Meet Joe Black (Universal Pictures). Critics call this remake of Death Takes a Holiday a "somnolent, emotion-free weepie" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). Faults: It's way too long (almost three hours), and Brad Pitt's performance as Death is crushingly zombielike. Those who can tolerate the movie's saccharine overdose praise the solid performances by Anthony Hopkins, as the tycoon whom Pitt has come to escort to the other side, and Claire Forlani, as the tycoon's daughter who falls in love with Pitt. (Is Brad Pitt the worst actor on earth? Read David Edelstein's review in Slate to find out.)
Celebrity (Miramax Films). Critical response to Woody Allen's cult of celebrity sendup is all over the map. Some call it "horrifically funny" (Jack Kroll, Newsweek); others call it "rambling" (Jack Mathews, Newsday). Is Kenneth Branagh's performance as a Woody Allen-like character--complete with Allen's tics and mannerisms--dead on or a mistake? Has Allen revealed truths about Americans' celebrity lust, or is he out of touch with reality? Maslin calls Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as a bratty bad boy actor "show-stopping," and most other critics agree. (Edelstein says DiCaprio's performance "reminds you why movie stars sometimes deserve to be worshipped." Read the rest of his review in Slate.)
I'll Be Home for Christmas (Buena Vista Pictures). This Planes, Trains & Automobiles with a Christmas twist is thrashed: "[It] doesn't make you want to deck the halls as much as deck those responsible for it" (Renee Graham, the Boson Globe). Home Improvement heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays a spoiled college kid who, after a hard journey home for the holidays, sees the error of his ways. Roger Ebert calls it "unrelentingly corny" (Chicago Sun-Times). (Visit the official site.)
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (Columbia Pictures). This sequel is called "as uninspired as its title" (Dave Kehr, the Daily News). Scrubbed and chipper Jennifer Love Hewitt teams up with pop star Brandy to battle the slicker-clad slasher they thought was killed in the original I Know What You Did Last Summer. Full of cheap horror tricks and nowhere near as good as its predecessor, the film is a "fairly silly and ultra-gory schlocker/shocker" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). (Visit the Jennifer Love Hewitt Resource Center.)
Dancing at Lughnasa (Sony Pictures Classics). Meryl Streep wows the critics. This time her perfect accent is Irish, the setting a depressed Irish town in the 1930s, and the story an adaptation of a stage play about five unmarried sisters. Some critics complain that "for all the crinkle and lilt" of the dialogue and the top-notch ensemble cast, the film "sags in the middle" (Stanley Kauffman, the New Republic). Maslin warns that the film is "a collection of sea changes and splendidly realized small moments rather than a story of overarching action." (Visit the official site.)
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont (Picador). The perpetrator of Sokal's Hoax teams up with another physicist to debunk what they call "postmodern relativism." Some critics are gleeful. "Mr. Sokal has delivered the coup de grace: a book-length exposé of the scientific ignorance of today's science bashers" (Heather MacDonald, the Wall Street Journal). Others say the book overreaches. In the New York Times Book Review, Jim Holt compares it to the Starr report--both share "a certain confusion about the gravity and nature of the sins of their targets." (Read the rest of Holt's review here. Requires free registration.)
Spirit, by Jewel (Atlantic). Critics are surprisingly positive about the singer/songwriter/best-selling poet/soon-to-be film actress' second album after the 8 million copy selling Pieces of You. Musically she has matured, and her trademark folksy-bluesy-pop songs are dubbed "sweet, soulful" (Veronica Chambers, Newsweek). The lyrics, however are said to be full of hokey self-helpisms, and the album "overflows with advice intended to be inspirational" (Jon Pareles, the New York Times). (Buy the album online.)
Recent "Summary Judgment" columns
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.
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.
Movie--Bride of Chucky;
Theater--Corpus Christi, by Terrence McNally (Manhattan Theatre Club);
Music--Live: 1966, by Bob Dylan;
Book--The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.