Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 29 1997 3:30 AM


Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


The Lost World (Universal Pictures). As invariably occurs upon the release of a new Spielberg blockbuster, critics complain about the lack of plot and the unconvincing characters; audiences shell out a record-setting amount of money on opening weekend (in this case, $92.7 million). "Essentially a digital version of your basic, primeval BOO! flick," says Jack Kroll in Newsweek. Yet even the skeptics love the dinosaurs. "The Lost World is the very essence of a thrill ride, shamelessly designed, ... [but] there's some passion in the action, a lilt to the chases, a fluid lyricism in the way the beasts move across hapless humans who cross their paths" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). (See David Edelstein's review in Slate and The Lost World site.)

Addicted to Love (Warner Bros.). The critical consensus on this romantic comedy: more sadism than laughs. Director Griffin Dunne and actors Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick meant to turn the darker sides of voyeurism and revenge into lighthearted fare; critics say they failed. "It gives us the impression that we're supposed to take drastic, irrational revenge as a larky laff riot," says the Los Angeles Times' Kevin Thomas. Pans also for the normally sunny Ryan, miscast here as a leather-clad bitch bent on punishing her ex: "The same way a Care Bear is a teeth-baring grizzly" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). (The Addicted to Love site has a plot summary as well as stills and clips.)

Brassed Off (Miramax). Mixed reviews for a British "working class comedy" about Yorkshire coal miners downsized by Thatcherism, and about their brass band. The movie's simple-minded Tory-baiting "wears its bleeding heart conspicuously on its sleeve," says Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "You might feel like one of Thatcher's miners--manipulated, misled and maneuvered into an emotional corner," says John Anderson in the Los Angeles Times. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, however, praises the movie's feel for the British working class, "forced to sustain their flagging souls by quickness of wit." (Click here for Brassed Off's site.)



Murder One (ABC; May 25, 26, and 29; 9 p.m. EDT/PDT). Producer Steven Bochco's legal drama, a critical darling but a popular flop, enjoys a three-part last hurrah before ABC delivers the kibosh. Critics say they are grateful for these final installments, which concern a vigilante who blows away 17 paroled convicts. "As improbable yet as irresistible as any beach book you may be hoarding" (USA Today). Encomiums for the show compare it to Law & Order and NYPD Blue, which "have made the '90s a golden era of TV crime dramas" (Howard Rosenberg, the Los Angeles Times).



King David (New Amsterdam Theater). Disney stages its first production in its refurbished 42nd Street theater. So far, the theater has got the better marks. The New York Times' Ben Brantley calls Disney's musical version of the biblical story, with a score by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid) and lyrics by Tim Rice (Evita), "a Goliath of a yawn." Linda Winer of Newsday deems the score forgettable, "an ambitious and derivative example of the it's-so-loud-and-humorless-it-must-be-art style." New York's John Simon suggests that King David "may well be the worst musical ever perpetrated. ... It's a new genre, a horrortorio." (See the "Summary Judgment" entry for the New Amsterdam.)



Flaming Pie, by Paul McCartney (Capitol). McCartney's album occasions re-evaluations of the most mainstream Beatle--turns out he's not the empty tunesmith he seemed in the '70s and '80s. "He is the keeper of the Beatles' flame," says the New York Times' Bob Spitz, "and has handled megastardom with level-headedness and acumen." The new album, which is rife with unabashed Fab Four nostalgia, draws warm praise. "The old bloke sounds more inspired and, well, less goofy than he has in years" (Elysa Gardner, the Los Angeles Times). However, a few critics call the songs more Wings than Beatles: "He has done some sucky stuff in his long and partially illustrious career, but it has to be said that, overall, McCartney has never sounded less necessary" (Andy Gill, the Independent). (See the Flaming Pie site.)


Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, by Jon Lee Anderson (Grove Press). The first major biography of the Cuban guerrilla--along with several forthcoming movies and his appearance on watch faces and album covers--is said to mark a reprise of Che Chic, with Che as a pop icon, devoid of political import. The biography itself, which uses unpublished diaries and untapped Cuban government archives, is praised for having done a "masterly job in evoking Che's complex character, in separating the man from the myth" (Peter Canby, the New York Times Book Review). The Weekly Standard's Stephen Schwartz calls it tainted for having received "official support" from the Castro regime and for abetting a Che revival.

Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce, by Sylvia Jukes Morris (Random House). A very friendly reception for the first volume of a biography of one of the best-connected journalist-playwright-congresswoman-ambassadors in history, the wife of Time founder Henry Luce. "Morris has written a model biography of a woman who, if born a man, could easily have been a President," says Luce's friend Gore Vidal in The New Yorker. Reviews dwell on the book's dishy detail, derived from Luce's diaries. Time deems the book "definitive" but too harsh: "Morris struggles for fairness but portrays Luce as a calculating, self-indulgent user whose fixed eye on the main chance rendered her oblivious to the concerns of others." (See Margaret Talbot's review in Slate. An excerpt is also available.)



New Chinese Galleries (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Critics rave about the Met's renovation of its Chinese art galleries, which have, as a result, doubled their space. The Met has finally given a "great art tradition ... the epic-scale New York home it deserves" (Holland Cotter, the New York Times). Enthusiasts praise the addition of 11 major works, including Riverbank, one of the world's earliest landscape paintings, known as the "Mona Lisa of Chinese art." The museum's collection, which ranges from the Tang Dynasty to the present, can now be called "the most comprehensive view of Chinese painting to be found outside China" (Mark Stevens, New York). (Click here for the Met's site.)


The Weekly Standard's Lisa Schiffren lambastes playwright Wendy Wasserstein: She "is credited with being the bard of her generation's women. One wonders whether she is conscious of the fact that, taken as a whole, her oeuvre can be read as a superb indictment of the feminist way of life. ... Wendy Wasserstein's uncommon women are uncommonly unhappy, their lives a mockery of all."


Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Book--Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia, by Peter Maas;

Book--The Actual: A Novella, by Saul Bellow;

Television--Roseanne (ABC);

Television--David Blaine: Street Magic (ABC);

Event--Cannes International Film Festival;

Movie--Night Falls on Manhattan;

Movie--Love! Valour! Compassion!;

Theater--The Wizard of Oz.

Architecture--New Amsterdam Theater;

Event--Cannes International Film Festival;

Movie--Father's Day;

Movie--The Fifth Element;

Movie--The Designated Mourner;

Television--The Odyssey (NBC);

Book--The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters From Prison and Other Writings, by Wei Jingsheng, translated and edited by Kristina M. Torgeson;

Book--Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work, by Arlie Russell Hochschild;



Book--Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon;

Book/Television--American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, by Robert Hughes, and American Visions (PBS);

Book--Echo House, by Ward Just;

Book--Reading in the Dark, by Seamus Deane;

Architecture--Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial;

Television--The Last Don (CBS);

Movie--Children of the Revolution;



Movie--Romy and Michele's High School Reunion;

Pop--Share My World, by Mary J. Blige;

Book--Locked in the Cabinet, by Robert Reich;

Book--Anything Your Little Heart Desires: An American Family Story, by Patricia Bosworth;

Book--Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media, by Elaine Showalter;


Theater--The Little Foxes;

Dance--"In Honor of the Divine Lou Harrison," the Mark Morris Dance Group.

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