Cop Land (Miramax). Forty extra pounds notwithstanding, Sylvester Stallone fails to ascend to the ranks of his co-stars, the great character actors Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Liotta. He "comes alive ... only [in the] climax, when he finally gets to pick up a gun," says Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman. The New York Times' Janet Maslin defies the critical consensus and extols the new Sly: "Watching Mr. Stallone quietly hold his ground with Robert De Niro, ... it is not immediately apparent who was lauded as his generation's greatest brooding film star." (Miramax plugs the movie here.)
The Full Monty (Fox Searchlight Pictures). This "bittersweet" British "working-class comedy" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times) about out-of-work, out-of-shape steelworkers turned male strippers earns praise for its politics and humor. Critics find the film's conceit--"that joblessness is a humiliation well beyond nakedness"--to be "witty" and "trenchant" (the New York Times' Maslin). The film also wins points from politically sympathetic reviewers who bemoan "how few American films have dealt even as remotely as well with ... downsizing, ... a heinous redistribution of wealth, [and] the exaltation of capital" (John Anderson, Newsday). (Click here for the full Monty.)
Be Here Now, Oasis (Epic). Long compared to the Beatles, the British bad boys of pop "unabashedly lay claim to the pantheon of rock greats" (Elysa Gardner, the Los Angeles Times). Other critics disagree. "The sheer vitality and pure inner joy contained within the music disguises how dated it really is," says the Daily Telegraph's Neil McCormick. Others dismiss the Beatles comparison as hype. "[N]ot a particularly smart or involving album. ... If we want to hear the Beatles, we can listen to their Anthology records," says Time's Christopher John Farley. (Link to the dozens of Oasis pages.)
1776 (Roundabout Theatre, New York City). Most critics agree that the revived 1969 hit musical about the making of the Declaration of Independence has endured the decades. "A surprisingly (if oddly) skilled seducer," says the New York Times' Ben Brantley. "[I]ts laurels weren't just nods to jingoistic values in a time of social upheaval." Praise goes to its book, written by a high-school history teacher: It invests the Continental Congress' debate with a "thrill [that] is ... moral and intellectual" (Donald Lyons, the Wall Street Journal). Others take the occasion to recall, resentfully, how the "reactionary" show beat out Hair for a Tony; Newsday's Linda Winer declares it "Broadway's equivalent of an extremely competent after-school special."
On the Town (Delacorte Theatre, New York City). Another extravagant musical revival, it is said not to do justice to Leonard Bernstein's 1944 original about sailors on 24-hour leave in New York (which later became a Frank Sinatra-Gene Kelly movie). "A strained affair that ... leav[es] the heart unengaged" (Frank Scheck, the Hollywood Reporter). The litany of problems starts with basics like the acting and dancing: Its cast of unknowns "is jarringly unbalanced," and "as a dance show, it has two left feet" (Brantley).
George Wallace (TNT; Aug. 24 and 26; 8 p.m. EDT/PDT). Critics complain that John Frankenheimer's miniseries about the Alabama governor and presidential candidate plays fast and loose with history. (Most problematic: A fictitious manservant, supposed to be a sort of African-American Everyman, contemplates assassinating Wallace.) In the Weekly Standard, Wallace biographer Stephan Lesher says the film reduces the governor's appeal to simple racism--a contention "every bit as anti-intellectual and demagogic as Wallace's own ... bigotry." But Time's Joel Stein says that Gary Sinise's "nuanced" portrayal of Wallace redeems the series. (See the official site.)
A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley (Modern Library), and Misfit: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley, by Jonathan Yardley (Random House). Critics seize upon the re-issue of 1968's A Fan's Notes and upon this biography of its eccentric, dipsomaniac author to sing his praises. Christopher Caldwell in the Weekly Standard declares A Fan's Notes, Exley's only hit, a "masterpiece." The reviews of Yardley's book are less positive. A Washington Post book critic and Exley's literary executor, Yardley is said to use scant evidence--such as numerous late-night phone calls from Exley from 1975 to 1992--to draw conclusions about Exley's self-absorption and ambiguous sexuality. "Still, Yardley's book has value as a study of just how small and brief and enigmatic certain writers' lives can be once you've subtracted their work from the equation." (Slate's Walter Kirn).
Apaches, by Lorenzo Carcaterra (Ballantine Books). Like his previous book, Sleepers, which was adapted into a Robert De Niro movie, Carcaterra's latest novel is both an instant best seller and a critical flop. Apaches, about ex-cops battling a gang of drug traffickers who smuggle cocaine in the hollowed-out cadavers of kidnapped babies, is condemned for its "gruesome banality, ... assembly line formulas and ... plain tastelessness" (Richard Bernstein, the New York Times). Newsweek's Jeff Giles says Carcaterra is "one of the most intriguing writers around, with or without his books. Preferably without." (See the elaborate Apaches site.)
Recent "Summary Judgment" columns
Television--Vibe and TheKeenenIvoryWayansShow;
Event/Television--Garth Brooks in Central Park/Garth Brooks Live;
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--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;
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.
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;
--Compiled by Franklin Foer and the editors of Slate.