The critical buzz on Talk to Me and Interview.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 13 2007 12:24 PM

Talk Shows

The critical buzz on Talk to Me and Interview.

Talk to me
Don Cheadle in Talk to Me

Talk to Me (Focus Features). Critics applaud Don Cheadle's performance as Petey Greene in this biopic about the Washington, D.C., radio personality's rise from prison DJ to street-talking voice of the city. The hometown Washington Post gives the production its blessing, writing that Talk to Me"makes you feel the joy people experienced in the wash of his raucous, truth-saying humor." Reviewers also laud Chiwetel Ejiofor in his role as a buttoned-up black studio exec. The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls the friendship and tense collaboration between the two characters "one of the most interesting relationships in any film this year." Not everyone is pleased when the film turns to civil rights-era soul-searching, though. Even as the Post calls a set piece centered on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination "the most powerful passage in the film,"Variety singles it out for criticism—and complains that "as Petey becomes a symbol of black liberation, the movie turns obvious and parched." Worth your time: Both the Post and the Tribune direct readers to this YouTube clip of the real Greene in action. (Buy tickets to Talk to Me.)—July 13

Interview
Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller in Interview

Interview (Sony Pictures Classics). Steve Buscemi directs and stars opposite Sienna Miller in this remake of murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh's picture about a psychological chess match between a hard-bitten journalist and a beautiful starlet who can't keep out of the tabloids. Critics are torn. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes that the movie "is one of those chatty, catty, conceptual face-offs that are often best left to the stage and for which sports metaphors seem to have been invented"—but concedes that it "keeps you watching because its two stars do." The Village Voice can't quite decide whether the film's nastiness is delicious or off-putting, asking: "The characters' whip-smart monologues, accusatory and confessional, lash both ways: Are they lying to themselves or each other, or just to us?" But Salon's Andrew O'Hehir resists the film's temptations. A representative snarl: "Miller's gotten a lot of ink for this role, and she's pretty good, but in my book playing a young female celebrity as a conniving, cock-teasing manipulatrix does not qualify as groundbreaking drama." (Buy tickets to Interview.)—July 13

2007 Electronic Entertainment Expo
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2007 Electronic Entertainment Expo. For years E3 has been the gaming world's signature event, drawing tens of thousands of rowdy fans to the Los Angeles Convention Center to preview new titles and ogle scantily clad "booth babes." No longer. This year's Expo is a grown-up affair: small, exclusive, and business-first. The press sees other signs of a maturing industry. CNET reports that Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all "stressed a common goal of establishing video games as a form of entertainment that's unquestionably on a par with television or film." The Washington Post notes that Sony and Microsoft are now playing catch-up to Nintendo in the race to convert women and seniors into gamers. According to the New York Times, Microsoft is pushing the "family appeal" of its Xbox 360 aggressively and will introduce a Wii-like motion-sensitive controller. The testosterone crowd can look forward to plenty more first-person shooters, but the bigger buzz is on the "casual games" market. Two standouts: Rock Band (from the makers of Guitar Hero)—a rhythm and karaoke game, in which up to four can play guitar and drums and sing along to downloadable songs; and Wii Fit —a suite of exercise games that use a high-tech, motion-sensitive scale to guide your workout. (Click for full E3 coverage from gamer sites Gamespot and 1up, and blogs Joystiq and Kotaku.)—July 12

New England White

New England White, by Stephen L. Carter (Knopf). This murder-mystery set in the overlapping worlds of the black bourgeoisie and WASP privilege at an elite New England university is winning excellent reviews, if not quite as much praise as the Yale Law School professor garnered for his best-selling debut, The Emperor of Ocean Park. Critics are generally satisfied with the plotting and pace of the book, but as Jabari Asim put it on the cover of Washington Post Book World: "Let's be honest: No one should read a Carter novel for the mystery."Entertainment Weekly explains, "What one does want to hear about are the specific details of black social life on this rarefied level, a subject rarely broached in contemporary fiction." In The New Yorker, Joyce Carol Oates explicates the novel's deep cynicism: "It's as if the world were held together not by ties of blood and kinship but sheerly by the relay circuits of power: you will respect me because I know a terrible truth about you, and I will not reveal this terrible truth because, if I do, I will lose my power over you." (Buy New England White. Click here for Emily Bernard's review in Slate. Click here to read the first chapter on nytimes.com.)—July 11

