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'Summary Judgment': 'Arthur,' 'Alpha,' 'Potter'


Okay, so January's not exactly the hottest month for new movies. "Code Name: The Cleaner" anyone? It's the second week in a row I've made fun of that movie, by the way. That's because the studios tend to release their best stuff in December because they're hoping to get Oscar nominations.

But even so, fish gotta swim, and movie viewers gotta go to movies, so let's find out what's out there this weekend. Mark Jordan Legan compiles a weekly digest of the latest movie reviews for us and for the online magazine Slate. Here is his Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: Prolific writer-director Luc Besson, who has given us "La Femme Nikita," "The Fifth Element" and a bloated Joan of Arc biopic, now enters the family fantasy genre with "Arthur and the Invisibles." A young boy tries to save the family home with the help of friendly, tiny creatures who live in the garden, and I don't think they mean mortgage lenders. This live-action/CGI hybrid boasts an all-star cast of voices that include Madonna, Snoop Dogg and Robert De Niro.

(Soundbite of film, "Arthur and the Invisibles")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (As character) There is a place, Arthur, where courage isn't measured by how tall you are but by the size of your heart.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) Really? I could tell you stories all night long.

LEGAN: The nation's critics feel like smushing the invisibles under their collective shoe. Even though the Chicago Tribune thinks it's a pretty good picture, albeit a strange one, the Washington Post complains that none of the characters are compelling, despite the star-studded vocal cast behind them. And the majority echo Variety's sentiments, that the movie haplessly blends live action and visually repellent computer animated work.

And if you're in the mood for a dark and gritty true crime drama, "Alpha Dog" may be just what the therapist ordered. Based on the notorious of Jesse James Hollywood, it tells the story of a group of teenage drug dealers who kidnap a neighborhood kid over a small unpaid debt. Things quickly snowball out of control from there. Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Justin Timberlake star.

(Soundbite of film, "Alpha Dog")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) I'm not going to prison. Look, I just won't.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Yeah, me neither. Can't we just grease the kid? You know, tell him he can hang out any time, that he's our boy? Throw an arm around him or something.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Give him a few bucks.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Right. And tell him when mommy and daddy ask, to say that he ran away with some girl or something.

LEGAN: Well, just like teenage drug dealers, film critics can't agree on anything. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wasn't impressed, shrugging it off as recycled social commentary. But the Hollywood Reporter calls "Alpha Dog" a well-made ensemble movie, and USA Today digs it, find it gritty, gut-wrenching and sharply acted.

And finally, we have Renee Zellweger starring in "Miss Potter," a romantic biopic about Beatrix Potter, the creator of the classics children's tale "Peter Rabbit." At a time when women were expected just to try and land a good husband, Beatrix Potter was determined to be independent and successful on her own. Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson also star.

(Soundbite of film, "Miss Potter")

Mr. EWAN McGREGOR (Actor): (As Norman Wane) I've given your book a great deal of attention.

Ms. RENEE ZELLWEGER (Actress): (As Beatrix Potter) Which other books have you supervised?

Mr. McGREGOR: (As Wane) Personally?

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Potter) Yes.

Mr. McGREGOR: (As Wane) This will be my first.

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Potter) Ah.

LEGAN: The critics are feeling warm and cozy toward "Miss Potter." The Seattle PI shouts that it's a magical, thoroughly pleasant little movie. The San Francisco Chronicle raves beautiful and enchanting. And Newsday finds it emotionally and even politically potent. I also hope this film doesn't shy away from the important issues of her life, like why did the rabbits have this vendetta against Old Man McGregor, and why did Peter Rabbit wear a jacket but not pants? I mean, what's up with that? Hopefully, all this will be covered in the director's cut.

BURBANK: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Jordan Legan