Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (20th Century Fox). Desk-bound film critics are ready to splice the mainbrace and hoist the yardarm after viewing this Peter Weir-directed nautical epic, set in 1805. Slate's salty sea dog, David Edelstein, cries "Oh, to be in England, when the seas were high, the seamen higher, and the enemy plundering Frenchmen."Master and Commander captures "something timeless in the characters of all men," sighs Entertainment Weekly, and Anthony Lane's soul was certainly stirred: In The New Yorker he wistfully reflects that these sailors' lives "were in some immeasurable way better—richer in possibility, and more regularly entrancing to the eye and spirit alike." But in LA Weekly, landlubber Ella Taylor declines to swash her buckle: The film won't "excite anyone but geeky 12-year-old boys who like to make sailing ships out of matchsticks." (Buy tickets to Master and Commander.)
Tupac: Resurrection (Paramount). The gimmick of this "remix masterpiece"—it's been spliced together from interviews and archival footage—is that the gangsta-rap icon tells his life story from beyond the grave. "It's a device that might not have worked with a less confessional star," says Entertainment Weekly, "but Shakur leads us deep inside his divided nature." The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, a newcomer to the 'Pac mythos, is surprised by "the soft quality of his voice and the suppleness of his thoughts." Others, like the Onion's Nathan Rabin, complain that despite the involvement of Tupac's mother, there's not enough new material here (although "who knew that he loved Shakespeare, thought Tony Danza was 'the bomb,' and admired Don McLean?"). Critics are divided on the film's lack of other perspectives: While Rolling Stone thinks Resurrection catches Tupac "in the act of discovering himself,"Salon says it "never calls Tupac on his baloney." (Buy tickets to Tupac: Resurrection)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Warner Bros.). Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny star alongside Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin in this mix of animation and live action, and according to the New York Times, "It is no contest: The animated characters come out on top." The Village Voice, reveling in the cartoon mayhem, says Looney Tunes: Back in Action is "as visually and narratively unhinged as its source material," but the Chicago Tribune thinks director Joe Dante "tends to pour more energy into movie references than storytelling. Most of these references lack payoff." The entire stable of Looney Tunes characters pops up, and since the film is also laced with product placement, it sometimes feels like "a mind-numbing, achingly post-modern advertisement for itself," says the Dallas Observer. "In other words, it's morally corrupt, but your kids will love it." (Buy tickets to Looney Tunes: Back in Action).
Shock'n' Y'all, by Toby Keith (Dreamworks). The country star who made waves with "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" "aspires to a down-home version of the outrageous, closer to gangsta rap or shock rock," according to Rolling Stone. In his quest to "needle as many dour inhabitants of Planet P.C. as possible," says the Detroit Free Press, Keith has written songs that "leave him open to charges of promoting a) sexism, b) substance abuse, c) jingoism, d) ethnocentrism and e) sacrilege." Yet, notes the New York Times wryly, "It's shocking how quickly he drops his nonconformist persona whenever the Stars and Stripes loom near." Lyrics aside, the Washington Post thinks Keith's "meaty, beaty records … make most alternative-country albums sound limp by comparison." But the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says the album "doesn't know what road to go down —country to satisfy the hard-core fans or country-pop to expand Keith's appeal." (Shock'n Y'all.)
Restaurant critics.The latest edition of Zagat's restaurant guides drew fire from all sides. Zagat (whose ratings are compiled from the votes of everyday diners) "is the best example I've ever seen of democracy run amok," railed the Los Angeles Times' David Shaw. On the other coast, the New York Post surveyed "riled restaurateurs who say the ratings are unfair and inaccurate." But maybe U.S. restaurant owners should be thankful for what they've got. The New York Times reports on Britain's astonishingly brutal restaurant critics, who "don't go incognito, but rather appear under their own names, often with a pack of friends, sometimes expecting star treatment." And they deliver nasty lines: Grits taste like "the sick of an infant child"; chicken laksa looks "like debris caught in a drain"; and (from a notorious trans-Atlantic hit job in Vanity Fair) shrimp and foie-gras dumplings are reminiscent of "fishy, liver-filled condoms."
Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Knopf). In the first volume of his three-part autobiography, the magical realist is "no mild literary memoirist chronicling the flutters of his psyche and libido, but a character right out of" his own work, says Jonathan Yardley. "He recalls the headless man who rode past one day on a donkey" and "the first time he saw the ocean, full of dead chickens," chuckles Time. Michiko Kakutani thinks such embellishments suggest that "the sources of his phantasmagorical work lie as much in his family's anomalous past and his own experience" as in the politics and history of Colombia. The Village Voice trots out the more conventional explanation: In Latin America, "fact is weirder than fancy and truth is slippery at best." ( Living To Tell the Tale.)
Bravehearts: Men in Skirts (Metropolitan Museum of Art). The Met's Costume Institute surveys the history of men in "non-bifurcated garments," exhibiting examples from ancient Rome, modern high fashion, and everything in between. (Everything except towels, muses the New York Times' Herbert Muschamp: "With home offices becoming more commonplace, terry cloth rectangles surely deserve recognition as business attire.") The mix of eras prompts fun questions, says New York's Journal News: "Is that caramel-colored kimono 18th-century Japan or 21st-century Gucci?" And for the Washington Post, the exhibition "underscores how only in the West is the skirt assigned to women alone." But the New India Press' informal survey of New Delhi men doesn't seem to turn up many takers. In fact, for men to adopt A-lines the way women have taken up pants, says New York's Mark Stevens, "most men would have to want for themselves a social power that women possess."
Governor Reagan, by Lou Cannon (PublicAffairs). Admiring reviewers of this biography think Arnold should read it: The campaign scenes "play like the original production of a farce whose modern-dress revival we've all, willingly or not, just sat through," says the San Francisco Chronicle. Perhaps both sides in the battle over CBS' Reagans miniseries should pick up a copy, too. Cannon combines "admiration and skepticism in doses that will please neither Reagan's supporters [n]or his equally ardent opponents," writes the Boston Globe. What the biographer "uncovers will discomfort believers in stereotypes," notes the New York Observer, before listing a series of distinctly leftish decisions Reagan made as governor. The Washington Post isn't so convinced of Reagan's bipartisanship and claims that Cannon "shortchanges the passion of Reagan's conservative ideas." (Governor Reagan.)
My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey (Knopf). The two-time Booker Prize winner's new novel—which takes an Australian literary hoax in which a poetry journal was duped into publishing a parody of obscure modernism as its jumping off point—may be too intricate for readers, and its own good. Carey cycles through heady ideas, literary allusions, and zany action until his book "seems to step off the edge, like a cartoon character who then treads air," according to the Atlantic Monthly. And Book Magazine struggles to keep up: "You look up, you blink, you yawn and you're lost; you have to start all over again." But the New York Times' Terrence Rafferty enjoys all the meta-fictional trickery; it's "a wonderful, perverse joke" that disguises "a ripping yarn about poets and their readers, all chasing an ideal like Indiana Jones on the Last Crusade." (My Life as a Fake.)