The critical buzz on I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 20 2007 5:05 PM

Taking the Gay Bait

The critical buzz on I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (Universal). Can a lowbrow comedy about two New York firemen entwined in a sham gay marriage (for the pension benefits) trot out every homophobic cliché in the books and still deliver a powerful message of tolerance and respect? Um, maybe … Like most critics, the Onion A.V. Club's Scott Tobias doesn't think the mix works: "[T]he film's desire to simultaneously mock and embrace makes it the most schizophrenic comedy of its kind since Shallow Hal." Others take genuine offense. Premiere's Aaron Hillis writes, "This is not empowerment through the taking back of derisive behavior, folks—it's simply license to laugh at mean-spirited gay jokes." But the Village Voice's Nathan Lee sees an important milestone instead. "It does with crass what Brokeback did with class, slipping dangerous sentiments into the safest of genres," he argues.  "I have never heard the cause of gay equality more delectably phrased than as 'the right to put whatever you want up your ass.' " Meanwhile, New York Daily News gossip scribe Chris Rovzar reports that bona fide gay New York fireman have no problem with the movie. In fact, they've endorsed it. (Buy tickets to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.)—July 20

Hairspray
Hairspray

Hairspray (New Line). Most critics love this exuberant musical about a chubby teen dancing her way onto TV and fighting for civil rights in 1962 Baltimore. As A.O. Scott writes in the New York Times: "[T]he overall mood … is so joyful, so full of unforced enthusiasm, that only the most ferocious cynic could resist it." But does the subversive heart of John Waters' 1988 camp classic still beat after two transplants—first to Broadway and now Hollywood? The Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano thinks the over-the-top staging works, since the movie "isn't really a nostalgic look at a 'more innocent time' so much as a saucy wink at a casually vicious time that is constantly being sold to us as innocent." But New York's David Edelstein complains that "the campiness has no zing." Fans of the original are also disappointed by John Travolta, who plays the drag role created for the late raunch queen Divine. David Denby explains in The New Yorker that Travolta missteps by playing an outsized role far too straight: "It's a touching attempt, but the lunatic joke that started with Divine has almost vanished." (Buy tickets to Hairspray. Read Dana Stevens' review in Slate.)— July 20

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic). Shield your eyes! Two papers have busted the Harry Potter embargo and published early reviews. The verdict: a darker story that's not quite as fun to read as the other books—but with a solid, satisfying conclusion. The Baltimore Sun writes, "Suffice it to say … that once you have consumed the final sentence on the final page crafted by Rowling, the ending seems inevitable." The New York Time's Michiko Kakutani concurs in her own sour way: "Getting to the finish line is not seamless … but the overall conclusion and its determination of the main characters' story lines possess a convincing inevitability that make some of the prepublication speculation seem curiously blinkered in retrospect." How mad are the publishers? According to Reuters, a spokeswoman for the British publisher "likened recent events in the United States to the Boston Tea Party." Which is to say: Is this war? Updates on the leaks: 1) Scholastic will crush DeepDiscount.com and its supplier for letting about 1,200 copies slip the gate early … and has asked the lucky recipients not open their packages until midnight Friday. Ha! 2) Salon's Machinist blog posts an interesting meditation on publisher embargoes in the Internet age. The nut: "Today, artists—even those as powerful as J.K. Rowling— can't reasonably expect such dominion over their art." Read Slate's "Book Club" on the final installment. (Buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)— July 19

Harry Potter Leaks. Reporting the details of a $20 million security scheme devised to keep the final Harry Potter novel under wraps, London's Daily Telegraph wrote on Sunday: "Only its author J.K. Rowling and some 20 other people, including the book's editors, illustrators and the 'Potterologists' who ensure continuity, know Harry's fate." Not anymore. Spoilers and scanned pages are proliferating online, including at least one PDF of what looks like the entire book. The New York Times affects skepticism about the documents' authenticity, quoting vague nondenial denials from the publishers. One Scholastic exec explains the company's pitch to Web sites hosting leaked materials: " 'We're not confirming if anything is real. … But in the spirit of getting to midnight magic without a lot of hoo-ha, can you just take some of this stuff down.' " But as Entertainment Weekly notes, "Scholastic has a vested interest in debunking spoiler claims and encouraging readers to lay down their $34.99 to read the secrets themselves." In any case, London's Times writes this morning that a Rowling lawyer "confirmed today that some genuine material from the seventh Harry Potter book had been posted on the Internet." Many papers circumspectly direct curious readers to the illegal file-sharing site the Pirate Bay for links to the full text, as well as to this page of SPOILERS, which include scans of the book's table of contents and epilogue. (Because of high traffic, the spoilers page works intermittently.) Read Slate's Book Club on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.—July 18

