Critical Consensus: Sweeney Todd, Walk Hard, and Charlie Wilson All Certified Fresh!

Also: National Treasure doesn't break the bank, P.S. is P.U.

This week at the movies, we've got unruly history buffs (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, starring Nicolas Cage), fake rockers (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, starring John C. Reilly), rogue senators (Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman), bon mots from beyond the grave (P.S. I Love You, starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler), and demon barbers (Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, starring Johnny Depp). What do the critics have to say?

National Treasure posited that there was a secret code hidden within the design of U.S. legal tender. And the movie garnered enough legal tender so that a sequel, Book of Secrets could be made. For the second installment, adventurer Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is again on the trail of secrets from the past, as new evidence has implicated his great grandfather in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; thus begins a globetrotting trek loaded with mystery and intrigue. Ridiculous? You'd better believe it, pundits say, although they also note that Secrets occasionally has enough giddy momentum to make viewers overlook its absurdities. At 53 percent on the Tomatometer, this Book might be worth cracking open for series fans. It's certainly a cut above its predecessor's 41 percent.

"So Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton AND Lincoln?"

Charlie Wilson's War delves into one of the stranger stories of the Cold War era. Based on a true story, War shows how a free-wheeling congressman (Tom Hanks), a wealthy socialite (Julia Roberts), and Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a CIA agent who didn't play by the rules, joined forces in an attempt to liberate Afghanistan after it was invaded by the Soviets (and, in doing so, laid the groundwork for the Taliban to take over the country later). Critics say director Mike Nichols has made War both a smart look at realpolitik and a screwball comedy, with plenty of help from Hanks and Hoffman. At 79 percent on the Tomatometer, this War is good for quite a bit.

"I have a vision: The Afghan people enjoying freedom, choice, and Lipps Inc."

This has been a golden year for Judd Apatow: Knocked Up (90 percent), which he directed and wrote, and Superbad (87 percent), which he produced, are two of the best-reviewed and most commercially successful comedies of 2007. With Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, pundits say he's scored a hat trick. A satire on musical biopics, Walk Hard tells the inspiring story of a Southern boy (John C. Reilly) and his up-and-down career in the music biz -- which includes lots of groupies, rehab, and meetings with such luminaries as Elvis, the Beatles, and the Ghostface Killah. Critics say Walk Hard works because Apatow and director Jake Kasdan maintain a nimble balance between homage and parody, celebrating the rock film's conventions while deftly (and smuttily) satirizing them. And they say the film is loaded with good performances, most notably from Reilly, who may graduate from character roles with his work here. At 78 percent on the Tomatometer, Cox rocks. (Check out this week's Total Recall, in which RT explores other music-related comedies.)

Happy holidays from Dewey Cox and RT!

In the case of romantic movies, one is generally not compelled to head to the theater in search of realism but escapism. Still, internal logic is usually required, something critics say P.S. I Love You lacks. Hilary Swank stars as a woman whose husband (Gerard Butler) succumbs to a brain tumor. Before his death, however, he wrote her a series of letters that will act as her guide to a better life -- and possibly, a brand new love. Critics say P.S. contains more sap than a Canadian forest, and the lack of chemistry between Swank and Butler undermines the film's notions of a sweeping, timeless romance. At 14 percent on the Tomatometer, critics are saying P.S. I Love You should be returned to sender.

"Where do you want to dine tonight? That new Indian place...or IN HELL!?"

If what you're looking for this holiday season is a heavy dose of the macabre, you're in luck. Critics say Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tim Burton's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical of the same name, is tasty as one of Mrs. Lovett's meat pies. Sweeny tells the gruesome tale of Mr. Todd (Johnny Depp), who vows revenge on the world after being unjustly sent to prison; with the help of his landlady (played by Helena Bonham Carter), he uses his barber shop as a place for murder, and she uses the bodies he accumulates to make her pies. The pundits say Sweeny Todd is a demented wonder, full of stunning visuals, a mordant sense of humor, well-staged musical numbers, and dedicated performances. At 85 percent on the Tomatometer, Sweeny Todd cuts deep. And it's the best-reviewed Tim burton film since Ed Wood.

"This'll cost you an arm and a leg, but at least you get a complimentary pie."

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The District!, an animated Hungarian import about gang conflicts, is at 86 percent on the Tomatometer.
  • Steep, a doc about the perils of big mountain skiing, is at 56 percent.
  • Flakes, a comedy about an all-cereal café starring the always lovely Zooey Deschanel, is at 11 percent.

    Christopher Lloyd after eating some "vintage" Nintendo cereal.

Recent Julia Roberts Movies:
78% -- Charlotte's Web (2006)
63% -- The Ant Bully (2006)
68% -- Closer (2004)
55% -- Ocean's Twelve (2004)
34% -- Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Recent Johnny Depp Movies:
45% -- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
91% -- Deep Sea (IMAX) (2006)
54% -- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
32% -- The Libertine (2005)
83% -- Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)


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