Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 26 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


70th Academy Awards (ABC). At nearly four hours, the Oscar ceremony was longer and more predictable than Titanic. Despite the movie's romp to a record-tying 11 awards, the broadcast is still judged "the most entertaining and painless Oscarfest in years" (Tom Shales, the Washington Post). Credit goes once again to host Billy Crystal for jokes about his own flagging career and l'affaire Lewinsky. On the downside, this year's outfits were deemed boring: less gothic and showing less cleavage than usual. And critics unanimously zinged Best Director-winner James Cameron for the arrogant "I'm the king of the world" (a line from Titanic) in his acceptance speech. (See David Edelstein's pre- and post-Oscar dispatches.)


Sitcom Roundup. Reviewers dismiss the midseason replacement sitcoms as derivative of Friends and not at all funny. "[E]ven the laugh tracks are wondering what they're laughing at," says Newsday's Marvin Kitman. Only Al Franken's Lateline is said to have any merit. The other shows--especially House Rules (NBC; Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT) and Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place (ABC; Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT)--are chided for their now formulaic depictions of twentysomething lifestyles, replete with tired pop culture references and "blather ... about relationships and commitment" (Shales).




Primary Colors (Universal Pictures). After weeks of hype and raves, Mike Nichols' political satire opens to mediocre reviews. Several newspaper critics--including the New York Times' Janet Maslin and the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern--say the film isn't nearly as entertaining as reality. Others gripe about the film's two and half hour length, its mishmash of a plot, and John Travolta's inability to do more than a "skillful nightclub impersonation" of the president (Edelstein, Slate). (Click here for the official site.)

Wild Things (Columbia Pictures). Unexpected praise for this lurid teen drama. Reviewers like the labyrinthine twists of the story, about two high-school students (Neve Campbell, Denise Richards) who accuse their high-school guidance counselor (Matt Dillon) of rape. But mostly critics admit to enjoying the "guilty pleasures, including banzai bikini footage" (Mike Clark, USA Today) and "babelicious lesbians" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). Others wonder how the movie got away with an R rating and find it lacking even "the saving spark of low art or high camp" (Richard Corliss, Time). (Click here for the official site.)

Taste of Cherry (Zeitgeist Films). Reviewers rhapsodize over Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's Cannes film festival winner about a man contemplating suicide. Kiarostami "comes as close to defining the sublime nature of living ... as a filmmaker is ever likely to do" (John Anderson, Newsday). They praise the director for his courage in addressing the subject of suicide, which the theocratic Iranian government generally considers taboo. The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert dissents, suggesting critics are swooning over this pretentious, sluggish "lifeless drone" for political reasons. (The official site, available here, has a history of Iranian cinema.)



Cabaret (Henry Miller Theater, New York City). Applause for 32-year-old British director Sam Mendes' reinterpretation of the musical about Weimar Germany, the second Kander-Ebb show to be revived recently (Chicago has been on Broadway since 1996). Critics say Mendes improves upon the 1972 film version of the musical, which starred Liza Minnelli, by rendering it dark and raunchy. They hail Natasha Richardson's unglamorous portrayal of Sally Bowles--an aging, seedy bisexual nightclub singer--as the "performance of the season" (Ben Brantley, the New York Times). Dissenting, the Washington Post's Lloyd Rose says Richardson "can't phrase a song."


Lohengrin (Metropolitan Opera, New York City). Audiences literally boo avant-garde director Robert Wilson for his minimalist staging of Richard Wagner's classic opera, and most critics agree with the verdict. Wilson uses a stage backdrop of nothing but stark blue and projects bands of white light across it, while his performers stand almost motionless. Reviewers find the set dull and the "frozen Kabuki poses ... sadistic" (Alex Ross, The New Yorker). A few critics take the audience's boos as evidence of New York opera-goers' conservatism. "Met audiences have shown little interest in any of the innovations that have transformed opera over the past half century" (Mark Swed, the Los Angeles Times).

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Movie--The Man in the Iron Mask;

Movie--Love and Death on Long Island;

Movie--Men With Guns;


Television--Lateline (NBC);

Television--SignificantOthers (ABC);

Pop--Pilgrim, by Eric Clapton;

Book--SpinCycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine, by Howard Kurtz;

Book--TheChildren, by David Halberstam.

Movie--The Big Lebowski;

Movie--Primary Colors hype;


Movie--U.S. Marshals;

Theater--The Beauty Queen of Leenane;

Book--One Nation, After All, by Alan Wolfe;

Book--A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson.

Movie--An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn;

Movie--Krippendorf's Tribe;


Music--Ray of Light, by Madonna;

Book--The Smithsonian Institution, by Gore Vidal;


Art--"Chuck Close" (Museum of Modern Art).

Television--The American Experience: Reagan (PBS);

Television--The Wedding (ABC);

Television--The Closer (CBS);


Book--Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks;

Art--"Fernand Léger" (Museum of Modern Art);


--Franklin Foer