Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 31 1997 3:30 AM


Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


Air Force One (Columbia Pictures). Most critics find little resemblance between German director Wolfgang Petersen's "hokey" action flick and his near-classic Das Boot. Harrison Ford's turn as a U.S. president who goes mano a mano with Russian hijackers aboard his official plane is deemed a "14-year-old boy's fantasy of being president" (David Denby, New York). Reflecting a general weariness with the summer's Hollywood fare, The New Yorker's Terrence Rafferty writes, "Let's hope they don't get any sillier than this." But Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman praises Petersen's ability to "seduce you into greater and greater flights of preposterousness." (Click here for Air Force One's patriotic site, and here for Sarah Kerr's review of the movie in Slate.)

Mrs. Brown (Miramax). This Masterpiece Theatre-funded docudrama about Queen Victoria's unusually close "friendship" with her Scottish manservant is said to reflect both the virtues and flaws of the PBS TV series: strong performances from actors little known in the United States (Antony Sher, Judi Dench, and Billy Connolly), but also a cloying pretentiousness and "decorousness" (Janet Maslin, New York Times). The movie "often feels pat and resolutely performed for the camera, scene by scene," says the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern. (Video and stills are available here.)

Star Maps (Fox Searchlight). Lukewarm reviews for director Miguel Arteta's debut film, about a teen-age Latino prostitute who aspires to make it in Hollywood, and his father, who pimps for him. Most critics agree the film is heavy on melodrama, and the father's character is implausibly overbearing. "[T]he metaphor ... of a father selling his son's body is too outré to have much resonance" (Rafferty, The New Yorker). Arteta, however, receives praise for his "realistic" style and "flair for caustic storytelling" (Maslin, New York Times). "Star Maps signals the arrival of a potentially major new talent," says Newsday's Jack Mathews. (For Slate's take, see Kerr's review.)



National Airport (Washington, D.C.). High marks for the new $450 million wing of Washington's "downtown" airport. Critics cite the "spacious" and "user-friendly" design by the noted New Haven architect Cesar Pelli. The new terminal is said to imitate Washington's Neo-Classical style, with rows of glass domes and corridors of columns. The Washington Post's Benjamin Forgey says the building bucks recent trends in airport design that have "struggled to keep up with the increasing popularity of air travel" by casting aside "such amenities as beauty ... comfort and convenience." Objecting to the enthusiasm is the New York Times' Herbert Muschamp, who criticizes the presence of a Disney store and TGI Friday's restaurant in the "new Washington Mall," and sarcastically wonders, "why shouldn't an airport strive to be Macy's?"



Martha Stewart, Just Desserts: The Unauthorized Biography, by Jerry Oppenheimer (William Morrow & Co.). The backlash against domestic goddess Martha Stewart reaches it zenith with a new biography, currently No. 10 on the New York Times' Best Sellers list, which claims that Stewart is even more of a bitch than previously believed. (One example: she allegedly plagiarizes recipes.) Reviewers don't quarrel much with the biography's slant, though they almost all deride it as "mean-spirited." Maslin, however, instigates the backlash against the backlash, calling Stewart an "easy target," undeserving of such outraged fulminations: "Now it can be told: little Martha Stewart ate Gulden's mustard on white bread as an after-school snack."

A Book of Memories, by Peter Nadas, translated by Ivan Sanders with Imre Goldstein (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Newly translated into English, Hungarian writer Peter Nadas' 706-page novel, written in 1986, is virtually enshrined into the canon by American critics. Reviews of this tale of a bisexual Hungarian writer in 1970s East Berlin use such terms as "Proustian" (Eva Hoffman, New York Times Book Review) and "masterpiece" (Stanislaw Baranczak, the New Republic). Praise goes to the novel's lyrical prose, innovative (some say "difficult") structure--which includes a novel within the novel--and its arresting depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain. Baranczak's lavish review calls it "the book that you have been awaiting since you read Remembrance of Things Past, The Magic Mountain or The Man Without Qualities."



In the New York Review of Books, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott writes an effusion over his fellow Caribbean writer Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco. "What Ulysses did for Ireland it also did for literature in English, and Texaco, also a masterpiece, does the same for another island, Martinique, and for (here one swallows) literature in French." ... Panning Mason & Dixon, the New Republic's James Wood declares Thomas Pynchon's penchant for allegory tiresome and his alleged cleverness to be overwrought and heavy-handed. "[T]oo much, even in this benign book, seems willed, unfree, a hysteria that he forces onto his scenes because without it they would not really exist."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns



Movie--Shall We Dance?;

Book--Lawyerland: What Lawyers Talk About When They Talk About the Law, by Lawrence Joseph;

Book--Straight Man, by Richard Russo;



Theater--Amy's View.

Movie--Men in Black;

Book--Women With Men, by Richard Ford;

Book--American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, by Pauline Maier;

Book--Man Without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism's Greatest Spymaster, by Markus Wolf with Anne McElvoy;

Art--"Keith Haring" (Whitney Museum of American Art);

Television--Oz (HBO);

Music--Lilith Fair.

Movie--Batman & Robin;


Movie--La Promesse;


Book--The Puttermesser Papers, by Cynthia Ozick;

Book--How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel, by Alain de Botton;

Book--Bright Angel Time, by Martha McPhee.


Movie--Speed 2;

Movie--My Best Friend's Wedding;

Architecture--Shakespeare's Globe Theatre;

Book--News of a Kidnapping, by Gabriel García Márquez, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman;

Book--The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, translated from the French by Jeremy Leggatt;

Book--The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy;

Book--The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger;

Art--"Venice Biennale."

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