American Psycho (Lions Gate Films). Mainly excellent reviews for Mary Harron’s (I Shot Andy Warhol) adaptation (co-written by Guinevere Turner) of the much-reviled, best-selling novel by Bret Easton Ellis. On the plus side: 1) “Harron has boiled a bloated stew of brand names and butchery into a lean and mean horror comedy classic” (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). 2) Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, the slick, status-obsessed, and utterly hollow killer in the title role with “just the right tone of vapid menace” (David Ansen, Newsweek). 3) The film sucks you in: “Funny, pungent, and weirdly gripping, American Psycho is a satire that feels like a hallucination” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). A minority of critics point out flaws: 1) “Promotional blather about its satiric thrusts notwithstanding, the bottom line is that this film is 100 minutes spent with an unpleasant, unmotivated, disconnected psychopath … who enjoys hacking folks into pieces and storing body parts in a freezer” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). 2) The movie’s a one-trick pony, and the trick isn’t even surprising: “If the intention is to show us through satire that the Wall Street ‘80s were fueled by greed, few are likely to be struck dead by this revelation” (Mike Clark, USA Today). (Slate’s David Edelstein is one of the film’s fans, contending that “unlike the novel, [it] doesn’t make you want to empty your stomach every 15 minutes.” Click here to read his review.)
Keeping the Faith (Buena Vista Pictures). What’s not to like about Edward Norton’s directing debut? Norton, Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman star as a priest, a rabbi, and their mutual (and mutually inappropriate—Norton is celibate, Stiller can’t date a shiksa) love interest. It’s no masterpiece, but critics enjoy its easygoing sense of fun: It’s “a sporadic but hearty laugh-getter and impressive showcase for the three leads” (Mike Clark, USA Today). Several critics note that the film treats what some would consider a deep moral dilemma as fodder for a romantic comedy but, hey, it’s the movies. Best throwaway line in a review: Stiller plays “probably one of the few rabbis who stalk the streets in head-to-heels Prada” (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Click here to read David Edelstein’s review in Slate).
28 Days (Columbia Pictures). Sandra Bullock works hard with lame material in this weak sobriety comedy. Sentenced to time in a rehab facility after getting busted for drunken driving, Bullock goes through the torture of drying out and in the process displays “some of the most focused screen acting of her career” (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). Unfortunately, the movie is plagued by “an uncertainty about how seriously to take itself” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) and ends up weaving back and forth between “sitcom-y silliness and soap-operatic schmaltz” (Holden). One critic stands up for the film, saying, “28 Days may be fluff, but it’s good fluff: effortless, amusing and almost touching (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Click here to visit the film’s official site.)
The Blue Bedspread, by Raj Kamal Jha (Random House). Solid reviews for the ephemeral but “impressive” debut (Publishers Weekly) by an editor of the Indian Express. The novel comprises impressionistic vignettes of family history as remembered by a Calcutta man, written down for the benefit of his orphaned newborn niece. These memories “are stories only in name—like the novel itself, many of them have little narrative unity or direction. But what they lack in structure, they more than make up for in mood” (Akash Kapur, New York Times Book Review). A few say that the novel’s lack of structure crosses the line from dreamy to overly vague: It’s “oddly executed” and ends up “not quite fully realized” (Kirkus Reviews). (Read the first chapter, courtesy of the New York Times.)
Use Me, by Elissa Schappell (William Morrow). This book—some call it a novel, others call it a story collection—follows two women from age 14 through their 30s, cataloging their loves, both familial and romantic. Most critics agree that it’s “a wonderfully satisfying book, the kind of coming-of-age novel that somehow fulfills the expectations of the genre in unexpected ways” (Cathleen Schine, the New York Times Book Review). Schappell homes in on the basest, most needy sides of her two female protagonists without making them annoying: “Schappell’s unflinching candor and mordant wit, expressed through gritty dialogue … breathe life into these capsules of anguish” (Kera Bolonik, the Village Voice). One critic calls Schappell out. Carolyn See, writing in the Washington Post, notes that the women in this story collection “measure their lives by how they are loved—or not loved—by men. Anything else, anything else at all, according to Schappell, is pointless, meaningless drivel.” Because of that, See finds these “utterly traditional” stories “a little exasperating,” even if “beautifully written.” (Read one of Schappell’s stories at nerve.com.)
Ecstasy, by Lou Reed (Reprise). Gushes, pans, and everything in between for the rocker’s latest. Robert Christgau, in full hero-worship mode, calls the album “a complex, musically gorgeous synthesis of [Reed’s] obsessions” in Rolling Stone. On the other end of the spectrum are gripes that the album is “77 minutes of gritty, virtually unchanging drone” (Natalie Nichols, the Los Angeles Times) depressing enough to make the Velvet Underground “sound like a comedy act” (Tom Sinclair, Entertainment Weekly). Most reviewers fall somewhere between the poles, saying it’s an improvement over recent releases but doesn’t top his best work. (For more on Reed, check out this listing of his fan sites.)