Our Love to Admire

Our Love to Admire, Interpol (Capitol). Responses to the New York post-punk revivalists' major label debut vary widely, but—whether they like the album or not—critics seem to have expected more. Spin complains that "for every song that cautiously introduces a new element, two more adhere steadfastly to the band's dread-pop model." And an extremely sour PopMatters review calls the disc "a safe, slick, and shamelessly mediocre retread." But the Onion's A.V. Club doesn't have a problem with more of the same: "Our Love to Admire delivers exactly what's promised, which for fans will be exactly enough. Interpol: A Brand Name You Can Trust?" Some hear an entirely different album. Entertainment Weekly raves: "The outcome is akin to an artistic explosion. Instead of falling back on the repetitive thrumming and jangling of their previous recordings, they've crowded Our Love to Admire with unexpected rhythmic feints … and Arcade Fire-like orchestrations … Chances are they're about to gain an even higher set of expectations." (Buy Our Love to Admire.)—July 11

Harry Potter. Click image to expand.
David Thewlis (left) and Daniel Radcliffe in Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.). The fifth film in the boy-wizard franchise divides critics, not all of whom appreciate the movie's darker, more psychological turn. In a positive review for the New York Times, A.O. Scott explains: Order of the Phoenix"begins like a horror movie … and proceeds as a tense and twisty political thriller, with clandestine meetings, bureaucratic skullduggery and intimations of conspiracy hanging in the air."New York's David Edelstein loves it. "This is not a family movie," he exults. "[F]or all its portentousness, this is the best Harry Potter picture yet." But the New York Post's Lou Lumenick is bored and disappointed: "Consider this the cinematic equivalent of the seventh-inning stretch for the long-running series," he writes, complaining that the film "might be more accurately titled 'Harry Potter and the Psychiatrist's Couch.' " Most reviews single out Imelda Staunton in the role of Dolores Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. In the Boston Globe, Ty Burr writes: "She's every sadistic, morally superior teacher you've ever hated, and Staunton puts the movie in her purse and struts off with it." (Buy tickets to Order of the Phoenix.)—July 10

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Zeitgeist, Smashing Pumpkins (Reprise). Billy Corgan has gotten his band back together, and critics are happy to hear its signature sound again—even as many are disappointed with the album overall. The Village Voice praises it as the band's "hardest-rocking record ever," enthusing that "when alt-rock radio is saturated with sly emo bands long on songcraft but short on sincerity, it's Corgan's unembarrassed anguish that feels unique." Pitchfork concedes that the "replication of that old SP sound is impressive, despite the lack of half the original lineup," but it concludes that the reformed Pumpkins are a "cardboard cutout of the real thing—not the empty ATM-reunion it could have been, but still a ghost of the old band." Reviewers aren't wild about Zeitgeist's political inflection, either, which seems to be more angst than agenda. "The album is surprisingly effective in musical terms," the New York Times writes. "The problem … is what he's saying." (Buy Zeitgeist)—July 10

Good Charlotte. Click image to expand.
Good Charlotte's Joel Madden performs at Live Earth

Live Earth. The press can't decide whether to count the 24-hour, seven-continent concert series as a success or a failure. The effort to raise environmental awareness assembled an unbeatable lineup that included both Madonna and the Police, and supposedly drew 2 billion viewers, but several of the venues had empty seats and, at times, listless fans. The Hollywood Reporter compares the show at Giants Stadium in New Jersey to event organizer Al Gore: "[H]ighly efficient and with its heart in the right place, it was also just a little bit dull."* And the Washington Post punnily complains about the London show's "glacial pacing," writing: "It's an inconvenient truth, but mixing rock with recycling is awkward." Another thread of criticism: The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley takes Live Earth to task for delivering a watered-down environmental message, fretting that the event was "colored by the very complacency it vowed to combat." The British tabloid News of the World joined the voices crying hypocrisy and singled out Madonna as a "climate change catastrophe" after tallying up her carbon footprint. But the Boston Globe's Joan Anderman scolds: "[S]hame on the naysayers. … I saw a drunk middle-aged man toss his beer bottle in a recycling bin for the first time. Multiply that by 2 billion. That's a measurable outcome." Bonus for haters: You will love Mark Hemingway's Live Earth diary for the National Review. Slate partner MSN reports setting a new record with 10 million user requests to stream video from Live Earth. Click here to watch the concerts.— July 9

* Correction, July 10, 2007: In the Live Earth item, a quote from the Hollywood Reporter was mistakenly attributed to the Associated Press. (Return to the corrected item.)