Bend It Like Beckham (Fox Searchlight). This "abundantly lovable" ethnic teen-sports heartwarmer gets almost nuttily ad-quotable raves. It's "the most exhilarating movie so far this year"! A "feel-good movie that actually makes you feel good"! A few dissent: The Village Voice's Jessica Winter denounces the film as "reheated ethno-niche stew" while the New York Times' A.O. Scott finds it cheery but disappointing, "stuffed to bursting with affectionate stereotypes and the sticky, somewhat oppressive Gemütlichkeit that is the hallmark, at least on screen, of immigrant families, wherever they come from and wherever they reside." But in the Onion, Nathan Rabin takes a more charitable view, arguing that the film's "crowd-pleasing exuberance serves as a potent reminder of why formulas exist in the first place." (Buy tickets to Bend It Like Beckham.)
Willard (New Line). Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman prefers this remake to the original: "It's still a fairly ham-handed revenge-of-the-nerd horror fable, but you don't go to a movie like Willard for subtlety. You go to be skeeved out by rats, rats, and more rats, and I'm tempted to say that Willard does a fairly rat-tastic job of it." The Los Angeles Times' Kevin Thomas prefers the 1971 version, calling the remake "a technically impressive but essentially heartless spoof." Critics also tug-of-war over star Crispin Glover: Film Threat's Kevin Carr hands him an Oscar while the New York Times'Stephen Holden calls the actor's geek stylings mere "raving goofball caricature." Meanwhile, the Toronto Star's Geoff Pevere praises the director for keeping it "close, clammy and simple, the better to focus on what is unquestionably this little thriller's strongest point: The tragic love between a boy and his rodent." (Buy tickets to Willard.)
Irreversible (Lions Gate). This French shocker and its brutal nine-minute rape scene spark intense debate. In EW, Owen Gleiberman calls director Gaspar Noé "a poet of apocalyptic shock," arguing that the infamous sequence is "a catharsis of ugly truth that blots away the grimy memory of every exploitation film you've ever seen." The New York Post's Lou Lumineck labels it "low-end pornography that will titillate sickos who get off on seeing women and gays degraded and snuffed." But Roger Ebert argues for its value: "It does not exploit. It does not pander. It has been said that no matter what it pretends, pornography argues for what it shows. Irreversible is not pornography." And in New York, Peter Rainer calls the film "such a ferociously unpleasant experience that, as powerful as it is, I'm hesitant to recommend it without first issuing a slew of disclaimers." (Read David Edelstein's review in Slate.) (Buy tickets to Irreversible.)
Music Critics. On WashingtonPost.com, David Segal throws some hilarious shade at Robert Christgau, snarking at the Village Voice critic's unreadably highfalutin essay for the newspaper's annual Pazz & Jop poll. "I fear there might be aspiring writers out there who read this P & J essay and assume that rock journalism is actually about pretense and convolution, rather than clarity and chuckles," Segal writes. "He could be creating hordes of Little Roberts! Think of it! More inscrutable references to 'Debussyan tone color' and 'hoary anodynes' and a band's 'depressive inability to control an encroaching environment.' It could mean more threats to opine 'about the matched insufficiencies of broken field run and power play, aestheticism and moralism.' Is that a world you want to live in?"
Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor, by Rick Marin (Hyperion). Salt Lake Weekly's John Dicker channels the ambivalence of many, calling this "man-whore journal" by turns "hilarious and insufferable." The Philadelphia Inquirer's Karen Heller praises Marin as "a gifted writer in possession of a clean, concise, self-deprecating wit"; the Chicago Sun-Times' Sam Jemielity labels it a "voyeuristic guilty pleasure"; in the New York Times, Virginia Heffernan is frankly unimpressed by the book and Marin's claims of rascalhood. But the most startling reviews come from the author's exes. In Salon, Sandy Fernandez scathingly recalls their affair and concludes, "Cad? Hmm. Maybe there's a better word." And in the Independent, an anonymous woman excoriates Marin for parlaying his "emotional inadequacy and weasel behaviour into a bestseller" and suggests starting "Rick Marin Anonymous: a support group for all the women foolish enough to have slept with this callous, cash-hungry Casanova." (Cad.)
Abandon, by Pico Iyer (Alfred A. Knopf). Generally positive notices greet this Sufi-soaked romance-mystery; even the worst are studded with respectful caveats. In the Washington Post, Robert Irwin calls it "a remarkable novel that tackles such deep themes as sacred and profane love, self-denial and the abandonment of hope and desire." The New York Times' Pankaj Mishra writes that Abandon, "although a wise and graceful novel in many ways, can begin to seem, when striving for geopolitical significance, the work of a gifted travel writer who knows the surfaces of many societies and cultures but the depths of none." The Miami Herald's Andrew Furman calls it "wise, albeit somehow remote." But for many, the book's reserve is its charm: The Los Angeles Times' Jeff Turrentine calls it "quietly powerful; not quick in revealing its byzantine mysteries, perhaps, but generous in its insights once it does." (Buy Abandon.)
Zagat. The restaurant review empire provides a few rejected critiques from their legion of capsule reviewers, noting of the snarky pull-quotes, "They may be too risky for our books, but we had a blast compiling this (anonymous) best-of-the-worst list." Among the too-hot-for-Zagat opinions: "If this place doesn't get you laid, nothing will"; "The Emperor's new food"; "Feminist man-haters that make animal-friendly food"; and "Gay Chuck E. Cheese."
Politics. A snitty reader suggests that Roger Ebert shouldn't have called Gods and Generals "a Civil War movie that Trent Lott might enjoy." In reply, Ebert delivers a manifesto: "Movies are often about politics, sometimes when they least seem to be, and the critic must be honest enough to reveal his own beliefs in reviewing them, instead of hiding behind a mask of false objectivity." Ebert notes that conservative columnist Mark Steyn is one of his favorite reviewers, in part because he's a worthy ideological opponent: "I would rather be informed I am wrong by Steyn than correct by a liberal drone."
These Are the Vistas, the Bad Plus (Columbia Records). "Merges jazz, pop, and the conservatory in a heady and original way, accessible and seriously playful," writes Gary Giddins in the Village Voice. Rolling Stone's David Fricke praises the jazz trio as "hot players with hard-rock hearts." And in Billboard, Philip Booth writes that "despite that odd, off-putting name, this unconventional acoustic trio more than deserves the big buzz," praising their "rambunctious, free-leaning, strangely poignant upheaval of Blondie's Heart of Glass." ( These Are the Vistas.)