The critical buzz on 3:10 to Yuma and Shoot 'Em Up.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 7 2007 1:01 PM

The Western Lives On

The critical buzz on 3:10 to Yuma and Shoot 'Em Up.

3:10 to Yuma
Christian Bale in 3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate). Critics like this Western, in part because it feels familiar—it remakes the 1957 classic of the same name and is steeped in the conventions of the genre, though it's more expressive and violent than the original. In The New Yorker, David Denby writes, "I found myself settling into its stern logic and its physical splendor with a grateful sigh." At the same time, the new film is too elaborate for some: The Village Voice's J. Hoberman sighs, "What's lost in [director James] Mangold's rough-hewn exercise in barroom-brawl baroque is the original one-on-one." As the New York Times explains in a review of a new special-edition DVD, the original film was "a psychological drama, as intense as a Bergman marital duel, but played out in a forceful exchange of looks and gestures." In any case, reviewers think performances are fine—especially Russell Crowe as the brilliant psychopath at the center of the movie and Peter Fonda as a grizzled bounty hunter. (Buy tickets to 3:10 to Yuma. Buy the original 1957 version on DVD.)— Sept. 7

Shoot 'Em Up
Paul Giamatti and Clive Owen in Shoot 'Em Up

Shoot 'Em Up (New Line). Make no mistake: This is "a bloody, trashy, volcanically depraved action movie" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly) that stone-facedly satirizes its genre by sheer—literal—overkill. If you like that sort of thing (and Gleiberman does), then you'll join the critics giving it hearty, if slightly apologetic, endorsements. The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert explains his thumbs-up: "I may disapprove of a movie for going too far, and yet have a sneaky regard for a movie that goes much, much farther than merely too far." But Shoot 'Em Up is not a Tarantino picture, and absent a cunning script or dazzling filmmaking, even stars Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti can do little to soften up detractors. The other side of the aisle hates the movie—and nobody more than the New York Times' A.O. Scott, who calls it "a worthless piece of garbage." (Buy tickets to Shoot 'Em Up.)— Sept. 7

Luciano Pavarotti
Luciano Pavarotti
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RIP Luciano Pavarotti. The tenor of his generation, an opera star who became a pop sensation, has died at age 71, after a battle with cancer. As the Boston Globe's Richard Dyer writes, "His singing gave more pleasure to more people for a longer period of time than any other classical singer in history." Some criticized his popularizing, big-money turn, and everyone notes that his standards declined and he became unreliable late in his career. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Pavarotti ultimately allowed success to turn him into an Elvis-like caricature of himself." But his ebullient personality and tremendous, natural voice kept him a favorite to the end. The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini sums up what made him so special: "[N]o one ever mistook the voice of Luciano Pavarotti. There was the warm, enveloping sound: a classic Italian tenor voice, yes, but touched with a bit of husky baritonal darkness, which made Mr. Pavarotti's flights into his gleaming upper range seem all the more miraculous. And it wasn't just the sound that was so recognizable. In Mr. Pavarotti's artistry, language and voice were one." (Listen to an audio gallery of Pavarotti's singing at washingtonpost.com.)—Sept. 6

Tim Gunn's Guide to Style
Co-host Veronica Webb (left), a make-over candidate, and Tim Gunn (right)

Tim Gunn's Guide to Style (Bravo, premieres Thursday at 10 p.m.). Critics like the Project Runway professor's new makeover show, though everyone notes how close it hews to a standard formula. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley puts it bluntly: "Basically it's a knock-off of TLC's What Not to Wear." New York's Newsday thinks the host adds enough to distinguish it, though: "So why is this makeover show different from all others? Mostly it's because of Gunn." He brings sympathy and true expertise to his advice, as well as cutting an impressive figure. But many complain about the program's shameless product placements, and that the fashion solutions offered have less to do with style than a thick wallet. The Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss sighs after one of the big reveals: "It's a wonderful development for her. The rest of us, whose wardrobes aren't bankrolled by Bravo, might be rifling through our closets, hoping Tim Gunn won't have a chance to peek inside." Sept. 6

New York Fashion Week (Sept. 5-12). Everyone who counts in this world descends on Manhattan's Bryant Park starting today to frown at designers' spring 2008 collections. And despite the famous parties, things get going pretty early in the morning. Click here for the first report from industry paper Women's Wear Daily. What to expect? Reuters predicts that "[f]ashion cleans up next spring, with lean, polished looks prevailing over the revealing styles favored by the Paris Hilton and Britney Spears set." Meanwhile, Forbes explains the ins and outs of fashion secrecy. The New York Daily News and New York Post have special Fashion Week sections. ReadNew York magazine's Fashion Week blog. Also: The New York Times reports on the fast fashion companies that will copy this week's hottest designs and have knockoffs on shelves before the originals hit the boutiques. (Visit the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Web site. Read Josh Patner's two- part Fashion Week FAQ in Slate.)—Sept. 5

Hey Venus!

Hey Venus!, Super Furry Animals (Rough Trade). The bizaro Welsh pop band has been circling true stardom in Britain for an immensely productive decade; this album probably won't close that (small) distance, but the homeland press and American indie rags think it's pretty great all the same. London's Guardian writes of the 36-minute disc, the band's eighth: "The only shortcoming is how quickly it's all over. Roll on number nine." Everyone comments on the band's sometimes-madcap musical creativity, dialed back a tad here. As PopMatters' Zeth Lundy puts it, "[T]he greatest thing about the band continues to be its refraction of any musical archetype (for Hey Venus!, that includes girl groups, doo-wop, funk, and silk-sheeted soul) through a prism of oddity." And Tiny Mix Tapes focuses on the band's feel-good energy, saying somewhat ruefully of this Labor Day release, " Hey Venus! is summer incarnate." (Buy Hey Venus! Visit Super Furry Animals' MySpace.)—Sept. 5

Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Review headlines ("The Things They Carried," "A Bright, Shining Lie") for this new Vietnam epic call up the book's literary forebears. But as Michiko Kakutani notes in her New York Times review, "What's amazing is that Mr. Johnson somehow manages to take these derivative elements and turn them into something highly original—and potent." The Times is bully for the book: Jim Lewis leads the campaign to label it a triumph ("Denis Johnson is a true American artist, and 'Tree of Smoke' is a tremendous book") in the cover essay for the weekend Book Review. Elsewhere, critics praise it highly—and some think it's a masterpiece. The San Diego Union-Tribune says it "should finally establish [Johnson] among the most profound and truly humane American novelists extant"; and Cleveland's Plain Dealer argues that the book "better[s] everything written about Vietnam save the most sublime passages of Tim O'Brien and Michael Herr." Look for a dissent in the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, Esquire never wants to read another book about the '60s again. (Buy Tree of Smoke. Read the first chapter at NYTimes.com.)—Sept. 4

Blake Wilson is a Slate contributor and former Slate editor.