No Reservations (Warner Bros.). Critics serve up half-baked kitchen puns in a vain attempt to write anything interesting about this by-the-numbers romantic comedy, a remake of the German Mostly Martha. The plot: A charming orphan (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) and a new co-worker (Aaron Eckhart) disturb the Teutonic order of chef Catherine Zeta-Jones' cheerless life (and West Village kitchen); together, the two melt her heart. Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum pouts, "A familiar dish doesn't have to be a bland one, but No Reservations … doesn't allow for the slightest grain of salt." The Washington Post hedges: " 'No Reservations' is not entirely objectionable nosh." But the sharpest critics were both bored and kinda mad. Carina Chocano offers another synopsis in the Los Angeles Time s: "Exhibits H through P in the ongoing case against Professional Lady, whose talent and success can only exist in inverse proportion to her personal happiness." (Buy tickets to No Reservations. Read Dana Stevens'review of No Reservations in Slate.)—July 27
Arctic Tale (Paramount Vantage). Spirited narration from Queen Latifah stitches years of nature documentary outtakes into a fictional narrative about a little polar bear, a little walrus, and big bad global warming. Critics agree the film is beautiful; they're less enthusiastic about the snarky script and fun-for-kids score. The Onion A.V. Club writes, "apart from the forcibly bright-eyed-and-bad-assed tone, Arctic Tale is a gorgeous film, full of astonishing footage." And the Village Voice calls the Disney-fied elements "a small price to pay for this stunningly photographed narrative documentary about a year in the endangered life of Arctic ice floe." Industry eye Variety also praises the craftsmanship: "Beth Spiegel's editing is the sharpest achievement here, with extremely smooth transitions connecting protagonists over great distances and sometimes time periods." (Buy tickets to Arctic Tale. Read Daniel Engber's analysis of Arctic Tale's green politics in Slate.)—July 27
The Simpsons Movie (Fox). Most critics don't mind this 87-minute TV episode dressed up slightly for the wide screen, though a few aficionados were hoping for a redemptive miracle. (Compare Seattle Weekly's headline for Scott Foundas' review—"The Simpsons Movie: Eeeexcellent"—to the Associated Press hed: "The Simpsons Movie Not Exxxxxcellent." But most notable is many reviewers' decision to trot out misty-eyed praise one suspects they'd been stockpiling for news of the series' cancellation. A.O. Scott writes (in a review published early by the International Herald Tribune): "Let's keep things in perspective. The Simpsons is an inexhaustible repository of humor, invention and insight, an achievement without precedent or peer in the history of broadcast television, perhaps the purest distillation of the glories and failings of the United States ever conceived. The Simpsons Movie is, well, a movie." Bonus: Those who favored the "creative response" in social studies class shouldn't miss Kyle Smith's positive take in the New York Post, written as a one-act Simpsons script. Example: "COMIC BOOK GUY [:] … it falls short of classic status." (Buy tickets to The Simpson's Movie.)—July 26
We Got To Do Better (BET, premiered Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.). Under pressure from activists and advertisers, Black Entertainment Television made headlines earlier this week when it renamed its controversial program lampooning "ghetto" culture—which had been called Hot Ghetto Mess—two days before its premiere. The few critics who bothered to review the show saw bad TV, but little reason for a boycott. The St. Petersburg Times' Eric Deggans calls it "mostly mediocre"; the Associated Press compares it to "a reject reel from America's Funniest Videos," but doesn't find the compendium of stereotypes many feared: "There were no images of pimp-my-ride coffins, 5-foot-high lacquered hairdos, infants posing with 40-ounce bottles of beer, or pink-spandex outfits on a Mo'Nique-sized frame." Related: In an editor's letter posted to the Web site that inspired the series, creator Jam Donaldson defends her project: "I am just holding up a mirror to my community so don't blame me if you don't like your reflection"—prompting Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams to respond: "Please. The black community has more mirrors than a fun house. That 'reflection' line is the same excuse rappers use for glorifying their violent and misogynistic lyrics for a profit." (Read Troy Patterson's take on BET's summer shows in Slate.)—July 26
