American Pie 2 (Universal). Critics throw cream pies at this agonizingly predictable sequel in which the original cast reunites for a summer of sexual humiliation at a lodge. In this "limp biscuit of a movie" (Steven Hunter, the Washington Post) "[n]o characters do anything they haven't already done" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times), the gags are grosser, and the charm of the original is lost. Stephanie Zacharek (Salon) complains, "[T]he writing is stiff, and I don't mean in the good way." The film scores points only when Eugene Levy (as an attentive and too-nerdy dad) and Alyson Hannigan (as Jim's flute-fornicating former prom date) are onscreen. (Watch the film's trailer.)— S.G.
The Others (Dimension). Critics shriek with delight over this thriller. Every review invokes the ghostly classic "Turn of the Screw" as evidence of its pedigree. Rita Kempley of the Washington Post deems it a "sophisticated and coherently written film that works whether perceived as a ghost story, a psychodrama or an existential debate." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir gives it extra credit "for not relying on computer effects." All praise Kidman's performance: "[R]arely has her natural demeanor of frosty hauteur been put to better use" (O'Hehir); "Kidman has thrown herself into her role as if it were Lady Macbeth on the London stage, with formidable results," (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Watch the film's trailer.)—S.G.
The Deep End (Fox Searchlight). The critics emerge with effusive praise for this noirish melodrama. The film stars Scottish actress Tilda Swinton (Orlando) in a universally acclaimed performance that is "quietly astonishing, a triumph of demure urgency and controlled desperation" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). A middle-class mother who disposes of the body of a man she thinks her son killed becomes engulfed in morally hazardous waters. "This noir thriller is so thought-provoking, visually stunning and emotionally resonant that it could emerge as one of the best films of the year," raves Claudia Puig of USA Today; The New Yorker's David Denby hedges nothing, declaring it "the best American film of the year." Lone dissenter Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly complains that "virtually nothing that happens is entirely plausible." (Swinton had sex with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach. What other people want to do with Leo includes sharing her experience and having "lots of iccle baby Leo's;" others would rather "beat the shit out of him.")—B.W.
Osmosis Jones (Warner Brothers). Critics are split on this flick that validates the saying "you are what you eat." The film is part live action about a junk food addict (Bill Murray) and part animation of his internal workings, where a white blood cell (Chris Rock) fends off his ruin. The animation wins kudos—it's like something "drawn by Matt Groening … on acid" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times) and is "wildly original" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). But while many admire the clever comedy, a few deplore the gross-out tendencies—compliments of the Farrelly brothers—so much so that they contend it "should never have been released, not even on video" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). (For the movie's official site click here.)— M.C.
CNN's New Headline News. The play to attract younger (read: breathing) viewers to the round-the-clock news station draws snickers: "Welcome to the Chillin' News Network" (Phil Kloer, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution). The new look, which adds scrolling headlines, sports scores, and tickers, is a potential boon for those who "can adapt to the new, Web-like look of the television screen" (David Folkenflik, the Baltimore Sun). But most critics gripe that "CNN has carried the current trend toward ever-busier newscasts to satirical extremes" (Robert Bianco, USA Today). Pre-launch doubts focused on new anchor Andrea Thompson, an actress with limited journalistic experience. But the main beef critics had with the revamp was the "ludicrous visual cacophony" (Bianco) that left audiences wondering, "Dude! Where's my news?" (Kloer). (Click here for a "virtual studio tour.")—D.N
Al Gore's Beard. Critics call the new and hirsute Al Gore a political tour de force, a savvy play to "appear more relaxed and less wooden" (Paul Leavitt, USAToday). "The beard is magnifique. So Continental, so Pepe Le Pew" (Maureen Dowd, the New York Times). Joshua Micah Marshall chimes in, "I've gotta admit, I think it looks pretty good." But Marshall's obviously got a conflict of interest; click here to see it. Putative motives go from post-Freudian "discovering the man within out in the woods" (Damian Whitworth, the Times of London) to antebellum: "Perhaps it's just an Abe Lincoln Thing" (the Houston Chronicle). Some are more skeptical: "[I]s he going to look synthetic with yet another make-over?" (George Will, This Week). And one is delusional: "Takes my name, takes the beard. ... next thing you know he's going to get his knee replaced" (Al Roker, Today). But judging from the rave reaction, Gore should be "saving his close shaves for the next election" (U.S. News & World Report). (To judge for yourself, click here.)—D.N.
Hot Shots II, by the Beta Band (Astralwerks). You can hear the collective sigh of relief from critics: This third album from the trippy Scottish group is far better than their embarrassing sophomore effort, in which they "drove the freak truck into a ditch" (Matt Hendrickson, Rolling Stone). It's not perfect, but critics call it "prime minor-key psychedelia for a menacing new millennium" (Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago Sun-Times). On the down side, "there's a whole lotta Weltschmerz goin' on" (the New York Observer), which cuts both ways: Is the album "pretentious at times? Hell, yes! But so is life, and without pretension, what would rock aspire to?" (Piotr Orlov, CMJ). (Click here to watch videos from this album.)—E.T.
To purchase this CD from amazon.com, click here.