'N Sync Comes of Age 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 31 2001 11:30 PM

'N Sync Comes of Age 

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Movies
Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox). Critics certainly don't go ape over Tim Burton's remake of the 1968 sci-fi fantasy classic. The Washington Post's Desson Howe calls the film "a mid-July diversion for the human herds," and others are similarly unimpressed. Though everyone lavishes praise on makeup artist Rick Baker's lifelike and believable creations ("The primates are primo," Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today), the movie's script comes under fire as being lame, "over-plotted and under-dramatized" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Actors Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter get kudos for realistically aping apes, but lead Mark Wahlberg receives just "a three-banana rating out of a possible bunch of six" (Howe). All in all, though "splendidly envisioned" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post), the film's not up to scratch. (Click here to see the film's trailer.)— S.G.

Greenfingers (Boneyard Entertainment). This based-on-a-true-story aims for the charm of blue-collar Brit comedies like The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, but falls short. The tale of English convicts finding redemption in gardening is "as synthetic as a rubber rose," according to the NewYork Times' Dave Kehr, and all the other critics agree. Smarmy and manipulative, filled with clichés, "preachy and heavy-handed" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times), it would be a total loss were it not for the intelligent and always worthwhile Helen Mirren as a grande dame of horticulture and the smolderingly taciturn Clive Owen. Charles Taylor (Salon) sums it up: "That the movie works at all is entirely due to … Owen. … His light glancing touch is a blessing." (Click here to see a trailer.)—S.G.

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Music
Celebrity, by 'N Sync (Jive). The teen-bred idols of bubble-gum-pop attempt to diversify their song portfolio with an album that reviewers call a "textbook study in straddling the line between commerce and creativity" (Billboard). Peppering their collection of sure-fire radio hits with a few eclectic forays into hip-hop and techno, the group is said to be "paving a new high road for teen pop's future" (Barry Walters, Rolling Stone). For the first time, group members have written most of the songs themselves. The result is lyrics packed with gripes about gold-digging girls and how tough it is to be pop stars. Critics don't exactly shed a tear, but they do now wonder whether 'N Sync might just outlive the Gen. Y craze that created them. (Check out the group's flashy Web site here.)— J.F.

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To purchase this CD from amazon.com, click here.

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Beat 'Em Up, by Iggy Pop (Virgin). This raw and raunchy solo effort is deemed a throwback to the godfather of punk's early days as the stentorian front man of the Stooges. But critics wish the 54-year-old would age with a little more grace. They say he has simply produced "more snotty tunes about alienation and bodily fluids backed by a raging garage band" (Robert Cherry, Entertainment Weekly). "In a world without whining neo-metal bands, this record would be a godsend," writes Barry Walters of Rolling Stone. "Instead, it's merely a master's reclaiming of what some money-hungry chumps have devalued." (Click here for the unofficial Iggy Pop home page.)— J.F.

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To purchase this CD from amazon.com, click here.

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Books Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, by Andrea Tone (Hill & Wang); Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill, by Lara V. Marks (Yale University Press). Learned praise for two recent record-straighteners on the history of contraception. Devices and Desires argues that contraception has been hiding in the American mainstream since before the turn of the century, unfettered by the 1873 Comstock Law and other legislative impediments. Tone threads her history through "fascinating vignettes of small-time birth control entrepreneurs" (Daniel J. Kevles, the New York Times), but with an academic prose "nobody will call … titillating" (Harry Levins, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Critics comment that her final plea for expanded research is "oversimplified" (Booklist) but that the work still covers impressive ground. British historian Marks has written a book of "sleep-inducing sobriety" on the forces of science, politics, and feminism that developed the pill (Claudia FitzHerbert, the Daily Telegraph). For Marks, the pill came out of a society more anxious to curtail births than to empower women. Its legacy left the female body with more options but "in chains for a long while to come" (Gaby Wood, the Observer). (Click here to read an excerpt from Devices and Desires.)— D.N.

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To purchase these books from barnesandnoble.com, click here and here.

In addition to being the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura, Joshua Foer is the author of Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, which grew out of a story he wrote for Slate.

David Newman is a contributing editor at Legal Affairs.

Siân Gibby assists in editing the Faith-Based column. She copy-edits for Slate.

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