The ChangelingRated R

"The Changeling" begins with a variation of every parents' nightmare: you watch your child walk off to school, turn a corner and then vanish. Without a trace. It is a story that often captures newspaper headlines and sends chills through mothers and fathers who whisper, "There but for the grace of God ..."

And that is exactly what happens to Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother raising her 9-year-old son, Walter, in Los Angeles. The year is 1928. She leaves him home alone for an afternoon to fill in for an employee who has called in sick; she's a Pac Bell call supervisor. When she returns home late that afternoon she walks through the house and then the neighborhood and cannot find Walter. His uneaten sandwich is still in the refrigerator. His room undisturbed. He is gone.

And so she calls the L.A. police, which, as it turns out, only compounds her nightmare. Led by Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), the department is indifferent and condescending. Even mendacious.

Five months later, with great fanfare and press attention, Jones and his chief, James Davis (Colm Feore), return Walter to his mother. Christine, however, looks at the boy and, without hesitation, insists that the boy they've found is not her son. The police insist that he is and tell her repeatedly that their investigation has been extensive and this boy, though changed (it's been, after all, five months), is in fact hers. The boy also swears that she is his mother and that he is happy to be finally home.

And so begins what will eventually turn into two narratives which unfold separately though they eventually intersect. Christine will not yield and reiterates to the police and the media that the child the police delivered to her is not hers. And so, slowly, a grim tale begins to form that will eventually explain all that has occurred.

While it is tempting to say more about the plot, the power of this film is in its unanticipated twists and harrowing events. To enjoy fully this well-crafted period film, reminiscent of "China Town" in its attention to detail, the audience must have no telegraphed summary in mind.

Suffice it to say Jolie's performance is compelling (an Oscar nomination is likely) as she rides an emotional roller coaster of hope and despair. This is a substantive role and she never backs away. But then this film is filled with solid performances, — many delivered by second-tier actors such as Michael Kelly, portraying a tenacious L.A. detective — as was Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River."

"The Changeling" follows the historical record closely and though some might find it overly long, Eastwood, to his credit, allows the story to reach a kind of denouement that did not conclude until the mid-1930s.

As an aside, much has been made of Jolie's full lips. In the full page ads run before the film was released, they were the focus of the photograph of her looking down and away from the camera. Of course, they are painted an intense red and often force the eye away from her face, which is her most expressive tool. Had she eliminated the lipstick after her son goes missing, and presented a countenance that was pale and drawn, it would have served her much better.

Zack and Miri Make a PornoRated R

OK. "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" was supposed to be a lighthearted comedy and the title was merely a sign post signaling perhaps some sharp-tongued, youthful satire. Sure the envelope would be pushed to a new edge a bit, but surely absent anything truly heavy-handed, gratuitous or sleazy.

Wrong.

Admittedly, there is a nifty love story at the center of this film. Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) have been tight friends since elementary school. They are now sharing an apartment and living platonically. You know, sharing expenses, rent, and an easygoing friendship. And let's say that Rogen and Banks have a nice chemistry going. Their relationship on screen is, well, sweet.

But wait. The love story? And this is the thinnest of love stories, unoriginal, but nice. It is pushed so far to the bottom of the barrel that it gets all but lost. Essentially, for all the ersatz coupling, this is really a movie about language. Writer-director Kevin Smith has the characters engaging in nonstop rants of raunchy, sleazy, obscene verbiage that can seem clever and quick and even witty but begins to seem stale and deadly and even boring.

Do twenty-somethings really talk like this? Are there no longer any taboos left reflecting decorum or good taste or even a modicum of self-restraint? Do young people truly say whatever comes into their heads, absent any personal censorship? Is that what's mistaken for interesting conversation today?

It's as if they're reading a script written on the back of a bathroom stall door. There is not one moment of conversation in this film that is even close to representing anything substantive. Not a minute. It's all ricocheting rants that zing by without even a hint of their meaning. And no one cares. All of it, perhaps with the exception of a few honest moments between Zach and Miri during the denouement, is shallow and weird and so blatant that it all seems self-conscious and fraudulent. This can't be the norm young people are living. Can it?

Perhaps it's a generational thing. Perhaps generation X morphed into generation SW (say whatever). Or perhaps for anyone over 40 it's a bridge too far. Or better, a bridge to nowhere. At least it seems that way. Feel free to pause and weep for the coarsening, dumbing down of our civilization. Just maybe these films are the canary in the coal mine. Or not.