School of Continuing Education

One Day (2011)

Giles Keyte/Focus Features

By the time “One Day,” a decades-spanning nonromance, gets around to making one of its main characters seem like an actual human, the film’s just about over. That’s a fundamental problem for filmmaker Lone Scherfig, who follows up her overrated “An Education,” and screenwriter David Nicholls, adapting his novel.

For the first two-thirds of the picture, protagonists Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) are ciphers at the whim of a gimmicky narrative, which charts the evolution of their close friendship (and repressed romance) beginning on July 15, 1988 before continuing on the same date each successive year.

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When Harry Met His Fate . . .

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (2011)

Warner Brothers Pictures

The end of the “Harry Potter” saga is more than the culmination of a decade-spanning big-screen standard. For the legions of fans that have devoured J. K. Rowling’s books and their movie adaptations, most of whom are now well into their college years and beyond, this is in many ways a coda to childhood itself.

So it’s no great surprise the crowds have turned out in droves and a record-breaking opening weekend is expected. The auditoriums showing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” after all are serving witness to what is essentially the world’s largest wake, a final chance to toast Harry, Ron, Hermione, Voldemort, Muggles, Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Snape and the other familiars before they go gently into the proverbial good night.

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March Hare of the Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)

Barry Wetcher/20th Century Fox

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is one of the rather regrettable updated adaptations of classic children’s books that come around every so often. “Stuart Little” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” are among those that come to mind.

Richard and Florence Atwater, authors of the Newbery Honor-winning 1938 book upon which this film is based, would doubtfully be pleased with this standard-issue slapstick-with-sentimentality family production.

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Close Encounters of the Amblin Kind

Super 8 (2011)

Super-8-zach-mills-elle-fanning-riley-griffiths-ryan-lee-joel-courtney plays Joe Lamb-gabriel-basso
François Duhamel/Paramount Pictures

Paramount has engaged in a meticulous secrecy campaign with its marketing of “Super 8,” the latest directorial effort from writer-director-producer-all-around-mogul J. J. Abrams. Its trailers and other promotional spots reveal little beyond the promise of a nostalgic return to Amblin-style family entertainment.

It’s a smart, effective tactic for drumming up interest in the summer’s first major release that’s not a sequel, comic-book installment or the latest film off the lucrative Judd Apatow assembly line. It’s also a bit self-destructive, creating the promise and expectation of some sort of big, earth-shattering narrative with a major M. Night Shyamalan-at-his-best caliber surprise that’d have been frankly impossible for Mr. Abrams, given the tenor of what he was working on.

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A Mutant Admiration Society

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Murray Close/20th Century Fox

“X-Men: First Class” is the crowning achievement of the mutant-superhero franchise thus far, a rejuvenated enterprise with a new director and cast and a story worth telling. Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake,” “Kick-Ass”) takes over and makes a film all his own, an efficient and emotionally affecting character-driven spectacle that is enhanced but not overwhelmed by its elaborate action scenes.

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The Lincoln Lawyering

The Conspirator (2011)

Claudette Barius/Roadside Attractions

Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” suffers from some of the the same wooden, point-and-shoot didactic dramatics that characterized the Academy Award winner’s “Lions for Lambs.” Yet it offers a valuable look at an iconic historical event from a never-before-seen perspective, molded to an evocative portrait of high-society Washington D.C. on edge in the wake of the Lincoln assassination.

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Taking Another Stab at Meta-Horror

Scream 4 (2011)

Gemma La Mana/Dimension Films

In reviving the “Scream” franchise some 11 years after its second sequel, director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson have improbably found the way to territory that’s even more meta than before. The self-aware characters in the first three films always seemed to know they were pawns in a horror-movie game. In “Scream 4,” the protagonists must grapple with the genre’s rules and those of the franchise reboot, as a new generation’s revival of the Ghostface killer parallels the filmmakers’ resuscitation of this late-’90s cinematic icon.

All the self-reflexivity and layered mirror effects make for an experience that’s of a fun and lighthearted tongue-in-cheek variety, with some notably clever wink-wink twists. In the 15 years since the first film’s release, however, Messrs. Craven and Williamson have forgotten that beneath the dense, fourth-wall-shattering aesthetic of that groundbreaking initial effort was a genuinely scary slasher flick.

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Stranger on an Unstoppable Train

Source Code (2011)

Jonathan Wenk/
Summit Entertainment

As the biological son of Ziggy Stardust, Duncan Jones has science fiction in his DNA. That God-given gift, when combined with the young Zowie Bowie’s grooming on movies such as “Solaris” and “Blade Runner,” might not have guaranteed that he’d become one of the genre’s premiere cinematic purveyors; but if you had to make a futures bet in the ’80s, well, you could have done a lot worse.

“Source Code,” his sophomore effort, is a safer, more streamlined venture than his ambitious debut “Moon,” a one-man show starring Sam Rockwell. Still, the filmmaker derives grand twisty pleasures out of the “Groundhog Day”-on-a-train premise, with the film’s smart contemporary allusions, its protagonist’s stark emotional journey and a Hitchcockian aptitude for creatively maximizing the potential of a constrained setting.

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Can't Fight the Twilight

Red Riding Hood (2011)

Kimberly French/Warner Bros. Pictures

Movies are often sold to studios on the promise of combining flick A and flick B to produce, well, flick A-plus-B or something. For example, “ ‘Dumb & Deader’ will totally be similar to ‘Dumb & Dumber’-meets-‘Sudden Death’.” It’s the age-old explanation for why Hollywood plagiarizes itself with such fervor.

In formulating “Red Riding Hood,” her ridiculous teenybopper-geared retooling of the fairy tale, director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”) clearly couldn’t be bothered to restrict the formula to two movies, or TV shows, or popular trends. Instead, the medieval village-set picture is “Gossip Girl”-meets-“Spring Awakening”-and-a-Renaissance Faire with a dash of “Twilight,” a sprinkling of MTV, a touch of Baz Luhrmann-style anachronisms and all the sweeping helicopter shots you’ll ever need.

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Tell It to the Marines

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Columbia Pictures

“Battle: Los Angeles” zeroes in on the least interesting aspect of a hostile, militaristic alien invasion: the frontline combat. The specter and mystery of a sudden and fierce extraterrestrial colonization attempt is wiped away by filmmaker Jonathan Liebesman. In its stead is a full-length version of one of those ubiquitous “Be all you can be” ads, an excuse for a band of one-dimensional United States Marines to flex its collective muscle.

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