Gunned Down

Gunned Down

Gunned Down

Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 7 1999 3:00 AM

Gunned Down

Movies

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Wild Wild West (Warner Bros.). No debate on this one--the critics hate it. (A sample jab, from Time's Richard Schickel: "The film is an unmitigated disaster.") Despite the winning combination of Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld, who struck gold together with 1997's Men in Black, critics say the cast can't overcome the horrendous script. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern calls it "an eight-legged turkey," and Todd McCarthy of Daily Variety writes that it's "just not there." Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) sums it up: "[It's] a comedy dead zone. You stare in disbelief as scenes flop and die. ... There are moments when all artifice fails, and you realize you are regarding desperate actors, trapped on the screen, fully aware they've been left hanging out to dry." Or, as Susan Wloszczyna advises in USA Today, "Handle West like an old boot: Sniff at your own peril." (Visit the official site.)

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Paramount Pictures). After emphasizing just how gross this film version of the popular Comedy Central series is ("the potty-mouth on this R-rated cartoon is pretty mind-boggling"--Gary Dauphin, the Village Voice), critics go on to praise it: "Hilarious, willfully filthy" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times); David Ansen (Newsweek) calls it "tasteless, irreverent, silly and smart." Nasty highlights: 1) A torrid gay affair between Saddam Hussein and Satan. 2) An enormous talking clitoris. 3) A series of musical numbers, one of which is titled "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch." Most critics do not admit to being offended, save one: Roger Ebert, delivering a far more negative review than most, admits he laughed all through the film but says, "I did not always feel proud of myself while I was laughing. ... A lot of the movie offended me." (Click here to read a less positive review of the film: "South Park is another movie straight from the smoking pits of Hell," and here for David Edelstein's rave in Slate.)

Summer of Sam (Buena Vista Pictures). Critics call Spike Lee's latest worthy but deeply flawed. The film follows an insulated Italian-American community in the Bronx during the summer of 1977, when the Son of Sam killer was terrorizing New York City. On the upside, John Leguizamo's performance as a philandering hairdresser is "raging, startlingly visceral" (Maslin, the New York Times), and Lee's evocation of the tension that gripped the city--the blackouts, looting, and violence--is enthralling. On the downside, the film is long, wandering, and something of "a glum and unpleasant experience" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Several critics also say Lee's direction tends toward the heavy-handed. Ebert departs from the pack, giving the film 3.5 stars and a rave review: It "vibrates with fear, guilt and lust." (Click here to read Edelstein's review.)

Books

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Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 2: 1933-1938, by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Viking). Reviewers praise the second volume of Cook's biography as well researched, thorough, and fascinating. Many also take it as a point of departure for talking about Hillary Clinton. Maureen Dowd's review in the New York Times Book Review is largely a laundry list of the differences between Clinton and her admitted hero: "[Roosevelt] did not engage in the shadowy manipulation practiced by other opinionated First Ladies. ... Unlike Hillary, Eleanor ignored personal insults, sloughed off negative news." Dowd ends her review by asking, "Are you listening, Hillary?" Most notably, the book reveals excerpts from Roosevelt's letters that confirm suspicions, raised in the previous volume, of her amorous relationship with Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok. Also of note are explicit examples of Roosevelt's anti-Semitism both in her private life and her public life: She was an advocate for the oppressed in all corners of the world--except, apparently, in Nazi Germany. (Click here to listen to an interview with the author, courtesy of the New York Times.)

Wonders of the Invisible World: Stories, by David Gates (Knopf). Positive reviews for Newsweek critic Gates' first story collection (after two novels, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist Jernigan). Publishers Weekly calls it "Gates' best so far." The stories range in topic from a gay man who takes in his sister's son while she checks into drug rehab, to an old man's religious awakening after a stroke. Michiko Kakutani writes in the New York Times that although Gates "delineates his characters' predicaments with a pitch-perfect ear," the collection suffers when "a certain authorial smugness creeps into the narration," which leaves the reader "feeling superior to his characters, irritated with their solipsistic mind games and self-inflicted wounds." (Click here to read one of the stories in this collection.)

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