View From the Top (Miramax). This stewardess comedy is "toothless and scatterbrained," sighs Stephen Holden in the New York Times. It's "a romantic comedy with all the confectionary value of one of those watery diet shakes; it practically evaporates while you're watching it," moans Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman. Watching a wasted Gwyneth Paltrow, many critics get in touch with their inner agent: "The woman has an Oscar, charm to burn and one would hope better opportunities than this," hand-wrings Roger Moore in the New Haven Register, while the Salt Lake Tribune's Sean P. Means blames Harvey Weinstein. The exception: Salon's stubborn enthusiast-contrarian Stephanie Zacharek, who dishes up a rave. "The movie's jokes have a light, springy touch; if one doesn't tickle you, it sails by quickly to make room for the next one," she writes. (Buy tickets to View From the Top.)
Dreamcatcher (Warner Brothers). It's hard to tell the good reviews from the bad, they all make this Stephen King flick sound so greasily spectacular! The New York Times' A.O. Scott calls it "five or six bad movies squished together." The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan writes that while it might "make you wince or turn your stomach or both, you are not about to leave without finding out what happens next." In the Washington Post, Desson Howe confesses that it's "a spectacular mistake, a five-star screw-up that—notwithstanding sheer grossness, plot meanderings, inconsistency and illogic—has given me more fun than almost any other movie this year." And in the Onion, Scott Tobias muses, "Perhaps due to the talent of everyone involved, Dreamcatcher moves with an oddly exhilarating awfulness that sets it apart from more run-of-the-mill horror films, which lack the imagination and budget to be so thoroughly misconceived." (Read David Edelstein's review of Dreamcatcher for Slate.) (Buy tickets to Dreamcatcher.)
The Pulitzer. In Chicago Magazine, Roger Ebert fesses up to how he felt when television critic Ron Powers won the Pulitzer—two years before Ebert himself got the prize. "That was one of the darkest days of my life. … And I was 'happy' for Ron, ha-ha, relatively happy for Ron, but very, very, you know, crushed that I hadn't won." In the aftermath, Ebert can afford to be more generous. "They keep giving [the Pulitzer] to architectural critics, music critics, book critics. It just seems like they don't ever want to give it to a movie critic again. And the New York Times has a great new generation of critics—Elvis Mitchell, Tony Scott, Stephen Holden. You've got Ken Turan out of the L.A. Times. You have terrific people here in Chicago, including Michael Wilmington and Mark Caro at the Tribune. It's time for somebody else to win."
Jarhead, by Anthony Swofford (Scribner). Raves greet this grimly well-timed Gulf War memoir; Michiko Kakutani calls it "profane and lyrical, swaggering and ruminative … an irreverent but meditative voice that captures both the juiced-up machismo of jarhead culture and the existential loneliness of combat." In the Houston Chronicle, Fritz Lanham deems Swofford's account "a young man's book in its intensity, its oscillations between exuberance and despair, and its aggressive, in-your-face tone."Esquire's Adrienne Miller sees in it "an unblinking study in class politics," and in the Chicago Sun-Times, Stephen J. Lyons calls the book "required reading for both hawks and doves." But in the Rocky Mountain News, Patti Thorn skips the euphoria, calling the book "a flawed, often frustrating read" and raising an eyebrow at Swofford's world-weary philosophizing: "In light of the brevity of his combat, such posture feels overwrought, inflated." (Buy Jarhead.)
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer (Riverhead). Reviewers praise this debut collection as "refreshingly subtle and unresolved" (Joy Press, Village Voic e). Many critics take the thrilled/encouraging tone often reserved for first books and abandoned during Round 2. (ZZ, after the book tour ends, skip directly to writing your third novel!) The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Emily Carter labels the author "a blazing new talent"; in the Miami Herald, Connie Ogle praises her as a "fearless and sharp observer, pitiless yet respectful of her characters' fears and fury"; and in the New York Times, Jean Thompson writes that Packer has created "a world already populated by clamoring, sorrowing, eminently knowable people, and with the promise of more to come." On Africana.com, Evette Porter compares Packer positively to earlier hype-laden black female wunderkinder Zadie Smith and Sapphire, writing that the author "handles the burden of being 'the next big thing' by exceeding expectations." (Buy Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo). "This might be the first video game in which the characters are actually characters, in the literary sense. The effect is subtle and honestly hard to describe, but it's undoubtedly there, and it makes this review quite difficult to write, as I try to separate my observations from my emotions," effuses a Planet GameCube reviewer troublingly listed as "Jonathan Metts, Managing Editor, Public Relations." But less-problematically titled critics are also bowled over: On Gamesradar, Zy Nicholson calls Wind Waker"THE defining chapter in the history of the Gamecube." On Gamestyle, Steven Lin immerses himself for almost 30 hours, concludes that the game is "one of the finest releases in the last few years," and adds, "Now if you'll excuse me I have to return." And at Gamepro, a critic simply suggests, "If this game doesn't make you happy, then it's impossible for you to be happy." (Buy The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.)