‘Dreamgirls’

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The title of the film is “Dreamgirls” but it could have been called “A Star Is Born.” Former “American Idol” contestant Jennifer Hudson absolutely walks away with this big, splashy dazzler of a picture, based on the 1981 Broadway musical, even before performing her plaintive, showstopping number, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” And that’s quite a feat. Writer-director Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters,” “Kinsey”), who was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for best-picture winner “Chicago,” has crafted an endlessly entertaining, technically triumphant film. In following the rise of a Supremes-style Detroit trio – played by Hudson, Beyonce Knowles and Anika Noni Rose – the music, choreography, costumes, lighting and makeup are all superb. The editing is consistently fluid, the energy high. Yet the ending is so rushed it’ll make your head spin (Condon really crams a lot into those last 20 minutes or so) and the whole thing is just hard to take seriously – especially “And I Am Telling You,” which in the past 25 years has become a favorite drag-queen anthem. Jamie Foxx is sufficiently sleazy as the group’s two-timing manager, with Eddie Murphy revisiting his “Saturday Night Live” James Brown impression as an R&B sex machine. RATED: PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content. 131 min. RATING: Three stars out of four.

– Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

‘Freedom Writers’

The true story behind this classroom drama starring Hilary Swank is undeniably amazing and inspiring. Idealistic rookie teacher Erin Gruwell came into a Long Beach, Calif., high school soon after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, defused the rancor among black, white, Hispanic and Asian teens and injected hope, common ground and academic achievement into their lives. Director Richard LaGravenese’s dramatization sadly presents the Cliff’s Notes account of Gruwell’s accomplishment. Despite occasional moments of inspiration, the movie simplistically focuses on maudlin highlights and glosses over the obstacles to rallying a dangerously disparate group of youths more accustomed to loathe than trust one another. Swank endearingly plays Gruwell, who forges unlikely bonds among her students by encouraging them to document their harsh lives in journals. RATED: PG-13 for violent content, some thematic material and language. 123 min. RATING: Two stars out of four.

– David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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