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



Titanic (20th Century Fox). James Cameron's budget-busting epic, expected to be a Waterworld-style flop, winds up getting mostly good reviews. Critics praise Cameron for evoking vintage Hollywood romances rather than schlocky disaster movies. "Titanic floods you with elemental passion in a way that invites comparison with ... D.W. Griffith," says Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman. Critics especially like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the star-crossed young lovers. Dissenters gripe about hackneyed dialogue, stock characters, and too much melodrama. (David Edelstein reviews the film in Slate. And clips are available here.)

Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


Deconstructing Harry (Fine Line Features). Woody Allen's 28th feature--about a misogynistic novelist who disguises his own life in his stories--is deemed his darkest. Some critics gush over it, ranking it alongside his '70s classics. They laud his intermingling of fiction and reality, his fresh one-liners, and the all-star ensemble cast (which includes Robin Williams, Demi Moore, and Kirstie Alley). Others find the humor too vicious to be funny and accuse Allen of justifying his own misdeeds. "Woody Allen has wound up making a fetish of himself, and it's beginning to be embarrassing," says New York's David Denby. (See David Edelstein's review in Slate and the movie's official site.)

Scream 2 (Dimension Films). A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven's sequel to his self-parodic horror movie is said to be almost as amusing (and scary) as the original. "[T]hink of a Friday the 13th as written by Eugene Ionesco and Luigi Pirandello" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Critics enjoy Craven's self-knowing winks (a film within the film spoofs the original Scream). Some find the self-consciousness over the top. "[W]hat once was a fun house of twisting corridors is now as endlessly reflective as a hall of mirrors" (Tom Gliatto, People). (Click here for the official site.)



Ally McBeal (Fox; Mondays; 9 p.m. EST/PST). After premiering to mixed reviews, this show about a neurotic Harvard-educated lawyer gains a cult following. Giving it a second look, critics attribute the show's appeal to its unconventional plots and insights into contemporary young women. "Irresistible television, whether you experience it as a sexual-differences safari or as a blueprint for your own life" (Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly). Others attack it as retrograde: a "male producer's wet dream of ... [the] postfeminist career woman, ... beaten down, and not so secretly hungry for a good man to fill the aching void of her life," says Tom Carson of the Village Voice.



"Gianni Versace" (Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, New York City). The Met's retrospective of the campy designer's clothing stirs up debate. Some praise the museum for its uncharacteristic timeliness and for recognizing that Versace "was one of the fashion titans of this century" (Julia Szabo, Newsday). Others say the Met unwittingly reveals the mediocrity of his designs, which got noticed only because celebrities wore them. In the Wall Street Journal, Francine Prose accuses the curators of inflating the designer's import with implausible claims that he was influenced by Yeats and Kandinsky. (The exhibit is plugged here.)



Museum of Modern Art (New York City); renovation by Yoshio Taniguchi. The unveiling of plans for an annex to MoMA caps a season of architectural extravaganzas. Critics applaud Taniguchi's design plan to double MoMA's exhibition space by building on top of the 1939 original. "Its lucid integrity should go far toward raising the standards of architecture in New York City," says the New York Times' Herbert Muschamp. Taniguchi, acclaimed for his sleek Tokyo buildings, plans to use unassuming materials--glass, aluminum, and black slate--which critics say won't distract from nearby masterpieces by Cesar Pelli and Philip Johnson.


Hogarth: A Life and a World, by Jenny Uglow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A literary critic's biography of the 18th-century satirical English painter wins praise for "bringing [her] subject and his milieu alive" (Bruce Cook, the Washington Post Book World). The critics accept Uglow's revisionist claim that Hogarth's famous moralizing was accompanied by a prurient fixation on sex. (In one painting, women watch a man masturbate in front of a mirror.) Critics also like the book's gossip about Hogarth's friends Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding.



Newspaper critics weigh in against Amistad. Their biggest complaint: It's too much of a Spielbergian spectacle. "[T]oo much of Amistad feels as if it's been lifted from the lore and language of movies rather than life," says the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern.

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns



Movie--Good Will Hunting;

Television--Breast Men (HBO);

Theater--The Diary of Anne Frank;


Book--A Certain Justice, by P.D. James.

Architecture--J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles);

Theater--The Old Neighborhood, by David Mamet;


Movie--Welcome to Sarajevo;

Television--Public Housing (PBS);

Book--Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age, by Esther Dyson;

Photography--"Weegee's World: Life, Death, and the Human Drama" (International Center of Photography Midtown).

Movie--Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil;

Movie--John Grisham's The Rainmaker;

Movie--Alien Resurrection;

Book--Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, by Dinesh D'Souza;


Music--StandingStone, by Paul McCartney.

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).

--Franklin Foer