Happy Holidays to all and to all a ... few good movies. I've been asked to step in and semi-resurrect our regular old Review Roundup feature, which works out pretty well considering I usually spend most Fridays (and some Wednesdays) poring through all my favorite critics, agreeing with some and questioning the basic sanity of others. But since the release date schedules get extra jumbly during the year-end holiday season, I figured I'd spend my first column covering, well, everything. Let's start with the ones that actually opened yesterday ...

The Good Shepherd

Pro: "It's not a tub-thumping anti-CIA screed, but at the same time it's not a gung-ho patriotic extravaganza about the moral certainty of our side." -- Stephen Hunter, Washington Post

Con:
"This is featherweight entertainment, sans visual elation and moral consequence-like Munich for Beginners." -- Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine

Pro:
"The bottom line is that The Good Shepherd is engaging cinema. The length is a drawback, but not a big one since the movie earns the majority of its 165-minute running time." -- James Berardinelli, ReelViews.net

Con: "De Niro's vision seems unfocused and ill-executed. It seems as though he had a thousand good ideas about what a spy film should be that didn't quite coalesce into a singular product, but he crammed 'em all in there regardless and tossed the editing shears into the garbage." -- Phil Villareal, Arizona Daily Star

BONUS: "A truncated American tragedy, noticeably half-finished and undercooked, but often tantalizing for the promise that clearly lay buried in the material, like unbroken codes." -- Ryan Stewart, Cinematical

Night at the Museum


Pro: "Trying to get kids to go to a museum over their holiday vacations might be a little easier after seeing Night at the Museum, a family-friendly comedy that tries to entertain while educating - and often succeeds, at least with the former." -- Mack Bates, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Con: "A volley of contented cackles greeted the final third of Night at the Museum, a pea-brained fantasy-comedy with a riot of kid-pleasing special effects." -- Jan Stuart, Newsday Magazine

Pro:
"What do you know, not only is this a delightful popcorn movie, Ben Stiller is actually really good in it." -- Kevin LaForest, Montreal Film Journal

Con: "The possibilities for building an intriguing and original story around this concept -- the Museum of freakin' Natural History comes alive every night! -- are endless, and they chose this. That is downright criminal." -- MaryAnn Johanson, The Flick Filosopher

BONUS: "Lots of pure imagination, with an extra helping of the most fun you might have at the theater all year." -- Erik Davis, Cinematical

We Are Marshall


Pro: "Warm and big-hearted, We Are Marshall succeeds as a tribute because it respects its subjects. It succeeds as a movie because it doesn't confuse respect with lifelessness." -- Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

Con:
"Director McG, known for the whiz-bang acrobatics of his Charlie's Angels movies, applies a warm, shiny veneer to everything here which prevents any emotion from getting through." -- Christy Lemire, San Francisco Gate

Pro: "The film is injected with a refreshing energy whenever McConaughey is on-screen, balancing some of the inherent sadness of the story." -- Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times

Con:
"No matter how earnest the intentions are, however, the harsh truth is that We Are Marshall is shockingly empty, one-dimensionally written, and finally unconvincing." -- Dustin Putnam, TheMovieBoy.com

BONUS: "A film that walks a tightrope with tricky subject matter, and somehow makes it to the other side." -- Ryan Stewart, Cinematical

Now let's skip back over the past week or so and see how the other holiday break also-rans fared with the critics...

Charlotte's Web

Pro: "The filmmakers also wisely retain the literary Fern's sweet innocence and avoid revamping her into a mouthy tween. There is an endearingly old-fashioned fable quality to the film." -- Claudia Puig, USA Today

Con: "Charlotte's Web, with its insistently "magical" theme music, an overbearing climax and a trough full of bad jokes, is merely adequate." -- Kyle Smith, New York Post

Pro: "Charlotte's Web looks terrific. Its Babe-style blend of live animals and CGI assists is cute and fairly natural, and the bookending animation sequences are spectacular." -- Tasha Robinson, Onion A.V. Club

Con: "The 1973 film, with all its period trappings and questionable animation, seemed to sweetly comprehend what made White's prose tick. I'm having great trouble understanding why the 2006 live-action adaptation doesn't register more profoundly." -- Brian Orndorf, eFilmCritic.com

BONUS: "Hands down, the best family film I've seen all year." -- Kim Voynar, Cinematical

Curse of the Golden Flower

Pro: "Zhang Yimou's latest extravaganza is about palace intrigue during the Tan Dynasty, and it's exhaustingly action-packed." -- Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

