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




Blade (New Line Cinema). This hip urban vampire tale is either admirably true to its Marvel Comics origins or boring and brooding, depending on who reviews it. Naysayers: "[S]trictly Batman revisited" (Dave Kehr, New York Daily News). Advocates: "[P]ure visceral imagery" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). The eponymous hero is a tortured half-vampire (Wesley Snipes) on a classic comic book mission to rid the world of his more murderous brethren. The film is filled with Hong Kong-style fighting, blood, and special effects and is said to radiate a grim beauty. But neither script nor plot measures up: "The noir atmosphere doesn't quite smother the dialogue's cheesy smell" (Gene Seymour, Los Angeles Times). (Visit the official site.)

Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Warner Bros.). Critics call Gregory (Selena) Nava's latest pop-star biopic of doo-wopster Frankie Lymon a sort of "comic Rashomon of rock-and-roll" (Lawrence Van Gelder, the New York Times). Lymon, who became a star at 13 and died of a drug overdose at 25, married three women without divorcing any of them; only after his death did the three find out about one another. Critics say the film never really explains Lymon's motives. Despite some nice performances from the wives (Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, and Lela Rochon), he remains "a cipher." (Check out Lymon's headstone.)

54 (Miramax Films). The second Studio 54/disco movie of the summer is pronounced "tacky, tiny and about as seductively nostalgic as those videotapes of your cousin's wedding" (Kehr, New York Daily News). The film's weaknesses: 1) a moralizing story line--"a cleaned-up version of The Rake's Progress" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe); 2) poor acting from leads Ryan Phillippe and Neve Campbell; 3) cramped sets that fail to convey Studio 54's extravagance and debauchery. The highlight of the film: Mike Myers' performance as creepy club owner Steve Rubell. Otherwise, "[d]ecadence has rarely looked so pathetic, lethargic and dispiriting" (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times). (Watch the trailer.)



The Farming of Bones, by Edwidge Danticat (Soho Press). At 29, Danticat has been named one of Granta's 20 best young novelists, had a short story collection (Krik? Krak!) nominated for the National Book Award, and had her first novel (Breath, Eyes, Memory) picked for Oprah's book club. Early reviews of Danticat's latest novel suggest that, miraculously, she doesn't disappoint. "It's a testament to her talent that the novel, while almost unbearably sad, is still a joy to read" (Sarah Van Boven, Newsweek). The "powerful, haunting" tale (Christopher John Farley, Time) recounts the life of a young Haitian woman, Amabelle Désir, who lives through a 1937 massacre of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. (Buy this book on Amazon.)



The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, by Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia). The former member of the Grammy-winning hip-hop trio the Fugees draws raves for her first solo album. Popular points of comparison: Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Marley. Three things Hill earns praise for: 1) eschewing the heavy production and packaging common in R&B and hip-hop; 2) writing and producing the album herself; 3) a high quotient of live instrumentation and improvisation. The album is "shockingly raw for mainstream pop, with the first-take immediacy of much great reggae" (Eric Weisbard, Spin). Rolling Stone and USA Today each give it four stars. The New York Times' Ann Powers calls it "music that touches the essence of soul." (Listen to a sample of the album.)



A Saving Private Ryan backlash begins. In the New York Review of Books, Louis Menand declares that "[t]here is nothing unconventional about this story. It is possibly the most tried and true dramatic plot known to man." The New York Times' Vincent Canby says Spielberg has "revived a type of patriotic war movie you might think went out of fashion" after the glut of Vietnam War-horror flicks of the '80s. ... In the New York Times Book Review, Daphne Merkin calls Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls "a throwback to a time before fiction turned graphic and interior and hot to the touch." Merkin also marvels at Goodman's "almost 19th-century ability to create a sense of linkage, of one existence impinging on the next."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Movie--Dance With Me;


Movie--Your Friends & Neighbors;

Movie--Unmade Beds;

Television--The Rat Pack (HBO);

Book--The First Eagle, by Tony Hillerman;


Book--Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, by Christopher Dickey;

Book--Kaaterskill Falls, by Allegra Goodman.

Movie--The Avengers;

Movie--Return to Paradise;

Movie--The Slums of Beverly Hills;

Music--Whitechocolatespaceegg, by Liz Phair;

Book--The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations, by Larry Tye;

Book--Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons, by Steven S. Gaines.

Movie--Snake Eyes;

Movie--Halloween: H20;

Movie--How Stella Got Her Groove Back;

Book--Rainbow Six, by Tom Clancy;

Television--Jerry Seinfeld: I'm Telling You for the Last Time--Live on Broadway (HBO);

Television--The Upright Citizens Brigade (Comedy Central).

Art--"The Art of the Motorcycle";

Television--Lolita (Showtime);

Television--Maximum Bob (ABC);

Movies--Ever After: A Cinderella Story;

Movies--The Negotiator;

Book--Burn Rate, by Michael Wolff;

Death--Jerome Robins.

--Eliza Truitt