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Summary Judgment: 'Brave,' 'Freedom Writers,' 'Happily'


Now that the big holiday movie season has ended, let's see if any of the January releases are worth your time. Mark Jordan Legan of the online magazine Slate has our weekly digest of what critics are saying. Here's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: A new year is upon us, and I've already broken my resolution, which was to stop sneaking hot baby back ribs into the theaters. But sometimes your food can be the best thing about the movie-going experience, and it's a pretty mixed bag this weekend.

The war drama "Home of the Brave" follows four returning soldiers from Iraq as they try to adjust to being back home. Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Curtis Jackson - aka 50 Cent - star.

(Soundbite of film, "Home of the Brave")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: These humanitarian runs, man, I don't like them. We're always putting ourselves in danger.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LEGAN: The majority of the critics find this topical film rather soft. The New York Post calls it predictable and maudlin. The Wall Street Journal complains "Home of the Brave" is contrived and occasionally ludicrous. And Premiere Magazine warns the filmmakers have wound up with a toothless picture that won't satisfy anyone.

And in the long, rich vein of inspiration teacher films, everything from "Conrack" to "Stand and Deliver," comes Academy Award winner Hilary Swank starring in the true story, "Freedom Writers."

After the L.A. riots, a teacher inspires her students to reach deep inside themselves and put to paper what it is like to grow up in a crime-ridden world. Patrick Dempsey and Imelda Staunton also star.

(Soundbite of film, "Freedom Writers")

Ms. HILARY SWANK (Actress): (As Erin Gruwell) Every reason that tells you things will never change disappears, and the person you were before this moment, that person's turn is over. Now it's your turn. Okay? Okay. Are you ready to get this party going on?

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LEGAN: The nation's critics give high marks to "Freedom Writers." A superb piece of mainstream entertainment, shouts LA Weekly. Variety grades it extremely affecting, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer finds it gripping, sometimes even inspiring, and Hilary Swank gives a powerhouse performance.

And just when you thought your kids couldn't be lured into another animated film satirizing fairy tales, full of cynical princesses and wise-cracking woodland creatures, well, let the luring begin.

"Happily N'Ever After" follows an alliance of evil-doers who want to take over Fairy Tale Land, and everyone from Sigourney Weaver to George Carlin provide voices.

(Soundbite of film, "Happily N'Ever After")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: Then the prince took Cinderella to his castle, and they lived happily ever after.

Unidentified Woman: No they did not. Whose side are you on?

LEGAN: The critics cry nevermore to "N'Ever After." Entertainment Weekly moans: stuffed with stock characters who adamantly stay stock. USA Today simply calls it grim. And the Washington Post offers: winds up answering the question of what Shrek hath wrought, and between its plastic-looking visuals and cynical attitude, the news isn't good.

Now if you do get dragged to this by your little ones, the good news is it's only 87 minutes long. That gives you almost an hour and a half to enjoy your smuggled-in hickory-smoked baby back ribs with maybe some potato wedges, and, oh, and corn on the cob. You can do it, you can sneak that in. Corn on the cob is really good during a movie.

BURBANK: You know, it's easy to get the ribs in, but the problem is always the smoker. I mean, I have it under my jacket. It doesn't look normal. That's something I learned the hard way, Alex.


Luke, you pick up the ribs at the place down the street, and then...

BURBANK: That's why you get the big money. Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan
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