Con: "The backdrops to the action - a stark mountain pass, glittering corridors, the palace's magnificent exterior - are majestic. Scenery only goes so far when the human factor is lacking, however." -- David Germain, Associated Press

Pro: "...a wrenching confrontation that makes the battles in Lord of the Rings look like child's play. Both gorgeous and harrowing." -- Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

Con: "Zhang Yimou is seriously off his game with the utterly ridiculous Curse of the Golden Flower, a new epic that feels like Hero meets The Lion in Winter meets Peyton Place." -- Phil Hall, Film Threat

BONUS: "It's like a droning, extended Hamlet, when it could have had a bit of bounce." -- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Cinematical

Dreamgirls

Pro: "Dreamgirls fulfills the ecstatic promise inherent in all musicals-that life can be dissolved into song and dance-but it does so without relinquishing the toughest estimate of how money and power work in the real world that song and dance leave behind." -- David Denby, The New Yorker

Con: "It's the ultimate pop-culture sacrilege: a movie about soul music that has no soul." -- Nathan Rabin, Onion A.V. Club

Pro: "Throughout the whole picture, like a constantly beating heart, is the incredible music." -- Devin Faraci, CHUD.com

Con: "It's busy, and it's big, and it has plenty of great singing, but it fails at a basic level: it doesn't tell a good story, not really." -- Eugene Novikov, Film Blather

BONUS: "Dreamgirls is the best movie musical we've had in a long time." -- James Rocchi, Cinematical

Eragon

Pro: "If there is a sequel, hopefully someone will remember to keep doing the little things right." -- Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle

Con: "I left Eragon feeling like I'd just watched a Renaissance Faire stage its own production of Star Wars." -- Gary Thomspon, Philadelphia Daily News

Pro: "The battle scenes are full scale and the scenery is breathtaking." -- Michael A. Smith, Pop Culture Review

Con: "Why, it's almost as if ... as if a home-schooled, fantasy-obsessed teenager wrote it!" -- Eric D. Snider, eFilmCritic.com

Bonus: The flick is a stunningly confused mess, steeped in tedium and literary plagiarism." -- Scott (me!) Weinberg, Cinematical

The Good German

Pro: "The air is perfumed with the bouquet of grand old 1940s Warner Bros. noir pics colored in black and white and wartime shadows." -- Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

Con: "Playing it straight with period-specific details while ratcheting up the sex and violence to thoroughly modern levels results in a strange, clanging discord -- the spell never holds." -- Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

Pro: "An impressive attempt at creating a film noir using only the techniques of the era." -- Edward Douglas, ComingSoon.net

Con: "The most charitable explanation for this offensive, historically spurious character is that Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Attanasio, in trying to cram the novel's nearly 500 pages into a 105-minute film, decided to conflate two different clichés into one." -- Manohla Dargis, New York Times

BONUS: "Now that Soderbergh has stopped to look back over his shoulder, perhaps he'll move on and leave the past behind for good." -- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Cinematical

Letters from Iwo Jima

Pro: "This is one of the best "men at war" films, ever. It also happens to be, for me, the best movie of 2006." -- Robin Clifford. Reeling Reviews

Con: "Letters From Iwo Jima is everything Flags of Our Fathers isn't: simplistic, stilted, and more indebted to old war-movie clichés than to authentic lived experience." -- Jim Hemphill, Reel.com

Pro: "Movies are notorious for exploiting and reinforcing the viewer's tendency to see everything through a subjective lens. Letters from Iwo Jima shows us there are other ways to see." -- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Con: "Represents another nice try for Eastwood, but he doesn't have the dramatic genius to pull off stories that rely on this much narrative complexity." -- Peter Cavanese, Groucho Reviews

BONUS: "Significantly more interesting than its predecessor, not only because it's more focused, but also because it raises some interesting issues of cultural representation." -- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Cinematical

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Pro: "The odd conclusion renders it somewhat oblique, but Perfume is a feast for the senses." -- Dan Jolin, Empire Magazine

Con: "If Tykwer & Co. had cut loose a bit more, and gone for the heart rather than the intellect, Perfume could have been a fragrant treat indeed." -- Derek Elley, Variety

Pro: "Tykwer's production design brings to life the smells and sights of 18th France with an expert's eye. This is a film that should be seen." -- Victoria Alexander, FilmsInReview.com

Con: "I am going to venture a guess that this is not a movie that will have a broad appeal to women." -- Jonathan F. Richards, In the Dark Reviews

