Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 18 1999 3:30 AM




The Deep End of the Ocean (Columbia Pictures). Good reviews for this story of the disappearance and eventual return of a young child, based on Jacquelyn Mitchard's best seller. Michelle Pfeiffer's turn as the distraught mother is singled out for praise; many reviewers call it "an exceptional performance ... one of her best ever" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Some say the subject matter has a made-for-TV feel, but most conclude that the acting elevates the film into real drama. Slate's David Edelstein is of two minds about the film: "I want to say it's subtle, but I also want to say it's heavy-handed. I want to say it's incisive, but I have too many problems with its psychological elisions to let it off the hook." (Read the rest of his review here.)

The Corruptor (New Line Cinema). Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat's second English-language film (after the unenthusiastically received Replacement Killers) gets mixed reviews. Mark Wahlberg co-stars as Chow's rookie partner in a task force charged with controlling gangs in Chinatown. Critics like this movie better than Chow's last film and say it has "a stylish patina that puts it a cut above much of the competition" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). But the story, an exploration of the line between everyday palm-greasing and real treachery, does not capture everyone's imagination. Gary Arnold of the Washington Times calls it "a groggy hotbed of sensationalism." (Find out more about Chow on this fan site.)

The Rage: Carrie 2 (MGM/UA). Critics agree that this film is a sorry imitation of the original: "as generic in every aspect as Brian De Palma's original was inventive" (Dennis Harvey, Daily Variety). The plot is the same (tortured telekinetic teen starts bloodbath when humiliated), but this time it's just "campy inanity" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe) with none of the original's terrifying flair. The Los Angeles Times' Kevin Thomas is the film's only ally; he calls the direction "astute" and the script "intelligent." (Find out more about the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek here.)

Wing Commander (20th Century Fox). This film adaptation of the popular computer game is deemed "so cheesy it could be served on crackers" (Renee Graham, the Boston Globe). Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard (who is "upstaged by his hair," according to Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman) star as two young fighter pilots in the year 2564. Many critics note that the enemies (an evil race of aliens) look like "characters from Cats reupholstered in slimy green Naugahyde" (Godfrey Cheshire, Daily Variety). The most notable thing about the film is that the second trailer for the new Star Wars movie runs before it. (Find out more about the computer game on this site.)



Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). In a pre-release publicity coup for his forthcoming Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick dies. The director of A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was universally hailed for a famously uncompromising vision. It was an "amazingly varied body of work" that was "unified not only by bizarre brilliance but also by its rare ability to disturb" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). His most commonly cited shortcoming is what many critics describe as "coldness," even in his most accomplished films. Many of the recent life and work recaps emphasize Kubrick's famous idiosyncrasies: 1) his reclusiveness (though Time's Richard Schickel was apparently an intimate); 2) his obsessiveness (he was known, wrote Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, to call projectionists personally and complain about how his film was being shown in a particular theater); and 3) maniacal attention to detail (scores of takes were the norm). Jack Nicholson, who starred in Kubrick's The Shining, was the only star big enough to talk about the maestro with anything less than total respect: "Stanley's good on sound," Nicholson said to Time. "Stanley's good on the color of the mike. Stanley's good about the merchant he bought the mike from. Stanley's good about the merchant's daughter who needs some dental work. Stanley's good." (Read Edelstein's and Alex Ross' take on Kubrick in Slate.)



Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly Press). Reviewers are fascinated by this account of the U.S. intervention in Somalia. The writing may not be polished, but "[w]hat this demotic, you-are-there prose lacks in literary finesse ... it makes up in pure narrative drive." (William Finnegan, the New York Times Book Review). Some reviewers wish the account gave more of a sense of the historical context. But Bowden's excellent reporting--he interviewed scores of U.S. and Somali soldiers--makes for a "vivid, immediate and unsparing narrative that is filled with blood and noise and terror" (Jonathan Yardley, the Washington Post). (Read the first chapter courtesy of the New York Times [requires free registration].)


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Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

  • 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.

  • Movie--Blast From the Past;
  • Movie--Message in a Bottle;
  • Movie--My Favorite Martian;
  • Book--The Testament, by John Grisham;
  • Book--South of the Border, West of the Sun,by Haruki Murakami;
  • Theater--Death of a Salesman (Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City).