Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 16 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


My Giant (Columbia Pictures). Critics wonder why Billy Crystal's recent movies aren't as funny as his Oscar-night performances. This time they say he is outperformed by co-star Gheorghe Muresan, a 7-foot-7-inch basketball player who can hardly speak English. They say Crystal tries too hard to be likable even though his character is a slimy Hollywood agent who exploits Muresan. Others blame the story, co-written by Crystal, for its facile morality lessons. "Comedy and pathos keep getting in each other's way," says the Boston Globe's Jay Carr. (Clips are available here.)

City of Angels (Warner Bros.). Lukewarm reviews for a remake of German director Wim Wenders' art film Wings of Desire (1987). "As literate and understated as one could expect" from Hollywood, says the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan. Pluses: beautiful panoramas of Los Angeles and great chemistry between stars Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. Minuses: the film's New Age spirituality, its sentimental ending, and Cage's lack of acting range. He speaks, says the New York Times' Stephen Holden, in "a hushed, gee-whiz semi-whisper that's meant to convey profundity but ... sounds like the shallow come-on of a cult leader." (Click here for the official site.)

The Big One (Miramax). Another documentary in which left-wing provocateur Michael Moore (Roger & Me) hounds CEOs. Most critics love his pointed satire, especially such antics as offering Nike's chairman a free ticket to Indonesia so he can visit his company's sweatshops there. Moore's shtick, says Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "shows more American enterprise than anything it's attacking." Others find Moore self-aggrandizing. This film is "about the upsizing of Michael Moore," who is guilty of "oily smugness and sublime narcissism" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post).



Brave New World (NBC; Sunday, April 19, 9 p.m. ET/PT). Applause for the made-for-TV version of Aldous Huxley's 1932 dystopian novel. Reviewers like its fidelity to the book and Leonard Nimoy's turn as an apparatchik. Most express amazement at Huxley's uncanny foresight. "Certain features of Huxley's imagined universe--set six centuries into the future--would in fact become realities within a few decades" (Dorothy Rabinowitz, the Wall Street Journal). Dissenting, New York's John Leonard says the show gratuitously injects a happy ending and melodrama: "Huxley has been networked." (NBC plugs its show here.)



Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973, by Robert Dallek (Oxford University Press). The second of two installments in the presidential scholar's biography of the 36th president is deemed "sound and judicious," and a corrective to Robert Caro's polemical anti-Johnson tomes (Sean Wilentz, the New York Times Book Review). Critics seize on the lurid details, from LBJ's exposing himself to reporters to his behind-the-scenes machinations during the 1968 presidential campaign. The book's prodigious research is taken to validate the view of Johnson's presidency as a Shakespearean tragedy in which his megalomaniacal commitment to the Vietnam War ruined his ambitious liberal domestic agenda.

Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960, by William Boyd (21 Publishing). Critics delight in "one of the great literary hoaxes of the century" (David Lister, the Independent), in which a best-selling British novelist tries to pass off his "biography" of a nonexistent painter as authentic. At an A-list Soho book party, Boyd's co-conspirator David Bowie read a passage to a credulous audience. English critics say the crowd's gullibility proves the New York art establishment's "utter obliviousness to the ridiculous" (the Guardian). Stateside, Newsweek's Peter Plagens insists that "hardly anybody was duped."


Quarantine, by Jim Crace (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The celebrated British writer (Arcadia), who has been short listed for Britain's Booker Prize, wins praise as an anti-Norman Mailer for his brash novel about Jesus' life. In Crace's version, a rebellious, bratty Jesus dies of starvation at the end of his 40-day sojourn in the wilderness. Unlike Mailer's "autobiography" of Christ, The Gospel According to the Son, Quarantine is lauded for its historical accuracy, lyrical prose, and risqué plot.


Wait Until Dark (Brooks Atkinson Theatre). Critics agree that PulpFiction director Quentin Tarantino, debuting as a Broadway actor opposite Marisa Tomei, "should be humiliated" by his performance (Vincent Canby, the New York Times). His faults are said to range from the small (he can't render accents) to the large (he exhibits the "charisma of a week-old head of lettuce," says the New York Daily News' Fintan O'Toole). The play itself, a revival of a 1966 thriller, fares no better: "a tediously contrived wind-up toy that yells 'Boo!' just before it winds down" (Ben Brantley, the New York Times). Still, the show, having sold out its initial run, is being extended.

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Movie--Lost in Space;

Movie--The Butcher Boy;

Movie--The Spanish Prisoner;


Music--Left of the Middle, by Natalie Imbruglia;

Television--Push (ABC);

Television--Frontline: From Jesus to Christ--The First Christians (PBS);

Book--An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears;

Book--Cavedweller, by Dorothy Allison.


Movie--The Newton Boys;

Television--From the Earth to the Moon (HBO);

Television--Teletubbies (PBS);

Theater--The Sound of Music;

Book--The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, by Jane Smiley;

Book--Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, by E.O. Wilson;

Fashion--Fall Lines.

Event--70th Academy Awards;

Television--Sitcom Roundup;

Movie--Primary Colors;

Movie--Wild Things;

Movie--Taste of Cherry;



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--The Children, by David Halberstam.

--Franklin Foer