Hideous Kinky (Stratosphere Entertainment). Kate Winslet's first post-Titanic film, the tale of a British woman's journey to Marrakech in the 1970s in search of adventure and Sufi wisdom, gets high marks on aesthetics and so-so marks on plot: It's "better at creating a picturesque travelogue than at building a compelling narrative and full-bodied characters" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). The New York Times' Janet Maslin goes gaga for the whole package, saying Winslet's performance as the naive young woman who drags her two daughters to the ends of the earth "perfectly captures [her] as a well-meaning mother who has no notion that she need be anything but self absorbed." (This Hideous Kinky fan site offers stills from the film, a chat room, and information on the novel the film was based on.)
Life (Universal Pictures). Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence star in a "disposable vehicle for two comic superstars" that has "more heart and soul than usual" (Ann Hornaday, Baltimore Sun). The comedy chronicles the adventures of two innocent men sent to prison for life. Despite a nice turn by Murphy, "it's hard to miss the basic unfunniness of the situation," says Maslin (New York Times). Makeup artist Rick Baker wins kudos for transforming Lawrence and Murphy from young 1930s hipsters into aging '90s geezers. (Check out this Martin Lawrence fan page, which has information on Life as well as fun bits from Martin, including video clips of Lawrence as everyone's favorite weave technician, Sheneneh Jenkins.)
Goodbye, Lover (Warner Bros.). Critics say this murder-filled comedy-noir strains to be funny and off the wall but fails royally on both counts: It has an "offbeat eccentricity that feels like the comic equivalent of silicone implants" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). The ensemble cast includes Ellen DeGeneres, Patricia Arquette, and Don Johnson, and none performs well in critics' eyes. The New York Times' Stephen Holden wonders why Goodbye, Lover didn't go straight to video and asserts that Arquette, the film's sexpot, "exudes all the erotic energy of an inflatable doll with a taped voice muttering potty-mouthed come-ons." The film receives an upbeat review from Andy Seiler of USA Today, who gives it 3.5 stars and calls it a "darkly funny, brashly cynical" thriller that "breaks every Hollywood rule that deserves to be broken." (Try this somewhat funny Ellen DeGeneres word lib.)
SLC Punk (Sony Pictures Classics). Most critics like this "surprisingly genial and affecting comedy about the trials and tribulations of teenage rebellion during the Reagan '80s" (Jami Bernard, Daily News). The title refers to two Salt Lake City punks whose tentative attempts at rebellion are more funny and halfhearted than seriously anarchistic: It's "an absurdist coming-of-age comedy" that's "better defined by its polish than by punk trappings" (Maslin, New York Times). Some are not impressed with the film's watered down rebellion: "[T]his energetic but poorly structured, rather self-congratulatory look at spike-haired rebelliousness in mid-'80s Utah could strike unbiased viewers as more grating than gratifying," and the film "doesn't quite grasp how its slick, flashy package undermines any actual punk cred" it might have (Dennis Harvey, Variety). (Brush up on your own punk cred by seeing how many of these bands you know.)
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King (Scribner). Stephen King's unscheduled quickie novel gets a warm response. The story follows Trisha, a 9-year-old girl who gets lost in the woods with only a Walkman and common sense to keep her alive as she wanders for eight nights. She listens to Red Sox games on the radio and fantasizes about pitcher Tom Gordon, her hero and crush. As she struggles for survival, she takes a page from Gordon's book and relies on God to get her through. "For those who have spent years of adulthood circling around questions of faith, it may be a little jarring to witness Trisha's hasty conversion," says Rebecca Ascher-Walsh in Entertainment Weekly. Most critics describe it as a departure from King's usual style--it's overtly religious and a mere 250 pages long. It is "almost old-fashioned in how satisfyingly scary it is" (Sherryl Connelly, Daily News). David Kipen of the San Francisco Chronicle finds the book tedious: Nine days is "an awfully long time to spend in the largely unrelieved company of one little girl lost." (Find out more about Tom Gordon at ESPN's SportsZone.)
A Prayer for the Dying, by Stewart O'Nan (Henry Holt). Critics heap praise on O'Nan's latest, the gruesome tale of a man who returns to Wisconsin after the Civil War to find his hometown engulfed by a diphtheria epidemic and hemmed in at the edges by wildfires. Dan Cryer of Newsday calls it an "urgent, economically told novel." This "deeply unsettling and sophisticated horror story" (Megan Harlan, Entertainment Weekly) is "more than a brilliant exercise of darkness," (Richard Eder, the New York Times), it is a work of unusual emotional impact and craft. Eder says the prose has "so much that is implicit and hollowed out, so much emptiness between the sentences, that the reader is called upon to enter, invent and rearrange," and with "a shivery economy of means and a dreadful lavishness of effect, Mr. O'Nan advances the horror on parallel tracks." (Read O'Nan's Slate "Diary" and the first chapter of his last novel A World Away [requires free registration].)
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