Arts & Life

ALEX COHEN, host:

At the end of a tough week dominated by news of the wildfires, well, a little old-fashioned escapism at the movie sounds pretty good. So what are the critics saying about the new flicks?

Here is Mark Jordan Legan with Slate's Summary Judgment.

Mr. MARK JORDAN LEGAN (Slate): For you horror buffs wondering what the New Yorker thought of "Saw IV," sorry; even though "Saw IV" is opening in wide, wide release today, they did not make it available to the critics, so you're just going to have to roll the dice and see how any of the surviving characters from "Saw III" develop more fully in "Saw IV."

Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden star in "Rails and Ties," which marks the directorial debut of Alison Eastwood, the daughter of Clint Eastwood. A married couple tries to overcome a train accident that threatens to tear apart their relationship.

(Soundbite of movie, "Rails and Ties")

Unidentified Person (Actor): (As character) Over 45 miles per hour.

Mr. KEVIN BACON (Actor): (As Tom Stark) And the engineers going to use the emergency brake with cars on the turn, hundreds of passengers onboard.

Unidentified Person: (As character) It says that there's a chance that the train could derail. That's what it says.

Mr. BACON: Right. That's right.

Unidentified Person: (As character) Well, it's not for sure.

Mr. BACON: It's a chance I couldn't take.

Mr. LEGAN: The nation's critics want to get off at the next stop. Reserved, careful, and largely predictable, sniffs Variety. The Chicago Reader calls "Rails and Ties" mediocre. And the Village Voice sighs: a hackney domestic drama.

Opening in wide release is the romantic dramedy "Dan in Real Life." Steve Carell plays an advice columnist who struggles with his own life trying to be a good father, brother and son. Juliette Binoche also stars.

(Soundbite of movie, "Dan in Real Life")

Ms. DIANNE WIEST (Actress): (As Nana) You're going to go on a date.

Mr. STEVE CARELL (Actor): (As Dan Burns) No, no, no, no, no. I'm not going on a date, mom.

Ms. WIEST: (As Nana) Why? Yes, honey, it's time.

Mr. CARELL: (As Dan Burns) No.

Mr. DANE COOK (Actor): (As Mitch Burns) Ruthie Pig-Face Draper…

Mr. JOHN MAHONEY (Actor): (As Poppy Burns) That is enough.

Mr. CARELL: Mom, I don't even remember Ruthie Pig-Faced Draper. I don't wanna go.

Mr. LEGAN: Dan's the man is how the critics pretty much feel. A highly agreeable charmer, shouts the Chicago Tribune; Entertainment Weekly cheers: a nimble and supple and moving comedy; and Rolling Stone coos: blissfully funny and touching.

Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme has made everything from "Silence of the Lambs" to documentaries on Neil Young, and this time he turns his non-fiction camera on the 39th president of the United States as he goes on a national book tour, with "Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains."

(Soundbite of movie, "Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains")

Prime Minister MENAHEM BEGIN (Israel): The Camp David Conference should be renamed. It was the Jimmy Carter Conference. He worked harder than our forefathers did in Egypt building the pyramids.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEGAN: The reviews are split on this documentary. Even though the Hollywood Reporter shrugs, blandly interesting, Salon.com finds it compelling, and USA Today calls "Man from Plains" a lovingly rendered, candid, and intimate portrait.

Well, since Carter is a Democrat, I wonder if the Republicans will call for equal time at the multiplex. And then in a bizarre, unprecedented move, "Bedtime for Bonzo" gets re-released in the theaters. And I wonder if that means an animated feature starring Lyndon LaRouche isn't far behind.

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

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