Critical Consensus: Beowulf is Certified Fresh; Magorium Short on Magic; Cholera is Under the Weather

Plus, Southland Tales Heads South; De Palma's Latest Gets Mixed Reviews

This week at the movies, we've got epic poems come to life (Beowulf, starring Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie), a magical toy shop (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, starring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman), and romance in the midst of infectious disease (Love in the Time of Cholera, starring Javier Bardem). What do the critics have to say?

First, the bad news: critics say Beowulf will inspire English teachers and literary scholars to tear out their hair. The good news? The scribes also say it's a flick that fans of bombastic action and phantasmagoria will want give their right arms for. If you didn't read the epic poem in school, get thee to a library; suffice to say the story involves a dude named Beowulf (Ray Winstone) tangling with mead hall-crashing beast Grendel (Crispin Glover) and his vengeful, seductive mom (Angelina Jolie, much more attractive than her fictional progeny would indicate). The pundits say Beowulf's amazing visuals are the biggest draw here, as director Robert Zemeckis uses dazzling CGI to bring the classic tale to vivid life. (They also note it's not for the kiddies, despite its PG-13 rating.) At 79 percent, Beowulf is Certified Fresh, and it's well above Zemeckis' previous animation/live-action hybrid, The Polar Express (57 percent). (And check out our Total Recall feature on Beowulf and animation.)

Grendel waiting until somebody invents Jergens.

Everyone can use a dose of magic and whimsy from time to time, right? But frippery requires a light touch, something critics say Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium lacks. Emporium stars Dustin Hoffman in the title role as the proprietor of a magic toy store, a place where baubles can come to life, fueled by imagination; Natalie Portman plays his protégé. The pundits say the big problem with Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is that it ODs on zaniness in an effort to make up for a bland storyline. At 24 percent on the Tomatometer, business isn't all that brisk at this Emporium.

"Does Mr. Magorium sell cornballers?"

Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez is widely acknowledged to be one of the world's great men of letters. Javier Bardem, hot from his performance in No Country for Old Men, stars in the adaptation of one of Marquez' most celebrated works, Love in the Time of Cholera. Unfortunately, critics say it's more like Love in the Time of Narcolepsy. Bardem stars as a man who is so enraptured by a woman he waits 50 years for her, despite her shifting affections. The pundits say Love misses the spirit and passion of Marquez' magical realist tale by miles, with fine actors in miscast roles and a too-literal approach, bogging down material that has a sense of sweep and romanticism on the page. At 17 percent on the Tomatometer, Cholera is under critical quarantine.

Chaplin, post-'stache.

Also opening this week in limited release: the documentary I for India, the story of an expat corresponding to his family, is at 100 percent; What Would Jesus Buy?, a doc that explores the commercialization of Christmas, is at 94 percent; Gregg Araki's Smiley Face, a stoner comedy starring Anna Faris, is at 67 percent; Redacted, Brian De Palma's mixed-media look at the horrors of the Iraq war, is at 52 percent (read our interview with De Palma here); the Icelandic import Eleven Men Out, about a soccer star who comes out of the closet, is at 50 percent; Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, starring Nicole Kidman in a tale of familial strife, is at 47 percent (check out our take from Toronto here); and Southland Tales, a wildly ambitious sci-fi/political satire starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Seann William Scott, is at 42 percent (see our interview with director Richard Kelly here).

"Boy, these Dean Martin celebrity roasts are hilarious!"

Recent Angelina Jolie Movies:
77% -- A Mighty Heart (2007)
55% -- The Good Shepard (2006)
59% -- Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
16% -- Alexander (2004)
34% -- Shark Tale (2004)

Recent Natalie Portman Movies:
84% -- Paris, Je T'Aime (2007)
29% -- Goya's Ghosts (2007)
24% -- Free Zone (2006)
72% -- V for Vendetta (2006)
80% -- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)


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