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Summary Judgment: 'Dreamgirls,' 'The Good German'


And in case you're planning to slip into a warm theater during this holiday weekend, here is our weekly digest of how the film critics feel about the new releases.

Mark Jordan Legan of the online magazine Slate has this Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: As 2006 draws to a close, it's only natural to look back and become reflective. Like, why did I pay 11 bucks to see "Beer Fest"? Well, we're here to help.

The nation's film critics actually like most of the new movies opening in wide release today. The Tony award-winning Broadway musical "Dreamgirls" has been adapted for the screen. And this rags to riches story of a female singing group stars Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, and American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson.

(Soundbite of movie, "Dreamgirls")

Mr. JAMIE FOXX (Actor): (As Curtis Taylor Jr.) Cut. What's going on with you? You are still too loud.

Ms. JENNIFER HUDSON (Singer; Actress): (As Effie White) I'm trying Curtis.

Mr. FOXX: (As Curtis Taylor Jr.) If you don't ease up, I'll do it for you.

Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES (Singer, Actress): (As Deena Jones) Maybe we should just come back in the morning.

Mr. FOXX: (As Curtis Taylor Jr.) You know we can't. The album's already a month late.

The critics cheer for "Dreamgirls." And Jennifer Hudson in particular gets raves for her performance. Newsweek gushes, the movie belongs to Hudson. When she's center stage, "Dreamgirls" transports you to a movie musical heaven.

USA Today agrees. When Hudson's on screen, the movie shines. When she's not, the whole endeavor suffers. But the New Yorker has hugs and kisses for the entire production - a great movie musical has been made at last.

And if a flashy musical doesn't fit in with your post holiday mood, then maybe a turbulent love story set during a major cholera epidemic in 1920's China is more apropos. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts star in the limited release drama, "The Painted Veil," based on the classic novel by Somerset Maugham.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Painted Veil")

Mr. EDWARD NORTON (Actor): (As Walter) Honestly, I don't understand you. What is it that you want from my?

Ms. NAOMI WATTS (Actress): (As Kitty) Perhaps I just want us to be a little less unhappy.

Mr. NORTON: (As Walter) You're mistaken in thinking that I'm unhappy. I've far too much to here to think of you very much at all.

Ms. WTTS: (As Kitty) That's exactly that's I'm trying to say. I feel useless.

Mr. NORTON: (As Walter) What do you propose that I do about that?

Ms. WATTS: (As Kitty) For god's sakes, Walter. Will you stop punishing me?

LEGAN: Most of the nation's critics were swept away by the beauty and the powerful performances. Even though the L.A. Times complains, it's impeccable but leaves you cold.

Premiere ranks it as one of the year's quiet gems. The New York Daily News points out that "The Painted Veil" may begin slowly, but it also ends too soon. And the Minneapolis Star Tribune cheers, stunning locations, a story with strong emotional and spiritual conflicts, and a first rate cast.

But if all that sounds a bit too heavy, how about a black and white mystery set during post-World War II Berlin? "The Good German" reunites academy award-winning director Steven Soderbergh and star George Clooney as they bring together a powerful ensemble that includes Toby Maguire and Cate Blanchett.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Captain Jacob Jake Geismer) Where are you going?

Ms. CATE BLANCHETT (Actress): (As Lena Brandt) I have someone to meet.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Capt. Jacob 'Jake' Geismer) Who?

Ms. BLANCHETT: (As Lena Brandt) Stop following me.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Capt. Jacob 'Jake' Geismer) What about the curfew?

Ms. BLANCHETT: (As Lena Brandt) Life is inconvenient sometimes like that.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Capt. Jacob 'Jake' Geismer) It's not safe.

Ms. BLANCHETT: (As Lena Brandt) And always it seems not safe.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Capt. Jacob 'Jake' Geismer) Who?

Ms. BLANCHETT: (As Lena Brandt) Someone who can get me out of Berlin.

LEGAN: The critics are split on this, some agreeing with the title and others suggesting it be called "The Average German." The Miami Herald finds it fascinating in concept but a disaster in execution. An ambitious myth, suggests New York Magazine. But Rolling Stones says, haunting and hypnotic. And The Chicago Reader calls "The Good German" engrossing. It's an R-rated "Casablanca.

Wow, an R-rated "Casablanca," sounds intriguing. We'll always have Paris, you (bleep) ugly (bleep). And play it Sam, or I'll (bleep) that (bleep) right out of you. Ah, there's nothing like the classics.


Mark Jordan Legan is a writer and he lives in Los Angeles.

More to come on DAY TO DAY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.