The critical buzz on Aaron Sorkin, Zach Braff, and the end of early admissions.

The critical buzz on Aaron Sorkin, Zach Braff, and the end of early admissions.

The critical buzz on Aaron Sorkin, Zach Braff, and the end of early admissions.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 21 2006 4:45 PM

Strip Tease

The critical buzz on Aaron Sorkin, Zach Braff, and the end of early admissions.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC).Aaron Sorkin's new behind-the-scenes take on a fictional Saturday Night Live-esque show has the critics tripping over themselves to deem it the best thing on TV. (Well, except perhaps for that HBO series about drugs, kids, and Baltimore.) "It's the only show that made me positively giddy with excitement," gushes Maureen Ryan in the Chicago Tribune. "The show handsomely succeeds in creating that golden-age feeling; it is entertainment—with all that word suggests, and doesn't—of the highest order," Tad Friend opines sagely in The New Yorker. Of course, Sorkin is a master of the "is-it-reality-or-isn't-it" hour-long drama, and most of the critics make the analogy that Studio 60 is to network TV as The West Wing was to the Oval Office. On his blog, sometime Slate contributor Steven Johnson strikes one of the few even remotely discordant notes, sniffing that "it's stylized and not entirely believable of course, just like The West Wing: everyone is just a tad too clever, and of course everyone talks too fast."

The Last Kiss (Dreamworks). Zach Braff's latest (Garden State Part Deux?) has the reviewers tiring of his poor-schlub-as-unlikely-heartthrob shtick. Lisa Schwartzbaum in Entertainment Weekly calls Kiss "an alarming male wallow passing as a fetching date-night dramedy"; in the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano deems it "terminally generic and tone-deaf." LA Weekly's Ella Taylor notes that screenwriter Paul Haggis "can write a good one-liner, but he has a bad habit of shouting at the audience." But perhaps the strongest vitriol has been reserved for Braff as an arbiter of new music taste. In the Boston Globe, Ty Burr observes that to some, "the film may just seem intensely irritating, for its unexamined fear of women, for its refusal to draw real dramatic blood, and for its unholy use of Coldplay songs." And Gawker Media's new music blog, Idolator, laments that "Braff's yuppie-rock affections are slowly turning the alt-rock realm into one big tasteful dinner party." More rosé with your Shins? (Buy tickets to The Last Kiss.)

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Early admissions bid adieu. High-school juniors are quaking in their Converses as first Harvard, then Princeton, announce that they will be discontinuing their early-admissions programs as of next fall. In the New York Times' Week in Review section, David Leonhardt notes that if yet more colleges follow suit, "the biggest winner would almost certainly be Harvard." Moving down the Ivy ladder, Columbia, unwilling to give up the full-tuition-paying students that early admissions all but guarantees, nonetheless announces that it is replacing student loans with grants for students whose families make less than $50,000 annually. And so the IvyGate blog wonders, "Did the Ivys suddenly get a conscience?"

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn(HarperCollins).Qualified raves for Mendelsohn's wrenching memoir about his quest to discover how six members of his family perished in the Holocaust. "The Lost is a terrifying reminder of the struggle that keeps getting waged by people throughout history to safeguard from extinction the memories of some life and some great injustice before they are plunged into darkness," emotes Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books. Over at the New York Times, William Grimes is more reserved in his praise for what he terms a "hugely ambitious book" (implying, perhaps, that it fails to fulfill those ambitions?). He found the book engrossing but gripes that "Mr. Mendelsohn wears out his welcome" by getting bogged down in too much detail. Co-religionist Mark Oppenheimer notes in the Forward that the book's "flaws add to its grandeur, make it a more fascinating read and ensure that it will live in my mind for a long time," though "the author is irritatingly coy about his own celebrity." A celebrity on the Upper West Side, perhaps. (BuyThe Lost.)

FutureSex/LoveSounds,Justin Timberlake (Jive).With his second solo album, JT has firmly cemented his position as the white R & B artist indie music snobs love to love. On Pitchfork, Tim Finney gives the album a rave-like 8.1 rating and posits that on FutureSex, "Timberlake magnifies the persona he adopted on his debut, somehow both consummate lover and desperately needy." We would argue the two are almost never mutually exclusive, but look! There's naughty Village Voice castoff Robert Christgau in Rolling Stone: "No longer an innocent on the cusp, he knows more about sex than you do, and when he talks about whips he doesn't mean cars." So, does he mean … whips? Slate's Jody Rosen makes this proclamation: "It's by far the most avant-garde record ever issued under the name of a platinum-selling former boy-band star—a category that includes Michael Jackson." In New York magazine, Ben Williams suggests that "if he hasn't yet invented a persona intriguing enough to live up to his music, give him credit for being one of the few white men still brave enough to make black music." Done and done! The Brits are less enthralled, as Alexis Petridis shows in the Guardian: "FutureSex/LoveSounds' problems really begin when Timbaland abruptly packs up his box of production tricks and the album melts in a mass of gloop." (BuyFutureSex/LoveSounds.)

All the King's Men (Sony).Sean Penn might start to regret ever signing on to this remake-that's-not-a-remake of the 1949 film of the same name, as the critics are being none too kind to Steven Zaillian's film. Michael Atkinson observes that Penn "goes for larger-than-life, wrapping his pinched frown around an unintelligible Louisiana drawl and "swinging his arms like an autistic evangelist"—probably more Jim Bakker than Billy Graham. Forget Penn—David Edelstein concludes that "All the King's Men has been miscast virtually from top to bottom." In the New York Observer, curmudgeonly Rex Reed writes that "Mr. Zaillian's pretentious script and meandering direction divert attention to too many other tangential characters, diluting the juice and punch of the epic 1949 original," and in Variety, Todd McCarthy deems it "stillborn." (Buy tickets to All the King's Men.)

Don't bother e-mailing Moby. The most famous electronic musician vegan sent out an email telling his fans that he was taking a break from e-mail for the next three months, leading Radar Online's Jeff Bercovici to ask, "Has the face of techno-pop become a techno-phobe?" But Moby long ago wore out his welcome among the music intelligentsia, who seem rather happy to be rid of him. A post on Stereogum asked, not rhetorically, "Why does everyone hate Moby so much? Because he's a self-important blowhard or because his music sucks? Or both?"