BONUS: "A deeply mesmerizing exploration of one man's desperate search for his own humanity." -- Kim Voynar, Cinematical

The Pursuit of Happyness

Pro: "A reminder of how close we dance to the pit, how easy it is to fall in, how heartbreakingly difficult it can be to clamber out." -- Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Con: "They should pass out insulin plungers with the purchase of a ticket to the new Will Smith vehicle The Pursuit of Happyness, which sports a subtle tickle of plantation politics that's overwhelmed by a sense of smug entitlement and ugly elitism." -- Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central

Pro: "Few on-screen father-son relationships have felt more authentic than that depicted by Will Smith and his real-life son in The Pursuit of Happyness." -- Robert W. Butler, Dallas Morning News

Con: "As any savvy viewer knows, this movie has to have a happy ending, although you have to sit through nearly two hours of contrived torment to get there." -- Toddy Burton, Austin Chronicle

BONUS: "Smith carries the weight of the film rather well on his broad shoulders, with a soul-felt performance that makes you feel kicked in the gut every time another lousy thing happens to this nice, hard-working, devoted dad." -- Kim Voynar, Cinematical

Rocky Balboa

Pro: "Aw, ya can't help but love da big Palooka! Under all dem muscles the champ's still got a heart o' gold." -- Stephen Hunter, New York Times

Con: "Has nothing of interest to say about dealing with age or remaining relevant in a youth-oriented culture." -- Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly

Pro: "Stallone did what he needed to do, and he's got my respect for taking all the criticism and flack just to end things the right way." -- Mark Bell, Film Threat

Con: "One of the main problems with Rocky Balboa is that it scatters itself in too many different directions by introducing too many characters, most of whom end up getting the short shrift." -- Chuck O'Leary, Fulvue Drive-In

BONUS: "The sixth (and final) installment in Sylvester Stallone's Rocky franchise doesn't try to to be the best, and it certainly isn't the worst. It just is." -- Erik Davis, Cinematical

Venus

Pro: "What keeps Venus from sinking ass-deep in Golden Pond is its sexual reverie-and a star who couldn't play a cutely neutered grumpy old man if commanded by God." -- Jim Ridley, Village Voice

Con: "If only the movie's story was on par with its grand, charismatic star." -- Gary Goldstein, Reel.com

Pro: "Peter O'Toole takes this excellent opportunity to remind us what an incredible actor he is. It's been decades since he's been given a chance to shine like this, and he blows the doors off in a part that seems to have been custom-made for him." -- Don Willmott, FilmCritic.com

Con: "A mood of uncertainty hovers over the whole project, as if it didn't have the nerve to be completely realistic or all-out cute." -- Dan Callahan, Slant Magazine

BONUS: "Of course, this is no traditional romance, but more of an odd, tender friendship, not unlike that of Lost in Translation." -- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Cinematical

And opening on Christmas Day we have...

Black Christmas

Pro: "This remake is at times scary and suspenseful, deftly directed, and well-acted for the most part..." -- Staci Layne Wilson, Horror.com

Con: "I thought that this could be really cool. How very, very wrong I was." -- Sean Clark, DreadCentral.com

Children of Men

Pro: "It is a Blade Runner for the 21st century, a worthy successor to that epic of dystopian decay." -- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Con: "An ugly mix of contemporary issues is hacked to unrecognizable bits in Alfonso Cuaron's futuristic thriller-blender..." -- Boyd van Hoejj, European-Films.net

Pro: "Improves as it proceeds, with a nail-biting final sequence better than any action film this year." -- Gabriel Shanks, Modern Fabulousity

Con: "In general, the movie is a mess, its principal character and his relationship with a beautiful woman as icy cold as the city itself..." -- Harvey Karten, Compuserve

Notes on a Scandal

Pro: "It's not easy to pull off the tale's delicate mix of tones, but Richard Eyre's zesty direction gets it just right." -- David Ansen, Newsweek

Con: "Melodrama trying to pass itself off as a slice of realistic life." -- Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

Pro: "A finely crafted film for a discerning audience." -- Jules Brenner, Cinema Signals

Con: "A disappointing missed opportunity, albeit one that features a superbly unguarded performance by Blanchett and the finest work in years by Dench" -The Nick Schager Film Project


(Coming up on 12/29: Arthur and the Invisibles, Fast Track, Miss Potter, Pan's Labyrinth and more!)

[Thanks to RottenTomatoes.com and to Willy G. for help collating the quotables.]