Summary Judgment

Hollywood XXXtra

Vin Diesel: smoldering hunk or studio automaton? Plus other bits from the week’s juiciest reviews.

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The Anna Nicole Show (E!). Après Ozzy, le deluge? The Washington Post’s Ken Ringle calls Anna Nicole “Babydoll” Smith’s reality TV show “a trip to the vomitorium.” Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly finds the spectacle less funny-ha-ha than seriously gross: “In exploiting a barely coherent Anna Nicole Smith, E! is doing something that comes pretty close to being obscene.” But in Salon, Carina Chocano argues that it’s the critical hand-wringing that’s overwrought—and that E!’s bimbo-as-monster display provides a valuable corrective to The Osbournes’ celebrity worship: “Tawdriness notwithstanding, this may be the more honest, and more valuable, view.”

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The Good Girl (Fox Searchlight). Classic reviewer catnip—critics even get to name-check Emma Bovary! And the giddy comparisons don’t end there: “a Bette Davis melodrama directed by Luis Buñuel” (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times); “a Coen brothers version of American Beauty” (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon); reminiscent of “the late, great Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Andrew Sarris, the New York Observer). Jennifer Aniston, start practicing your grateful Oscar faces. (Buy tickets for The Good Girl.)

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XXX (Columbia Pictures). In Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum implores, “People! People, wake up before it’s too late! Don’t you see? Triple-X/Vin Diesel is a golem, an automaton, a man of clay!” Rather than rage against the machine, some critics simply adopt the film’s extreme-sports aesthetic—Philip Martin in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette assesses XXX entirely in dumb-guy gobbledygook: “Me Vin D big fan. Where Kael now need?” But the Wall Street Journal’s Nancy DeWolf Smith, as ever, speaks for the youth of today: “No matter where you sit in the theater, no matter how far you arch back in your seat, there’s no escaping the sensation that all the action on the screen is taking place about three feet from your face. I loved it.” (Buy tickets for XXX.)

Pressplay (Sony, Universal, EMI). In March, when The Man first ponied up this Napster alternative, pirates and legal fans alike kvetched about limited music selections and burdensome restrictions on downloading, burning, and streaming tracks. Recent policy changes cracked the door a bit further open, but users still ain’t satisfied. “Unlimited downloads? Sure. But those tracks stop working when you stop paying … For your $18 monthly fee you can’t even burn a CD a month,” gripes “StunkleFeely” on Online postings ripple with frustration: “If they continue to insult my intelligence with these pathetic offers—pay more for less versatility and lower sound quality—they will push me quite gleefully into hopping onto the free downloading bandwagon.” (Buy Pressplay.)

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Neverwinter Nights (Atari/Bioware). Video game reviews tend to stick to “that’s cool” and “that’s dumb,” but Neverwinter Nights gets an unusual number of cools. The plot: “A flesh-melting plague has consumed the town of Neverwinter, and you have been summoned to find a cure and uncover the evil force that unleashed the disease” (Victor Godinez, the Dallas Morning News). The adventure has a “solid storyline and real-time combat” (Dan Toose, the Sydney Herald Tribune). In fact, suggests Greg Kasavin at, it’s so good, it’s evil: “Simply put, once you get into Neverwinter Nights, you’ll likely have no need or desire to play another role-playing game for a long time—or any other game for that matter.” (Neverwinter Nights.)

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Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism, by Lillian Ross (Counterpoint Press). Lillian Ross’ “finely chiseled sentences” don’t excuse her meanness, writes Lee Siegel in the Los Angeles Times. Ross puffs up her more famous subjects, Siegel argues, but she subtly mocks regular folks as if she were “Eustace Tilley with a switchblade.” Siegel is no less cutting: “She was the boss’ girlfriend, the spoiled brat of The New Yorker, who could indulge her childlike spite behind the mask of her woman-about-town refinement.” The Washington Monthly’s Joshua Green has another caveat: Ross’ disdain for the tape recorder. “Ross says she substitutes her own words for her subjects if she feels it’s more representative, a license that would cost many reporters their job.” ( Reporting Back.)

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Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale, by Catherine Orenstein (Basic).“Orenstein is a credential inflator,”Lorraine Adams j’accuses in the Washington Post—noting that “four letters to the editor” doesn’t equate with being a New York Times free-lancer. She’s also not wild about Orenstein’s Red Riding Hood analysis, which she says “puffs up the fairy tale, in an uneven post-modernist oven, into a soufflé of madly multiplying meanings.” (Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked.)

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Republic of Dreams, Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1915-1950, by Ross Wetzsteon (Simon & Schuster). Both the New York Times and the Washington Post chose “Village People” as a title, and their critics both praised this sharp history of the “epicenter of eccentricity” (Charles Kaiser, the Washington Post)—a haven for that eternal Nerve personals demographic of “Midwestern Protestants, children of immigrant Jews, closeted gays, clandestine readers, thwarted artists and gifted young women longing for independence” (Morris Dickstein, the New York Times). A few critics noted a slight themelessness to the second half, but since the author died before completing revisions, that’s pretty understandable. (Buy Republic of Dreams, Greenwich Village.)

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Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, by Eric Klinenberg (University of Chicago). Klinenberg makes “an air-tight case” (Jonathan Yardley, the Washington Post) for government irresponsibility during the deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave, “drawing a dense and subtle portrait of exactly what happened during that week in July” (Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker). The Chicago Sun-Times’ columnist Neil Steinberg was certainly convinced: He confesses that Klinenberg’s book made him regret his own role in downplaying the heat wave, including trivializing pieces he wrote for the paper: “As I read over my droll little exercise, I couldn’t help but think of some Sun-Times subscriber, an elderly man in a strap T-shirt, sitting in his sweltering, closed room on the West Side, reading halfway through, folding the paper, then quietly turning his face to the wall and dying.” (Read Klinenberg’s Slate article about heat-wave mortality rates. Buy Heat Wave.)