Summary Judgment: 'All the Kings Men,' 'The Science of Sleep,' 'Flyboys'

Slate contributor Mark Jordan Legan reviews what critics are saying about this weekend's major new movie releases: All the Kings Men, The Science of Sleep and Flyboys.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Our weekly digest of what the critics are saying about new movie releases includes not one but two period dramas. Mark Jordan Legan of the online magazine Slate is here with Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: First up in wide release is the political drama All the King's Men, based on Robert Penn Warren's 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Sean Penn portrays the powerful Louisiana politician Willy Stark, based on the legendary populist Huey Long. The A-list cast also includes Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini and Kate Winslet.

(Soundbite of movie, "All the King's Men")

Mr. SEAN PENN (Actor): (As Willie Stark) Listen to me, listen here. If you don't vote, you don't matter, and then you're just as ignorant as them in the city say you are while they steal every last nickel out of your pocket saying, thank you, please.

LEGAN: Overall, the critics want this film run out of office. Overstuffed and fatally miscast, snarls Variety. USA Today calls it a thuddingly tedious soap opera. And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer thinks All the King's Men is handsome and offers a few riveting moments, but it's basically a botched job that misses all the impact of both the original movie and the classic novel that inspired it.

Next up in limited release is The Science of Sleep. This fantastical dark comedy is about a young graphic artist who can't stop his imaginative dreams from invading his everyday life. Gael Garcia Bernal stars, and the film is from Michel Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Science of Sleep")

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GAEL GARCIA BERNAL (Actor): (As Stephane) Hi, welcome back. Tonight, I'll show you how dreams are prepared. Love, friendships, relationships, and all those ships.

(Soundbite of a ringing phone)

LEGAN: The critics embrace this visually arresting, odd little film. The Village Voice shouts: Sweet, crazy and tinged with sadness, The Science of Sleep is a wondrous concoction. The Christian Science Monitor happily admits: Very difficult to characterize, and that's why I liked it. And the New York Times concludes: So while it may not in the end be terribly deep, it is undoubtedly and deeply refreshing.

And we close with the wide release period action drama Flyboys. It tells the true story of a group of young fighter pilots during World War I. Think Top Gun, only instead of Reagan, Woodrow Wilson is president. James Franco stars.

(Soundbite of movie, "Flyboys")

Mr. JEAN RENO (Actor): (As Captain Thenault) We do not expect you to win the war. Only to do what you're conscience commands and your cars allows. You will train for two months.

Mr. JAMES FRANCO (Actor): (As Blaine Rawlings) So these are the new corpses, huh?

LEGAN: Some of the nation's critics applaud the dogfight sequences, but the majority complain of tired clich├ęs and a weak screenplay. The Minneapolis Star Tribune cheers: Agreeably antiquated and enjoyable to the core. But the Chicago Tribune warns: Just about everything in the videogamey Flyboys rings false, although the planes certainly are terrific. And Entertainment Weekly points out that the actors are so styled and the dogfights so drippy with CG that as a period piece the movie almost looks like it's set in the future.

Interesting that a reviewer called it videogamey, because there's actually a videogame of Flyboys being released to stores this week. And which is ironic because, you know, back at 1917, all they had was, like, Pong. Oh, and a loaf of bread only cost nine cents.

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

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