Damages (FX, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.). Critics love Glenn Close as a terrifying, possibly evil lawyer in this new dramatic series. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley raves, "It is a role that brings out the very best in Ms. Close, which is to say her talent for exploring the worst in the characters she plays." Some think they see the beginning of the next great TV show. Praising Damages as "emphatically, and almost torturously, high-tension," the Washington Post's Tom Shales makes a loaded comparison: "[T]he pilot script is one of the most artfully crafted since the debut … of The Sopranos. " Nancy Franklin is a bit more cautious in The New Yorker: "There is more than a whiff of camp about the show, which is to say, ridiculousness that appears to be unintentional, and I already did my time, back in the eighties, with Dynasty." (Troy Patterson reviewed Damages and Saving Grace in Slate.)—July 25
Saving Grace (TNT, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT). What do you get if you cross a basic-cable maverick cop series with Touched by an Angel—and convince Holly Hunter to star in it? Holly Hunter in a lousy show. For some critics, that's plenty. The Los Angeles Times waves aside the "trite" and "suspect" aspects of the show: "[M]ercifully, Grace is played by Holly Hunter, and that alone may just be enough to save Grace."Variety's Brian Lowry also OKs the overstuffed premise: "With a boozing, promiscuous protagonist who sees an angel, one would think the show wouldn't really need a 'Kojak' riff, too, but if that's what it took to get a series this intriguing sold, so be it.' " But Entertainment Weekly sees a failure: "Somewhere inside of all this is a terrific series trying to establish itself, but the producers will be damned if they're going to write it … Such a shame." What's up with this wave of dark heroines on TV? The Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan has some answers. (Troy Patterson reviewed Damages and Saving Grace in Slate.)—July 25
Planet Earth, Prince (Sony). The resurgent pop superstar gave away his new album in Britain last week, distributing it as a free insert in the tabloid Mail on Sunday—a move that panicked retailers and record execs while winning glowing headlines. "Where the Internet truism is that information wants to be free," the New York Times mused, "Prince's corollary is that music wants to be heard." Fair enough, but should fans in the States shell out $18.98 to hear it? Critics praise a few good tracks, but neophytes entranced by his Super Bowl show ought to pick up Purple Rain instead—this is not Prince at his very best. The Washington Post breaks it down: " 'Planet Earth' isn't exactly stop-the-presses great, but it isn't half bad either. More like 30 percent bad, 40 percent mediocre and 30 percent really, really good." At Pitchfork, Douglas Wolk thinks Prince may confuse sheer output with artistic fecundity: "He's firmly settled in a stylistic niche that's delivering diminishing returns —and what made him great in the first place is that he never settled down anywhere for long." (Buy Planet Earth.)— July 24
2007 Emmy Award Nominations. Critics whinge and moan about the list of Emmy contenders announced by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences last week, though they find less to complain about than usual. "On the whole," the San Jose Mercury News concedes, "it wasn't the kind of Emmy performance that draws sneers from the TV critics and snickers from viewers." Most were pleased by strong showings from Ugly Betty and 30 Rock, and nobody can really object to The Sopranos' 15-nomination haul—though many complain about other choices in the dramatic categories. USA Today writes, "[T]he snub of [ Friday Night Lights ] in major categories is most painful and galling of all, because this is a show that didn't just deserve Emmy nominations, it may have needed them." And the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman lambastes the judges for passing over The Wire: "If you don't nominate the best show on television, then there's a gigantic problem that needs to be addressed." Also irate about The Wire, Entertainment Weekly's Mark Harris blames the academy's "democratic voting system" for the annual disappointments: It "gives too many people with too little taste too much of a say in the outcome." Maybe they should just let the critics decide.— July 23
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