Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 28 1997 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


G.I. Jane (Hollywood Pictures). After panning Demi Moore's performances in The Scarlet Letter and Striptease as stolid and humorless, most critics say that this movie revives her career. Cast as an indomitable woman who endures hellish training with an all-male Navy squadron, Moore "becomes perversely spectacular" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times) and transcends the movie's "banal premises and predictable conclusion" (Richard Schickel, Time). But some critics find the fascination of director Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise) with Moore's suffering hopelessly sadistic. And others say she is as humorless as ever. (See Sarah Kerr's review in Slate and the G.I. Jane site.)

Mimic (Dimension Films). Reviewers are divided over whether this unusually dark horror film--starring Mira Sorvino as a scientist who hatches killer cockroaches--represents B-movie brilliance or garden-variety trash. Some praise director Guillermo Del Toro for manipulating Gothic conventions and sprinkling the film with Catholic imagery and allusions to classic films. He manages, says the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, to "bring a sense of style to the genre's oldest tricks." Others say that his efforts to shock outweigh his attempts to build suspense. "[N]othing more than a standard-issue big-bug item," says Variety's Todd McCarthy. (Click here for the Mimic site.)


Already Dead: A California Gothic, by Denis Johnson (HarperCollins). Praise, for the most part, for Denis Johnson's crime novel about a Nietzsche-quoting vagabond who agrees to help a New Age marijuana farmer kill his wife. It's "a sort of Stephen King novel for highbrows" (David Gates, the New York Times Book Review) that combines "existential bleakness" (David Ulin, Newsday) and "breezy silliness" (Bill Kent, the Washington Post Book World). The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani dissents, calling Already Dead "simultaneously pretentious, sentimental, bubble-headed and gratuitously violent."


The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, by Robert Kanigel (Viking). This biography of the original apostle of "scientific management" and industrial efficiency is dismissed as fairly conventional, but it does spark a debate over Taylor's legacy. Left-leaning critics such as historian Jackson Lears, writing in the New Republic, say that the widespread adoption of Taylor's theories amounted to "a horror story" in which cold-blooded management stripped workers of their last shreds of autonomy. Conservatives call Taylor's vision benign. "It certainly came in handy when Hitler was rampant," writes George Will in the New York Times Book Review.


The Dance, by Fleetwood Mac (Reprise). The '70s supergroup reunites for a concert album, ending 10 years of feuding. Critics' doubts about whether the middle-aged rockers have any staying power are overcome; they praise Fleetwood Mac's new songs, their '70s sound notwithstanding. "For these expert purveyors of Me-Generation romantic angst, the thrill is clearly not gone," says the Los Angeles Times' Elysa Gardner. Critics comb the new songs for details about the group's squabbles: Fleetwood Mac airs "every piece of dirty laundry they had" (Jim Farber, Entertainment Weekly). (Audio and video clips are available here.)




Good News (UPN; Mondays, 9 p.m. EDT/PDT). Critics say UPN's new series about a novice African-American preacher may be the network's first half-decent show. It "has heart and charm and not just the usual gag reflex," says the Washington Post's Tom Shales. The rest of the new UPN lineup--debuting a month before other networks' fall programs--consists mostly of sitcoms that are generally condemned for mindlessness and tastelessness. Especially reviled is Hitz, starring trash-talking comedian Andrew Dice Clay, which suffers from too many penis jokes and a "gratingly loud laugh track" (Caryn James, the New York Times). (UPN plugs its shows.)


Plaudits follow pans for the revival of the musical On the Town. Time's Richard Corliss says, "It's like a vivid old New Yorker cartoon, animated by Tex Avery. ... It works terrifically," and the New York Observer's John Heilpern says it "has us ... falling in love with the city all over again."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Movie--Cop Land;

Movie--The Full Monty;

Music--Be Here Now, Oasis;



Theater--On the Town;

Television--George Wallace (TNT);

Books--A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, and Misfit: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley, by Jonathan Yardley;

Book--Apaches, by Lorenzo Carcaterra.

Movie--Conspiracy Theory;

Movie--Love Serenade;

Television--Vibe and TheKeenenIvoryWayansShow;

Event/Television--Garth Brooks in Central Park/Garth Brooks Live (HBO);

Art--"Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia: Millennium of Glory";

Book--Simenon: A Biography, by Pierre Assouline, translated by Jon Rothschild;

Book--Dispatches From the Freud Wars: Psychoanalysis and Its Passions, by John Forrester.

Movie--Career Girls;

Movie--In the Company of Men;


Book--Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb, by Bernard Lefkowitz;

Book--Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America, by Elliott Abrams;

Death--William S. Burroughs;


Movie--Air Force One;

Movie--Mrs. Brown;

Movie--Star Maps;

Architecture--National Airport;

Book--Martha Stewart, Just Desserts: The Unauthorized Biography, by Jerry Oppenheimer;

Book--A Book of Memories, by Peter Nadas, translated by Ivan Sanders with Imre Goldstein.

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