Yoko Ono at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Click image to expand.
Yoko Ono performs at the Pitchfork Music Festival
Captivity. Click image to expand.
Elisha Cuthbert in Captivity
The Bronx Is Burning. Click image to expand.
The Bronx Is Burning

Pitchfork Music Festival. The online music magazine's three-day summer festival drew almost 50,000 fans to Chicago's Union Park to see a lineup of current indie stars and starlets, as well as a few favorites from the rock snob's vault. The New York Sun's Steve Dollar writes that the festival's classic performances from Sonic Youth, Slint, and GZA "marked a changing of the guard," and the Chicago Sun-Times' Jim DeRogatis is happy to pronounce Pitchfork the new face of music. He writes that the festival, an "unqualified artistic success," has "firmly established itself as a model for how a great urban music fest should be run." Other newspaper critics temper their praise with a bit of Pitchfork's signature snark. The New York Times notes somewhat wryly that the festival "draws what may be the most studious, even analytical crowd of any American rock festival." The Chicago Tribune adds: "If there was an overriding theme, it's that nerds aren't just cool, they're the new rock stars." Read blog diaries of the festival from Time Out Chicago, the Chicago Sun Times, and the New York Times.— July 17
Captivity (After Dark Films). The box-office numbers are in, and Entertainment Weekly reports that the universally panned horror flick "died a horrible death at No. 12 with a bone-chilling $1.5 mil gross." You can almost hear a nationwide sigh of relief from critics. The New York Times wrote last week: " 'Captivity' is no more than a desperate attempt to cling to the buzz of 'Saw' before fans are distracted by the next shiny power tool." The Onion A.V. Club's Scott Tobias called it "bottom-feeding garbage"—significant, because the label came midway through a tirade against other reviewers who write off horror films one and all. And the L.A. Times' Robert Abele breathes contempt for the film's once-acclaimed director: "Roland Joffé … has seen his career go from bewailing 'The Killing Fields' of Cambodia to slobbering over the hell-maze of a hooded kidnapper/murderer. It's the movie business equivalent of encountering someone you once knew begging for money on the street." Click here for the L.A. Times' report on the raunchy premiere party, which includes background on the film's various prerelease controversies. (Buy tickets to Captivity.)— July 17
The Bronx Is Burning (ESPN, Tuesdays at 10 p.m., through 8/28). Most critics like the cable sports network's first-ever dramatic miniseries, which is about the Yankees' troubled but triumphant 1977 season played out amid the chaos of New York City at its nadir. The local press certainly endorses the program, which premiered last week. New York Times sportswriter Richard Sandomir thinks it "succeeds because of the mutually-assured-destruction brand of combustibility among its lead characters"—namely owner George Steinbrenner and his newly recruited stars, manager Billy Martin (played by John Turturro in prosthetic ears) and egomaniacal slugger Reggie Jackson. New York's Newsday writes, " 'The Bronx is Burning' also captures something else crucial— the roiling, reeling city in which such sports spectacle was only part of the high drama." Those other plotlines include the city's mayoral race, the Son of Sam killings, as well as the summer's famous blackout and ensuing rioting. In a four-star rave, the New York Post concludes: "Yes, of course, it ends up as another baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life thing, but … this time it's because baseball reflected the life around it, mimicked it, absorbed it and became it. Rude, rash, reckless." (Click here for Metacritic's review roundup for the book on which the series is based, Jonathan Mahler's Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning. And click here to read Troy Patterson pan the series in Slate.)— July 16

Blake Wilson is a Slate contributor and former Slate editor.

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