The First Movies Of The New Year

Writer Mark Jordan Legan takes us through reviews of Defiance, a Nazi resistance film starring Daniel Craig, Cargo 200 a Russian art house film and Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's latest film.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

From NPR News, it's Day to Day. With the holidays now behind us, the movie studios seem to be resting a bit, with just a few scattered releases here and there. To tell us what critics think of some of these new films, here's Mark Jordan Legan with Slate's Summary Judgment.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: Edward Zwick, who has directed historical and political dramas like "Glory" and "Blood Diamond," now brings us the extraordinary true story "Defiance," about a group of Jewish brothers who led a resistance against the Germans during World War II. Liev Schreiber and Daniel Craig star.

(Soundbite of movie "Defiance")

Mr. DANIEL CRAIG: (As Tuvia Bielski) We have all chosen this, to live here free like human beings for as long as we can. Every day of freedom is like an act of faith, and if we should die trying to live, then at least we die like human beings.

LEGAN: The nation's critics seemed to be split down the middle. Variety complains, "A potentially exceptional story is told in a flatly unexceptional manner;" but Newsday says "'Defiance,' like its subjects, succeed through sheer tenacity;" and Premiere finds it "exciting, well-acted, touching and genuine."

In limited release, we have the Russian film, "Cargo 200." Set in the 1980 Soviet Union, a corrupt policeman kidnaps a woman and takes her on a terrifying journey. The film is in Russian with English subtitles.

(Soundbite of movie "Cargo 200")

Unidentified Actor #1: (Russian spoken).

Unidentified Actor #2: (Russian spoken).

LEGAN: "Cargo 200" is getting mostly good reviews, but all caution against the harsh grittiness of the story. "A disturbing, gleefully black comedy," shouts Variety; the Hollywood Reporter calls it "absorbingly unpredictable and original;" and the Village Voice warns "'Cargo 200' is beautifully filmed and completely disturbing."

And Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood's latest, "Gran Torino," is expanding its release into more markets. The dark action-er features director Eastwood also in front of the camera in what he claims is his last performance. He plays a grouchy, beer-chugging ex-autoworker who reluctantly gets involved in neighborhood gangs.

(Soundbite of movie "Gran Torino")

Mr. CLINT EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) Why can't you people just leave me alone?

Ms. AHNEY HER: (As Sue Lor) We brought you some chubs(ph) to put in your garden.

Mr. EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) I don't want it.

Ms. HER: (As Sue Lor) They are perennials. They come back every year.

Mr. EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) Look, why are you bringing me all this garbage anyway?

Ms. HER: (As Sue Lor) Because - because you saved Thao.

Mr. EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) I didn't save anybody. I just...

Ms. HER: (As Sue Lor) You're a hero to the neighborhood.

Mr. EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) I'm not a hero.

Ms. HER: (As Sue Lor) Too bad, they think you are. That's why they keep bringing you the gifts. Please take them.

Mr. EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) Well, they're wrong. Now, I just want to be left alone.

LEGAN: The critics all suggest taking "Gran Torino" for a ride. The Washington Post says, "It's not to be missed;" the Miami Herald raves, "supremely entertaining and often hilarious;" and the New York Post applauds, "a terrific career-capping role for Eastwood." Well, you know, it's probably for the best that Eastwood won't be talked into bringing his "Dirty Harry" make-my-day character back to the big screen. He could save us all from one hellish movie marketing campaign.

Well, OK, he's almost 80, you know, so he could say on the poster...

(As Dirty Harry) Make my bed.

Or...

(As Dirty Harry) Make my sandwich.

Or, you know, maybe, he's a little forgetful now, and he says...

(As Dirty Harry) What day is it again?

Huh? No?

(Soundbite of sigh)

LEGAN: Thank you, Mr. Eastwood. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Mark Jordan Legan is a writer, nowhere near 80 years old, living in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Day to Day returns in just a moment.

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