"Looper" — Fans of time-travel movies know that much of the fun of the genre comes from obsessing over whether it all makes sense, both while you're watching it and in long, complicated conversations afterward. What's smart about "Looper" — and what makes it more compelling than colder sci-fi — is the way writer-director Rian Johnson establishes the machinery of the time-travel concept, then steadily pushes it into the background in favor of exploring his characters and the difficult questions they face. Johnson's feature debut, 2005's "Brick," signaled him as an ambitious filmmaker with a distinctive voice. Here, with his third film, he's expanded both his scope and his eye for vivid detail. He incorporates a variety of genres and influences, from dystopian, futuristic science fiction and dark comedy to parental drama and romance, with a Wild West shootout and even some "Terminator" thrown in. But he always stays true to his characters in his fully realized world. The year is 2044, and America has fallen into a state of stylish squalor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in his darkest role yet, plays Joe, a junkie and former criminal who makes ends meet in this depraved world by working as a "looper," a hired gun. Time travel hasn't been invented yet, but it will be 30 years further in the future. A powerful mob boss known as the Rainmaker sends his enemies back in time to have them obliterated with no loose ends. But sometimes, future versions of the loopers themselves show up on the spot; this is known as "closing your own loop," and it means getting a handsome payout and a set period of 30 more years to live it up. Trouble is, when Joe's future-self arrives in the form of Bruce Willis, he hesitates, then watches him run off. R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content. 119 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Writer
"Pitch Perfect" — Cheeky and snarky but with an infectious energy, this comedy set in the world of competing college a cappella groups makes us fall in love with the very thing it's making fun of. It's ridiculous and predictable but also just a ton of fun, so you may as well give up and give into your inner musical theater geek. The debut feature from director Jason Moore (Broadway's "Avenue Q") and writer Kay Cannon ("30 Rock"), based on the non-fiction book by Mickey Rapkin, feels like a mash-up of "Glee" and "Revenge of the Nerds," with a soundtrack ranging from David Guetta and Bruno Mars to The Bangles and Simple Minds. Some performances will make you smile; others will give you chills. And speaking of mash-ups, that's exactly the genre that forces the film's female singing group out of its comfort zone of conservative choreography and corny vocal arrangements. Their reluctant catalyst is Beca, an antisocial, aspiring DJ played by Anna Kendrick; this is an amusing irony in contrast with Kendrick's usually sunny, Type-A screen persona, and given her off-screen Broadway musical bona fides. Freshman Beca is part of a rag-tag class of recruits who join the Barden University Bellas, perky young women who dress like flight attendants, adhere to a rigid set of rules and have supersecret, sorority-style rituals. It's their goal to knock off the school's rival guy group and win the national championship. An outrageous Rebel Wilson, whose character nicknamed herself "Fat Amy," gets many of the film's best lines, while the wonderfully odd Hana Mae Lee steals her share of scenes in her own quiet way. PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references. 112 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Won't Back Down" — The focus of this save-our-school drama practically assures it will fail to join the ranks of great, or even good, education tales. The movie takes the story out of the classroom and into the halls of bureaucracy, leaving almost every kid behind to center on two plucky parents battling entrenched administrators and union leaders to turn around a failing school. So essentially, it's a school board meeting. Or school bored. Despite earnest performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a pair of moms leading the fight, the movie lives down to its bland, us-against-them title with a simple-minded assault on the ills of public schools that lumbers along like a math class droning multiplication tables. Director and co-writer Daniel Barnz gets lost in the red tape of education politics as Gyllenhaal's Jamie and Davis' Nona take on the suits in a grass-roots move by parents and teachers to seize control of their kids' abysmal school. And it's the children who suffer here. Other than some token scenes involving Jamie and Nona's kids, the students are mere extras in a drama that spends most of its time prattling on about how the children are what matter most. The movie doesn't exactly practice what it teaches. PG for thematic elements and language. 121 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer