Reign Over Me (Columbia). Adam Sandler plays an emotionally shattered 9/11 widower in this dark buddy pic. He reconnects with his college roommate (Don Cheadle), now a wealthy dentist living an unfulfilling life, and epiphanies ensue. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, of all people, seems oddly touched: "Reign Over Me closes with, at best, a cautious hope, leaving us more anxious than when we went in, and throughout the film there is a stunned and bewildered air hanging over the city, like a heavy smog." But in the New York Times, A.O. Scott records his exasperation at the film's unfulfilled promise: "It's rare to see so many moments of grace followed by so many stumbles and fumbles, or to see intelligence and discretion undone so thoroughly by glibness and grossness." And Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum bristles at the juxtaposition of 9/11 and Cheadle's relatively insignificant marital woes, calling the film "as tenuous as Charlie's grip on reality, held together only by an audience's own nervous sadness and yearning for consolation." (Buy tickets to Reign Over Me.)
TMNT (Warner Bros.). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that is. The heroes on the half-shell aren't winning critics over this time around, mostly because they seem to have lost some of their soul in CGI translation. The New York Times sighs that the turtles "have been firmly co-opted by the industry their creators once sought to spoof." In the Washington Post, Stephen Hunter applauds the film's technical and aesthetic efforts but states flatly, "[O]nly on one issue does TMNT pretty much flop. That is its plot." The Philadelphia Inquirer, however, likes this latest outing—or at least acknowledges that it fulfills some lowered expectations. Critic Steven Rea shrugs, "It's not art, dude, but it will do." (Buy tickets to TMNT.)
This American Life (Showtime, Thursdays, 10:30 p.m.). Ira Glass' mostly beloved PRI program—in which ordinary Americans share quirky life stories—comes to television Thursday. Glass and his production team "did something basically unthinkable," writes Salon's Heather Havrilevsky: "They translated a vibrant, lively radio show into a vibrant, lively TV show." The Boston Globe muses that the two versions are "different beasts … [The TV show] asks less of us, and gives us less in return. Still, it's a welcome addition to nonfiction television."Slate's Troy Patterson concludes that the show's "shrewd masterstroke is to reconcile the two halves of the American TV brain"—Letterman's irony and Oprah's soul. But the New York Times' Virginia Heffernan seems a mite annoyed by Glass, complaining that he tends to "take the wheel of stories when it's clear that the everyman he's recruited isn't saying exactly what the producers want him to."
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Modest Mouse (Epic). Critics are pleased, if not completely wowed, by this latest outing from the veteran indie rockers (never mind that they've been on a major label for years). Entertainment Weekly raves that lead singer Isaac Brock "has never sounded more charismatic, or chameleonlike, as he alternately croons, spits, and bronchially howls" on the album. In Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau remarks that Brock's famed lyrics "yoke images of failure and frustration to the loud and the catchy—thus rendering failure and frustration more fun." And Pitchfork gives the album a solid 7.8 out of 10, commenting that the album does a good job "preserving the core Modest Mouse sound … while gently nudging toward new directions"—helped along by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. (Buy We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.)
Introducing Joss Stone, Joss Stone (Virgin). The 19-year-old British R&B singer tries to break new musical ground in her third album, produced by maybe-boyfriend Raphael Saadiq—but critics are dubious about the neo-soul-meets-hip-hop sound. In the New York Times, Sia Michel sighs, "[H]er makeover seems too urban for her Starbucks-mom base and too retro for urban radio." The Guardian's (U.K.) Alexis Petridis seems to suggest she's just another teenager looking for an identity: "The novelty value of a tiny West Country girl who sings like a careworn black American has worn off … [S]he now seems trapped awkwardly between two diametrically opposing cultures." And, writing in Entertainment Weekly, Slate music critic Jody Rosen wonders: "[W]ho is she exactly? A schoolgirl in the dizzy throes of puppy love? A wounded woman of the world? She tries to play both roles, but she doesn't fully commit to either." (Buy Introducing Joss Stone.)
South by Southwest. The Austin indie festival best known for its music came to a close Sunday, and a few bands left much more famous than they were a week before—though none emerged the clear favorite. The Los Angeles Times singles out Chicago rockers the Redwalls for a "scrappy sound that harked back to Hamburg-era Beatles." The New York Times' Jon Pareles notes that Liverpool band the Wombats"merged punk-speed, guitar-charged pop, usually about love gone awry, with the oohs and ahs of Beach Boys harmony"; Pareles also plugs the Fratellis, the Besnard Lakes, Luminous Orange, and Illinois. Several critics point to British trio the Pipettes as a festival highlight. The Boston Globe comments that they "evoked '60s girl groups (choreographed moves, polka dot dresses, effervescent harmonies) through a modern lo-fi lens." Critics and audiences were also thrilled to see Iggy Pop's Stooges reuniting after 34 years. "The most sought-after act appeared to be punk rock godfathers the Stooges, who played a belt-busting" show Saturday night, SXSW hometown paper the Austin American-Statesman reflects. But online music tastemakers Pitchfork detest their new release, The Weirdness, giving it a one (out of 10) and moaning that the band's attempt at relevance has turned a "passable aging-rocker reunion album into an atrocious one."
You Don't Love Me Yet, Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday). Critics are lukewarm on Lethem's latest novel—about a Los Angeles indie rock band—calling it a slight follow-up to Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude. The Washington Post labels it a "cultural manifesto about plagiarism," noting with approval Lethem's "thesis that all art is in some sense borrowed." But in the New York Times Book Review, David Kamp criticizes Lethem for "tak[ing] a lighthearted approach to the potentially heavy subjects of appropriation and authorship," and concludes that the novel is "a mite too parenthetical." And though the Los Angeles Times likes the book as a "biting satirical take on the intersection of art and commerce, integrity and façade," the reviewer also gripes that it "falls short on depth." (Buy You Don't Love Me Yet.)