Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: A fantastic site for film fans, the funny "Slackonomics," and Costanza's spellbinding funkscapes.

Published July 12, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

"Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction" by Lisa Chamberlain
I hated the term "Generation X" about five minutes after the first time I heard it, and my hatred only grew as it was repeated over and over throughout the '90s, often used to corral together a disparate gaggle of humans with such fragile threads as zines, grunge, post-feminism and dot-com culture. Now that I'm old and demographers don't care about me anymore, though, I'm fascinated by Lisa Chamberlain's funny, thoughtful and surprisingly thorough examination of the forces that shaped Gen Xers' unique perspectives on the world. (Disclosure: I'm mentioned in the book.) From the Baffler to "Slacker" to Beck and beyond, Chamberlain sorts through the odd stew of influences we've been soaking in since back in the '70s when we rode "bikes over homemade three-foot-ramps without helmets." Weaving together pop culture, statistics, observations and anecdotes, "Slackonomics" is the sort of resonant, witty, highly readable cultural commentary that we were way too self-involved to read (or write) 15 years ago, back when the world still gave a crap about us. -- Heather Havrilesky

Moving Image Source
Right now on the site Moving Image Source, you can read a terrific article by Jessica Winter on the "double lives and branded selves of AMC's 'Mad Men,'" critic Michael Atkinson's essay on actor William Holden (subject of a current Lincoln Center retrospective), David Schwartz on Chantal Akerman, Jonathan Rosenbaum on the neglected Marcel L'Herbier, Annette Insdorf on the 30th anniversary of Philip Kaufman's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," and immeasurably much more. It isn't really a blog -- unless everything published in reverse chronological order on the Internet is a blog -- more like the wide-ranging, deep-thinking film magazine America has long lacked, published online. Launched only last month by the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, N.Y., Moving Image Source also includes an international calendar of film and TV-related events and a guide to online research resources. Edited by critic and former Village Voice editor Dennis Lim, it has almost overnight become a must-read for serious film and television buffs. -- Andrew O'Hehir

Jason Bateman in "Hancock"
I found myself liking the scruffy anti-superhero movie "Hancock" more than most critics, partly because I don't really like superheroes but mostly because I love Jason Bateman. I especially appreciate the way he makes his character -- an idealistic P.R. man (!) and the only one who believes in Will Smith's superbum -- a decent altruistic guy who's neither prim nor a patsy. He's the Jack Lemmon of our time. -- Laura Miller

Supergrass' "Diamond Hoo Ha"
I confess, there's a part of me that wanted the young, boisterous Supergrass of songs like the 1995 "Caught by the Fuzz" (in which the 15-year-old narrator is picked up by the police for coke possession and is, in a most mortifying turn of events, collected at the police station by his mum) to be kids forever. But since that option is open to none of us, I'll settle for the more grown-up, thoughtful Supergrass of "Diamond Hoo Ha." Then again, the adjective "grown-up" is all relative: From the glam-rock rave-up of "Rebel in You" to the rollicking paranoia of "Whiskey & Green Tea" (its laundry list of traumatic hallucinogenic experiences includes "being chased by William Burroughs"), "Diamond Hoo Ha," the band's sixth album, is still a more rambunctious record than most sensible adults of today would make. For Supergrass, maturity is overrated -- thank goodness. -- Stephanie Zacharek

Turner Classic Movies' salute to Rosalind Russell
Turner Classic Movies is often dismissed as the station for assisted living, but on almost any given night, you can tune in and find a thoroughly modern woman who makes today's actresses look passive and Victorian. One such -- Rosalind Russell -- is TCM's star of the month (movies run every Tuesday in July), and if you haven't made her acquaintance, do. A smart, storklike dame who accentuated her height with towering hats, Russell had a wised-up smile and a near-masculine swagger that was seen to best advantage in 1940's "His Girl Friday," maybe the finest farce ever committed to American film. Even lesser Russell is worth watching: the scarily repressed spinster of "Picnic," the educated woman drawn helplessly to Robert Montgomery's killer in "Night Must Fall." Russell's most legendary role, "Auntie Mame," is a bit stagebound for my tastes, but see how neatly she skirts camp in "Gypsy," where her underrated Mama Rose is revealed, finally, as a monster of narcissism -- and all the more touching for it. -- Louis Bayard

Costanza's "Sonic Diary"
If the spellbinding funkscapes of Costanza (born in Rome as Costanza Francavilla) have a familiar ring, more than a few may have entered your consciousness subliminally during a scene from "CSI" or "The L Word." Far toothier than her ambient TV jams, though, her debut, "Sonic Diary," comes on sexier and with greater range than Portishead's "Third," loungier and more groove-oriented than the pop-conscious Santogold, yet somehow angrier than either. The closest analogue is Martina Topley-Bird -- not surprisingly, as the impish Bristol Sound pioneer Tricky championed both women. True to her mentor's ethos, Costanza's breathy vocals and slow-cooked hooks seduce and disturb in equal measure, and her alt-rock library rivals his, or even M.I.A.'s -- she vamps and revamps covers of Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down" and Fugazi's "Promises," and pays tribute to her tragically short-lived countryman Rino Gaetano by remaking "I Tuoi Occhi Pieni Di Sale." On "Just Another Alien" she groans a list of intrusive questions an immigrant might hear from the INS, and on "50 Bullets in Queens" the singer, who has made Brooklyn her home base, addresses the cops involved in the Sean Bell shooting with vicious sarcasm. "You're a hero/ You're so brave," she taunts. For all the laid-back atmospherics, Costanza isn't afraid to take risks -- even with her immigration status. -- James Hannaham


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