Failer, by Kathleen Edwards (Zöe/Rounder). The sample bottles of Maker's Mark this Canadian rootsy-blues songwriter tucked in with her debut CD seem to have worked! In the Onion, Keith Phipps praises Edwards' songs as "postcards from rock bottom," while Rolling Stone compares the singer to "Lucinda Williams fronting Crazy Horse." Only the Jackson Sun's Elysa Gardner teetotals: "Edwards' blend of sulking and stripped-down sass may make her a natural press darling, but my guess is she'll need to convey more energy and emotional range to appeal to the folks who actually buy albums." (Failer.)
DarknessFalls (Columbia Pictures). Opinions range from "an efficient little horror movie that doesn't waste its time getting down to business" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) to "so inept that it borders on hilarious" (George Thomas, the Akron Beacon Journal). On Kansascity.com, some anonymous joker realizes it's still January and puckishly provides ad-bait: "We're curious to see that if we print 'Darkness Falls' is the scariest movie of the year!, some advertising wonk might then use the phrase it's the scariest movie of the year! as a blurb in a movie ad for 'Darkness Falls,' which, as far as we know, could be the scariest movie of the year!" (Buy tickets for Darkness Falls.)
Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (Sony Pictures Classics). This "no-frills documentary" is "concrete, cold and hard," but yields potent eyewitness testimony, critics agree. "Virtually nothing she has to say about Hitler is new, yet to hear her describe the contrast between his public persona of self-hypnotic malevolence and the courteous, soft-spoken, unfailingly polite and paternal military executive she served on a daily basis is to confront a singular and intimate paradox: that Hitler's evil was as compartmentalized as it was vast," writes Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman. (Read David Edelstein's review for Slate here.) (Buy tickets for Blind Spot.)
India.Arie. When bad reviews get India.Arie down, the singer just blows off steam onstage, she tells the Los Angeles Times. "At my shows, I can go, This jerk wrote a bad review. I can ask, 'Do you guys think this song's too preachy?' and they'll say, 'Nooooo!' "
Reality TV Roundup. The Real World's Melissa's site is up, and she's merrily reviewing her own show. On Entertainment Weekly, Liane Bonin wonders if The Bachelorette's Trista is "the sucker every sleazeball player (aka Russell) dreams of finding passed out in his satin-sheeted waterbed." In the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley greets the newest American Idol as "a digital age talent contest that is as frothily distracting and oblivious as a 1933 Busby Berkeley musical." And this week's obituary for the genre comes from theBoston Globe's Matthew Gilbert, energetically waving the "quintessence of banality" flag.
The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Reviews of Powers' brainy racism parable praise the author and insult his book. In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ron Antonucci applauds Powers' "inventiveness and astounding erudition" but calls it "no substitute for storytelling," while New York's John Homans admires his ideas but discerns a "borrowed, air-guitarish quality" to his emotions. In The New Yorker, Sven Birkerts says Powers is "one of our most lavishly gifted writers" but laments that his thin characters "cannot heft the ancient burden of their theme." Even true praise such as that of the Philadelphia Inquirer's Donald New love is a bit unnerving: he calls Singing"a novel God might relish and call enriching" while "mortals may find its densities more of a strain."
A Box of Matches, by Nicholson Baker (Random House). This "philosophical pseudo-memoir and domestic how-to manual told in comic monologue" impresses many critics as one of the warmest, most accessible examples of Baker's "microrealist" aesthetic. The Baltimore Sun's David Rakoff compares it to a "spiritual tract of sorts, like Kamo no Chomei's 13th-century Buddhist masterpiece of restful pessimism"; Newsday's Polly Shulman to William Carlos Williams. The exception: Killer Kakutani, who finds Baker's microscopic descriptions "eye-glazing."
A Whistling Woman, by A.S. Byatt (Knopf). Critics agree that the fourth and final installment of Byatt's brainy Frederica novels "demands commitment," but most say it's worth it. The Seattle Times' Claire Dederer calls the book "messy, smart, delicious"; in the Los Angeles Times, Merle Rubin applauds her "imaginatively intense vision." In the Boston Globe, Andrew Biswell warns that true appreciation means reading the whole tetralogy. In the New York Times, Daphne Merkin gives the very definition of a mixed review: "When the novel is not being tedious, it is mesmerizing; though I frequently wanted her to put a lid on it, I often wanted to read on and on."
Producers vs. Early Bird Theater Critics. Last July, producers griped about New York critics panning the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical Moving Out while it was still in Chicago previews. Last week, New Jersey's George Street Playhouse found a more aggressive solution: When they discovered that New York Times theater reviewer Neil Genzlinger had purchased a ticket, the producers canceled their first preview—contacting all 166 ticket holders to alert them the show wouldn't go on.