Johnny Depp

“Bad Teacher” (R) — Cameron Diaz is Elizabeth, a selfish, hard-partying schoolteacher waiting to land the man who can rescue her from her the job she hates. While the film promises outrageous and shocking humor, it always seems to go the slow and obvious route. Chock-full of cliches and mediocre performances, “Bad Teacher” scrapes by with a grade of C.

The lesson here is if you want an audience to like a movie with an unlikable protagonist, it should at least be funny. Diaz doesn’t have the proven comedy talent of Jason Segel or even Justin Timberlake, who both go underutilized.

“A Better Life” (PG-13) — This poignant drama follows Carlos (Demian Bichir), an immigrant and a single-father in Los Angeles. Working hard as a landscaper, Carlos’ sole motivation is to give his teenage son, Luis, all the opportunities he never had. With artful directing and a career-highlight performance by Bichir, trimming trees becomes a glimpse at another life, and buying a pickup truck embodies the first step to a new future.

Without any trick moves or Hollywood silliness, the father-son journey plays out with a compassionate tone. “A Better Life” humanizes murky issues without bludgeoning the audience with social messages.

“Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times” (R) — In a turbulent time of new technology and trailblazing trends, one of the most respected newspapers in the world can hear the barbarians outside the gates. This documentary takes a multidimensional look at The New York Times, its staff and the myriad winds of change blowing down its venerable doors. It’s not just business, as the film shows that the heart of traditional journalism — dedicated reporters and editors pouring themselves into the job — is still beating.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (PG-13) — Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is pushed back in front of the camera to stumble through a few more tropical locales for this fourth installment of the rapidly deteriorating “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. This time, Captain Sparrow is forced into service with the legendary Blackbeard and a beauty named Angelica (Penelope Cruz). That’s about where the writing staff gave up, because everything beyond that is a mess of a paper-thin plots and here-we-go-again adventure.

Way back in 2003, the first “Pirates” was an exhilarating surprise of a cinematic journey. Since then, each movie has pulled that magic apart by the seams. Even the additions of the gorgeous Cruz as a new romance and the menacing Ian McShane as Blackbeard couldn’t keep this one afloat. Like the mutterings of Sparrow himself, this franchise has descended into an incoherent jumble of sailorisms and fading charm.

“V: The Complete Second Season”
“Thundercats: Season 1”
“American Pickers: Volume Two”
“Top Shot: Reloaded — Season 2”

© 2011 King Features Synd., Inc.