The critical buzz on Grindhouse.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 6 2007 1:18 PM

Pulp Fiction Redux?

The critical buzz on Grindhouse.

Grindhouse.
Rose McGowan and Kurt Russell in Grindhouse

Grindhouse (Weinstein Co.). Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's double feature pays homage to the glory days of trashy cinema: Rodriguez directed a zombie movie; Tarantino, a slasher flick; and they dress up the whole package with fake trailers for other (made-up) films of the same ilk. Critics are swooning, and not just over Rose McGowan and Marley Shelton's skimpy get-ups. In the New York Times, A.O. Scott remarks, "[S]oaked in bloody nostalgia for the cheesy, disreputable pleasures of an older form of movie entertainment, [ Grindhouse ] can also be seen as a passionate protest against the present state of the entertainment industry."Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman is taken by the films' exuberance, especially Tarantino's, which ends with a thrilling car chase: "It will leave you laughing, gasping, thrilled at a movie that knows, at long last, how to put the bad back in badass." Writing in Slate, Dana Stevens—an admitted Tarantino skeptic—raves, "[Y]ou don't need to be an exploitation fanboy to appreciate the energy, imagination, and spirit with which Rodriguez and Tarantino pay homage to the cheapo cinema they love."— D.S.

Traffic and Weather, Fountains of Wayne (Virgin).The geeky pop quartet best known for its 2003 hit single "Stacy's Mom" stays true to character, filling its fourth full-length album with clever references to everyday suburban culture. The quirkiness seems to work. No less a giant than Robert Christgau praises the effort in Rolling Stone, writing that "the big problem with anointing [lyricists] Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger the great standard-bearers of modern pop song is that there's no one else like them." But some critics are growing tired of the shtick. Entertainment Weekly calls Traffic and Weather a "simply wonderful album" but notes that "there are times you wonder if [Collingwood and Schlesinger] have become less interested in real emotion than in making smart-alecky references to the DMV." Unsurprisingly, the rock snobs at Pitchfork hate (hate) the album for relying so heavily on nostalgia and recycled musical motifs. The online music rag scoffs, "We should expect much, much more from pop music than this kind of bullshit." (BuyTraffic and Weather.)—B.W.

Black Book
Black Book
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Black Book (Sony Pictures Classics). Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven has made a film in his native Holland for the first time in more than 20 years, and critics mostly applaud this pulpy WWII romance about a star-crossed Dutch Jewish spy and a Gestapo head. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis enjoys the picture as a "supremely vulgar romp," but cautions that it "helps if you don't worry about its loosey-goosey moral relativism." In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane doesn't find much to recommend in Verhoeven's effort, scoffing, "This is trash pretending to serve the cause of history: a Dirty Dozen knockoff with one eye on Schindler's List. Everything about it, from the earnest strivings of the musical score to the beery gropings of the Germans, has the whiff of soap opera." Still, as the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan notes dryly, "[I]t is likely the only World War II drama ever where the heroine is shown dying her pubic hair blond to better fight the Nazis. Thank God John Wayne didn't live to see this." (Buy tickets to Black Book.)— D.S.

The Tudors
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII in The Tudors

The Tudors (Showtime). This 10-part miniseries about the intrigues of Henry VIII's royal court promises plenty of sex and murder along with a history lesson. The New York Times dubs the series " 'Oceans Eleven' in ruffs and doublets," and USA Today calls it a "soap romp with historical underpinnings, a sort of 'Desperate Monarchs' or 'Henry's Anatomy.' " But cross-century genre-bending seems to be critics' primary source of enthusiasm. Slate's Troy Patterson complains that, "Henry's antics, while often very close to camp, come in for a fundamentally self-serious approach."Entertainment Weekly puts a finer point on it, sighing that, "while the randy courtiers shtup like crazy, nobody appears to be having any actual fun." Critics also have mixed feelings about Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII. Variety says he brings "virile wattage" to the screen, but the Boston Globe sniffs, "he's gym-boyish when he ought to be lusty and manly; callow when he ought to be magnificently smug; irritating when he ought to be tragic."— P.F.

Sanjaya Malakar.
Sanjaya Malakar

Sanjaya Malakar.The "Idol Nation" has been thrown into disarray by the continued success of 17-year-old Sanjaya Malakar, whose undeniably bad singing and stage presence are trumped only by his oft-changing hairstyles. A Web site called " Vote for the Worst" encourages watchers to keep Malakar on the show for sheer entertainment value, and Howard Stern has gotten behind the plan as well. "By promoting Mr. Malakar, Mr. Stern says, he hopes to turn the talent competition into a farce and destroy its popularity," Edward Wyatt notes in the New York Times. ( This Saturday Night Live spoof probably didn't hurt.) But another theory holds that Malakar is inspiring Indian solidarity (he is half-Indian and half-Italian); as Salon remarks, "Call it the Yao Ming NBA All-Star Top Vote Getter Syndrome." But Richard Roeper, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, shrugs off the controversy, commenting, "[I]t's not as if Sanjaya would be the first winner on American Idol who wasn't the most talented contestant."—D.S.

Blades of Glory
Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in Blades of Glory 

Blades of Glory (Paramount). Critics are mildly amused by Will Ferrell's new comedy, in which he and Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder star as a team of figure skaters. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman calls the film "a farce of preening emasculation in spandex." (On balance, that seems to be a good thing.) Even so, the production keeps overt gay-baiting to a minimum; in the New York Times, Stephen Holden remarks, "It comes as a huge relief to find that as 'Blades of Glory' speeds along, it avoids going to the obvious, ugly place for cheap laughs." But in Slate, Dana Stevens accuses Ferrell of coasting on his comedic signatures, sighing that she hopes the film "isn't what it seems to be: the film that marks the moment the bloom came off Will Ferrell's rose." (Buy tickets to Blades of Glory.)D.S.

The Lookout
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode in The Lookout

The Lookout (Miramax). Scott Frank's drama about a brain-injured janitor who gets caught up in a complicated heist scheme is his first directing effort, though he's also written the screenplays for two Elmore Leonard novels (Get Shorty and Out of Sight). L.A. Weekly's Ella Taylor notes that the director's background comes through, calling The Lookout"inescapably a screenwriter's movie and, for those of us who can't stomach poorly written dialogue even in an action picture, none the worse for it." In Rolling Stone, an effusive Peter Travers can hardly contain his excitement: "In a knockout directing debut, Frank cooks up his own mischief. The web he spins will pull you in. Guaranteed."New York's David Edelstein is more measured: "I enjoyed The Lookout—yet I did feel let down by the climax, which ought to have been blunter and messier and crazier and more cathartic." (Buy tickets to The Lookout.)D.S.

Oprah's Book Club. On Wednesday, Oprah selected Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road for her Book Club, and the famously reclusive author surprised fans and industry insiders alike by saying he would appear on her show. The Chicago Tribune calls the match "one of the oddest and most unlikely cultural pairings since Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe." McCarthy habitually spurns interviews and awards, but his spokesman explained to the Associated Press, "Mr. McCarthy respects her work, admires what she has accomplished, has an awareness of her book club and thought it would be interesting to participate in the conversation with Oprah." The selection of such an undeniably bleak novel has also raised eyebrows. Book blog The Millions notes, "[I]t is fascinating to me that this unabashedly mass market phenomenon, the TV show book club, would pick a book that is by all accounts harrowing and devastatingly serious and not an easy read in any sense."D.S.

Paige Ferrari is a freelance writer and former Slate intern.

Doree Shafrir is the executive editor at Buzzfeed.

Blake Wilson is a Slate contributor and former Slate editor.

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