The weekend before the Christmas holiday will see crowded marquees as three films make their debut, each of which is likely to overtake last week's winner, Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, according to analysts. However, there is no consensus on which of the three, Eragon, Charlotte's Web, or The Pursuit of Happyness will come out on top. Joining them in very limited release will be Paramount's musical, Dreamgirls,in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco and Warner Bros.' The Good German,starring George Clooney, in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto.


How can a movie based on a novel by a then 17-year-old and directed by a man with the improbable name of Stefen Fangmeier possibly go wrong? Well, in several ways, say many critics in their review of Eragon, which concerns a boy and his dragon. Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel suggests that the movie amounts to little more than a "cutting and pasting" of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News comments that it arrives "as heavy and earthbound as an injured dragon." To Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post, it's a "silly symphony of a film." Then there's Michael Phillips,who comments in the Chicago Tribune: "Eragon is a bit cheesy, but I rather liked it. It's sincere cheese." In fact Eleanor Ringel Gillespie takes the comparison one step further, calling it, "Lord of the Cheese."Several critics are impressed with the computer-created dragon. Chris Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun remarks, "Eragonisn't much, but its baby dragon sure is adorable." "The creature," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today, "is the undisputed star of a film that is predictable in its plot, clichéd in its dialogue, but stunning in its cinematography and production design." And Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journalmerely outlines the story plot without comment. "I'm going to cut a worthy dragon some slack," he writes.


Jan Stuart in Newsdayuses the adjective "nice" a lot to describe the latest mostly live version of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web,as in the "wise and wonderful children's classic is now a very nice motion picture." Similar faint praise comes from A.O. Scott in the New York Times, who writes that the movie "may not be perfect,but it honors its source and captures the key elements" of the book. And Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Maildescribes a personal quandary: "What do you say about a mediocre movie adaptation of a literary masterpiece? Could have been worse? Or, it could have been much, much better, but even then it probably wouldn't measure up to the original?" And here's Kevin Crust's spin on the movie in the Los Angeles Times: "The ads promise magic, but apart from the requisite heart-tugging finale, what it delivers is uneventful."


Will Smith is drawing some of the strongest reviews in his career for his performance in The Pursuit of Happyness, based on a true story about the struggle of a single father to work his way out of homelessness. Amy Biancolli in the Houston Chronicleobserves that Smith has always excelled at playing the ordinary guy, but in this film "Smith brings the art of guyness to an apex of compassion and understanding; he blends into the part of a downtrodden single dad with such easy-bones naturalism that it's hard, for once, to remember that he's Will Smith, movie star." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirertersely calls his performance "restrained and nuanced." But here's Richard Roeper's take on it in the Chicago Sun-Times: "With his work in "The Pursuit of Happyness," Smith serves notice he is not only a genuine movie star, he's a four-star actor (even in a three-star movie). It is a sublime, fully realized performance, and it is worthy of an Academy Award nomination." The movie itself doesn't receive the praise that is afforded Smith, but it does generally receive a warm reception. Ty Burr in the Boston Globedescribes it this way: "A quietly agonized drama of reaching and missing and reaching again, it takes place in the crack between the American dream and its nightmare shadow. It's a fine film, with a portrait of fatherhood that feels scuffed and driven and real."