Fighting Over Fight Club

Fighting Over Fight Club

Fighting Over Fight Club

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 20 1999 3:30 AM

Fighting Over Fight Club

Movies

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Fight Club (20th Century Fox). Strong reactions--positive and negative--to director David Fincher's (Seven) film about a underground bare-knuckles fighting group born as a response to men's feelings of disenfranchisement. "What's most troubling about this witless mishmash of whiny, infantile philosophizing and bone-crunching violence is the increasing realization that it actually thinks it's saying something of significance" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times derides it as a "frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie," labels the violence "macho porn," and frets that though "sensible people know that if you hit someone with an ungloved hand hard enough, you're going to end up with broken bones, the guys in Fight Club have fists of steel, and hammer one another while the sound effects guys beat the hell out of Naugahyde sofas with Ping-Pong paddles." A few critics rave. The New York Times' Janet Maslin, for one, dismisses other reviewers for misunderstanding the film: "If watched sufficiently mindlessly, it might be mistaken for a dangerous endorsement of totalitarian tactics and super-violent nihilism in an all-out assault on society," but she sees it instead as an investigation of "the lure of violence in an even more dangerously regimented, dehumanized culture."Newsweek's David Ansen is more ambivalent, saying it's "alternately amazing and annoying ... an outrageous mixture of brilliant technique, puerile philosophizing, trenchant satire and sensory overload." The one point of agreement: Stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton earn strong marks. (The official site includes video and audio clips from the film.)

The Story of Us (Polygram Filmed Entertainment). Critics gag on this cornball story of a marriage on the rocks, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Rob Reiner. "Though it sets out to explain why this marriage is worth saving, [it] could prompt even single members of the audience to file for divorce" (Maslin, the New York Times). Its main defect: Although the movie tries for the same combination of whimsy and insight Reiner captured in When Harry Met Sally ..., there's no chemistry between Willis and Pfeiffer. Owen Gleiberman is the film's sole supporter, praising it as "pungent, funny, and surprisingly forceful" Entertainment Weekly). (Find out more about Willis here and about Pfeiffer here.)

The Straight Story (Buena Vista Pictures). David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Lost Highway) shocks everyone by directing a G-rated film of the sweet, true story of a 73-year-old farmer who drives 300 miles on a lawnmower to visit his sick brother. Even more surprising, critics rank this among Lynch's best work: It's his "first movie since Blue Velvet that truly envelops you in its spell ... a piece of celestial Americana" (Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). Maslin calls it "a supremely improbable triumph," all the more powerful because the film's "wholesome radiance and soothing natural beauty are distinctly at odds with the famously unwholesome Lynch imagination" (the New York Times). Turan is the only one who hears the faint sucking of Dennis Hopper's oxygen mask in the background, calling the film "too mannered and weird around the edges to be convincing" (the Los Angeles Times). (Lynchnet has a page devoted to the film complete with trailers and pictures shot on location.)

The Limey (Artisan Entertainment). "Like Pablo Picasso thrillingly exploding old notions of how we perceive faces and wine bottles, director Steven Soderbergh thrillingly splinters time and action" in this "small cubist masterpiece," exclaims Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. Few others go so far in their praise, but most express a certain awe at this '60s-style revenge movie starring Terence Stamp as an ex-con out to whack his daughter's boyfriend and probable killer (Peter Fonda). A few critics find the time-splintering distracting and annoying, asking, "Is he working out a new form of visual storytelling, or has the ever-so-promising director of sex, lies, and videotape lost his chops and his marbles?" (Richard Corliss, Time). (Click here to watch an interview with the director about The Limey.)

Book

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Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday). Lethem's latest genre-bending novel, featuring a Brooklyn detective afflicted with Tourette's syndrome, impresses the critics. "Taking his cue from writers like Don DeLillo and Philip K. Dick, who successfully blurred the lines between serious and popular novels, Lethem is like a kid in a candy store, grabbing all the tasty plots and gimmicks he can" (Albert Mobilio, the New York Times Book Review). The heart of the book is the protagonist's affliction and his constant verbal outbursts, which form "a barrage of sheer rhetorical invention that has tour de force written all over it; it's an amazing stunt, and, just when you think the well is running dry, Lethem keeps on topping himself" (Kirkus Reviews). A few call the punning Joycean literary outbursts unrealistic, but most just take them in stride, admiring the "highly artificial, flamboyantly bizarre world that constantly upstages its genre format ... in the end, the hero and his terrifying isolation from human discourse are so vividly drawn that the novel becomes unexpectedly moving" (Jack Sullivan, the Boston Globe). Edward Norton will produce and star in the film version. (Read the first chapter.)

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