"Argo"

Believe the Oscar-induced hype: This is a terrific film. Director and star Ben Affleck -- who I had written off as a lightweight -- proves me dramatically wrong by creating a gripping thriller based on the real-life 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

To rescue a group of American Embassy personnel hiding in the Canadian ambassador's house, the CIA cooks up a preposterous scheme to create a fake film as a cover for the rescue operation. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are ridiculously terrific as the Hollywood insiders who help convince the world that a real movie is being made.

Affleck has pulled together a movie that works on every front: a sharp script, a period setting done perfectly and amazing acting -- all layered atop a foreign policy debacle that still haunts America.

High intensity make this best for teens 14 years old and up. (R: violence and language). 2 hours.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 3½ stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 3 stars

Adults: 3½ stars

Seniors: 3½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- a marvelous film that you need to see.

"Hope Springs"

I love the recent trend, pioneered in movies like "Something's Gotta Give" and "It's Complicated" of love stories about older couples. Hollywood has realized that one need not be 23 and rail-thin to star in a romance film.


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In this outing, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a married couple who have fallen way out of love. He's a rude bully who sleeps in the guest room and she's a mousy housewife afraid of change. That all gets upended when they visit a Maine marriage therapist played by Steve Carell.

We're meant to root for this troubled marriage to pull through, but I had a hard time mustering enthusiasm, as neither character was compelling and their relationship even less so. Streep and Jones individually did acceptable jobs, but there was zero chemistry between them.

And unlike Streep's "Complicated," there's no humor to be found -- don't be fooled by Carell's participation. All of this left me indifferent to the outcome, which is never a good sign.

Too mature for kids and teens. (PG-13: sex). 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2 stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 1 star

Adults: 2 stars

Seniors: 2½ stars

Should you watch it? No -- a flat soda of a romance picture.

"Chico & Rita"

In contrast to "Hope Springs," this film is one of the most dynamic love stories you'll see all year, and the fact that it is animated and in Spanish makes it all the more amazing.

Set in postwar Cuba, we follow two star-crossed lovers (the voices of Limara Meneses and Eman Xor Oña) on the island's hot jazz circuit. Their on-again-off-again love affair, set to a blazing soundtrack, is deeply moving.

Don't mistake this for a children's movie because of the cartoon format; this is decidedly a mature movie. (Not rated but equivalent to an R for sex and language). Spanish with English subtitles. 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 3½ stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 2½ stars

Adults: 3½ stars

Seniors: 3½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- a wonderful jazz-infused Cuban love story.

J.B. Alderman lives in Piedmont and can be reached at jason@alderman.net.