Barbershop(MGM). A "reassuring, retro uplifter" de-fangs critics (including those who wrote off that blockbuster Big Fat Greek flick). Even high-toned A.O. Scott gets verklempt over this ensemble drama about black self-reliance: "I've seen better movies recently, but it's been a long time since I've left one feeling the easy, full-bellied happiness this one evoked." (And to think, just a month ago, Scott was griping that he lacked "the stomach and the abs" for surfing.) (Buy tickets for Barbershop.)
Igby Goes Down (United Artists). It's the year of the Holden Caulfield, what with The Good Girl, Tadpole, and now this "poisonously funny and unstintingly furious gem." As the adolescent of the hour, "[Kieran] Culkin touches a raw nerve, letting it all bleed as Igby finally drops a lifetime of defenses" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). (Buy tickets for Igby Goes Down.)
Movie Critics. In L.A. Weekly, John Powers chastises critical unwillingness to grapple with complicated art—pinpointing Anthony "Airy Detachment" Lane as a prime offender. He also invokes the recent reception of Godard's In Praise of Love: "neglected by Time and Newsweek, chastised for being anti-American by the New York Times, dismissed by New York (wearily) and The New Yorker (suavely) for having no interest in characters, and given a 'C' grade in Entertainment Weekly by a critic who wrote it off with the cocksure philistinism of Bill O'Reilly passing judgment on Finnegans Wake."
The Sopranos (HBO). Caryn James dives happily back into the New York Times'open crush on Tony Soprano, lauding the character's "complicated, sentimental, ruthless heart" and episodes "constructed so carefully that what appear to be grace notes often have potentially lethal consequences." In Newsday, Noel Holston adds his thumbs up but bridles at extraneous cheap yuks. Both critics express disappointment at what Holston calls the "heavy-handed" third episode about Italian-American stereotypes. ( The Sopranos' third season on DVD.)
Home, Dixie Chicks (Sony). Todd Sterling at countryreview.com calls the album "so pure, so earthy and honest … every label in Nashville will be trying to duplicate the sounds over the next year." Music critics universally concur, except for some Yankee at RollingStone condescending that the Chicks are "perky, earnest and can play a little"—inspiring a spate of annoyed reader remarks. (Home.)
Television Without Pity. First Farscape, now this? The single best site for populist TV criticism—communal snarkfest Television Without Pity—is on the rocks. Go there and order some mugs or something. I beg you. I need the recaps.
Serena Williams. Vying for Joan Rivers' crown, the Washington Post's Robin Givhan characterized one Serena Williams' tennis costume as an "orange crochet hussy dress modeled after something that Wilma Flintstone might choose." Racist, or just bitchy fashionista talk? The Post's ombudsman said the latter. At the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, A. Scott Walton admires Williams but not her yellow hair: "Williams' choice of hairstyles that are so patently false puts distance between her and the young women she could potentially inspire."
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (FSG). This "fast-paced Greek-American vaudeville" (John Homans, New York) about a gender-ambiguous hero(ine) is "a five-hundred-page dazzler … highbrow entertainment, moving, wise, thoughtful, but, above all, fun" (Gabriel Brownstein, Nerve). One minority report criticizes the book's treatment of hermaphroditism, pinpointing "a surprisingly biological (and uninformed) understanding of desire" (Bethany Schneider, Newsday). (Middlesex.)
American Skin: Pop Culture, Big Business, and the End of White America, by Leon E. Wynter (Crown). An "intriguing but often reductive" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times) analysis that impresses many reviewers as a bit glass-half-full: "Wynter is so excited by the fact that white stockbroker types go around echoing black lingo they've picked up from beer commercials, one wonders if he fails to see that make-believe street smarts and fake downward mobility do nothing to arrest the truly serious matter of the widening gap between rich and poor" (Merle Rubin, the Los Angeles Times). (Buy American Skin.)
"Exposed: The Victorian Nude," at the Brooklyn Museum. Since Victorians rarely protest, the scandal-scarred Brooklyn Museum happily mounts this perfect first-date exhibition, "full of Freudian chestnuts and good old filth dressed up as cultural elevation, the hypocrisy providing easy amusement for a modern audience that ought to be a little careful about condescending to the Victorians while ogling their nudes" (Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times). Nonetheless, advertisers fled when the show originally aired at London's Tate Gallery—more proof of the unsexiness of Brits?