Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 25 1997 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


The Royals, by Kitty Kelley (Warner Books). The celebrity biographer's Windsor-bashing book cashes in on the hoopla surrounding Diana's death. Indignant critics accuse Kelley of purveying unsubstantiated rumors, "the sorts of secrets only supermarket tabloids covet" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). Others yawn at Kelley's gossip, including speculation that, as a newlywed, Queen Elizabeth was sex-crazed. "[T]hose who hoped that the book would be like a royal mistress--flirty, flighty, zesty, yeasty--will be disappointed" (Julian Barnes, The New Yorker). Unwittingly, some say, Kelley's dirt actually humanizes the starchy Windsors.

Underworld, by Don DeLillo (Scribner). DeLillo's epic of Cold War America--which juxtaposes Russia's atomic bomb with Bobby Thompson's Shot Heard Round the World, a Lenny Bruce concert, and a lost Sergei Eisenstein film--is pronounced a "masterwork" (Tom LeClair, the Atlantic Monthly). DeLillo wins praise for his witty prose and inventive historical fiction, which includes such postwar celebrities as Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover. "There's pleasure on every page of this pitch-perfect evocation of a sour, anxious half century" (Malcolm Jones Jr., Newsweek). Slate's Walter Kirn is virtually alone in finding the book indulgent and vapid. (Click here for an excerpt from Underworld.)

Great Apes, by Will Self (Grove/Atlantic). Reviews of the latest farce from the British satirist both wince and smirk at its unrelenting scatological humor and unflattering sendups of authors Robert Hughes and Oliver Sacks. The book's conceit--an artist awakens in a world of monkeys that mirrors modern "Swinging London"--is alternately judged a "slender idea for satire" (Kakutani) and a hilarious metaphor for "the modern urban savanna" (Gary Krist, the New York Times Book Review). (Click here for Sarah Kerr's review in Slate and here for an excerpt from the book.)



"Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective" (Guggenheim Museums and Ace Gallery, New York). Spanning 400 works and filling three venues, the exhibition of the collage artist's oeuvre--possibly "the largest retrospective of a living artist ever" (Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times)--draws respectful, if qualified, reviews. Critics excuse failed experiments (such as paintings on aluminum) and recent assembly-line productions (the execution of his ideas by a dozen assistants) because of the importance of the artist's conceptual innovations. Many grumble that the curators weren't more discriminating. New York's Mark Stevens imagines a young Rauschenberg mocking the exhibition's "pumped-up size." (The Guggenheim plugs the show.)


A Thousand Acres (Touchstone Pictures). Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which relocates King Lear on an Iowa farm, has been adapted into "an ungainly, undigested assembly of 'women's issues' " (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Critics call its screenplay soap-operatic: The Lear figure (Jason Robards) molests his daughters (Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh), who babble in lengthy pop-psych disquisitions. Blame also goes to director Jocelyn Moorhouse (How to Make an American Quilt), who quit the film midproduction. Lange and Pfeiffer win compliments for strong performances, "emotionally in sync" (Mike Clark, USA Today). (Stills and clips are available here.)


The Ice Storm (Fox Searchlight Pictures). Ang Lee's drama about suburban sexual promiscuities is lauded as an authentic depiction of 1970s emotional drift. Lee "captures ... this garish and confused moment in history, with surgical precision" (David Ansen, Newsweek). Performances by Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, and Sigourney Weaver are said to be so solid that they compensate for the unlikability of their characters. Lee wins praise for his "gently ironic touch" in adapting a novel by Rick Moody, and for being "less interested in assigning blame for all the misery than in simply documenting it" (Daphne Merkin, The New Yorker). (The movie is plugged here. And check out this week's Slate "Diary" by The Ice Storm screenwriter, James Schamus.)



Veronica's Closet (NBC; Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.). Finally, a sitcom aired between Seinfeld and ER that is said to live up to the demands of its time slot. Praise goes to Kirstie Alley, who plays an aging ex-model now in the lingerie business: "Less frenetic than Lucy, more mature than Mary" (Richard Corliss, Time). The Washington Post's Tom Shales dissents, calling Alley unwatchably neurotic and "in a virtually perpetual feverish tizzy." (NBC promotes the show here.)

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Movie--L.A. Confidential;

Movie--In & Out;

Television--Nothing Sacred (ABC);

Television--Brooklyn South (CBS);


Television--Michael Hayes (CBS);

Music--Candle in the Wind 1997, by Elton John;

Museum--Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

Television--Sister Wendy's Story of Painting (PBS);

Television--Ally McBeal (Fox);

Movie--She's So Lovely;


Book--The Farewell Symphony, by Edmund White;

Book--America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom.

Movie--G.I. Jane;


Book--Already Dead: A California Gothic, by Denis Johnson;

Book--The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, by Robert Kanigel;

Music--The Dance, by Fleetwood Mac;

Television--Good News (UPN).

Movie--Cop Land;

Movie--The Full Monty;

Music--Be Here Now, by 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.

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