Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 29 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


Godzilla (TriStar). Critics say they'll take the marketing campaign ("Size Does Matter") over the $130 million remake of the 1954 classic, from Independence Day creators Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. The movie is "so slapdash it makes Independence Day look like Henry James," says the New York Times' Stephen Holden. Nostalgia reigns for the campy charm of the Japanese original. Devlin and Emmerich's Godzilla is accused of being annoyingly Spielbergian and lacking personality as well as wits: "Any forefather (and, given his reproductive capacities, foremother) of a new species that chooses to travel halfway around the globe to lay his eggs in the middle of Manhattan doesn't seem built to survive, evolutionarily speaking" (David Edelstein, Slate). The film's failure (it's doing relatively poorly at the box office) may also be due to overexposure to disaster movies. We have become "programmed to expect these artificial thrills" (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker). (Clips are available here.)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal). Brazil director Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's junkie roman à clef is declared "a pointless mess" (Leah Rozen, People). Besides the lack of a plot, critics say, there's a senselessly spinning camera meant to depict drug trips in scenes reminiscent of Andy Warhol's very worst movies. Johnny Depp wins the only praise offered with his impersonation of the gonzo journalist. (Click here for the official site.)

Cannes Film FestivalRoundup. Perennial gripes about the annual glitz-fest: It showcases mediocrity. Hollywood uses the occasion to push blockbusters rather than quality films. "It's become a carnival midway of commercial attractions" (Jack Mathews, the Los Angeles Times). Critics profess surprise that the festival's top honors go to the controversial Greek director Theo Angelopoulos for his Eternity and a Day, the story of a dying poet. (Three years ago, Angelopoulos bad-mouthed Cannes when his film Ulysses' Gaze didn't win.) Other films to emerge from the festival are Safe director Todd Haynes' Velvet Gold Mine, a tribute to glam rock, and the Italian Life Is Beautiful, a comedy about the Holocaust.



Freedomland, by Richard Price (Broadway Books). Price's ripped-from-the-headlines novels (Clockers, The Wanderers) win comparisons to Zola. This fictionalization of the Susan Smith case--a white woman claims that a black man kidnapped her child--"will be read in the future as much for its social history as its compelling story" (Tom De Haven, Entertainment Weekly). Price's virtues are said to include his insights into urban decay and race, as well as his cinematic dialogue, acquired in his days as a screenwriter.

Remembering Mr. Shawn's "New Yorker": The Invisible Art of Editing, by Ved Mehta (Overlook Press); Here But Not Here: A Love Story, by Lillian Ross (Random House). Hagiographic memoirs about the legendary New Yorker editor from an adoring writer (Mehta) and Shawn's mistress of 40 years (Ross). Most mock Mehta for his overwrought prose and depictions of Shawn's impeccable editing. In the Los Angeles Times, ex-New Yorker writer Jeremy Bernstein accuses Mehta of glossing over Shawn's inadequacies as a manager and his fatal failure to groom a successor. Ross wins some applause for her dishy revelations, such as Shawn's fondness for racetracks and sex, but also criticism for her ill-wrought prose and overheated tone. Many scold Ross for publishing her memoir while Shawn's 92-year-old widow is still alive. Conspiracy theory of the moment: "Did Tina Brown ... who is often accused of vulgarizing Shawn's great magazine, urge Ross to tell all?" (Laura Shapiro, Newsweek). (Click here for Jim Holt's review in Slate.)



The Larry Sanders Show (HBO; May 31, 10 p.m. ET/PT). After hyping then panning the Seinfeld finale, critics now lament the end of TheLarry Sanders Show. "No series has ever made meanness more satisfying, more funny," says Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker. Encomiums for the sitcom--which depicts the goings-on behind the scenes of a TV talk show--praise star and creator Garry Shandling's deadpan humor, the show's skewering of show biz, and its blurring of life and art with celebrity cameos (guests on the final episode include Jerry Seinfeld, Warren Beatty, and Jim Carrey). Critics dwell on the finale's unhappy backdrop--Shandling has a $100 million suit against his former manager, who allegedly swiped Sanders writers for other shows. (HBO plugs the show here.)


Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Death--Frank Sinatra;

Television--Seinfeld finale;



Movie--The Horse Whisperer;

Book--The Everlasting Story of Nory, by Nicholson Baker;

Book--Cities of the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy;


Book--Identity, by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher.

Movie--Deep Impact;


Music--Into the Sun, by Sean Lennon;

Book--Titan: The Life and Times of John D. Rockefeller, by Ron Chernow;

Book--The Time of Our Time, by Norman Mailer;

Book--A Widow for One Year, by John Irving.

Movie--He Got Game;

Movie--Les Misérables;

Movie--Summer Movie Roundup;

Television--Newsmagazine Roundup;

Book--Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, by Peter Biskind;

Book--The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels;

Theater--The Judas Kiss.

Movie--Two Girls and a Guy;


Book--DamascusGate, by Robert Stone;

Book--Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, by Barbara Goldsmith (Knopf); Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, by Mary Gabriel (Algonquin).

Television--Merlin (NBC);

Art--"Alexander Calder: 1898-1976";

Opera--Kirov Opera.

--Franklin Foer