Summary Judgment

Get a Clue

The critical buzz on Nancy Drew and Eagle vs. Shark.

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew (Warner Bros.). The famous fictional teenage girl detective has returned to the big screen for the first time in about 70 years. The once-prim Nancy is no Veronica Mars, but certainly her outlook (though oddly, not her wardrobe) has been updated. In the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano is impressed with the filmmakers’ spunky, appealing heroine, “who isn’t a sociopath, a moron or a ‘laid-back’ invertebrate whose most salient character trait is looking hot while being supportive.” Other critics are less enamored of Emma “Julia’s niece” Roberts’ portrayal of Nancy. In Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum carps that Roberts’ “made-for-teen-TV acting style, a perky blandness, doesn’t supply a clue as to the appeal of Nancy Drew after all these years.” And the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman shrugs that Roberts plays Nancy as “a perky, politely eye-rolling little know-it-all who, although a senior in high school, looks 14 and has the personality of an obnoxious, if fearless, 12-year-old.” (Buy tickets to Nancy Drew.)— D.S., June 15

Eagle vs. Shark

Eagle vs. Shark (Miramax). This New Zealand import—described by practically all reviewers either “quirky” or “offbeat”—is a love story in the Napoleon Dynamite vein. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Time Out New York calls it “a comparison both flattering and damning,” and Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir sighs, “[I]t sure feels like [director Taika] Waititi got a look at Napoleon Dynamite a few dozen times on video and decided, heck, I can do that, and with cuter accents too.” And the New York Times’ A.O. Scott seems wary of the film’s calculated eccentricity, noting that it “cannot quite escape the twin traps of forced whimsy and sticky sentimentality.” (Buy tickets to Eagle vs. Shark.)— D.S., June 15

Era Vulgaris, Queens of the Stone Age (Interscope). Led by their enigmatic singer, Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age have managed to keep fans from across a wide musical spectrum—rock, metal, even dance—entertained for four albums. The band’s fifth, Era Vulgaris, features guest appearances from the likes of Mark Lanegan, Trent Reznor, and the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, and critics mostly like it. “Homme is all over the map and the travels are a hoot,” remarks the Boston Globe. In Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield raves that the album is “ruthlessly efficient in its pursuit of depraved rock thrills.” But online music magazine Pitchfork wishes the band had hewed closer to the sound of its previous albums, carping, “This album tries its best to be everything all at once (often within one track), and in attempting to cover too much ground, the band loses focus and direction.” (Buy Era Vulgaris.)— D.S., June 14

Art at the Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale. The 52nd Venice Biennale  kicked off last week, officially opening on Sunday. Critics are overwhelmed and entranced—by the parties and glamour as much as the art. In his blog for the New York Times, Randy Kennedy describes Venice as an aesthete’s paradise: “A city where, at least for a few months, art is everywhere.” The Huffington Post sings, “Here is certainly ’the exhibition’ of this new Century.” And Bloomberg calls the event “[maybe] the largest accumulation of new art the world has ever seen,” noting, “We have heard a great deal in recent years about the art boom in China. The shows sprouting all over Venice, however, give a sense of the artistic potential of the whole world, including Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the rest of Asia.” The Washington Post’s Blake Gopnik praises the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, found in the U.S. pavilion: “[His] work, though deeply involved with ‘Americanness,’ is as subtle as could be— understated, wry, witty and shrewd.” Click here for the New York Times’ interactive map of the 2007 Venice Biennale, and here for a gallery of images from the BBC. Click here for Artforum’s roundup of responses in the European press.— B.W., June 13

The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown (Doubleday). The buzz for this Diana bio from the former New Yorker editor has been growing for years, and critics find the book—on sale Tuesday, and excerpted in Vanity Fai r last week—well worth the wait. “It will bring the summer to a standstill,” raves the New York Sun. A comprehensive account, Brown’s book is unsparing on the British aristocracy and only a little easier on its subject. The Wall Street Journal notes that “The book’s greatest attraction … is its sheer wealth of detail, by turns salacious, vinegary, depressing and hilarious.” Brown cut her teeth in the London gossip trade, and she is judged especially strong on the press’s role in Diana’s rise and downfall. The Washington Post observes that “The sour wisdom Brown gleaned during decades spent editing chic magazines glints throughout her book, like rhinestones under sackcloth.” The New York Times’ Janet Maslin admires the work as well but does offer readers a caveat about Brown’s sourcing: ” ‘The Diana Chronicles’ is a Diana book with much more smart, snarky flair than most. But it is still a Diana book that is built on earlier ones. And the others have such varied provenance and reliability that Ms. Brown’s methods raise some questions.” (Buy The Diana Chronicles.)— B.W., June 12

The Sopranos finale

The Sopranos finale (HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m.). Fans and critics began weighing in on the Sopranos finale almost as soon as the credits rolled, and perhaps predictably, reactions were wildly mixed. On her Deadline Hollywood blog, Nikki Finke claims fans were so angry about the way the series ended that they crashed HBO’s Web site trying to register their complaints. Her analysis of the finale? “[David] Chase clearly didn’t give a damn about his fans. Instead, he crapped in their faces. This is why America hates Hollywood.” But others are more philosophical. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley argues that any ending would have left some fans unhappy and notes, “Viewers are conditioned to seek a resolution, happy or sad, so it was almost fitting that this HBO series that was neither comedy nor tragedy should defy expectations in its very last moments. In that way at least The Sopranos delivered a perfectly imperfect finish.” And the Washington Post’s Tom Shales commends Chase’s finale, remarking wistfully that “[t]hese great mythic characters, who have captivated HBO viewers for nearly a decade, are now suspended in space and the national imagination forever.”—D.S., June 11

The Sopranos 

The Sopranos finale (HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m.). According to the Associated Press, Sopranos director David Chase filmed three different endings of his much-loved mob series to ensure that the conclusion would remain a secret. But that hasn’t stopped critics and fans from speculating about what will happen to Tony and his henchmen, and much of the chatter centers on whether Tony will survive. (Web sites are also taking bets about various potential outcomes for the show.) But the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wonders, “Perhaps we should instead ask, why do we care about what happens to [Tony] even now?” The San Francisco Chronicle reflects, “Maybe the living or dying or understanding of one character in one episode is less important than the emotional wallop of the entire series.”—D.S., June 8