Alpha Dog (Universal). Critics are alternately disgusted and intrigued by this film based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood—a California 20-year-old who allegedly kidnapped and killed the teenage half-brother of someone who owed him drug money. Hollywood's case has yet to go to trial, and his lawyer tried to stop the release of the film. "The kids are not all right," muses Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Which is, like, you know, the point … [M]aybe it's just fun to watch a lot of attractive, talented young actors shimmy across the screen while embodying the collective parental nightmare." Director Nick Cassavetes "throws in everything he can recycle to grab a core-demo viewer— slutty teens making out, blaring rock music, guns, split screens," notes Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. Whatever their thoughts on the film, most critics laud Justin Timberlake in the role of the Hollywood character's best friend. The Village Voice remarks, "Alpha Dog's worth a look for the performance of Justin Timberlake, the moral center of a movie sorely in need of some conscience." (Buy tickets to Alpha Dog.)
24 (Fox, Sundays at 8 p.m. ET). The blockbuster series returns for a sixth season, kicking off Sunday and Monday with a two-night premiere that finds Kiefer Sutherland's Special Agent Jack Bauer back in the United States after 20 months in a Chinese prison. The Boston Globe calls the show a "by-any-means-necessary, Bush-era fantasia that celebrates American persistence while turning that persistence into a rabbit chase. Jack may bag a terrorist mastermind, but he or she is always fronting for another mastermind, and so on ad infinitum." In the Chicago Tribune, Maureen Ryan reflects that 24's"secret weapon … is in the fact that the show isn't just an action thriller: There are many other layers to get lost in." And the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley writes that "the first four episodes suggest that this season could be one of the best thus far."
Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games (HarperCollins). Chandra's second novel—about cops and gangsters in Mumbai —is 916 pages long, leading NPR to call it "Dickensian in scope." In The New Yorker, Pankaj Mishra observes, "More ardently than most recent chroniclers of India's most hectic metropolis, Chandra embraces the vitality as well as the vulgarity of the millions chasing the 'big dream of Bombay.' " The Los Angeles Times is likewise enthralled by the book, lauding the "crash course it offers in 21st century Indian society and especially the life of Mumbai." While Sacred Games' genre-bending blend of high literary style and a dime-novel plot might turn some readers off, the New York Times Book Review nonetheless concludes, "[I]n the post-9/11 era, madmen intent on blowing up all or even a small part of the world don't seem quite as unrealistic as they once did. If you keep that in mind, you may find Sacred Games as hard to put down as it is to pick up." (Buy Sacred Games.)
iPhone. Apple unveiled its much-anticipated cell phone yesterday to oohs and aahs. The gadget combines a phone, iPod, and wireless Internet browser. At the MacWorld Expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs stated, "It's the best iPod we've ever made. No matter what you like, it looks pretty doggone gorgeous." In his Bits blog on NYTimes.com, David Pogue raves about the phone's features, including its thin size and built-in camera, though he warns, "Typing is difficult. The letter keys are just pictures on the glass screen, so of course there's no tactile feedback." The phone will come in $499 and $599 models when it goes on sale this June, and the Wall Street Journal muses, "The question is how many consumers will be willing to pay the hefty price."
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Music writers discussthe Cleveland-based museum's 22nd class of inductees: Van Halen, the Ronettes, Patti Smith, R.E.M., and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five—the first rap group to be selected. The Akron Beacon Journal gripes that Iggy Pop and his band, the Stooges, "one of the most influential protopunk and metal bands sonically and attitudinally, aren't good enough to be enshrined in the Cleveland hall." The San Jose Mercury News points out that the members of Van Halen aren't exactly known for getting along, and with all five members invited to the induction ceremony in March, "the amount of bad blood in the room promises to be staggering. Whenever Eddie Van Halen, Roth and Hagar are in a room together, sparks are sure to fly."
Mos Def, True Magic (Geffen). Mediocre reviews for Brooklyn hip-hop maestro/burgeoning movie star (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) Mos Def's latest CD. "Experimentation has been an organizing principle for Mos for some time. … Here, experimentation isn't even on the radar," sighs online music magazine Pitchfork. Style.com is likewise unimpressed, carping, "Mos Def takes a break from mediocre movies to release a mediocre third album." The New York Times piles on, calling True Magic a "bleary hangover of an album," and noting that Mos Def may "deliver tantalizing flashes of lyrical skill, but he doesn't inspire much feeling other than listless dread." (Buy True Magic.)
I'm From Rolling Stone (MTV, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET). Six young Rolling Stone interns compete for a gig as a contributing editor at the venerable music magazine. Naturally, reality-happy MTV is along for the ride, and critics are mostly amused with the results. "[L]ike fashion designers and chefs, writers make superb reality characters; they're weird and talkative," notes the New York Times' Virginia Heffernan. The program spares the cast the worst of a typical internship experience, however, and for good reason: "[It] would alienate a popular audience, only shaping up as a nightmarish hybrid of Beckett, Sade, and The Office," writes Slate's Troy Patterson. But Salon's Heather Havrilesky seems to think this mix represents the show pretty well, calling it "an exercise in sadism that's so mean-spirited and condescending, it could only have been dreamed up by someone who works in the wild and wonderful world of magazines."
Gay, Straight or Taken? (Lifetime, Mondays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET). This new reality dating show has women choose between three men, one of whom is gay, one straight … and, well, you get the idea. The Boston Globe bemoans the show's "humorless" embrace of stereotypes, but hopes that "the series could become a frivolous send up of dating reality shows and the absurdity of gender clichés" as the season progresses. Most critics seem to find the show harmless and boring at worst, and mildly entertaining, if misguided, at best. The New York Times muses, "[H]owever dopey the show is in actuality—and it is awfully, awfully dopey—who could not applaud its instincts?" The New York Daily News is more dismissive, calling the premise more appropriate for a bar game: "It's good for 20 seconds, 30 seconds, then you move on."