Take an underdog pugilist and set his greatest bout in the thick of Depression-era New York. Have it be a fight for his family - to be able to feed them - as much as for the sport. Oh, and make sure it's a true story. By Hollywood standards, it doesn't get much better. "Cinderella Man" is the touching story of boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), who, hungry and broken, makes his comeback against the outsized Heavyweight Champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko). It's also a terrific love story. Braddock's wife Mae, played by Renée Zellweger, loves him as much as she hates what he does. But she's enormously proud of him, and without her, he has no chance of winning the fight of his life. Bonus features include deleted scenes with commentary by director Ron Howard; the process of casting two Oscar winners (Crowe and Zellweger); a blow-by-blow account of the actual Braddock-Baer fight; and Braddock's story as told by his friends and family. Grade: A-
- Teresa Méndez
The holidays seem to bring a rush of direct-to-DVD movies, some better than others. Two animated family films coming out this week (each claiming to be an "instant classic") are worth singling out in the avalanche of new titles.
The Happy Elf stars the voice and music of Harry Connick Jr. It tells the somewhat snarky tale of an irrepressibly happy worker at the North Pole, surrounded by downright grumpy co-workers and facing the prospect of an entire town of children who are so naughty they will not get presents from Santa this year.
Carol Kane brings her typically befuddled persona to a fellow elf, and the music makes it all worth watching. My only quibble: not enough of Harry singing. Grade: A-
The Littlest Light on the Christmas Tree features the voices of Jane Seymour and James Naughton in another original tale of a little light that goes out, only to come back to life as a young boy retrieves it and gives it another chance. The light endures to lead the world-weary shopkeeper in from a storm and teach everyone the true meaning of the season. A tiny bit more treacly than "The Happy Elf," but the visuals are luscious, and the songs are pretty and well arranged. Grade: B+
- Gloria Goodale