"Savages" -- Oliver Stone's latest is a lurid, pulpy film noir with a sexy, sometimes dreamlike California beach vibe. It's an intriguing contrast, this mixing of a genre and an aesthetic that may not necessarily sound like they'd blend well together, but the result is the most explosively poppy film Stone has made in a long time. "Savages" is darkly funny and stylishly violent but never reaches the overwhelming level of audiovisual assault of, say, "Natural Born Killers," for example. Directing from a script he co-wrote with Shane Salerno and Don Winslow (based on Winslow's novel), Stone draws us into this glamorous yet seedy world and draws strong performances from his eclectic ensemble cast. Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson co-star as best friends and business partners Chon and Ben, young surfer-dude bad-asses who got rich quick growing a particularly strong strain of pot. They live in a spectacular Laguna Beach home with endless views of the Pacific Ocean and happily share the affections of their mutual girlfriend, the beautiful, blonde O (Blake Lively). Everything's going great until the leader of a Mexican cartel, the regal but ruthless Elena (a fantastic, scenery-chewing Salma Hayek) tries to expand her territory by taking over their business. Much brutal bloodshed ensues. John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bechir and Emile Hirsch are among the players with something at stake in this increasingly deadly game. R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout. 129 minutes. Three stars out of four.
-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Katy Perry: Party of Me" -- This Katy Perry documentary and its forerunner, "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," are mesmerizing pieces of pop propaganda. Both 3-D concert films give a reality TV-style portrait of a young star, scrubbed clean, at the pinnacle of pop: touring sold-out arenas while making Herculean sacrifices, always finding time for their fans and goofing around with their entourages of stylists and assistants. They're unabashedly commercial movies made about unabashedly commercial enterprises. And yet they're kind of fascinating. That's because "Part of Me" is as good a document you're likely to find of modern pop stardom: how it's packaged, how it's sold and what kind of power it holds over screaming 'tween girls. The film, directed by reality show veterans Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (the pair produced "Never Say Never,") follows Perry's 2011 California Dreams world tour. The blue-haired, dinner-plate eyed 27-year-old makes for a compelling character, but the film doesn't succeed as a full portrait. A less PG-friendly, more complicated version of the star surely exists off-screen. It must. PG for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking. 97 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
-- Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"Take This Waltz" -- Here's how masterfully Sarah Polley manipulates tone in just her second film as writer and director: She takes the Buggles' peppy '80s anthem "Video Killed the Radio Star," best known as the video that launched MTV, and finds unexpected poignancy in it. Following Polley's beautiful 2006 debut "Away From Her," ''Take This Waltz" further establishes the young Canadian as an exciting filmmaker to watch, one with a maturity beyond her years. She takes risks, isn't afraid to explore raw emotions and is willing to let her characters make mistakes that could make them unlikable. At the same time, Polley (who's been an actress herself) never judges them. Instead, she depicts the giddy, fleeting and illusory nature of new love, and lets us get caught up in it, too. Michelle Williams gives the kind of subtle, complex performance we've come to expect from her as Margot, a freelance writer living in Toronto with her husband of five years, Lou (Seth Rogen, surprisingly good in a more low-key, dramatic role), a cook who spends his days in the kitchen working on chicken recipes. While out of town for an assignment, Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby). Their chemistry is immediate but it becomes even more obvious once they find they're seated together on the flight home. Then as they share a cab from the airport, it turns out they just happen to live across the street from each other. As Margot and Daniel find reasons to bump into each other, the flirtation and tension steadily build. R for language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity. 116 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic