Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 26 1999 3:30 AM



True Crime (Warner Bros.). Clint Eastwood, in his 21st directorial effort, is a decrepit newspaper reporter rushing to save an innocent man on death row. The A-list critics who usually puff the star offer only bland praise this time. The film is "assembled ... with loving care," says Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune. It's "a wickedly effective thriller," writes the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert. And the New York Times' Janet Maslin finds it a "quietly poignant ... involving thriller." The naysayers toss spit wads. The film is "a hopelessly cliched newspaper yarn--I kept waiting for someone to scream into the phone, 'Baby, get me re-write!' " (Chris Kaltenbach, the Baltimore Sun). Says Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "It's a gritty story made in the director's more elegiacal mode, a confusion of style and content that is not in the film's best interests." No one comments on the movie's most notable feature: that here Eastwood crusades on behalf of a character he would have summarily dispatched, vigilante style, in previous films. (Check out David Edelstein's Slate review here; and read a review of Eastwood's Mission Ranch Restaurant in Carmel, Calif., here.)

The King and I (Warner Bros.). This animated effort kiddifies the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The Chicago Sun-Times' Ebert says the themes about defying class and convention don't work: "kids aren't much tuned into that." Trying to make the story interesting, the creators ladle in wacky animals, an evil royal counselor, and a hot-air-balloon action scene--and refuse to let the king die in the end! The result is "an above-average Saturday-morning TV show," says Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun. The animation gets mixed reviews: "The cartoon characters' faces and body language aren't doing much of an acting job," says the New York Times' Anita Gates. To Robert Koehler in Daily Variety, the animation "is a curious hodgepodge of awkward human movement, tired nature effects and fine painterly backgrounds and detail work." (Discuss the real version of the musical with other stage nuts in the "forum" at Musicals.net.)


Forces of Nature (DreamWorks SKG). Reviews for the Ben Affleck-Sandra Bullock romance are all over the place. Some like Affleck, some like Bullock, others like neither. The soppy plot (wedding-bound strait-laced guy gets waylaid by wild girl) produces severely mixed reaction as well. Turan in the Los Angeles Times is captivated: Besides being "smartly written" and "directed with a lively intelligence," the film "has several surprises in its repertoire, and most--but not all--of them make this a most pleasant and diverting venture," he says. The Village Voice isn't buying the overuptight Affleck: "You can't have screwball comedy if only one party desperately wants to screw," writes Justine Elias. Richard Corliss in Time hates the whole thing: "Well, it had to come sometime: this is DreamWorks' first reprehensible fiasco." A subtext to the reviews is outrage at the ending, which critics try not to give away but still bridle at. "Forces of Nature is less about the anarchic powers of love and sex than it is about the bond between a man, a woman, and two nonrefundable, first-class airline tickets," concludes Elias. Ebert is beside himself: "It's not even clever enough to give us the right happy ending. It gives us the wrong happy ending," he writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. (The Affleck Store--part of the official Affleck site--has to be seen to be believed.)



The Oscars (March 21, ABC). Raspberries for Whoopi Goldberg's hosting performance at the 71st Academy Awards. Reviewers say she wasn't funny and spent too much time congratulating herself. Los Angeles Times TV critic Harold Rosenberg scored her "gratuitously coarse language and one-liners, and cheap political jokes." The Boston Globe's Jay Carr hit Goldberg's habit of being her own best audience: "Goldberg spent too much time laughing at her one-liners (often, she laughed alone)." Otherwise, everyone expressed dismay at the epic, record length (four hours plus) and a dance number strange even by Oscar standards (it included what were apparently interpretive steps to World War II), but marveled at Roberto Benigni's irrepressible speeches and Shakespeare in Love's upset win. Second-day stories in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times let the Hollywood establishment lash out at Miramax capo Harvey Weinstein, who had the temerity to take the Best Picture Oscar away from Steven Spielberg. "[Weinstein's] costly promotional campaigns ... had paid off more handsomely than expected," writes Bernard Weinraub in the New York Times. The big spending is seen both as the roots of Shakespeare's win and as portentous of Normandy-scale campaigns on everyone's part next year. (Everything you wanted to know about the Oscars is here.)



Years of Renewal, by Henry Kissinger (Simon & Schuster). Henry Kissinger, who was not the original Dr. Strangelove, gets hosannas for the third volume of his White House memoirs. These were the boring Ford years, but Kissinger is given credit for masterful analysis, trenchant characterizations, and vivid storytelling. In an almost prostrate review on the front page of the New York Times arts section, Richard Bernstein writes, "Mr. Kissinger's history of his own time in office is a work whose breadth, clarity of vision and historical scope amply justify its size. It is an event, a likely classic of its genre." Kirkus Reviews agrees: "A brilliant, masterly, even seminal book." The Wall Street Journal puts things a bit more into perspective: " 'Years of Renewal' is an engrossing book, truly hard to put down, at least for aficionados of U.S. foreign policy," writes Josef Joffe. (You can read Time's excerpt here.)

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Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

  • Movie--The Deep End of the Ocean;
  • Movie--The Corruptor;
  • Movie--The Rage: Carrie 2;
  • Movie--Wing Commander;
  • Death--Stanley Kubrick;
  • Book--Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, by Mark Bowden.


  • Movie--Analyze This;
  • Movie--Cruel Intentions;
  • Movie--Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels;
  • Book--Monica's Story, by Andrew Morton;
  • Theater--Annie Get Your Gun;
  • Theater--Bright Lights, Big City.

  • Movie--8MM;
  • Movie--200 Cigarettes;
  • Movie--TheOther Sister;
  • Book--The Houdini Girl, by Martyn Bedford;
  • Book--Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, by Lawrence Schiller;
  • Theater--Not About Nightingales.

  • Movie--October Sky;
  • Movie--Jawbreaker;
  • Movie--Office Space;
  • Music--The Hot Rock, by Sleater-Kinney;
  • Book--Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott;
  • Book--The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, by Brian R. Greene.