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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of June 3



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THE SOLOIST Here's yet another film that comes off as little more than a liberal screed. It has its merits scattered about, like so many chocolate sprinkles adorning a scoop of ice cream, but for a movie that's about compassion and understanding, it makes for a shockingly indifferent experience, filled with too many calculated homilies to allow for much more than superficial connections. It may be based on a true story, but it feels synthetic all the way. The heart of the piece – the relationship between Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), a Los Angeles newspaper columnist, and Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless man who was once a Julliard-approved musician – actually feels like the picture's most artificial component. Perhaps that's due to its similarities to Resurrecting the Champ, another recent film about the friendship between a white journalist (Josh Hartnett) and a black homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson). Or maybe it's because of its greater role as yet another picture that tries to assuage middle-class guilt by using a proxy to allow moviegoers insight into the travails of the most unfortunate among us. But the problem is that it usually only skirts the issues it raises (homelessness, lack of health care, mental illness, etc.), with the raw scenes – Nathaniel's physical assault of Steve, Steve's ex-wife (Catherine Keener) drunkenly taking him to task – too few and far between. Foxx and Downey do what they can to keep the story prickly, but when they have to contend with scenes as offensive and patronizing as the one that ends the film, even they can't prevent this from frequently hitting the wrong keys. **

STAR TREK Before TV wunderkind J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) came along, there had been five Star Trek TV shows and 10 motion pictures, a total sum that outpaces even such laughable franchises as the Friday the 13th and Halloween series. But nobody will be chuckling at what Abrams has managed to create with this reboot. The fans will doubtless quibble over some of the changes made by Abrams and the screenwriting team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, yet the overall tone is reverential, not dismissive. Basically, the trio takes us back to the early days of its leading player, detailing the circumstances that defined him first as a kid and then as a young adult (I suppose this could have been called Star Trek Origins: Kirk). Yet Abrams and his writers also introduce a wild card in Romulan warrior Nero (an unrecognizable Eric Bana), whose nefarious actions lead to an alternate reality for the members of the Enterprise: the brash Kirk (Chris Pine), the brainy Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the wisecracking Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban, pleasingly cast against type), plus their support staff of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Fans will enjoy the inside references, yet since Abrams & Co. lace the movie with plenty of humor as well as a few exciting battles, it's unlikely the uninitiated will find themselves bored. Abrams peppers his film with many familiar names and/or faces, some of them fleeting. Then again, this casting seems to echo Abrams' whole approach to this revamped Star Trek: Be playful, be unpredictable, and full speed ahead. ***1/2

STATE OF PLAY The inevitable American adaptation of the six-hour BBC-TV miniseries that aired back in 2003, State of Play is a movie that effectively operates on two levels. On one hand, it's the latest addition to the "conspiracy theory" sub-genre, a proud movie tradition that houses such dynamic entries as The Manchurian Candidate, Three Days of the Condor and The Constant Gardener. Yet on the other, it's a representative of the type of film that might eventually go the way of the dodo: the newspaper yarn. As a thriller, State of Play is crackling entertainment, even if its pieces don't always fit together after all is said and done. Russell Crowe, in his best performance since A Beautiful Mind, stars as Cal McAffrey, an old-school news reporter for the Washington Globe. Once the roommate of rising Senator Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) back in their college years, Cal is disturbed when he learns that his friend's comely assistant, who died after falling in front of a subway car, was also his mistress, a fact that threatens to derail Collins' political career. But as Cal and the paper's political blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), dig deeper, they unearth a cover-up with far-reaching implications. For all its success in the thriller arena, State of Play's real worth can be found in its attitude toward the newspaper industry. In an era in which any basement-dwelling hack with a keyboard and Web site can call himself a "journalist" (Cal has a great line about how the industry has been taken over by "bloggers and bloodsuckers"), and in which profit-driven publishers serve their shareholders rather than their readers, it's invigorating to see a motion picture that recalls the importance of the ink-stained newspaper as a tireless watchdog and champions the dedication of its honest reporters to relay all the news that's fit to print. Fit to print, people, not fit to Twitter. ***1/2

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