GorgeousIsn't Even Skin-Deep

GorgeousIsn't Even Skin-Deep

GorgeousIsn't Even Skin-Deep

Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 28 1999 3:30 AM

GorgeousIsn't Even Skin-Deep

Movies

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Drop Dead Gorgeous (New Line Cinema). Miserable reviews for this mockumentary about a Minnesota teen beauty pageant starring Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, and Denise Richards. The idea of spoofing the superficial, back-stabbing world of teen pageants seems funny to most critics, but all agree that the execution is abysmal. It relies heavily on Minnesota-bashing--the film has "more lutefisk and Lutheran gags than a year of A Prairie Home Companion" (Richard Corliss, Time)--and predictable jokes about stage mothers and bitchy teens. Drop Dead Gorgeous was written by a former Minnesota Miss Teen runner-up, but despite this insider angle, it offers nothing that wasn't done better in 1975's Smile. (Click here to find out what the Pageant News Bureau thought of the film.)

The Haunting (DreamWorks SKG). Frighteningly bad reviews for this old-school horror movie: "The scariest thing about The Haunting is how awful it is. No, worse than awful: desperate" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). Instead of going for the tongue-in-cheek, campy horror style so popular of late, director Jan De Bont (Speed) relies on old-fashioned things-that-go-bump-in-the-night scares. Despite a tasty cast (including Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor), the only faintly amusing element of the film is the computer-generated special effects, which give the haunted house moving statues and doors that sprout arms. A remake of a 1963 film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, this version cuts out the psychological elements that made the original compelling. Roger Ebert is the only critic to speak up in favor of the film, citing the scenery and effects as reason enough to see it. (Click here to watch the trailer.)

Magazine

Talk. The buzz on Tina Brown's celeb-mag reaches a fever pitch a week before the first issue appears. Already, unasked-for publicity has been showered on Brown's new baby, which is being published in partnership with Miramax Films. 1) New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani denied permission to host the launch party at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, apparently after hearing his Senate seat rival Hillary Clinton was going to be on the cover. 2) A parody Web site by Brill's Content writer Michael Colton was shut down by Miramax's attorneys but was reinstated after Brown saw it and called off the lawyers. And 3) the New York tabloids have been charting every whisper of gossip on the magazine for weeks. Brown has also been making the rounds talking up her new project: Already this week she's done an interview in the Wall Street Journal and been quoted at length in a piece in the "Business" section of the New York Times. Times reporter Alex Kuczynski writes that Talk "more closely resembles a postmodern version of Life magazine or Paris Match" than Vanity Fair, and says that yes, the cover will feature Hillary Clinton, but it will also give space to Miramax star Gwyneth Paltrow and George W. Bush. According to the New York Post and online gossip sites, Brown is steamed that the magazine went to press before John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crashed, thus missing the biggest story of the moment. (Not to mention the fact that rival Graydon Carter stopped the presses at the last minute on the latest issue of Vanity Fair to change the cover to a pic of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.) The first copies of Talk will be handed out at next Monday's launch party--held at the Statue of Liberty, which is federal, not state, property--and it hits newsstands Tuesday. (Click here to read David Plotz's assessment of Brown in Slate.)

Event

Woodstock '99. The massive rock festival ended in mayhem with fires, looting, and riot police on Sunday night. After three days of music from acts such as Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Insane Clown Posse, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Limp Bizkit (the last band drawing the biggest response from the crowds), a few hundred of the estimated 200,000 spectators broke loose. Highlights from the melee included: 12 tractor-trailers set on fire, impromptu stripteases, giant bonfires with people leaping through the flames, looting of T-shirt vendors' booths, smashed ATMs, and a food fight with liberated soft pretzels. (Click here to see Webcasts from the festival on the official site.)

Eliza Truitt, a former editor at Slate, now works as a wedding photographer in Seattle.