Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 18 1997 3:30 AM



L.A. Confidential (Warner Bros.). Raves for the adaptation of James Ellroy's acclaimed policier about the investigation of a mass murder in the 1950s. "[T]he best film of its type since Chinatown," says Todd McCarthy in Variety. Critics praise the all-star cast (which includes Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger); the unpredictable plot twists; and the use of Los Angeles, made to evoke the city of classic film noir, as a backdrop. The big surprise is the discovery of talent in director Curtis Hanson, who was roundly drubbed for a previous film, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. "Nothing in Hanson's previous work ... suggested that he would come up with a film like L.A. Confidential" (Anthony Lane, TheNew Yorker). (Click here for stills and clips.)

Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


In & Out (Paramount). A sitcom-ish comedy about an Indiana high school teacher (Kevin Kline), the mystery of whose sexual orientation becomes the object of a media hunt. Critics say writer Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey) strains to make the humor accessible to Middle America: "Nearly every gag is pitched and underlined in the most obvious way," says Variety's McCarthy. Some say Kline's screwball performance rescues the film: "Kline triumphs over an incoherent idea" (David Denby, New York). (In & Out is plugged here.)


Nothing Sacred (ABC; Thursdays, 8 p.m. EDT/PDT). Critics coo about this new show featuring an inner-city priest who sends a parishioner to an abortion clinic and considers breaking his own celibacy vows. The subject of religious ambivalence is called daring, the treatment of it smart and sophisticated. "I can't imagine how [it] ever got on the prime-time schedule," says New York's John Leonard. Slate's Walter Kirn, however, dissents, condemning Nothing Sacred as self-righteous "phony Hollywood iconoclasm." (ABC promotes the show.)


Brooklyn South (CBS; Mondays, 10 p.m. EDT/PDT). What's most original about NYPD Blue producer Steven Bochco's newest cop show, critics say, is the level of gore. Nine minutes into the first episode, a sniper blows a chunk of brains out of a detective's head. While this latest ensemble show about an urban police precinct echoes Bochco's other work (mainly Hill Street Blues), it is called "self assured and polished" (Tom Shales, the Washington Post). And critics praise its social conscience, taking especial note of its unsparing depictions of police brutality. (CBS plugsBrooklyn South.)

Michael Hayes (CBS; Tuesdays, 9 p.m. EDT/PDT). One of four new law-and-crime dramas set in New York, this one--starring NYPD Blue's David Caruso--wins praise as "a smartly conceived genre piece" (Caryn James, the New York Times). Writer-producer Nicholas Pileggi (GoodFellas) gets credit for the show's verisimilitude. Caruso, as a dour, crusading prosecutor, is called, alternatively, "credible" and "likable" (Shales, the Washington Post), and humorless and "as virtuous as John Calvin" (Leonard, New York). (See CBS's preview.)



Candle in the Wind 1997, by Elton John (Rocket/A&M). Overplay of Elton John's funeral tribute to the late Princess Diana provokes a backlash. Newsweek's Karen Schoemer says it's clear that John "hastily reworked" his 1973 love letter to Marilyn Monroe. The new lyrics (by Bernie Taupin), she says, are "as facile and pretty as a souvenir thimble"; the apparently hot new genre of pop elegy, she adds, is tacky. But John also wins praise for refusing to profit from Di's death. "Even if the song continues to be inescapable, Mr. John refuses to compound the hype," says the New York Times' Jon Pareles.



Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (New York City). Overcoming skepticism about the need for yet another Holocaust memorial, reviewers express mainly admiration. The museum distinguishes itself, they say, by focusing on aspects of Jewish culture other than the Holocaust (Jews are shown as they might have liked to be remembered, rather than as victims). The critics also praise the museum's somewhat eclectic displays--the shtetl wedding dresses, the Woody Allen clips. The most poignant part is said to be video interviews with Holocaust survivors: "A faceless mass resolves eloquently into a single person" (Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times). The building itself--a gray granite hexagon in Battery Park--does not fare half as well: It "conveys none of the brilliant complexity displayed inside" (Herbert Muschamp, the New York Times).


In a lengthy New Republic review, sociologist Alan Wolfe mostly praises the Thernstroms' tome on race: Their "tough-minded book serves the cause of racial justice." Its "great strength is its insistence that some of our most contentious questions have answers. Its most conspicuous weakness ... is that it sometimes finds those answers too predictably."


Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

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.

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.

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