Capsule reviews: 'Captain America,' 'Project Nim'

Associated Press
In this publicity image released by Sundance Selects, Claire Sloma, left, and Annette DeNoyer are shown in a scene from "The Myth of the American Sleepover." (AP Photo/Sundance Selects)
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In this publicity image released by Sundance Selects, Claire Sloma, left, and Annette DeNoyer are shown in a scene from "The Myth of the American Sleepover." (AP Photo/Sundance Selects)

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"Another Earth" — The possibility that there's another version of you out there — and of me, and of everyone we know — provides the mind-teasing premise here. It's heady stuff, the kind of notion you'd toss around with your friends after too many beers and achieve no satisfactory answers, then go home and have strange dreams. But such philosophical fodder is contrasted with an achingly personal tale of loss and redemption. These two conflicting dynamics comprise the feature debut from Mike Cahill, who serves as director, co-writer, producer and cinematographer. He offers an intriguing juxtaposition of melodramatic elements — highs and lows that are the stuff of Greek tragedy — with a stripped-down, low-budget aesthetic. Cahill co-wrote the script with Brit Marling, who's also the film's star. Marling has a natural beauty and an immediacy to her emotions that make her impossible to stop watching. Her character, the MIT-bound Rhoda, crosses paths in a deadly car crash with William Mapother as an acclaimed composer. Years later, she tries to make amends with him, as a second version of our Earth inches ever closer. PG-13 for disturbing images, some sexuality, nudity and brief drug use. 92 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Captain America: The First Avenger" — The last Marvel Comics setup for next summer's all-star blockbuster "The Avengers" finds Chris Evans starring as the World War II fighting hero. Evans brings an earnest dignity and intelligence to the role of Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid from Brooklyn with dreams of military glory. But scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees something special in him and enlists him for a daring experiment. Through some high-tech injections, Steve is transformed into a supersoldier known as Captain America. But he isn't the only one who's juicing: Hugo Weaving plays the former Nazi leader Johann Schmidt, aka Red Skull, who's formed his own splinter group and built some intimidating weapons. Director Joe Johnston's film feels weighty and substantial, even in 3-D, and it has a beautiful, sepia-toned, art-deco look about it. The abundant supporting cast includes Tommy Lee Jones and Dominic Cooper. But "Captain America" is far more engaging when it's about a scrappy underdog overcoming the odds than it is about generic shootouts and exploding tanks. And it only scratches the surface in trying to examine the perils of premature fame. PG-13 for intense sequence of sci-fi violence and action. 126 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Friends with Benefits" — Director and co-writer Will Gluck ("Easy A") has crafted a hyper, R-rated, postmodern rom-com that laments the genre's saccharine falsehoods while ultimately falling prey to the clichés it strives to upend. The dialogue is snappy and the plot makes efforts for emotional realism, but the story is a familiar one: romantically exhausted friends (Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) try to forge a sexual relationship without emotion. They have terrific comedic timing and look great in bed together, but don't have enough friction for real chemistry. Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins lead a strong supporting cast, but Gluck's film is too smooth for the realism and mockery it seeks. Its best parody comes in a film within the film, a mock rom-com with Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. Easily superior to and far smarter than the earlier released "No Strings Attached." R for sexual content and language. 104 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

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"The Myth of the American Sleepover" — Not a single moment rings false in this quietly observant, gently insightful feature debut from writer-director David Robert Mitchell. What's amazing is that Mitchell has taken a genre that's overly familiar — the all-night teen dramedy — and makes it feel refreshing and new. He also makes it look effortless: By assembling a cast of unknowns, some of whom had never acted before, he creates a warm aura of authenticity and naturalism. Rather than seeming stiff, these kids simply feel real. Mitchell is clearly paying homage to "American Graffiti," both in structure and tone, and has similarly set it in the place of his own youth, suburban Detroit. But "Myth" never lapses into parody. It's too earnest for that, it has more substantial plans. At the high-school track and the community pool, the grocery store and the dance studio, Mitchell follows several characters as they prepare for and attend a series of parties and sleepovers. This little movie is pretty much perfect in depicting youthful imperfection. Not rated but contains teen smoking and drinking and language. 93 minutes. Four stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Project Nim" — Director James Marsh, who won the documentary-feature Oscar for 2008's "Man on Wire," takes on yet another story of astounding human behavior; while he crafted that film about tightrope-walker Philippe Petit with the thrills of a heist flick, this animal tale plays like an engrossing, dramatic biography. In a bold experiment during the 1970s, Nim, a chimpanzee, was taken from his mother's arms just days after his birth and raised as a child — until his animal instincts became too overpowering and it became painfully obvious that the people in charge of him had no idea what they were doing. Marsh has interviewed the key players, most of whom look back with a cleareyed combination of fondness and regret. You get the sense that their intentions were honorable in studying the way animals and humans communicate — at least, at first. "Project Nim" ends on a vaguely uplifting note, but not before shaking you up and making you ponder what humanity is really all about. PG-13 for some strong language, drug content, thematic elements and disturbing images. 93 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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