Dreamgirls (DreamWorks/Paramount). Film buffs are watching carefully to see if the deafening Oscar buzz about Dreamgirls translates into nominations. In the meantime, mostly positive reviews are trickling in for director and screenwriter Bill Condon’s movie adaptation of a Broadway musical about a Supremes-like trio in the 1960s. Newsweek’s David Ansen notes, “[W]hat makes Dreamgirls a blast is Condon’s obvious love for the show’s heart-on-its-sleeve theatricality,” but A.O. Scott gripes that the film’s songs “are not just musically and lyrically pedestrian, but historically and idiomatically disastrous.” No matter what they think of the film as a whole, most critics gush about breakout star Jennifer Hudson’s turn as Effie, which has already garnered her a Golden Globe nomination. In Slate, Jody Rosen observes that the greatness of her defining song, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” “is the transcendence it offers, to those who know Effie’s pain firsthand, and to everyone else.” (Buy tickets to Dreamgirls.)
The Good Shepherd (Universal). Generally positive reviews for this Robert De Niro-directed film about the early days of the CIA, in which he, Matt Damon, and Angelina Jolie star. The Los Angeles Times takes a philosophical tack, musing that the movie is “about how a soulless occupation can destroy souls, about the price you pay for being the way you are.”The New Yorker’s David Denby positively raves that Shepherd is “one of the most impressive movies ever made about espionage,” and he calls it a “sharply knowing social history of the C.I.A.” But in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis yawns that the “story boils down to fathers who fail their sons, a suspect metaphor that here becomes all too ploddingly literal.” (Buy tickets to The Good Shepherd.)
David Rose, They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads From the London Review of Books (Scribner). Critics are chuckling over this quirky collection of personals from that bastion of intellectualism, the London Review of Books, compiled by its ad manager. (The Guardian calls it a “perfect Downstairs Loo Book.”) Salon notes that the personals section of the Review has become “a not-so-guilty first stop for lovers of wordplay, humor and the occasional philosophical reference,” and the San Francisco Chronicle calls it “wry, hilarious, creative in ways Craigslisters could only dream.” To wit, a sample: “I’m just a girl who can’t say ‘no’ (or ‘anaesthetist’). Lisping Rodgers and Hammerstein fan, female lecturer in politics (37) WLTM man to 40 for thome enthanted eveningth. Box no. 2498.” As William Grimes observes dryly in the New York Times, “The British do not go in for the cheery, self-affirming personals favored by Americans.” (Buy They Call Me Naughty Lola.)
Letters From Iwo Jima (Warner Bros./Dreamworks). Clint Eastwood’s companion to Flags of Our Fathers tells the story of the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view. Critics are almost uniformly raving. A.O. Scott intones, “It is, unapologetically and even humbly, true to the durable tenets of the war-movie tradition, but it is also utterly original, even radical in its methods and insights.”Newsweek’s David Ansen is likewise enthralled: “It’s unprecedented, a sorrowful and savagely beautiful elegy that can stand in the company of the greatest antiwar movies.” The New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris is philosophical about the film’s thought-changing capabilities: “Letters may help modify our thinking about our present enemies as a monolithic mass of malevolence, as we were once conditioned to think of the Japanese people as a whole.” (Buy tickets to Letters From Iwo Jima.)
Rocky Balboa (MGM). Critics seem relieved that they’ve taken to the sixth (!) Rocky movie starring Sylvester Stallone, now playing a 60-year-old Rocky trying for one last comeback. But like all the Rocky films, this one is about more than boxing: “It is, first and foremost, a character study of a good, simple man edging with sadness and dignity into old age,” observes the Houston Chronicle. In the New York Times, Stephen Holden concludes, “Surprisingly Rocky Balboa is no embarrassment. Like its forerunners it goes the distance almost in spite of itself.” The Washington Post lauds Stallone’s writing and directing chops, noting that the film “doesn’t rest lazily on its own nostalgia. … [I]t smartly reprises the atmosphere of Hollywood’s yesteryear.” The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan is one of the lone voices of dissent, carping that Balboa is “for those who can’t be bothered counting up to six, or maybe for fighters who’ve taken so many punches to the head they need help remembering their hero’s last name.” (Buy tickets to Rocky Balboa.)
Nas, Hip-Hop Is Dead (Def Jam). The 33-year-old New York rapper’s latest album has inspired meditations on the nature of contemporary hip-hop. The Boston Globe believes Nas is arguing that greed has killed hip-hop, and that “rappers and their peers have no claim to moral leadership.” Kelefa Sanneh muses, “Nas is a formalist, obsessed with the way rappers put words together. And his album is full of insinuations that today’s rappers care more about money than craft.” Online music magazine Pitchfork says Nas creates narratives, while other hip-hop artists are more consumed with superficial lyrical complexity: “[T]oo often they’re just saying what’s on their minds instead of getting something off their chests.” But Nas’ ruminations can get tiresome; the San Francisco Chronicle calls the album “brilliant yet at times pedantic.” (Buy Hip-Hop Is Dead.)
Judith Regan update. The New York Times reports that Judith Regan’s firing was precipitated by a phone conversation with a HarperCollins lawyer in which she referred to a “Jewish cabal”—consisting of HarperCollins publisher Jane Friedman, HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey, and ICM literary agent Esther Newberg—that was united against her. Regan’s lawyer, Bert Fields, denied that she is anti-Semitic, and said that HarperCollins was simply looking for an excuse to fire her.
Judith Regan fired. The powerful publisher of her own HarperCollins imprint, ReganBooks, was fired Friday after a tumultuous few weeks—a book by O.J. Simpson she commissioned, If I Did It, was pulled after a public backlash; she had been criticized for a forthcoming controversial fictional biography of Mickey Mantle; and she had publicly tussled with Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns HarperCollins. Still, “[m]ajor players in the publishing world … could not contain their amazement at the rapid series of events,” notes the Los Angeles Times. In his New York Times column, David Carr analyzes that Regan had “refused to go away quietly even though Mr. Murdoch had already taken a bullet, then continued to complain that she was being undermined long after the story had quieted down.” But few doubt that Regan will return to publishing, as Jeffrey Pinkerton argues on the Huffington Post: “Since Murdoch neglected to drive a stake through her heart, I have no doubt she’ll bounce back, with new financing and new authors.”