Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 12 1998 3:30 AM




The Siege (20th Century Fox). Critics are sour on this what-if action thriller about terrorism in New York. They say the film cashes in on the audience's fear of Islamic fundamentalists, then chastises them for bigotry. Editorialists and reviewers alike call the movie anti-Arab. Denzel Washington and Annette Bening (FBI and CIA operatives, respectively) are said to be good but not great. Bruce Willis (as a psychotic Army general) is so stamped in moviegoers' minds as the butt-kicking good guy that he leaves the audience cheering at all the wrong moments. (Visit the official site.)

Elizabeth (Gramercy Pictures). Mixed, but mainly good, reviews for this lavish costume drama about the first Queen Elizabeth and her troubled ascendance to the throne. Some love the "darkly sumptuous, hypnotically complex" plotting (Richard Schickel, Time); others call the film "Masterpiece Theater for the MTV generation," riddled with glaring historical inaccuracies (Rod Dreher, the New York Post). Two things draw praise from all: 1) The spectacular art direction; 2) Cate Blanchett's performance as a feminist Virgin Queen. (David Edelstein reviews the film in Slate.)

The Waterboy (Buena Vista Pictures). Critics either love it or hate it: Either the movie "overflows with repellent humor" (Joan Anderman, the Boston Globe), or it's "loony, unapologetic fun ... an utter hoot" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). With a voice "like Truman Capote on Seconal" (Dave Kehr, Daily News), Adam Sandler regresses from the borderline maturity of The Wedding Singer back to his trademark sweet, addled, violent character--this time in a formula sports-loser-turned-sports-hero flick aimed at the fraternity/junior-high-school crowd. (Click here to read about the making of this film.)

Velvet Goldmine (Miramax Films). This tribute to '70s glam uses a Citizen Kane-style device to explore the rise and fall of a pair of Iggy Pop/Ziggy Stardust-ish rock stars. Some critics (such as the New York Times' Maslin) nearly fall out of their chairs in awe at the operatic splendor of the music and pageantry--"blazing with exquisite yet abstract passions." Others are less impressed by all the stuff-strutting: "[E]veryone in the movie has the approximate human weight of a hologram" (Peter Rainer, New York). (Read Edelstein's review in Slate.)



Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom (Riverhead Books). Reviewers call Bloom's tome "a cloak-bag of ideas, stuffed with true wisdom and false bombast" (Jonathan Bate, the Wall Street Journal). Bloom's vigor and intelligence in his examination of Shakespeare's plays make the book a joy to read, despite the fact that he "does not quite prove his tremendous thesis" (Jodie Morse, Time)--that Shakespeare single-handedly created the modern idea of individual personality. Critics call Bloom "a master entertainer" who has applied his formidable skills to the noble project of a general reader's introduction to Shakespeare (David Gates and Yahlin Chang, Newsweek). (Click here to buy the book.)



Bruce Springsteen: Tracks, by Bruce Springsteen (Columbia). This four disc collection of old songs--mainly unpublished material with a few B-sides--is said to provide valuable insight into Springsteen's progression as an artist, but the music itself is only so-so. The harsher critics call it "iffy ballads and lame roadhouse rock" (Jeff Giles, Newsweek). Despite the weakness of some of these recycled scraps, Springsteen's "unbridled earnestness and positive energy" are still impressive (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here to join an online discussion about Springsteen.)



Le Nozze di Figaro, Metropolitan Opera, New York City. The Met's "handsome and subtle" production (Alex Ross, The New Yorker) leaves critics debating diva Cecilia Bartoli's performance as Susanna. Is she "comically over the top, attention-grabbing and at times hysterical" (Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times), or is she simply a "captivating comic presence" (Charles Isherwood, Variety)? Not everyone loved the production: New York's Peter Davis says, "[T]he characters [are] foggily defined and the heart of the opera left unexamined." (Here's the schedule for remaining performances.)

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


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.


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.


Movie--Bride of Chucky;

Movie--Practical Magic;

Theater--Corpus Christi, by Terrence McNally (Manhattan Theatre Club);

Music--Live: 1966, by Bob Dylan;

Book--The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Movie--Holy Man;

Movie--The Mighty;


Movie--A Night at the Roxbury;

Dance--Swan Lake (Neil Simon Theatre, New York City);

Book--Work in Progress, by Michael Eisner with Tony Schwartz;

Book--Pure Drivel, by Steve Martin.

--Eliza Truitt