dir. Tom DiCillo
Opens Fri Sept 14
Cinema 21

Writer/director Tom DiCillo's new film winds effortlessly between the inner lives of celebrities and the inner lives of bottom-feeding paparazzi. The charming Toby Grace (Michael Pitt) is our guide, a homeless yet adorable young man who traverses both worlds with the ease of someone whose relentless sincerity makes him impervious to cynicism.

Toby begins his journey with Les Galantine (Steve Buscemi), a photographer who gets excited when he's paid $700 for a shot of the fictitious celebrity Chuck Sirloin's crotch bulge. Impressed with Galantine's bravado, Toby becomes his assistant, accompanying Galantine to various celebrity functions. While his ineptitude as an assistant becomes quickly apparent, his social skills are unmatched, and soon he is flirting with a sexy casting director (Gina Gershon) and attending parties at the apartment of mega-pop-star K'Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman). Predictably, it's not long before he's left Galantine in the dust of his path to stardom.

Buscemi has never met a sleaze he couldn't make endearing, and Pitt is a revelation as a kid whose wide-eyed charm makes him irresistible to all he encounters. He doesn't rise through the ranks so much as he floats—an ascent that culminates, fittingly, in an overblown spectacle of tabloid romance, merging the film's parallel worlds into a final gesture somehow both tender and sharply pointed. JUSTIN W. SANDERS

dir. Mike Akel
Opens Fri Sept 14
Hollywood Theatre

I had high hopes for Chalk, a comedy that takes the brilliant mockumentary style of Spinal Tap, The Office, and Best in Show and sets it loose on a troupe of novice high school teachers. As a big fan of those prior works—and of high school—I was ready for a laugh fest.

Sadly, Chalk didn't live up to my expectations. It's a sweet look at a tough year for first-time teacher Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer), whose students practically assault him one hour and 10 minutes into his teaching career, forcing him to shape up fast. Meanwhile, his colleagues—from the aggressive PE teacher Coach Webb (Janelle Schremmer), a woman who likes to make it clear to people that she's not gay, to the self-absorbed but funny-as-hell Mr. Stroope (Chris Mass)—make for a great ensemble cast.

The unscripted style, however—namely, the pseudo-documentary camera work—isn't polished enough to highlight the comedic work of the actors. The film lacks the perfectly timed cutaway shots that nab characters' priceless reactions to absurd situations, instead opting for fly-on-the-wall angles that miss precious details. That said, Chalk's got enough memorable characters and situations—including a faculty spelling bee of their students' slang words—to make it worth your time. AMY J. RUIZ

Mr. Woodcock
dir. Craig Gillespie
Opens Fri Sept 14
Various Theaters

So you hated your gym teacher. Who fucking cares. Wait, what? He used to punch you in the stomach? He beat you in the genital region with any number of blunt objects? Every day? Wow. Well, that must have been really satisfying for you when your gym teacher WENT TO JAIL FOR FUCKING CHILD ABUSE. End of story!

No? Beginning of story? Fuck me.

Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), evil gym teacher, didn't go to jail for child abuse. Instead, he went on to crush the genitals and exacerbate the asthma of many, many more innocent babies. John Farley (Seann William Scott), childhood fatso, survived Woodcock's disfiguring cruelty, and went on to found a self-help empire for pussies the world over. But when Farley returns home, he discovers his widowed mommy on the receiving end of none other than Mr. Woodcock. Oops!

The real problem here (besides the fact that this movie was already a flawless Freaks and Geeks episode) is that I enthusiastically side with the villain. Farley is a complete douche. Mr. Woodcock rules—thanks to Billy Bob Thornton, whose hair plugs, comic timing, and alarmingly convincing sadistic glee manage to make child abuse hilarious again. Finally! LINDY WEST