Entrapment (20th Century Fox). A few critics like this old-fashioned heist flick starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones despite its unoriginality: “It works because it is made stylishly, because Connery and Zeta-Jones are enormously attractive actors, and because of the romantic tension between them” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). A slew of critics finds the whole thing a bit off: Connery has 40 years on Zeta-Jones, and the highlight of the film is Zeta-Jones’ spandex-clad “demi-soft-core tai chi” (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal) as she attempts to evade an optical security system in the process of ripping off a priceless gold mask. Slate’s David Edelstein says “Entrapment is an A-list production, but despite … a bevy of state-of-the-art sensors, cybergizmos, and digital readouts, it can’t manage to brush off its B-movie cobwebs.” (Read the rest of Edelstein’s review here.)
The Winslow Boy (Sony Pictures Classics). David Mamet directs a G-rated family drama, based on Terrence Rattigan’s 1946 play about a schoolboy accused of petty theft and the legal battle that blossoms in the accusation’s wake. Critics praise Mamet’s departure from his trademark profane and sharp-edged films, but the reviews have a dutiful air about them: “a pointed examination of the price of seeking justice” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) … a “handsome, stately adaptation” (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). (Click here to read the consensus view by Slate’s David Edelstein: “Beat by beat, Mamet turns out an immaculately staged, crisply paced, and elegantly acted movie. It’s also a tad bloodless, but you can’t have everything.”)
The Phantom Menace (20th Century Fox). Though the premiere is still two weeks away, hype for the Star Wars prequel is at full throttle. The soundtrack has been released, tie-in toys have gone on sale (1,500 shoppers showed up at FAO Schwarz’s Manhattan store on Monday morning), thousands of Web sites have cropped up, and lines have formed at theaters. The backlash has also arrived: Janet Maslin complains in the New York Times: “When a film becomes the nexus of such a complex marketing juggernaut, inevitable consequences include weariness and even déjà vu. Nobody on this planet will be able to approach the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, with a sense of discovery. So much commerce rides on this product, so much advance flogging has been necessary, that the film’s own innate appeal is compromised.” (Two well-maintained fan sites, The Force.net and Countdown to Star Wars, present detailed information on the film as well as photos and news on upcoming commercials. The film’s official site offers several trailers and an online store.)
Keep It Like a Secret, by Built to Spill (Warner Bros.). Excellent reviews for the latest album from the Idaho-based indie rock band. Reviewers praise singer and lead guitarist Doug Martsch as the locus of the band’s appeal: His “particular genius … is the vivid tension he generates between earnest romanticism and howling discord” (David Fricke, Rolling Stone). Reviews compare the band’s sound with predecessors as diverse as Wire, Hüsker Dü, and Lou Reed, and several mark the similarity of Martsch’s voice to Neil Young’s. The Wall Street Journal’s Jim Fusilli writes that it’s “the kind of disk you replay when it rolls to a close, just to delight in all that cleverness once again.” (For more on the band, check out this site, which has photographs, lyrics, and a list of tour dates.)
The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Early reviews lavished praise on the New York Times“Foreign Affairs” columnist’s study of globalization: “The author uses his skills as a reporter and analyst to conduct a breathtaking tour, one that possesses the exhilarating qualities of flight and the stomach-hollowing ones of free fall” (Richard Eder, the New York Times). Recent reviews have been considerably cooler. Gripes: 1) Friedman’s belief in global economics and American-style capitalism’s ability to solve the world’s ills reads more like cheerleading than analysis: “[O]nly a New York Times foreign affairs columnist could write a book so relentlessly upbeat about the USA’s prospects in an ever more tightly integrated world without being accused of unsophisticated boosterism” (David J. Lynch, USA Today). 2) Some of his theories have already been disproved: His “Golden Arches” theory of international relations held that no two countries that both had a McDonald’s have ever gone to war. This “was proved false even before his book’s publication date by the war between NATO and Serbia (where the Belgrade McDonald’s franchises were promptly vandalized).” (Jacob Weisberg, Slate). 3) Friedman is blind to the negative aspects of a world dominated by business instead of government: “The lack of skepticism toward business–the tendency to adopt its view of the world–has had a deeper effect on Friedman than just causing him on occasion to strike a tonally false note,” writes Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker, because “in the era of globalization business can constrict freedom and innovation just as governments did during the Cold War.” (Click here to read Weisberg’s review in Slate.)
Idle Hands (Columbia Pictures). Another campy teen horror flick. Shocker: Critics say it’s trite and unoriginal (it follows a boy with a demonically possessed hand). It’s also “undeniably kinetic,” and director Rodman Flender (yet another WB alum) manages to generate “watchable levels of splatter-happy delirium” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly).
Bechet Dumaine Allen. Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn are in possession of a child, “Bechet Dumaine Allen.” The critics are dying to know: Is the 5-month old girl adopted or not? Previn “didn’t appear pregnant in recent photos” (Shauna Snow, the Los Angeles Times). The name comes from legendary soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet.