Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 13 1997 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

Franklin Foer is a Slate contributing editor and the author of World Without Mind.


Private Parts (Paramount Pictures). Shock jock Howard Stern successfully transforms himself into a likable American Everyman. A New Yorker profile compares him to Lenny Bruce. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern says the film, though packaged as "psychosexist autobiography," is actually "romantic fiction." The New York Times' Janet Maslin credits director Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie) with making Stern "into the biggest, dorkiest Brady imaginable." Slate's David Edelstein calls it "the shrewdest piece of spin doctoring since Triumph of the Will." (The Private Parts site includes assorted Howard Stern games, stills, and clips.)

Jungle 2 Jungle (Buena Vista Pictures). Considering the drubbing given the original--a 1994 French comedy titled Little Indian, Big City--reception of the Disney remake seems almost positive. Reviewers call Tim Allen (Home Improvement) affable. The new screenplay also adds "farcical plot and sight gags to provide hilarity" to the story of the relationship between a commodity trader and the 13-year-old son he finds in the Amazon, according to the Los Angeles Times. Dissenters call the plot ridiculous and the gags tiresome. (Disney plugs the movie at its site.)


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (St. James Theatre, New York City). Whoopi Goldberg replaces Nathan Lane in Stephen Sondheim's musical comedy, and critics like her just fine. "She's a time-traveling Manhattan Yankee in Plautus's forum, using her distinctive street smarts to find her way, both as a character and as a performer" (Ben Brantley, the New York Times). Goldberg's self-mocking approach is said to redeem the production from an otherwise overwrought book.



The Kiss: A Memoir, by Kathryn Harrison (Random House). Reviewers dismiss this memoir about a novelist's incestuous affair with her father as a product of talk-show culture. "Who controls the narrative? Well, Oprah" (Mim Udovitch, New York). The main gripes: that The Kiss represents an act of self-plagiarism, since Harrison's first novel recounts the same story; that her prose is by turns flat and overheated, "chockablock with romance-novel clichés" (Jonathan Yardley, the Washington Post); and that her need to confess is self-indulgent. "The Kiss is about a woman who can't get over herself," says the Wall Street Journal's Cynthia Crossen.

Giovanni's Gift, by Bradford Morrow (Viking). New York recently featured this literary murder mystery as a case study in "breakthrough" marketing--its publisher, Viking, hoped to position it as a middlebrow hit, like Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. Reviewers aren't cooperating. "If Robert James Waller had taken an Oxford degree or Danielle Steel had read classics at the Sorbonne, this is the sort of book they might write," says Walter Kirn in the New York TimesBook Review. (Click here to read an excerpt from the book.)



"Exiles and Émigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler" (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, through May 11). This exhibit, bankrolled by Steven Spielberg and Sharon Stone, is judged to be of greater historical than artistic merit. It illustrates the influence of the émigrés on postwar American art and exposes American reluctance to rescue the artists from Nazi persecution. Despite the inclusion of canvases by Salvador Dali, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, and Piet Mondrian, the art is said to be unexceptional, since only Beckmann and Mondrian did their best work in exile.


The Practice (ABC, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST). The Practice is deemed the ER of law. The Washington Post's Tom Shales says the show, about an unglamorous firm whose lawyers take on lowlifes as clients and work in shabby offices, skillfully interweaves several plots into a single episode. Critics predict stardom for Dylan McDermott, who plays the firm's chief partner. (ABC's site offers you clips, and the show's official site lets you tour the firm.)



Defying the critical consensus, TheNew Yorker's Anthony Lane pans Donnie Brasco: Director Mike Newell "doesn't see anything funny in wise guys; I have an awful feeling he may even think of them as slightly wise."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns:

Movie--Donnie Brasco;


Movie--Smilla's Sense of Snow;

Music--David Helfgott World Tour;

Television--Crisis Center;



Television--Just Shoot Me;

Book--Crazy Rhythms: Richard Nixon and All That Jazz, by Leonard Garment;

Books--First Novel Roundup;

Theater--The Last Night of Ballyhoo.

Movie--The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition;

Movie--Lost Highway;


Television--Schindler's List;

Television--Miss Evers' Boys;

Book--Monster: Living Off the Big Screen, by John Gregory Dunne;

Book--American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by Joseph J. Ellis;

Book--Whittaker Chambers: A Biography, by Sam Tanenhaus;


Television--Thomas Jefferson;


Movie--Absolute Power;

Movie--Blood and Wine;

Book--Gladstone: A Biography, by Roy Jenkins;

Book--Asylum, by Patrick McGrath;

Book--Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, by Jasper Becker;

Art--"Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being."

CD--Pat Boone in a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, by Pat Boone;

Movie--Dante's Peak;

Movie--When We Were Kings;

Movie--Prisoner of the Mountains;

Book--What Falls Away: A Memoir, by Mia Farrow;

Book--Before the Dawn: An Autobiography, by Gerry Adams;

Book--A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, by David Foster Wallace;

Television--The Chris Rock Show.

--Compiled by Franklin Foer and the editors of Slate.