One Hour Photo (Fox Searchlight). Completing his career morph from treacle-hound to scariest clown on earth, Robin Williams hits critical pay dirt with his "fascinating and pitiless" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) portrait of a photo-developer-cum-stalker. A few reviewers, like Salon's Charles Taylor, find the nihilistic underpinnings a bit of a crock, but many more praise the film's "deliberately alienated mise-en-scène" (J. Hoberman, the Village Voice). (Buy tickets to One Hour Photo.)
Serving Sara (Paramount). An "odoriferous mess" (Manohla Dargis, the Los Angeles Times) that drives even Christian reviewers to snotty wisecracks: "We haven't seen such hilarity since Say It Isn't So!" deadpans Movie Parables' Michael Elliott. He then adds: "The main problem with Serving Sara is that there is no love being manifested by any of the characters. Without love, life doesn't make much sense. Neither does this film." (Other reviewers concurred, except without the love part.) (Buy tickets to Serving Sara.)
Morality alert!First Things' Austin W. Bramwell praises director Whit Stillman for slipping "old-fashioned moral lessons" under the raised noses of sardonic art house viewers. The New York Times' Daniel Zalewski suggests the same of Possession director Neil LaBute, but less approvingly: "Some critics have mistakenly taken the emotional depravity that dominates his work as a sign that he condones such behavior. The truth is quite the opposite. He is a hard-core moralist."
Los AngelesMuseum of Contemporary Art. In the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Knight makes the elitist argument that mob-magnet exhibits (like MoCA's recent Warhol show) are the "bubble economy" of the art world: "The art museum as tourist trap gives the place a useful job, which it was never meant to have." But just a day later, Knight reveals an endearing man-of-the-people underbelly with his populist new column, "Ask the Critic": a Q & A that lets readers ask questions about which museum is right for their kids.
Two days ago, Scott McLemee panned The Egg Code (see below) within an inch of its life. But according to his blog, he clearly regrets rien: "My assault on a really lame novel appears in this week's New York Times Book Review, so I'm feeling kind of like a mean bastard, even though there's not one word of it that I'd change. … Every so often there comes an assignment during which you hate every minute spent reading the damned book. And then you get even. And it is a flavor of bittersweet."
Fall fashion. Denim, denim, denim; handbags are the new shoes; and those fugly peasant blouses should be gone any minute now, breezes Laura Compton in the San Francisco Chronicle. Nobody said fashion criticism had to be all that critical—or consistent. The Wall Street Journal envisions a fall that's "serious, sober and button-down"; Vogue talks "romance, drama, sex appeal" while the Globe and Mail's Deirdre Kelly terrifies with threats of "gold and silver" and "the vest."
The Egg Code, by Mike Heppner (Knopf). Scrambled reviews for Heppner's high-concept Internet thingie—the Washington Post's Curtis White praises it as "fragmented, achronological and, in a word, hypertextual," while in the New York Times, Scott McLemee prefers the term "joyless wackiness." McLemee also snarks, "Somewhere inside 'The Egg Code' (concealed beneath layers of irony, pastiche, inside joking and all the other lard of maximalist metafiction), there may be a perfectly good novella. … But it is not struggling nearly hard enough to get out." (The Egg Code.)
Red Rabbit, by Tom Clancy (Putnam). As if patting a growling dog, some liberal reviewers laud Clancy as "a sharp-eyed observer and an emphatically opinionated tour guide" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). But nobody's loving his "flabby prose style": In Entertainment Weekly, Bruce Fretts writes, "You know you're in trouble when it takes nearly 500 pages to reach this line: 'The mission was now fully under way.' " (Red Rabbit.)
Hairspray (Neil Simon Theatre). "YEP, it's a hit," begins a Clive Barnes New York Post rave that might as well spin center-screen and freeze, '40s-movie-style. "Bouncy, witty, irresistible, outrageous fun," agrees Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley miraculously finds a melancholic lesson buried in the bubble gum: "Hairspray is, above all, Nice. This may be regarded as faint praise in New York, capital of Type A personalities. But Nice, in this instance, doesn't mean bland. … And it feels awfully good to pretend, for as long as the cast keeps singing, that the world really is that way." Whoa, Ben, are you OK, man? (the soundtrack for Hairspray.)