Ambulance Chasteners

Ambulance Chasteners

Ambulance Chasteners

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 27 1999 3:30 AM

Ambulance Chasteners

Movies

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Bringing Out the Dead (Paramount Pictures). Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader--who collaborated on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and others--team up again, this time for a film about a burned-out New York ambulance driver played by Nicolas Cage. Critics respond with a sprinkling of hearty positive reviews, but the majority are gingerly worded negative takes. Almost everyone draws parallels to Taxi Driver (another Manhattanite on the edge driving an automobile), though nobody says it compares favorably. David Ansen does call it "superbly shot ... full of bravura moments and high-wire performances" (Newsweek), and Roger Ebert raves that "it contains some of [Scorsese's] most brilliant sequences" (Chicago Sun-Times). Overall, though, the reviews complain that the film feels too familiar and short on plot. (David Edelstein reviews the film in Slate.)

The Best Man (Universal Pictures). The first film from director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike Lee's cousin) gets lukewarm reviews, but moviegoers still made it No. 1 at the box office last week. The story focuses on a group of college buddies reunited for a wedding, which makes it "a kind of Big Chill for black folks" (Lonnae O'Neal Parker, the Washington Post). (A similar comment in Entertainment Weekly provoked an indignant letter to the editor from star Taye Diggs.) Several critics say it "does not deliver on what could have been a promising premise" (Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times), but Newsweek's David Ansen finds it "funny, sentimental, cheerfully bawdy." (Click here to find out more about the film.)

Crazy in Alabama (Columbia Pictures). Antonio Banderas' directorial debut--which stars his wife, Melanie Griffith--leaves critics cringing. Although Banderas directs "capably enough" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times), the plot is a dud. Twin stories follow a batty woman's flight to Hollywood after killing her husband, and a young boy's first encounters with racism; the two story lines link up at the end. "Of all the patronizing white-witness movies made in Hollywood about the civil rights movement, this has to be the loopiest" (Steve Daly, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here to find out more about Banderas.)

Books

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The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton & Co.). Positive responses to Lewis' (Liar's Poker) inquiry into what makes Internet mogul Jim Clark--and all Silicon Valley--tick. On the upside, the book is a ripsnorting read, and Lewis "has a natural talent for spinning hilarious scenes and uncovering wicked details" (Steven Levy, Newsweek). As Michiko Kakutani writes in the New York Times, "Lewis uses a sort of Tom Wolfe approach, enlivening his account of complicated financial deals and even more complicated engineering feats with snappy cameo portraits, exclamatory descriptions and lots of subjective judgments." Or as Joshua Quittner writes in Time, "sometimes I got the feeling that Lewis so reveres his protagonist that he became his apologist." (Click here to read Slate's "Book Club" on The New New Thing.)

Personal Injuries, by Scott Turow (Farrar Straus & Giroux). Excellent reviews for the lawyer-author's fifth novel, about a morally ambiguous attorney's collaboration with law enforcement to nail a group of corrupt judges. It's "street savvy and emotionally rich" (R. Z. Sheppard, Time); though "[l]egal fiction has turned depressingly formulaic and melodramatic lately ... Turow's just gets richer and smarter" (Tom DeHaven, Entertainment Weekly). Michiko Kakutani delivers one of the few downbeat reviews, claiming that the novel "imparts little of the insider's knowledge" that graced his other books and that "it lacks a fundamental sense of suspense" (the New York Times).  (Click here to read an excerpt from the book.)

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