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Where Conan can't stop, and more

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (R)

In a country where pop-culture frenzy comes and goes faster than summer, it's easy to forget that a little more than a year ago, late-night TV viewers were picking sides in what became the feud of 2010. In this documentary chronicling that period, a bearded Conan O'Brien sprints (and at times stumbles) through a shotgun 32-city tour following his termination from The Tonight Show. Shot during a period when he was contractually prohibited from appearing on TV, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop takes an intimate look at the comedian during a point in his life where he's frustrated, confused, and decidedly unfunny. "I don't know where my home is," he admits in one of the movie's most telling moments. Can't Stop neither inspires nor offends; it's simpler than that. It avoids becoming a Team Coco love letter and acts instead as a stripped-down portrait of a man who just can't sit still. Appropriately, it's in his most frantic moments that O'Brien is at his funniest. Cameos from Eddie Vedder and Jon Hamm keep things light, but it's clear that O'Brien is happiest in front of an audience. And it looks an awful lot like home. (Lydia Munnell)

The Art of Getting By (PG-13) — This coming-of-age tale looks like dozens of other coming-of-age tales: Grown-up Freddie Highmore (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) plays a smart-ass slacker who's dangerously close to no diploma. Bumbling along his senior year, he has no friends, a negligent father, an overbearing mother, a pompous stepfather, and a girl (Emma Roberts) who seems to have all the answers to his tortured-artist issues. First-time feature writer and director Gavin Wiesin does a capable job of stretching out the thin material, but for a movie about finding your way in the world, it gets lost in a conventional story. (Courtney Kerrigan)

Green Lantern (PG-13) — This is exactly the type of empty summer blowout they warn you about. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a hotshot test pilot who reluctantly becomes part of an intergalactic corps of peacekeepers after he inherits a glowing green ring that turns him into the titular hero. The movie can be harmless fun whenever Hal suits up. Unfortunately, most of Green Lantern is bogged down with Hal's boring backstory, his relationship with an ex-turned-boss (Blake Lively), and a subplot involving a scientist (Peter Sarsgaard) who comes in contact with an alien. It doesn't help that Reynolds plays Hal like an extreme-asshole version of Tony Stark. (Michael Gallucci)

The Hangover Part II (R) — Like in the first Hangover, the raunchier sequel starts with most of the damage already done. This time it's Stu (Ed Helms) who's getting married, and the "wolf pack" (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Justin Bartha) heads to Thailand for the wedding. Then comes one crazy night in Bangkok that nobody can recall. This is pretty much the first movie with a new setting. (Gallucci)

Kung Fu Panda 2 (PG) — There's not nearly as much quiet time here as there was in the first movie. Too bad, since the reflective scenes work way better than the ones with the evil peacock who plans to take over China. The movie avoids pop-culture references, guaranteeing a longer shelf life than the last Shrek. But there are plenty of boring scenes. (Gallucci)

Midnight in Paris (PG-13) — Woody Allen returns to the rain-soaked blue notes and nervous, bourgeois babble found in his best films. Owen Wilson plays Woody stand-in Gil, who's on a pre-wedding trip to Paris with his high-maintenance fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Gil falls in love with all the nostalgic charm of the city and, lost one night, ends up at a party with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Cole Porter. Soon he's fumbling his way into the artistic elite and falling for a flapper played by Marion Cotillard. Allen's reimagining of 1920s Paris is beautiful, laden with the soft light of warmth and age, and a love for things past. (Lydia Munnell)

Mr. Popper's Penguins (PG) — Jim Carrey plays Tommy Popper, a successful real-estate developer who lives for business hours and the big score. His winning streak comes to a screeching halt after he inherits a penguin from his late explorer father. After a misunderstanding, he acquires five more and faces a whole mess of problems that come with having flightless aquatic birds in a fancy N.Y.C. apartment. He's also trying to land the biggest deal of his life and reconnect with his ex-wife and kids. Think the penguins will help? You at least have to hand it to Mr. Popper's Penguins for taking such an old-school approach — complete with penguin farts and a high-society party-crashing — to summer family comedy. And there are some sweet scenes; it's a minor achievement for a movie filled with pooping penguins. (Michael Gallucci)

Super 8 (PG-13) — J.J. Abrams' nostalgic monster movie sticks close to producer Steven Spielberg's playbook: kids vs. skeptical adults, shady military personnel, a young protagonist raised by a single parent, and a deliberate build-up to the big reveal. In 1979, a group of kids from suburban Ohio are making a zombie movie when they witness a spectacular train accident. Soon, strange things are happening around town: missing dogs, stolen appliances, power outages, and a shadowy creature snatching up folks. Super 8 fondly recalls a time when Famous Monsters of Filmland still mattered to middle-school boys. These old-school shadings — as opposed to blood, guts, and severed limbs — are the movie's centerpiece. (Michael Gallucci)

The Tree of Life (PG-13) — Terrence Malick's flawed, pretentious, and totally mesmerizing movie tells the story of a God-fearing small-town family in the '50s and the three boys who come of age under oppressive and emotionally distant dad Brad Pitt. If you've ever wondered what audiences were thinking the first time they saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, this probably comes pretty close, with its open-ended splendor and wordless beauty. (Gallucci)

X-Men: First Class (PG-13) — The X-Men finally get their backstory in this terrific prequel/reboot. And it's just what the series needed: a smart, fun, and thrilling movie that gets to know the humans inside the mutants. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender play Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr before they become Professor X and Magneto. They battle arrogance, anger, their still-untested superpowers, and eventually each other. It all leads to First Class' best scenes, but the movie's soul is in its origin story — the start of something great. (Gallucci)

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