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Capsule reviews of films currently playing the week of April 1

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THE CLASS Don't be embarrassed if you start watching The Class and can't figure out if it's a documentary or a fictional piece; that's doubtless the effect that director Laurent Cantent was hoping to achieve. Winner of the top prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as well as an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this French import is based on Entre les Murs (Between the Walls), a novel penned by schoolteacher François Bégaudeau. Bégaudeau co-wrote the script and plays himself in the movie, which is shot in cinema verité style by Cantent – add up all these facts and we're left with a fictionalized presentation that walks and talks like a documentary. Set in a Paris high school, the movie follows Bégaudeau over the course of one year, sticking with him as he struggles to maintain his cool in the midst of so many openly hostile students. Certainly, there are plenty of good kids, but there are also some whose sole purpose on this planet seems to be to question authority. That's hardly a new concept – teens have been testing the patience of their elders ever since the first professor drew a mark on the cave wall and a pupil argued its purpose – but what's particularly interesting about The Class is that there aren't always clear-cut delineations between "right" and "wrong" behavior: The students' frustrations are sometimes justified, and while Bégaudeau seems to have his heart in the right place, his ability to communicate often gets hampered by the limitations of the curriculum, the limitations of the teaching environment, and even by his own limitations as an instructor. There's nothing particularly revelatory about the film – unless you happen to believe that the United States is the only country with an educational system in disarray – but it's a piercing look at a generation gap that only seems to be gaping ever more widely. ***

CORALINE Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas was actually Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas, given that it was the latter who actually directed the film. Here, he displays his mastery again, helming an eye-popping animated extravaganza he adapted from Neil Gaiman's best-selling book. Dakota Fanning provides the voice of Coraline, a lonely little girl who discovers an alternate world hidden behind a small door in her family's new house. Initially, life does seem more pleasant on the other side – her alternate parents are hipper, the food is tastier, the entertainment is more dazzling – but it's not long before things take a dark turn, and, with the help of a sage black cat, Coraline soon finds herself fighting for her very soul. The visual scheme – as with Nightmare, stop-motion animation is the order of the day – is remarkable enough in any dimension, but do make an effort to catch the film in one of its 3-D presentations. ***1/2

HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU This long-on-the-shelf comedy-drama is a muddled he-said-she-said yarn that, even in this supposedly enlightened age, manages to reduce most of its characters (male and female) to the most base stereotypes. Based on the bestseller by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, it centers on nine Baltimore residents all looking for love or sex or some combination thereof. Unfortunately, most of these characters are either self-centered dipshits (e.g. Justin Long's emotionless player, Bradley Cooper's philandering husband) or emotional retards (Ginnifer Goodwin's whiny nerd, Jennifer Aniston's marriage-manipulating girlfriend). Jennifer Connelly (as Cooper's patient wife) and Ben Affleck (as Aniston's devoted boyfriend) arguably fare best, though that probably has as much to do with their characters (more tolerable than the rest) as with their performances. *1/2

I LOVE YOU, MAN Like most films in the Judd Apatow vein (the man himself wasn't involved with this project, but the principal players are all veterans of his works), this attempts to strike a desirable balance between sweet sincerity and risqué raunch. Yet perhaps more than any of the other films (Knocked Up, Superbad, etc.), it frequently pulls back when it reaches the edge of vulgarity. (That's not to say the picture doesn't fully deserve its R rating: With its ample selection of crude language, no one will be mistaking it for Mary Poppins.) Paul Rudd (in a disarming performance) stars as Peter Klaven, a nice guy who's always put his energy into his relationships with women. Because of this, he doesn't have a single male friend, so after he proposes to his girlfriend Zooey (immensely appealing Rashida Jones) and realizes he has no one to serve as his best man at their wedding, he sets out on a mission to find an eligible dude. His first few "dates" are disastrous, but he eventually meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), who's his complete opposite: disheveled in appearance, able to converse openly about sex, and completely comfortable in his own guy-skin. It's after Sydney's first appearance that I Love You, Man had the potential to self-destruct, as most filmmakers would turn Sydney into a complete creep or psychopath, a walking nightmare fueled by booze and testosterone. Yet while he does often come across as boorish, he's allowed to remain a fundamentally ordinary guy, and an often decent one at that. Unlike some of the other sweet-and-sour comedies of modern times, this one doesn't provide much in the way of large belly laughs. But it's pleasurable enough to paste a smile on the face for the majority of its running time. ***

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