Easy A

Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes | PG-13 |

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As affecting as it is funny, there's nothing easy about what Easy A achieves. It's current, while nodding to Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Hughes. It urges teens to make their own choices but heed the consequences. And it brings a fresh take to that old cliche, the rumor mill. So it's fitting that it's about a girl with a trampy reputation ... who happens to be a virgin.

Stone (Superbad) stars as Olive Penderghast in a gutsy performance that makes her this year's smart-girl movie queen. Olive is invisible until a tiny lie about losing her "v-card" triggers gossip. The lies spiral after she helps a gay friend by pretending to sleep with him, prompting all the outcast guys to beg Olive for a fake hookup. At first, she embraces infamy by wearing a scarlet "A" a la Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, but once a crusading prude (Bynes) digs in, things spin out of control. Olive's fight to reclaim her identity fits so neatly into the Hughes model of girls (and guys) who transcend the petty indignities of high school that everyone should get to know her. Olive is more than a role. She's a role model.

The Romantics

Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel| PG-13 |



It's too bad that Katie Holmes does some of her best work in one of her worst films. Holmes ably plays writer Laura, whose ex-beau Tom (Duhamel) is about to marry her best friend Lila (Paquin). The trouble with this triangle is that it's impossible to root for anyone, notably Tom, an emotional coward hardly worth the fight. Maybe the trio's feckless college pals (Malin Akerman, Adam Brody) are right to booze through the wedding weekend while their pals brawl. After all, why should they be the only ones who aren't self-obsessed?

I'm Still Here

Joaquin Phoenix| Not Rated |


"Hate me or like me, just don't misunderstand me," says Phoenix. We have a problem, because there's no possible means of understanding the actor in this alleged documentary that isn't just a warts-and-all account of his quitting acting-it's warts, boils, carbuncles and foul growths science hasn't yet identified. I'm Still Here, directed by Phoenix's brother-in-law Casey Affleck, shows Phoenix snorting what looks to be cocaine, cavorting with presumed prostitutes and seemingly being defecated upon. Worse, it appears to depict a man deep in mental illness, as he hounds Diddy to help him start a rap career and argues maniacally with his staff, all while being so terribly groomed you can virtually smell him. It's all profoundly sad-unless, of course, the film merely furthers the hoax most of us assumed Phoenix's antics to be when that wild beard first cropped up. But then, why bother making a pretentiously scuzzy film carrying out an elaborate joke the zeitgeist has already identified, mocked and dismissed? Either way, sadly real or pathetically fake, I'm Still Here is a film that really shouldn't be.

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