The critical buzz on A Mighty Heart and Evan Almighty.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 22 2007 2:53 PM

Mighty Big Movies

The critical buzz on A Mighty Heart and Evan Almighty.

A Mighty Heart. Click image to expand.
A Mighty Heart

A Mighty Heart (Paramount Vantage). The film about the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has gotten mountains of publicity thanks to its star, Angelina Jolie, who plays Pearl's wife, Mariane. But most critics agree that the film lives up to the hype. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis raves that the movie is "effectively fashioned, as jolting as it is polished, as well as a surprising, insistently political work of commercial art."Rolling Stone's Peter Travers gives the film three and a half out of four stars and remarks, "From the moment Daniel and the pregnant Mariane arrive in Karachi, Pakistan … [director Michael] Winterbottom exerts a grip that won't let go." In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan observes approvingly that A Mighty Heart is "most accurately viewed as a kind of political film noir." One discordant note comes from the Village Voice's J. Hoberman, who sighs, "[T]he creepiest thing about A Mighty Heart is the ease with which this terrible tale becomes a meditation on divadom." (Read Dana Stevens'review of A Mighty Heart. Buy tickets to A Mighty Heart.)— D.S., June 21

Evan Almighty. Click image to expand.
Evan Almighty

Evan Almighty (Universal Pictures). This wholesome sequel to the immensely popular Bruce Almighty is the most expensive Hollywood comedy ever—it cost $200 million to make and market. But critics are panning the PG Bible tale, in which Steve Carell plays Evan Baxter, a reluctant modern-day Noah. Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum has a few good words for supporting actors Wanda Sykes and Ed Helms, but concludes that "nothing can offset the picture's dutiful Sunday-school intentions." The New York Times' A.O. Scott also points out the film's "bland religiosity" and complains that there's "not much in the way of wit, emotional complication or suspense." Other critics suspect that Evan Almighty isn't dutiful at all; writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers calls the movie "pseudo-religious, mock-sincere," and still doesn't find anything to praise: "[E]very laugh cost about $20 million. And most of those are poop jokes." (Buy tickets to Evan Almighty.)— J.L, June 21

Laura Albert. Click image to expand.
Laura Albert
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Laura Albert. The inventor of fictional author JT Leroy is on trial for civil fraud; her alter ego, Leroy, purportedly a teenage former hustler from West Virginia, won acclaim for the novel Sarah, which "he" said was based on personal experiences. (Albert is being sued by a film-production company that had contracted with "Leroy" to do a film of the novel.) "[T]he trial has been an oddly highbrow exploration of a psycho-literary landscape filled with references to the imagination's fungible relation to reality and the bond that exists between the writer and the work," mused the New York Times. In the Washington Post, David Segal observed, "What we really learned after her many hours on the stand was that Albert is far more fascinating and complicated than the character she confected for the page." But the tabloid New York Post was less sympathetic, sniping, "Boo hoo hoo. It's sad Albert."—D.S., June 21

Lost Highway, Bon Jovi.

Lost Highway, Bon Jovi (Mercury Nashville). The veteran Jersey stadium rockers turn hard toward country, following the success of last year's single "Who Says You Can't Go Home"—which won the band its only Grammy to date (for best country collaboration with vocals) and was the first track from a rock artist to top the Billboard country charts since 1977. The New York Times notes that the effort "[yields] unsurprising but reasonably strong results. Mr. Bon Jovi and his wingman, the guitarist Richie Sambora, sing as yearningly together as ever. And their new songs … deliver a familiar payoff of big choruses and earnest lyrics." Some critics don't hear enough country to warrant the hype. The Chicago Tribune calls Lost Highway"pure adult contemporary schmaltz." Others hear too much. The Associated Press' Wayne Parry implores Bon Jovi not to forget its roots: "We've already lost The Sopranos this year. We gotta hold on to what we got. And I guess it doesn't make a difference if it's country or not. But please, Jonnie: Remember where you came from. I'm just sayin'."(Buy Lost Highway)— B.W., June 20

Icky Thump, the White Stripes.

Icky Thump, the White Stripes (Warner Bros.). Critics love the indie duo's new album and its louder, more aggressive sound. Giving it an "A" in Entertainment Weekly, Neil Drumming explains: "There are basically two types of White Stripes fans"—obsessive indie nerds and casual listeners who know the band from its mainstream success. "With seemingly little regard for either camp, they've made a record for both." PopMatters boils it down further: "Summary: whatever particular aspects of the band you liked before, they're back on Icky Thump and sounding as good as or better than before. Summary of the summary: Icky Thump rocks." And Pitchfork strongly endorses the album, writing: "[I]t recaptures a sense of goofy fun and a caustic edge that the duo haven't possessed since White Blood Cells launched them to the A-list." Some still find the White Stripes too minimalist, though. In a relatively positive review for Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau complains that he can't really engage with the music: "Like his sometime heroes Led Zeppelin, Jack White builds monuments. They're suitable for awestruck visits. But they're no place to settle down." (Buy Icky Thump)— B.W., June 19

Flight of the Conchords. Click image to expand.
Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement, and Rhys Darby in Flight of the Conchords

Flight of the Conchords (HBO, Sundays at 10:30 p.m.). New Zealanders Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have turned their popular folk-parody stand-up act into a sitcom about the duo's struggles to make it big in New York—and critics are charmed by the quirky result. The Washington Post's Tom Shales avows, "The whole show is winningly offbeat, really." But even the most enthralled reviewers worry about overhyping the program. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley writes that it is "funny in such an understated way that it is almost dangerous to make too much of it—it could collapse like a soufflé when the door slams." The musical numbers are definitely the highlight. A middling review in Variety concludes that the show "is pretty much a snooze until the music starts," and the Hollywood Reporter complains that "after the music stops, there isn't a whole lot going on here, funny or otherwise." Cataloging the Conchords' influences in Slate, Troy Patterson notes approvingly that the pair's songs "stand on their own to tease both the delusions of sensitive young men and the pretensions of pop songs."— B.W., June 18

Bonnaroo. The popular music festival ended Sunday, and the 80,000 fans who traveled to Tennessee to hear the likes of the Police, the White Stripes, and the Flaming Lips seemed pleased, despite the lineup's departure from the festival's roots as a hippie-jam-band confab—though as the New York Times' Jon Pareles notes, "[T]he festival uses its hippie flavor as both a touchstone and something to push against … [Fans] don't just show up for the headliners; they enthusiastically sample all sorts of possibilities." Writing on Entertainment Weekly's blog PopWatch, Whitney Pastorek recalls a conversation she had with Bonnaroo's founder, in which he described the festival as "an iPod on shuffle," and reflects, "I can think of no better description for [Saturday], which was a whirlwind of mandolins and keyboards and Led Zeppelin covers, with a light dusting of '80s nostalgia blowing in on a storm of experimentation." But the festival was not without tragedy; 77-year-old jazz great Ornette Coleman collapsed from the heat and had to be taken to a nearby hospital, and a 25-year-old concertgoer died on Friday—the sixth death in the festival's six-year history.—D.S., June 18

Juliet Lapidos is a staff editor at the New York Times.

Doree Shafrir is the executive editor at Buzzfeed.

Blake Wilson is a Slate contributor and former Slate editor.

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