Summary Judgment: 'Lives of Others,' 'Hannibal Rising'

In this week's review-roundup of new movie releases from the online magazine Slate: Lives of Others, Hannibal Rising and Norbit.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

As with our conversation with Peter Morgan, it is Academy Award season. Hollywood is hoping to cash in with a strange batch of new movies with Oscar ties. Here's Mark Jordan Legan of the online magazine Slate with his weekly round-up of what critics think, Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: The Oscar ceremony is only 16 days away, and our first movie is in the running for Best Foreign Language Film. "The Lives of Others" takes place in 1980s East Berlin. A secret police officer spies on a young couple's apartment, slowly finding himself more and more immersed in their lives. The political thriller is in German with English subtitles.

(Soundbite of film, "The Lives of Others")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking German)

LEGAN: The movie's getting raves, and many critics believe the foreign film Oscar race will come down to "Pan's Labyrinth" or "The Lives of Others." Utterly riveting, cheers Entertainment Weekly. Supremely intelligent, unfailingly honest, raves the New York Times; and the Los Angeles Times assures, it convincingly demonstrates that when done right, moral and political quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all.

That's right, just as Scooter Libby. And speaking of the Oscar races, Eddie Murphy is considered the frontrunner for best supporting actor for his well-received performance in "Dreamgirls." And what better way to keep the love coming from the critics than to play three different roles in the broad comedy "Norbit." That's right. Murphy plays a male nerd; a loud, trashy, obese woman; and an elderly Chinese man. And for the parts he didn't have time to tackle, Thandie Newton and Cuba Gooding, Jr. try and help out.

(Soundbite of film, "Norbit")

Mr. EDDIE MURPHY (Actor): (As Rasputia) Hey, you ain't got nothing, just skin and bones, just sitting in a chair all bones and skin. Oh, I feel sorry for you.

Ms. THANDIE NEWTON #1 (Actress): (As Kate) Well, I just feel that we're all made exactly the way we're supposed to be.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Rasputia) Oh hell no, I'm a Christian, and you ain't gonna sit there and blame God for how you look, okay? You don't want to push that plate away.

LEGAN: My oh my, I don't think Eddie Murphy will have to worry about an Oscar campaign for this one. The Hollywood Reporter grumbles: racially insensitive, politically incorrect and beyond crude. LA Weekly warns: It's an astonishingly crass and vulgar film, never more than almost funny or less than disturbing. And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer dismisses "Norbit" as nothing more than bad skit comedy populated by caricatures in search of a movie.

And for you Hannibal Lecter fans who have grown tired of watching "Red Dragon" or "Manhunter" or "Silence of the Lambs" to get your fix, novelist Thomas Harris, the creator of the charismatic serial killer, has written his first screenplay to bring us "Hannibal Rising," which focuses on Lecter's life as a young man.

(Soundbite of film, "Hannibal Rising")

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Do you have any guilty knowledge of the death of (unintelligible)?

Mr. GASPARD ULLIEL (Actor): (As Hannibal Lector): Guilty knowledge?

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Limit your responses to yes or no.

Mr. ULLIEL: (As Lecter) No.

LEGAN: The nation's critics yawn. The Austin Chronicle wonders: Who would've thought mass murder and cannibalism could be so dull? The New York Times groans: silly, slack and unforgivably tedious. Thomas Harris's screenplay is padded with interminable flashbacks. And the Minneapolis Star Tribune complains that the movie reduces a figure of mythic evil to a jumbo case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Well, if this thing makes money, look out for more prequels. "Little Hannibal: The Pre-School Years." Hannibal, you play nice with Billy. Wait, that's not what a Slinky's for. No, Hanny, no. Oh my - that's the third playground disembowelment this month. You are in big trouble, Mister. No juice boxes for you for a week.

CHADWICK: Mark Jordan Legan is an incorrigible writer living in Los Angeles.

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