Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 27 1997 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Warner Bros.). Critics say that Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the best-selling travelogue set in Savannah fails to capture the book's quirky charm. The film, about a gay antique dealer's murder trial, is called "listless, disjointed and disconnected" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Problems: endless digressions and a "simply unfilmable" book (Mike Clark, USA Today). Praise goes to actors John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, and Alison Eastwood--Clint's daughter, for whom critics predict stardom. (See Sarah Kerr's review in Slate and the official site.)

John Grisham's The Rainmaker (Paramount Pictures). Francis Ford Coppola's legal thriller is judged the best Grisham film to date, as well as a modest comeback for the once-great director. Reviewers especially like Matt Damon, who plays an idealist lawyer taking on a venal insurance company, and also praise co-stars Danny DeVito and Claire Danes. Dissenters say the movie retains Grisham's shallow moralizing and is unworthy of Coppola's talents. "Any run-of-the-mill episode of Law & Order would be more subtle, more sophisticated, and more compelling," says Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. (Stills and clips are available here.)

Alien Resurrection (20th Century Fox). The fourth installment of Sigourney Weaver's battle with space aliens prompts some critics to call for the 18-year-old series to be retired. "The regular pattern of suspense has worn thin," says The New Yorker's Anthony Lane. This film's conceit--Weaver is resurrected by scientists and gives birth to an alien--is labeled especially ludicrous. European art-house director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen) disappoints critics by not replicating the gothic ambience of his other films. A few critics still applaud Weaver's "fierce determination and ironic detachment" (Leah Rozen, People). (Click here for the official site and here for Slate's review.)



Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, by Dinesh D'Souza (The Free Press). The right-wing polemicist's biography is accused of idolizing the Gipper and lacking "intellectual honesty" (Claude Marx, the Washington Post Book World). In the New York Times Book Review, Richard Berke says the book retells hackneyed anecdotes and is not "particularly revealing about what drove him." Others take D'Souza to task for his far-fetched theory that Reagan's "gaffes" were calculated. Conservative critics use the occasion to lionize Reagan some more. (D'Souza debates Reagan's legacy with E.J. Dionne in Slate.)



Ivanov, by Anton Chekhov (Vivian Beaumont Theatre, New York City). Raves for Kevin Kline's charismatic performance as the angst-ridden, adulterous protagonist of Chekhov's first play. "[H]ere even the most lumpish spectator must recognize greatness," says New York's John Simon. British playwright David Hare wins praise for adapting Chekhov into colloquial language, though the melodrama of the original is said to remain. The New Yorker's John Lahr says American audiences simply can't understand Chekhovian ennui.



Standing Stone, by Paul McCartney (EMI). The ex-Beatle's symphony gets a Carnegie Hall debut and tops Billboard's classical chart, but critics dismiss it as embarrassingly amateurish. Time's Terry Teachout says the 75-minute work's "themes are nondescript, its harmonies blandly predictable, [and] its structure maddeningly repetitious." Most point out that McCartney can't read musical notation and was aided by professional composers. Defenders argue that the piece brings a wider audience to classical music, proving it "isn't something to be feared" (Barrymore Laurence Scherer, the Wall Street Journal).


In The New Yorker, Gore Vidal defends Seymour Hersh's Kennedy-bashing book: "The fact that [Hersh has] found more muck in this particular Augean stable than most people want to acknowledge is hardly his fault." But Garry Wills says in the New York Review of Books that "[i]n his mad zeal to destroy Camelot ... [Hersh has] disassembled and obliterated his own career and reputation."... Enthusiasm for Disney's Broadway production of The Lion King dwindles. The New York Observer's John Heilpern says it's "too long, too weighty" for a "somewhat preachy story that was always slender."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Movie--The Jackal;


Movie--The Sweet Hereafter;


Theater--The Lion King;

Book--Another City, Not My Own, by Dominick Dunne;

Art--"Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection, Vienna" (Museum of Modern Art).

Movie--Starship Troopers;

Movie--The Wings of the Dove;

Movie--Mad City;


Book--The Dark Side of Camelot, by Seymour M. Hersh;

Book--Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, by James H. Jones;

Book--Joy of Cooking: The All-Purpose Cookbook;

Art--"The Warhol Look/Glamour Fashion Style" (Whitney Museum).

Music--Spiceworld, by the Spice Girls;

Museum--P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center;

Movie--Red Corner;

Book--Violin, by Anne Rice;

Book--My Brother, by Jamaica Kincaid;

Opera--Xerxes, New York City Opera.


Movie--A Life Less Ordinary;

Theater--Triumph of Love;

Book--Speaking Truth to Power, by Anita F. Hill;

Television--Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (ABC);

Television--Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (PBS);

Music--The Velvet Rope, by Janet Jackson;

Dance--Merce Cunningham: Forward & Reverse (Brooklyn Academy of Music).

--Franklin Foer