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Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Hostel,' 'Casanova,' 'Bloodrayne'


January is known as a low point for new movies because the studios release most of their best features in December for Oscar consideration. So is this January any different? Here's our weekly digest of what the critics are saying, compiled by the online magazine Slate. Mark Jordan Legan has this Summary Judgment.


First up in wide release we have the gory horror film "Hostel," and for anyone who has ever stayed in a real European hostel, the name alone should creep you out. Executive Producer Quentin Tarantino presents the latest film from Eli Roth, who scored a hit with his first bloodfest, "Cabin Fever." This time around, a group of American backpackers seek cheap thrills in the European countryside and find nothing but terror.

(Soundbite of "Hostel")

Unidentified Man #1: Please, just let me go. Please.

Unidentified Man #2: You want to go? Is that what you want?

LEGAN: The critics who didn't shield their eyes pretty much liked the violent little flick. Even though The Onion finds it `merely unpleasant and more than a little dumb,' the Hollywood Reporter praises the director, saying, `Roth turns to modern-day Asian fright filmmakers as inspiration while demonstrating an intriguing original voice of his own,' while Variety advises, `It may become something of a classic among Fangoria magazine's readership, acolytes of George Romero and audiences who thought "Saw II" was for babies.'

Next up, the busy Heath Ledger goes from a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain" to the legendary ladies' man "Casanova," which moves today from limited to wide release. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the historical sex comedy set in 18th-century Venice also stars Lena Olin and Jeremy Irons.

(Soundbite of "Casanova")

Mr. JEREMY IRONS: (As Pucci) What was the name of this vile seducer?

Unidentified Woman: Jacques Casanova, sir.

Mr. IRONS: Are you saying, my dear, that you would be willing to give me the testimony that I need to hang him?

Unidentified Woman: Yes, but I would worry about my reputation.

Mr. IRONS: If everything went according to plan, we could return your reputation and your virginity to you.

Unidentified Woman: You could do that?

Mr. IRONS: Oh, yes. We are the Catholic Church. We can do anything.

LEGAN: The critics either were seduced or insulted by the infamous womanizer. While the Chicago Tribune says, `Hallstrom gives us a genial interpretation and a supremely good-humored film,' and USA Today giggles, `an entertaining and silly romp,' The New York Post growls, `One-dimensional characters and lame one-liners make it a sitcom with petticoats.'

And our last film opening in wide release was not made available to the critics, a sure sign a studio anticipates bad reviews. But come on, the movie's "BloodRayne", based on a vampire hunter video game and directed by Germany's modern-day Ed Wood, Uwe Boll. It stars Michelle Rodriguez and Sir Ben Kingsley. Yes, that's right, you heard me. Gandhi is in "BloodRayne." For those of you still intrigued, the plot is about a gorgeous half human, half vampire hunting down the evil Kagan, king of the vampires.

(Soundbite of "BloodRayne")

Unidentified Man #3: So, we meet again.

Unidentified Man #4: Oh, Vladimir, I've always admired your spirit. It's a shame you must die. You fool, Vladimir. Aaaghh!

LEGAN: Oddly enough, even with the royal-sounding title, king of the vampires is actually an elected office. Kagan only had a year's experience on the city council of vampires, but ran a vicious campaign, accusing his opponent of everything from total disregard for sunrise to supporting same-hex marriages. This doomed Vladimir, the incumbent. Oh, and to add even more to the curiosity factor, "BloodRayne" has cameos by Billy Zane and Meat Loaf. Wow. Now you just have to go.

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles.

DAY TO DAY is production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

(Announcements) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan