Apocalypto (Touchstone). Mel Gibson's bloody epic about the waning days of the Mayan empire—his follow-up to another, more controversial bloody epic —has critics in awe of the jaw-dropping violence. Newsweek's David Ansen observes that Gibson here "returns to his favorite theme: nearly naked men being tortured. Repeatedly. Imaginatively. At great length." In the New York Times, A.O. Scott argues that the movie could have been set almost anywhere: "It is, above all, a muscular and kinetic action movie, a drama of rescue and revenge with very little organic relation to its historical setting," and the Washington Post calls Gibson "a heck of a storyteller." But not everyone is so enamored with Gibson's tale. Slate's Dana Stevens winces, "You don't leave Apocalypto thinking of the decline of civilizations or the power of myth or anything much except, wow, that is one sick son of a bitch." (Buy tickets to Apocalypto.)
Blood Diamond (Warner Bros.). The diamond industry is up in arms over its portrayal in this new Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle about the diamond trade in Africa, though the Chicago Tribune opines that director Edward Zwick has created "a convincing portrayal of the negative and dangerous aspects of the world diamond trade," and in The New Yorker, David Denby says the filmmakers "are conscientious liberals; they let us know that every time a valuable natural resource has been discovered in Africa … white Europeans have hired surrogates to plunder the goods, and the Africans have suffered terribly." But Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum sees the film's message as heavy-handed, admonishing that there is "no reason to try to disguise a term paper as entertainment." And the Village Voice chastises, "The bland Oscar bait of the season bristles to life only at the touch of mass murder." (Buy tickets to Blood Diamond.)
Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (Knopf). Critics are wowed by the scope of this exhaustive 851-page biography of one of the founding fathers of American entertainment. In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane calls Gabler's tome the "most comprehensive to date" on the notoriously elusive mogul; and the San Francisco Chronicle praises Gabler's research—while concluding that his biography "leaves the reader wondering whether it's possible to write a definitive biography of as protean a figure as Walt Disney." In the New York Times Book Review, Bruce Handy notes that it's difficult to evaluate the book without judging its subject, as "Disney, the man, isn't the best companion for a 600-plus-page marathon. Largely friendless, moody, impatient, not much interested in sex or acquisition, increasingly unpleasant and imperious as he grew older, he was a workaholic and not, it seems, much else." (Buy Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.)
Twentyfourseven (MTV). This new reality series has been dubbed the "real"Entourage, because, much like the HBO show, it follows a group of guys trying to make it big in Hollywood. The New York Times' Virginia Heffernan seems amused by this bunch of Arkansas boys, noting, "The producers have ably managed to recruit some presentable and ambitious young men from the honking, bottlenecked entrance to fame's freeway." But most other critics aren't so enamored with the show. The Boston Globe calls it "MTV's latest invitation to watch dislikable people do unattractive things," and the New York Daily News sighs, "If we're going to root for these guys … it would help to like them."
Gwyneth Paltrow. The actress has denied telling a Portuguese newspaper, "The British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans," claiming that she never even spoke to the newspaper and that she was misquoted at a press conference in Spain. "I definitely did not say that I think the British are more intelligent and civilized than Americans. I am a New York girl, that's how I always think of myself and see myself," she told People magazine. But the apology rings hollow to some, and not because they're upset at her comments. The Not Right About Anything blog reflects, "Celebrities should stop apologizing every time they suggest that America is not perfect … if Gwyneth should apologize for anything, it's her desperate-sounding apology."
Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape (Interscope). The former lead singer of No Doubt's 2004 solo debut, Love.Angel.Music.Baby, was a critical darling. But on The Sweet Escape, "her uneven, hasty-sounding second solo album, she proudly sticks to the shallows," sighs Jon Pareles in the New York Times. Even the Los Angeles Times' positive review implies that Stefani phoned this one in: "There's such effortlessness in the confident pop music making here you get the sense she could keep knocking out hits this way in her sleep."Entertainment Weekly is more forgiving, admiring Stefani's efforts at creating a mature sound—but ultimately concludes, "Stefani isn't convincing as a dissatisfied diva." (Buy The Sweet Escape.)
The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show (CBS, 10 p.m. ET). Justin Timberlake is the musical guest of the annual lingerie fashion show starring supermodel Gisele Bündchen, and critics have taken the opportunity to make as many wardrobe malfunction jokes as possible. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that in hiring Timberlake, CBS is "fearlessly ignoring the possibility that Timberlake might rip off Gisele Bündchen's Swarovski-crystal decorated bra and garter belt." These jokes aside, the Los Angeles Daily News found Victoria's Secret's new lingerie line, Pink, a little too youthful for its tastes: "It's apparel appealing to those that Dateline NBC tracks down in its 'To Catch a Predator' sequences." And the Toronto Star warns that the fashion show is only part of a comprehensive marketing extravaganza, noting that the show "is, well, padded with interviews, profiles, 'pink carpet' moments and behind-the-scenes footage."
Spy: The Funny Years (Melcher Media/Miramax Books/Hyperion). This 20th-anniversary retrospective of the magazine founded by Graydon Carter (now editor of Vanity Fair) and media heavyweight Kurt Andersen—known for such features as "Separated at Birth," the oft-imitated column that juxtaposed photos of different celebrities and asked, tongue firmly in cheek, whether they were really related—has critics waxing nostalgic about its spot-on humor and unparalleled creativity. New York magazine remarks that the magazine's editors and writers, not to mention its readers, "still speak wistfully about Spy's perfectly balanced, perfectly piquant cocktail of irony, brains, silliness, visual pizzazz, and reportorial ferocity, all packed into painfully small type." In the New York Times Book Review, Christopher Buckley reflects, "Spy didn't capture the zeitgeist— it was the zeitgeist." And Slate contributor Gideon Lewis-Kraus proffers in the Los Angeles Times that in its prime, Spy was "Trollope for yuppies." (Buy Spy: The Funny Years.)