The Greatest American Zeroes

The Greatest American Zeroes

The Greatest American Zeroes

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 11 1999 3:30 AM

The Greatest American Zeroes

Movies

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Mystery Men (Universal Pictures). The critics get a few chuckles out of this comic book-based tale of B-team superheroes (the Shoveler, Mr. Furious, the Bowler), but nobody guffaws outright. The most enthusiastic: It "triumphs by being its smart, shambling self, though it takes a while to get there" (Richard Corliss, Time). Most critics say the tasty nuggets of fun are too few and far between: It "has moments of brilliance waving their arms to attract attention in a sea of dreck" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). (To check out the comic book the film was based on and to watch the trailer, visit the official site.)

The Thomas Crown Affair (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). This "slick, gaudily suave guilty pleasure of a movie" (David Ansen, Newsweek) gets mainly good reviews. In its favor: 1) It's the first movie in a long time to have a sexy and mature female lead, the 45-year-old Rene Russo. 2) It's the first decent movie of the summer not aimed at teens, a "highly pleasurable popcorn movie for adults" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). 3) Its extravagance is fun (the story centers on a billionaire who steals art for kicks). Not all critics are entranced by this remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway film. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal writes that Russo and co-star Pierce Brosnan's sex scenes "spark so little heat I found myself wondering if they'd give a damn for one another in a down market." The New York Times' Janet Maslin concurs, calling the romance "papier-mache." Side note: Ebert uses the bizarre sexual euphemism "rumpy-pumpy" for the sixth time in eight months in his negative review in the Chicago Sun-Times. (Click here to watch the trailer.)

Dick (Sony Pictures Entertainment). Everybody loves Dick, "a gaily funny, shrewdly inventive satire" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) of the Watergate scandal told from the point of view of two teen-age girls. Much of the cast is plucked from TV comedy shows such as Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live, so the humor tends toward the broad and low. Slate's David Edelstein is enchanted not just by the humor but also by the straight history: "Under its slapstick shenanigans, this modest movie offers a convincing vision of Nixon White House operations as a sordid buffoon show undone by a couple of painfully earnest innocents." A handful of critics complain that the "nincompoopery is difficult to sustain over the course of an hour and a half" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). (Click here to read the rest of Edelstein's review.)

Sixth Sense (Buena Vista Pictures). Excellent notices all around for this "psychological thriller that actually thrills" about a "sad little hamster of a boy" (Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) who sees visions of dead people and the psychologist (Bruce Willis cast against type) determined to help him. It is "virtually guaranteed to rattle the most jaded of cages" (John Anderson, the Los Angeles Times). One cage is left unrattled, though: Stephen Holden of the New York Times delivers an uncharacteristically nasty write-up, calling it "gaggingly mawkish supernatural kitsch" that is "a garish hybrid of Simon Birch and What Dreams May Come." (Click here to visit the official site.)

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Book

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The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin, by Richard Lourie (Counterpoint Press). Critics find this novel, told from the point of view of Russia's most famous and ruthless dictator, a fascinating, chilling, and surprisingly humor-filled work: Lourie's "flat, ruthless prose ... is also sometimes ruthlessly funny" (Lance Morrow, Time). Some wonder at the author's desire to explore the mind of a man who murdered so many, but most are impressed with his results. One fault, though, is that "this supposed autobiography is missing what often makes an autobiography great: the memoirist's obvious self-deception"(Ken Kalfus, the New York Times Book Review). (Click here to read the first chapter.)

Music

Remedy, by Basement Jaxx (Astralwerks). Reviewers get giddy over this British electronica duo's latest: "more fun than Fatboy Slim, more creative than the Chemical Brothers ... takes house music to the next level. Make that the level after next" (Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly). It's blessed with "post-cool happiness" (James Hunter, the Village Voice), which makes it "an antidote for ennui, using hedonistic, ass-wiggling enthusiasm and 'ain't-no-mountain-high-enough' lyrical proclamations" (M. Tye Comer, CMJ). (Click here to buy the CD and to listen to audio samples from the album.)

Snap Judgment

Book

Broke Heart Blues,by Joyce Carol Oates (Dutton). Good reviews for Oates' 29th novel, which follows the way a small town remembers its teen-age hero, John Reddy Heart. It "dramatizes how wanting and memory compete" and explores how "lonely, unhappy people mythologize their adolescence" (D.T. Max, the New York Times Book Review). Many critics marvel at Oates' prolific output: "It's a wonder she hasn't run out of that all-too-scarce literary fuel, imagination. But she hasn't" (Linda Wolfe, the Washington Post).