Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 20 1997 3:30 AM


Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


The Jackal (Universal Pictures). This big-budget remake is deemed a bastardization of director Fred Zinnemann's 1973 political thriller, The Day of the Jackal. "At best generic, at worst nonsensical," says Newsweek's David Ansen. Main gripes: an implausible and uninspired premise--the FBI recruits an Irish Republican Army terrorist to hunt down an elusive professional assassin--and an excess of gratuitous explosions. Stars Richard Gere and Bruce Willis are said to have given lackluster performances. Nobody in the film "seems to believe in it one bit," says the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter. (Click here for the official site, and here for David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

Anastasia (20th Century Fox). Fox's cartoon musical about the czar's lost daughter is dismissed as a knockoff of Disney's cartoon musicals. Critics like the all-star cast of voices (Meg Ryan, John Cusack, and Christopher Lloyd) and the animation, which get "the Disney house style down cold" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). But they profess disappointment at the story, especially at the part where Rasputin causes the Russian Revolution by casting a magic spell. Prediction: Without the Disney name, the movie won't succeed financially. (Here's the official site.)

The Sweet Hereafter (Fine Line Pictures). High praise for art-house director Atom Egoyan's adaptation of Russell Banks' novel about a town that loses all its children in a school bus crash. Critics say the film, which won the Grand Prize at Cannes, avoids mawkishness despite its heart-wrenching subject matter. Critics especially like its intricate structure (it has four different narrators and is told in nonchronological fragments). It "carries the exhilaration of crystal-clear artistic vision," says the New York Times' Janet Maslin. Ian Holm's portrayal of a guilt-wracked yet greedy lawyer is said to be especially skillful. (Clips are available here.)



The Lion King (New Amsterdam Theater, New York City). After decrying the Disneyfication of Broadway for months, critics rave over the studio's Broadway adaptation of its cartoon movie. "Far more textured and original than the film," says The New Yorker's John Lahr. Special praise goes to avant-garde director Julie Taymor for the costumes, which integrate puppets and masks and are said to be stylish and innovative. Critics also like the way the story has been rewritten to add some psychological depth (it's now an Oedipal allegory). The score, by Elton John and Tim Rice, has been reworked using Zulu choral harmonies.



Another City, Not My Own, by Dominick Dunne (Crown). Vanity Fair's O.J.-trial correspondent writes his "lightly fictionalized memoir" about the case. Some critics applaud the book for detailing L.A. high society rather than rehashing the courtroom drama. Dunne's gift for melodrama and exaggeration, says The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, makes him the "perfect chronicler for the case." Others criticize Dunne's penchant for name dropping and gossip mongering, particularly his boasts of having given Nancy Reagan and Elizabeth Taylor regular O.J. briefings. All the reviewers express bewilderment at Dunne's decision to novelize the trial, since he ends up using real names for every character but himself.



"Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection, Vienna" (Museum of Modern Art, New York City). In a new retrospective, the Vienna modernist (1890-1918) wins critics' grudging respect. "Schiele is one of modernism's more exotic honorable mentions," says the New York Times' Holland Cotter. They say Schiele's appeal is less aesthetic than pornographic. His signature pictures--of adolescent girls exhibiting their genitalia--"contain most of this show's electricity" (John Updike, the New York Review of Books). Several critics observe that Schiele can only do nudes. (MoMA plugs the exhibit.)


In the New Republic, Jed Perl deflates the hype surrounding Robert Rauschenberg's Guggenheim retrospective. His work "is a parody of an artistic achievement. ... [I]t seems to not make the slightest difference that his raw materials are clichés, and that his handling of the medium--of any medium--is inert."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


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).

Movie--The Devil's Advocate;

Death--James Michener;

Book--Jackie Robinson: A Biography, by Arnold Rampersad;

Theater--Side Show;

Architecture--New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Newark, N.J.);

Fashion--Wearable Computers (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab);

Music--Psyché, by Cesar Franck (New York Philharmonic).

--Franklin Foer