Summary Judgment: 'Doogal,' 'Running Scared,' 'Tsotsi'

What are movie critics saying about this weekend's releases? Mark Jordan Legan of Slate takes note of reviews for Doogal, Running Scared and the Oscar-nominated South African film Tsotsi.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. It's the weekend, dear listeners. There are new movies out to see. To help you pick and choose, we present our weekly digest of what critics are saying. This is compiled by the online magazine Slate, and here is Mark Jordan Legan with Summary Judgment.

Mr. MARK JORDAN LEGAN (Movie Critic, Slate Magazine): First up, in limited release, we have Tsotsi, a South African drama that is nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars. Based on the novel by acclaimed writer Athol Fugard, the gritty story focuses on the young, violent gang leader who steals a car, and later discovers a baby in the back seat that completely transforms his life.

(Soundbite of movie "Tsotsi")

Unidentified Man #1: (in movie clip) Decency. Decency means making a decent living, sonny.

Unidentified Man #2: (in movie clip) Respect. Man. For yourself.

Mr. LEGAN: Overall, the nation's critics applaud the South African film. The L.A. Times says, "Whatever its weaknesses, Tsotsi is redeemed by its excellent performances." The New York Times shouts, "The director's meditation on truth and reconciliation doesn't traffic in the cheap thrills of art house exploitation. Like City of God, he rings tears with sincerity, not cynicism." And USA Today cries, "A compelling and uplifting tale of humanity and dignity in the starkest of environments."

Next up in wide release, we have the crime drama Running Scared. From writer/director Wayne Kramer, who made the well received Vegas dramedy The Cooler a few years back, this film serves up a bloody tale of a low-level mobster who must retrieve a murder weapon for a mob boss, or else. Paul Walker and Chazz Palminteri star.

(Soundbite of movie "Running Scared)

Mr. PAUL WALKER: (As Joey Gazelle) That piece. That's not just any hot piece. Tommy used it to burn a dirty cop.

Ms. VERA FARMIGA: (As Teresa Gazelle) Oh, no.

Mr. WALKER: (As Joey Gazelle) Yeah.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Teresa Gazelle) Joe.

Mr. WALKER: (As Joey Gazelle) Yeah. No, listen, listen. On top of it, that kid's out there right now. The cops are on their way. If they find the gun, if they find the kid and he talks, I'm dead.

Mr. LEGAN: The critics pretty much wanted to run screaming from Running Scared. A few admire the visceral violence, like the Chicago Sun Times, which shouts, "The film goes so far over the top, it circumnavigates the top and doubles back on itself. I am in awe." But the majority aren't in awe. Entertainment Weekly warns, "A giddily awful, awfully giddy, action noire." And the Washington Post thinks, "Everything feels begged, borrowed, and stolen from other, better movies."

And we close with the wide release, computer animated children's film, Doogal. Four unlikely heroes, led by a candy-loving mutt, ban together to save the world from an evil sorcerer, who is voiced by Jon Stewart. Whoopi Goldberg and William H. Macy also provide some of the vocal talent.

(Soundbite of "Doogal")

Ms. JUDI DENCH: (As Narrator) Legend tells of three magic stones, and an evil so powerful that the only one who can stop it is the world's most fearless warrior.

Mr. DANIEL TAY: (As Doogal) Um, the fearless warrior couldn't make it today, so I came instead.

Mr. LEGAN: The studio did not provide Doogal for advance screening to the nation's critics. Now, they usually do this when they fear bad reviews, but, come on, it's for four year olds. They want to see a talking dog save the world. My kids want to see Doogal. Do the studios really think preschoolers are discussing film reviews in the sandbox?

Ms. EMMA BOWERS: I found David Denby's take on Curious George to be patronizing and trite. I much preferred A.O. Scott's analysis of George's simian acts. Has anyone see my sippy cup?

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan with an assist from Emma Bowers. Mark is a writer living in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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