Critics' Picks

A full-tilt, pulse-pounding Iraq-war movie; deep thoughts from Jack Handey; a site for old Suck fans and more.

By Salon Staff
May 3, 2008 2:30PM (UTC)
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Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha"
Yes, we all know what happens to Iraq-war movies in the marketplace of ideas. But forget about that for the moment, because Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha" -- a largely improvised fictional docudrama whose cast includes ex-Marines and Iraqi refugees -- is the closest thing this conflict has produced to a "Paths of Glory" or an "All Quiet on the Western Front." It's a full-tilt, pulse-pounding war movie that resists moralism or easy stereotypes, and depicts the November 2005 "Haditha massacre," in which a group of enraged Marines killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, as a prodigiously tragic example of war's universal tendency to dehumanize everyone it touches. (The movie opens this Friday at Film Forum in New York, with other engagements to follow.) -- Andrew O'Hehir

"What I'd Say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats" by Jack Handey
In his humor pieces for the New Yorker and his sketches for "Saturday Night Live," Jack Handey, the creator of "Deep Thoughts," a series of inane, pseudo-inspirational sayings, captures a particular, very American brand of hilariously oblivious idiocy. Why shell out 15 bucks for a compendium of fatuous remarks, when Internet comment boards offer an abundance of them for free? If you have to ask, you won't get it. Here are tips on how to leave a scarier skeleton so your bones won't wind up being used as musical instruments and a letter from one of the recently damned, who gets an internship as an assistant to "a demon who pulls people's teeth out," and then asks, "Is this what I came to Hell for, to hand different kinds of pliers to a demon?" -- Laura Miller


"Beauty and the Geek" on the CW
The only reality-TV show I've ever been able to stomach, "Beauty and the Geek" (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. EDT) matches nerdy guys with gorgeous girls, in the hopes that each group will bring out the best in the other. This, the fifth season of the show -- which is the brainchild of the weirdly gifted TV-whiz Ashton Kutcher -- is nearing its wrap-up, with only two episodes left, and the bitchiest beauty (Amber the Runway Model) and one of the sweetest geeks (Jim the Video Game Programmer) have already been eliminated. Jim was cut before he got a chance to take advantage of the makeover (in which the guys are given new clothes, haircuts and grooming tips), but the show's producers thought he had so much potential that they gave him one anyway, a few episodes back. Watch it here to see a geek transformed into a gosling. -- Stephanie Zacharek

Shy Child's "Noise Won't Stop"
The "keytar" and drum duo Shy Child make thunderous, whiny dance rock that confounds description. But their hyper wall of sound is surprisingly fashion-forward -- fan Stella McCartney had them play musical chairs with models at Fashion Rocks last year. Their new album, "Noise Won't Stop" (out Thursday), which is slightly poppier than their last, brings the Chemical Brothers to mind. However, Wesleyan pedigree be damned, these nerds bring technophobia along with their technology, and practically replicate the punk-flavored frustration and anxiety that make a kid want to leap around and make noise. (Apparently kids do a lot of that at the band's U.K. shows.) Mostly singer Pete Carafella and drum basher Nate Smith create a ruckus, a fusion of prog-rock and disco (with the occasional dance-hall rhythm), as if David Byrne or the guy from China Crisis were yelping as the beat worked the line between energetic boogieing and just plain freaking out. Carafella's neurotic lyrics amplify the panicky atmosphere: He's worried about small inconveniences and the world's problems in equal measure; dropping a cellphone flips him out as much as the impending apocalypse. Weirder, he's sure they're connected. -- James Hannaham

The List of the Day
The List of the Day may be my new favorite Web site, and I haven't had a new favorite Web site since I was a young and naive Suckster, slurping down iced mochas among the Prada-clad Wired nerds South of Market. In fact, the List of the Day reminds me of the gleeful nastiness of, minus the pretensions. All the lists, from Photobombers of the Day to the Best of Glamour Shots to Retro Workout Vids of the Day will make you laugh out loud to a workplace-disrupting extent, but the best of the bunch has to be this list of Great Olan Mills Photos, which offers some of the finest '70s-era Middle-American rubbernecking available anywhere. And as usual, the captions are sheer genius. (Don't stop until you get to the photo with the caption "Hiroshima, 1945. The last known photo of Kelli and Senor Loco.") -- Heather Havrilesky


Dianne Reeves' "When You Know"
Not even a prominent gig in George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" could make Dianne Reeves the crossover star her fans have long wanted her to be, but if anything can gain her a wider audience, it might be her latest release. In "When You Know," the jazz chanteuse inhabits a mellower pop groove as she ladles up a warm stew of romantic covers, including the Temptations' "Just My Imagination" and a song that, until Reeves got hold of it, I always hated: Minnie Riperton's "Loving You." Reeves' pipes are as clean and sensuous as ever, and when she needs to, she can bring the swing. The highlight here is a self-penned blues number, "Today Will Be a Good Day," inspired by Reeves' own mother but channeling the lusty ghost of Bessie Smith. (It sounds even better live: Check it out here.) – Louis Bayard


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