Slate's Summary Judgment: 'Breakfast on Pluto,' 'Walk the Line,' 'Harry Potter'

Slate contributor Mark Jordan Legan reports on what movie critics are saying about this week's new movie releases — Breakfast on Pluto, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the latest installment in the book-to-film series.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From media moguls now to the movies. It's a big weekend, what with the latest "Harry Potter" film and a new Johnny Cash movie opening. The online magazine Slate compiles a digest for us every week of what critics are saying about the new releases. Here's Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN reporting:

First up in wide release, we have the dramatic biopic "Walk the Line." Joaquin Phoenix stars as the legendary Man in Black, and Reese Witherspoon transforms herself to play his loyal partner in music and love, June Carter.

(Soundbite of "Walk the Line")

Ms. REESE WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) So what are we gonna sing, Johnny? You got me out here. Is that what your plan is?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) Well, I always liked that song of yours, "Time's A-Wastin'." Let's do "Time's A-Wastin'."

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) Jack, I am not gonna sing that song. It's inappropriate. I recorded it with my ex-husband. I'm not gonna sing it.

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) There wasn't a better way to put it than I did.

LEGAN: The nation's critics rave about the two lead performances, but seem split on how well the film avoids the pitfalls of most music biopics. The New York Times complains, `"Walk the Line" is a moderately entertaining yet never quite convincing chronicle of Cash's early years.' And Rolling Stone says, `There's no denying the biopic cliches, but Phoenix and Witherspoon jump even those hurdles. It's going to be hard for audiences and the Academy not to show them some love.' And Entertainment Weekly cheers, `A big, juicy, enjoyable wide-canvas biography.'

Next up in selected cities is the quirky dramedy "Breakfast on Pluto." From Neil Jordan, the director of "The Crying Game," comes this strange story of an Irish transvestite accused of a 1970s disco bombing. Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson star.

(Soundbite of "Breakfast on Pluto")

Mr. LIAM NEESON: (As Father Bernard) What brings you to our great metropolis?

Mr. CILLIAN MURPHY: (As Patrick "Kitten" Braden) I'm looking for my mommy.

Mr. NEESON: (As Father Bernard) Oh. And where did Mommy go?

Mr. MURPHY: (As Patrick "Kitten" Braden) The city's full of her.

Mr. NEESON: (As Father Bernard) Oh, fancy that. Well, it will do that to people.

LEGAN: The critics are split on this one. Newsday pouts, `The movie's drastic shifts in tone sabotage any attempt at sustained emotional engagement.' But the New York Post shouts, `This is one of very few movies this year truly worth remembering.' And The New York Times makes note of the lead actor: `In a year overcrowded with wonderful performances, Mr. Murphy's immensely appealing turn ranks among the strongest.'

And finally, in real wide release, we have "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." The fourth installment is directed by Mike Newell, the first Brit to direct the series. Aside from battling evil forces and dragons, Harry really has to face true horror. That's right: adolescence. The major stars return, including Daniel Radcliffe as Mr. Potter.

(Soundbite of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire")

DANIEL RADCLIFFE: (As Harry Potter) You're being stupid.

RUPERT GRINT: (As Ron Weasley) Yeah, that me, Ron Weasley, Harry Potter's stupid friend.

RADCLIFFE: (As Harry Potter) I don't want eternal glory. I just want to be--look, I don't know what happened tonight. I don't know why. It just did.

LEGAN: Even though this is one franchise that can truly be review-proof, the critics loved this one. USA Today zings, `Scarier than the previous three movies and more poignant.' The New York Post shouts, `Exactly what fans are looking for, offering eye-boggling spectacle and lots of well-executed action scenes.' And The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raves, `"Goblet of Fire" is indisputably the best movie in the franchise thus far.'

So, young wizard Potter, forget that zigzag scar on your forehead. Try dealing with bad hair days and pimples. Yes, even your magic wand can't save you from the true dark side. (Imitating Harry Potter) `Hello, Mrs. Chang? This is Harry Potter. I was wondering if Cho was available to...' Click. (Sighs)

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

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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