The critical buzz on Harry Potter and Factory Girl.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 2 2007 12:25 PM

Death Becomes Him?

The critical buzz on Harry Potter and Factory Girl.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter. The seventh—and final— Harry Potter book will be released on July 21, and fans aren't the only ones mourning the end of the series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"comes as a bittersweet finale not only for readers but also for the publishing companies, booksellers and licensees that have cashed in on the international phenomenon since it began more than nine years ago," the New York Times explains. Fans are perhaps most concerned by Rowling's proclamation that two characters die in this book, particularly if one of them is Harry. While Rowling is keeping the secret close to her chest, the BBC notes, "Rowling has said she could understand authors who killed off their characters, to stop others writing new adventures. But she admitted being worried about the reaction from fans if the boy wizard came to a sticky end." After the announcement, pre-orders for the book catapulted it to the top of the charts at Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com. (Pre-order Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.)

Factory Girl
Factory Girl

Factory Girl (Weinstein Company). This biopic about Andy Warhol ingénue Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) has bored reviewers—largely because the world of Warhol's Factory is less interesting up close than one would expect. The New York Times wonders: "How do you discover the inner life of people determined to live so fast and hard that they can outrun their demons? How do you bring substance to charismatic personalities whose glamour may camouflage a void?" The Los Angeles Times sniffs that the film "disappoints as both biography and drama. … As a hopped-up ramble through the Pop Art '60s, it's more like That Girl on speed than anything else." Critics also think Miller deserves more from a script; the AP remarks that she "remains an actress in search of a movie worthy of her talent." (Buy tickets to Factory Girl.)

Alright, Still, Lily Allen
Lily Allen's "Smile"

Alright, Still, Lily Allen (Capitol). The 21-year-old British songstress—who first rocketed to fame on MySpace —has released her first full-length album stateside. Critics are largely enamored with her bad-girl act. The Guardian writes, "Allen is not so much hanging out her dirty laundry as rolling around in it, delighting in its filth, to a soundtrack of ska rhythms and lilting reggae tones." But the Washington Post wonders whether her British success (her single "Smile" hit the top of the chart last summer) will translate in the United States: "Though she's a star in the United Kingdom, it's difficult imagining High School Musical-loving tween girls warming up to Allen's tunes about crack whores, pot-smoking brothers and declarations that size does matter." (Buy Alright, Still.)

The Sarah Silverman Program
Sarah Silverman
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The Sarah Silverman Program (Thursdays, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central). Critics are chuckling at the eponymous sitcom from the raunchy comic best known for her concert film, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, and a show-stealing rape joke in The Aristocrats. The New York Times seems to think Silverman is a breath of fresh air, praising the show as "an antidote to the self-serious sitcoms that broadcast networks continue to churn out, the ones that mix a young, idealistic married couple and an older, bitter married couple and wait for the hijinks to ensue." The San Francisco Chronicle wonders about the secret of Silverman's charm: "the funny, often shocking thing about Silverman's show is: You are drawn to the character, however appalling, even as she pushes you away with a rude shove." But, as The New Yorker's Tad Friend points out, Silverman is taking a risk by creating a character who falls outside the sitcom's prescribed norms: "We admire the purity of Silverman's scornfulness, but we don't want to hang out with her the way we did with Mary and Rhoda."

Top Design.
Top Design

Top Design (Wednesdays, 10 p.m., Bravo; premiere airs at 11 p.m. ET). Bravo has carved a reality-show niche for itself, pitting amateurs pursuing a common profession (fashion design, hairstyling, cooking, etc.) against each other and anointing one the winner. The network's latest is an interior design competition, with fashion (and La-Z-Boy) designer Todd Oldham in the mentor role. The Boston Globe complains that "Top Design is so derivative of Project Runway, from the setup to the structure of the judging, that it's impossible not to make a point-by-point comparison, with the new show falling short on every level." But other critics find this dose of the Bravo formula acceptable. As the Washington Post remarks, "Bravo is gambling that there's at least as much interest in the rooms we live in as the food we eat and the clothes we buy. And judging by this show's high points, that's one safe bet."

Some Loud Thunder, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Some Loud Thunder, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (self-released). The indie-music phenomenons—whose self-titled, self-released first album won them instant fame and fortune—are meeting with a tougher critical reception for their follow-up. The band "demands a new, irksome level of indulgence on Some Loud Thunder," observes the New York Times. "But it finds a new richness in the songs it doesn't sabotage." The Los Angeles Times is less forgiving, griping that "despite many fetching elements, the collection as a whole feels scattered and undercooked." And Pitchfork, the online music magazine that played a large role in the band's initial rise, calls Some Loud Thunder"an adequate follow-up that contains a handful of fantastic songs, a handful of uneven ones, and a handful of duds." (Buy Some Loud Thunder.)

Not Too Late, Norah Jones

Not Too Late, Norah Jones (Blue Note). It would be almost impossible for Norah Jones to live up to the standards she set with her first two albums—30 million copies sold worldwide, eight Grammys won. But the artist isn't resting on her laurels, as the Houston Chronicle notes: "[ Not Too Late ] finds Jones again trying to surprise herself, commendable for an artist with so many early successes." Many critics have observed that her new work is darker, and the Washington Post applauds Jones for producing a "foreboding and magnificently moody" album that "tackles not just matters of the heart, but matters of state as well," with songs about the national psyche and New Orleans. And the Boston Globe remarks that the album's "subtle, but piquant, new dark streak … goes a long way toward lifting Jones's songs out of the realm of background music." (Buy Not Too Late.)

Dakota Fanning
Dakota Fanning

Sundance postgame. The film festival ended Saturday, and Padre Nuestro—about a Mexican immigrant teenager on a quest to find his father in the United States—won the grand jury prize for best American drama. But those who came to Park City, Utah, looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine were disappointed. "More double and triples—but no home runs," sighed a New York entertainment lawyer to USA Today. Critics were quick to note the festival's high-profile failures; chief among them was the widely panned Hounddog, about which the Boston Globe's Ty Burr snickers, "Bad-movie buzz can do more damage in Park City than any conservative baying over Dakota Fanning's rape scene." But the festival has long been a destination in itself, in any case, as the New York Times' Manohla Dargis muses: "The movies may not be terribly good, the art of the deal may matter more than the art of cinema to most attendees and worthy work may go unnoticed and unloved, but Sundance is hot."

Jude Law 
Breaking and Entering
Jude Law

Breaking and Entering (MGM). Mixed reviews for English Patient director Anthony Minghella's latest, the story of a London architect (Jude Law) caught between his depressive girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) and a winsome Bosnian refugee (Juliette Binoche). In The New Yorker, David Denby calls the film "a shrewd and decent movie rather than a great one." And Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum dismisses it as a "handsome-looking exercise in Gentry Guilt." But LA Weekly's Ella Taylor admires its serious themes, writing that the film "taps into contemporary urban panic, a state of mind in which the hopeful 20th-century pieties of 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism' have thinned into a gossamer skin stretched tight over the gathering tensions of the postindustrial city." (Buy tickets to Breaking and Entering.)

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