Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 16 1997 3:30 AM

Movies

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Seven Years in Tibet (TriStar Pictures). A general dismissal of this docudrama by Swiss director Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose) about the Dalai Lama's friendship with an Austrian mountaineer, played by Brad Pitt. A "preachy history lesson," says Leah Rozen of People. Other pans dwell on the film's sentimentalization of Tibet and its skirting of its protagonist's Nazism. Pitt's performance and his efforts at an Austrian accent are deemed "painful at moments" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Only the "beautifully filmed" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe) mountain vistas are said to make the movie worth watching. (For more on the veracity of Annaud's take, see Jared Hohlt's "Life and Art" in Slate. Click here for the official site.)

Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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

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Boogie Nights (New Line Cinema). Raves for 26-year-old director Paul Thomas Anderson's morality tale about the rise and fall of the '70s porn industry. A damning "indictment of the excesses" of the era, says Newsday's Jack Mathews. Praise goes to the film's period costumes; the humorous script; and performances by Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, and Mark Wahlberg (formerly known as Marky Mark). Critics are especially pleased that, for a sex film, it "stints on sex" (Richard Corliss, Time). Dissenting, New York's David Denby wishes it had more insights into the porn industry: It "doesn't really satisfy our curiosity about this ... fascinating but wan way of life." (See Sarah Kerr's review in Slate and the Boogie Nights site.)

Fashion

Versace, Spring/Summer '98 Collections (Milan, Italy). The fashion house's first new collection since the murder of its founder, Gianni Versace, is praised for remaining true to his high-camp vision of style. "It was as if he had created these clothes himself," says the Daily News' Orla Healy. Credit goes to sister Donatella, who took over Versace. It was amazing "she could produce anything at all ... with so much pressure and so much pain" (Amy Spindler, the New York Times). Widespread doubts about the house's financial future are said to have been assuaged.

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Product

Internet Explorer 4.0 (Microsoft Corp.). Most critics say Microsoft's browser upgrade gives it the upper hand in its war with Netscape, "whose position ... resembles [that of] the Confederate army after Gettysburg" (Hiawatha Bray, the Boston Globe). Renovations include a new e-mail system and modifications to Windows 95 that make the operating system more like a Web site. Other critics predict Microsoft's new bells and whistles will make no difference to the average user, who will consider the competing browsers "more alike than different" (Bruce Schwartz, USA Today). Still others accuse Microsoft of predatory business practices, including ripping off the programming language Java from its competitor Sun. (Microsoft lets you download its browser. So does Netscape.)

Award

Nobel Prize for Literature, Dario Fo. Critics applaud the selection of the absurdist Italian playwright, even while calling him the "most obscure Nobel winner" in years (David Streitfeld, the Washington Post). Fo's work, especially Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970), is celebrated for combining trenchant left-wing satire with slapstick humor "reminiscent of vintage Marx Brothers" (Rick Lyman, the New York Times). Conservative critics echo the Vatican, which condemned the choice of the anti-clericalist and ex-Communist as an act that "has surpassed all imagination." In the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Schwartz deems Fo's plays "unwatchable for anybody but those wanting to hear ... a recitation of the ... clichés of the left."

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Book

How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker (Norton). In a 660-page tome, the MIT psycholinguist popularizes a controversial theory of evolutionary psychology: that the brain is like a computer program that has been shaped by natural selection. Critics find the book entertaining, praising digressions on gambling, laughing, and love, as well as Pinker's pop-culture references. "[W]itty popular science that you enjoy ... for the writing as well as for the science," says Mark Ridley in the New York Times Book Review. But some also use the occasion to take evolutionary psychology to task: "[I]t wants to explain too much, too easily" (Jim Holt, the Wall Street Journal).

Updates

Pile-ons: In a New Republic appreciation of his late friend J. Anthony Lukas, Alan Brinkley says Big Trouble is "a story told with such wit, energy, and grace that it becomes a riotous, sprawling historical entertainment." ... David Foster Wallace bashes Updike's Toward the End of Time in the New York Observer: "[S]o mind-bendingly clunky and self-indulgent that it's hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape." ... Raves mount for Don DeLillo's Underworld. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Luc Sante defends DeLillo against the perennial charge that his novels are schematic: "Large thematic strokes may define his architecture, but within lies continual surprise at the fluidity and resilience of the human condition."

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Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Movie--U-Turn;

Movie--Washington Square;

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Movie--Soul Food;

Architecture--Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain);

Book--Toward the End of Time, by John Updike;

Death--Roy Lichtenstein.

Movie--The Edge;

Movie--The Peacemaker;

Book--Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America, by J. Anthony Lukas;

Book--Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut;

Music--Time Out of Mind, by Bob Dylan, and Bridges to Babylon, by the Rolling Stones;

Television--ER: "Ambush" (NBC);

Art--"Sensations: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection" (Royal Academy of Art, London).

Book--The Royals, by Kitty Kelley;

Book--Underworld, by Don DeLillo;

Book--Great Apes, by Will Self;

Art--"Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective" (Guggenheim Museums and Ace Gallery, New York);

Movie--A Thousand Acres;

Movie--The Ice Storm;

Television--Veronica's Closet (NBC).

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.

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