Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 14 2003 5:19 PM

Seeing Red

Sheathed in crimson leather, Ben Affleck elicits guffaws.

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Daredevil (20th Century Fox). Critics hate his movie, but they're delighted to mock Ben Affleck for the rocks his character hasn't got: Poor Affleck is "shriveled by the one-dimensional role," snerks Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times, while Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman giggles that he "looks like Catwoman made over by Revlon." The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan provides a compliment, if a deeply backhanded one, with his observation that Affleck is "surprisingly at home with the humorlessness, the implacability, even the sullen obtuseness of a driven comic book superhero." In contrast, everybody kvells over Colin Farrell's "gleefully psychopathic" villain and Jennifer Garner's Elektra, who has a "convincing way with knives." (Buy tickets to Daredevil.)

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (Samuel Goldwyn Films). This indie is "basically a variation on the Hand That Rocks the Cradle/The Crush/The Temp formula with striking camerawork and a sauce- and cheese-based national cuisine," writes Keith Phipps in the Onion. Most critics agree that while the "lemon-acid French romantic thriller" twists Audrey Tautou's image wittily, it disappoints in the clinch. One exception: USA Today's Claudia Puig, who applauds the film with a whole new round of comparisons: "Think Sliding Doors crossed with The Sixth Sense, with a little Memento thrown in." (Buy tickets to He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.)

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All the Real Girls (Sony Pictures Classics). Love notes aplenty for an indie with "the oddity and directness of a pop song before it has been discovered and played to death" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). Critics make whispery asides about the film's imperfections—"insightful at its core and indulgent around the edges"—but melt at its gorgeous exploration of young romance. "A revelation in its ability to capture how love really feels —which is to say, like a blur, like an assemblage, like a collage of revisited moments, mixed-up feelings, and disjointed details that defy linear narrative," breathes Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. (Buy tickets to All the Real Girls.)

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Are You Hot? (ABC, Thursdays, 9 p.m ET). Like Fear Factor before it, this Darwinian catwalk makes critics nostalgic for shows they once denounced: The New York Times' Allessandra Stanley suggests that the show "makes Fox's American Idol seem like the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow."Salon's Heather Havrilesky finds Are You Hot?"singular among reality shows in its ability to send the viewer from childlike glee to suicidal ideation in less than an hour." On Television Without Pity, the by-now traditional mentions of the apocalypse, and this summary: "They took the lowest common denominator and split it like they split the atom—and how well did that turn out?"

But hey, for the PR departments, it's all good: As Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, points out, reality TV, like big movie blockbusters, is "review-proof … the attacks in free media only supplement the paid promotional budget."

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The Master Butchers Singing Club, by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins). Erdich is praised for juicy characterization and faulted for creating paragons and ciphers, commended for "muscular" prose and slammed for "an addiction to hyperbole." But the majority liked the book: The Hartford Courant's Carole Goldberg lauds "a lyricism redolent of sweat, tears and blood." And Michiko Kakutani drops the Simon Cowell act to dish up a rave: "Whatever doubts the reader might have are swiftly erased by Ms. Erdrich's sheer authority as a storyteller: her instinctive sympathy for her characters, her energetic inventiveness, her effortless ability to connect public and private concerns." ( The Master Butchers Singing Club.)

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Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson (G.P. Putnam's Sons). The cyberspace pioneer's first non-futuristic novel is "a masterful performance from a major novelist who seems to be just now hitting his peak. Welcome to the present, Mr. Gibson," exults Dick Adler in the Chicago Tribune. The Washington Post's Paul Di Filippo praises Gibson's new "more empathetic, humorous, even wistful voice," and the New York Times' Lisa Zeidner labels the book "a novel of consciousness— less science fiction than Henry James." But in Newsday, Polly Shulman finds the book's paranoid themes same-old, same-old while the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Milford Reid sneers, "Go back to the future!"

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Meanwhile, on Gibson's nifty book tour blog, the author quotes some of the book's foreign-language reviews, including this blurbable tidbit from the Danish magazine Ekstrabladet: "A sort of literary counterpart to Naomi Klein's No Logo, without the moral hangovers." (Gibson admits in response that he actually never read No Logo—Klein's title alone inspired his book's characterization of a corporate "cool-hunter" allergic to labels.) ( Pattern Recognition.)

Music Critics. On RockCritics.com, New York Times' music critic Ben Ratliff delivers this thoughtful self-portrait of the critic as a young hipster: "As an adolescent, reading Rolling Stone and the Voice's music section, I thought that the whole point of being a music critic was that you could live in a cultural cocoon and foist your hipness on the world. It seemed like subsidized record-fetishizing. … But the real challenge of [the job] is to keep in motion, always putting more distance between you and what you thought was cool when you were in your early 20s. … You have to keep going against assumptions, especially your own. Hipness is a disease, it really is. It freezes thought." (He also notes that "there's no better way to get the residue of five not-so-good jazz gigs out of your system than going to a Pantera show.")

Literary Infighting. First this tattooed joker calls out Dave Eggers: "A book that I thought was mediocre was being hailed as the best book written by the best writer of my generation," says soon-to-be-published memoirist James Frey. "Fuck that. And fuck him and fuck anybody that says that. I don't give a fuck what they think of me. I'm going to try to write the best book of my generation and I'm going to try to be the best writer."

Then the Underground Literary Alliance (a pretentious cadre of anti-pretension activists?) crows about its fistfights with Tom Beller: "The ULA in the form of Jackman and Zappone were on Beller like wolves taking on a moose." Looks like the undead spirit of young Norman Mailer has seized the New York literary scene. Or maybe Valerie Solanas. Or the Spartacus Youth League. Hey, guys! Fight in the parking lot, 3 o'clock!