Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Jan. 3 2003 1:17 PM

Kelly Green

The 536 vocal effects on Kelly Obsourne's debut album.

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Shut Up, by Kelly Osbourne (Sony). While the Houston Chronicle's Michael D. Clark sniffs that this debut is "stiffer than Ozzy shuffling off to find the family dog," more reviewers respond with quasi-charmed shrugs than outright pans. "Osbourne's voice is coated in roughly 536 vocal effects. But punky ditties like 'Coolhead' are actually kinda catchy. I mean, this could have been worse. A lot worse," muses Dalton Ross on Entertainment Weekly. On Popshot.net, "TA" argues that the album "legitimately rocks"—noting wisely in conclusion, "better this than Creed." ( Shut Up.)

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Catch Me If You Can (DreamWorks). Spielberg's "sleek paper airplane of a movie" is a superlative-magnet: The Oregonian's Shawn Levy calls it "the most appealingly spunky [film] in the director's career"; Time's Richard Schickel "about the nicest movie you could ask for at the holidays." In the New York Times alone, Stephen Holden labels the con-man caper a "supremely entertaining portrait of a virtuoso performer," "the most charming of Mr. Spielberg's mature films," and "arguably the best-acted of any Spielberg film." Universal raves for "mercurial mouse" Leonardo DiCaprio as the boy grifter. (Buy tickets to Catch Me If You Can.)

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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Miramax). For Owen Gleiberman, this shaggy dog Chuck Barris biopic is "an irresistible sham … [that] soft-shoes past our skepticism." Well, maybe not all of our skepticism: In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan calls the Charlie Kaufman-scripted movie "irritating," grousing that it's "much more smug and pleased with itself than it has any reason to be." Most reviews occupy the middle ground, with praise for the elements and bemused caveats for the whole. "The movie is, finally, an enigma," observes Michael Atkinson enigmatically in the Village Voice. "Not because of Barris's monstrous fibbing, but because it resists being experienced as satire for the sake of its own satirical integrity." (Buy tickets to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.)

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Die Another Day. "A dirty and cursed burlesque." That's North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on the Bond film, which has attracted protests for its North Korean supervillain.

Barry Levinson. According to the New York Post's "Page Six," movie critic Stephen Hunter called director Barry Levinson a "bleephole" from the stage of a recent benefit. (A bleephole?) Hunter used to work for Levinson's hometown paper, the Baltimore Sun, and confessed, "When I got to the Washington Post, I felt I had paid all the homage to Barry I needed to." Hunter then added a wry little post-blurt critique: "For the record, Barry is not a bleephole. He's an artist, he's self-reverential and narcissistic, but not a bleephole. On the other hand, I did get a big laugh. That's the devil that pays the rent."

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Chicago (Miramax). This "nutritious hard candy" of a musical garners numerous giddy raves for "remorselessly inventive" direction, an ensemble flashing "more thigh than Kentucky Fried Chicken," Renée Zellweger's "smeary-eyed sweetness," and Catherine Zeta-Jones' "Expressionist abandonment." Far off in the Christian Science Monitor, David Sterritt nails up a helplessly goofy dissent noting that the movie's vaudeville worldview allows for "no moral or ethical question that can't be turned into toe-tapping fun." (Buy tickets to Chicago.)

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The Hours (Paramount). Hushed, ecstatic notices for a " delicate, layered reflection that skips around through time"—with special kudos to Nicole Kidman's nasally enhanced turn as a " fragile and indomitable" Virginia Woolf. The majority are impressed by the film's " cumulative emotional power," including the Village Voice's Dennis Lim, who calls the flick an " extravagant, sobbing, diva-powered crack-up of a movie." Others find it smart but dry, more of a " heavily conceptualized literary puzzle." And as with Chicago, a tiny klatch of dissenters bring the hate: Time's Richard Schickel gets in a one-two punch by calling Philip Glass' accompaniment "the perfect score—tuneless, oppressive, droning, painfully self-important." (Buy tickets to The Hours.)

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Pinocchio (Miramax). Starved for blood after praising Adaptation, The Hours, Chicago, The Pianist, etc., critics joyously rip into Roberto Benigni's dubbed disaster. "Using the creative freedom afforded to him by Life Is Beautiful, Benigni has massacred a children's classic," moans the Associated Press' Ben Nuckols. "It's hard to tell what's sadder, Geppetto's belief that Pinocchio is a child puppet or Mr. Benigni's need to play one," cracks the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell—who labels the film "an oddity that will be avoided by millions of people." And in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Karen Martin calls it "noisy, irritating and as charming as a dead rat in the saltimbocca ... possibly the worst Italian export since the Fiat Uno." (Buy tickets to Pinocchio.)

Music Reviewers. In the Boston Globe, Ivan Kreilkamp praises music critic Robert Christgau and mounts a defense of the much-derided capsule review. "At least, it should be recognized that the short, graded review has emerged as one of the signature cultural forms of the '90s and '00s—for better or worse, but not only for worse. … Like Oscar Wilde, Christgau is an artist of the epigram, not as reliably successful in longer forms; his consumer guide reviews enforce a stringent economy, producing a highly concentrated wit and reliable use value."

Summerland, by Michael Chabon (Talk Miramax). " The Bad News Bears as coscripted by Thomas Pynchon and Joseph Campbell," affectionately capsulizes Troy Patterson in Entertainment Weekly. In the Washington Post, Neil Gaiman places Chabon's wild tale in the bigger publishing picture: "The former kiddylit ghetto has become fashionable, the cool people are moving in, and property prices are starting to climb," he notes wryly—and if Chabon's book has flaws, he adds, it satisfies with "real story engines." In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Robin Black is all over the place, second-guessing Chabon's motives, finding "a core of such gentle earnestness that I was soon able to shake off the specter of a certain bespectacled wizard boy" and eventually grousing of a plot that slights "children who are not and never will be good at sports." ( Summerland.)