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




Enemy of the State (Buena Vista Pictures). Critics like this paranoid techno-thriller starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman. The plot (Smith is wrongfully targeted by rogue National Security Agency operatives) stretches credibility in places, but overall the film is said to be "enormously entertaining" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). Pluses: It's full of cool technology and big explosions, and there's so much creepy surveillance that it feels "like Kafka on steroids" (Peter Rainer, New York). (Visit the official site.)

The Rugrats Movie (Paramount Pictures). Mixed reviews on this spinoff of the animated Nickelodeon series featuring a pack of wisecracking toddlers. Some complain that the film doesn't do much to entertain parents and observe that "[i]n this yet-to-be-potty-trained universe, poop looms as large as explosions in action thrillers" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Other critics claim that the Rugrats kids are "the funniest bunch of crumb-snatchers to come down the pike since Buckwheat, Alfalfa, and the Our Gang gang" (O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). (Find out more about the Rugrats TV show.)

Waking Ned Devine (Fox Searchlight Pictures). This Irish import warms the cockles of critics' hearts. Featuring the talents of a largely over 70 cast, the film focuses on the residents of a small town as they try to cash in a neighbor's lottery ticket after his death. Critics' favorite scene: the aging David Kelly's nude motorcycle ride through the woods to beat the lottery official to the ticket-holder's house. Sweet and funny without being corny, the film "belongs to a small genre of crowd-pleasers [such as] The Full Monty and Brassed Off" (Jami Bernard, Daily News). (Visit the official site; Slate's David Edelstein is not charmed: "I see a future for elderly male actors willing to shed their clothes for laughs, but I don't see myself in the audience." Read the rest of his review here.)

A Bug's Life (Walt Disney Pictures). The second computer animated ant film of the season is said to be head and thorax above its predecessor, Antz. Aimed at a slightly younger audience, the film bristles with buggy life and packs in the "gee-whiz moments" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The critics' one gripe is that there's almost too much happening at once on-screen: It's "so dense with characters and illustrative detail that it nearly chokes on its own banquet" (Richard Corliss, Time). (Visit the Web site of Pixar, this film's animation studio.)



I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941, by Victor Klemperer (Random House). Critics marvel at this diary of a German Jew who obsessively detailed both the horrific deterioration of normal life as well as the kind acts of "good Germans." Critics call it "richer and more profoundly disturbing than Anne Frank's journals" (Jesse Birnbaum, Time). Peter Gay writes in the New York Times Book Review that "even the reader familiar with Holocaust material must be gripped by these pages" and that the book has a "concrete, vivid power that is, and I think will remain, unsurpassed." (Read more about this book in the publisher's online catalog.)

American Beach: A Saga of Race, Wealth, and Memory, by Russ Rymer (HarperCollins). Reviews of this book of three essays on the history and current state of black townships in Florida are positive, though each is dotted with a few quibbles. "Rymer has a journalist's gift for telling a story without violating the mystery at its center" (The New Yorker), but he also tends toward oversimplification of race relations and an overly nostalgic take on the days of Jim Crow. It is "here close to poetic, there baroque and overwritten, at once rich with insights and maddeningly reductive" (Tamar Jacoby, the Los Angeles Times). (Buy the book online.)




Winchell (HBO; click here for showtimes). Although Stanley Tucci turns in a good performance as the godfather of gossip, Walter Winchell, critics pan everything else in the made-for-TV film. Complaints: 1) The script leaves out crucial parts of Winchell's story. 2) It's based on a book written by one of Winchell's ghostwriters, who, natch, makes himself the star of the film. 3) It "doesn't try hard enough to figure out what made him tick, and tick so loudly" (Tom Shales, the Washington Post). (Find out more about the movie here; read Sarah Kerr's review in Slate.)

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Movie--Meet Joe Black;



Movie--I'll Be Home for Christmas;

Movie--I Still Know What You Did Last Summer;

Movie--Dancing at Lughnasa;


Book--Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont;

Music--Spirit, by Jewel.

Movie--The Siege;


Movie--The Waterboy;

Movie--Velvet Goldmine;

Book--Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom;

Music--Bruce Springsteen: Tracks, by Bruce Springsteen;

Opera--Le Nozze di Figaro, Metropolitan Opera, New York City.

Movie--American History X;

Movie--John Carpenter's Vampires;

Movie--Life Is Beautiful;

Movie--Living Out Loud;

Art--"Jackson Pollock" (Museum of Modern Art, New York City);

Book--A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe;

Music--Mutations, by Beck.


Movie--Apt Pupil;


Book--King of the World: The Rise of Muhammad Ali, by David Remnick;

Book--Evening, by Susan Minot;

Book--Bech at Bay: A Quasi-Novel, by John Updike.

--Eliza Truitt