair, I could play Ariel in a school show."

DRAMA CLUB, EAT YOUR HEARTS OUT—YOU GOT TO DO IT ON BROADWAY! I was at the dentist when I got the call. Yes, I answered the phone. I was like, "This just made this appointment completely bearable!"

ARE YOU NERVOUS ABOUT OPENING NIGHT? I'm not nervous, just really excited. But I've told everyone that if my idol, Barbra Streisand, were to come to the show, they can't tell me. I think I would pass out.

I HEARD YOU WARM UP BY SINGING BRITNEY SPEARS? I'm always singing show tunes as Britney Spears would sing them. I'll do a little Phantom of the Opera in Britney's voice. Also, I'll impersonate bad American Idol performances, just totally off-key, butchering songs. I'll do that in the wings, and it amuses everyone around.

IS A 16-YEAR-OLD MERMAID EASY TO RELATE TO? Sure! I remember being 16 and feeling like Ariel does, just "What else is out there for me?" I wanted to leave Denver, to go to New York. I just knew I could be a Broadway actress.