Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 17 1999 3:30 AM

Lazy Susan

Movies

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Pokémon: The First Movie (Warner Bros.). Critics pounce on Pikachu and his pals: "God-awful. Bad storytelling. Retrograde animation ... dark, ominous and pretentious" (Jeff Giles, Newsweek) … "an unoriginal warming over of a skimpy Japanese production … an innocuous, if lengthy, commercial" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post) … "its efforts to preach nonviolence while exploiting it are both patronizing and hypocritical" (Jack Mathews, the Daily News) … "idiotic" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Many reviewers admit that they're powerless to influence the target audience and predict (correctly) that the film will be a huge hit no matter what they say. (If you need help making sense of Pokémon, click here to read David Plotz's assessment of the craze in Slate.)

Anywhere But Here (20th Century Fox Film Corp.). Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman star as an immature mother and her responsible daughter who reverse roles when the mom decides to move to Beverly Hills and pursue the life she has always wanted. It's a "touching but melancholy variation on a tune we've heard many times" (Jeff Giles, Newsweek), and reviewers seem a bit tired of the tune. The film is "simpatico enough to make the less-than-cutting-edge nature" of the work enjoyable (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe), but "it's unfortunate that what we are given is so standardized and generic" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to read a review of the best-selling novel by Mona Simpson the film is based on and here to read Slate's "Chatterbox" on a real-life character from the book.)

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (Columbia Pictures).The umpteenth retelling of the Joan of Arc story gets a mere one or two swords, er, stars: "The movie is a mess: a gassy costume epic with nobody at the center" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun Times). The supporting cast may be delightful, with John Malkovich and Dustin Hoffman catching critics' eyes, but Milla Jovovich--who at the time the film was made was married to its director, Luc (La Femme Nikita) Besson--is not quite up to the task of playing a nuanced and thoughtful Joan. (Click here  to visit a gallery of Jovovich photos.)

Light It Up (20th Century Fox Film Corp.).Weak reviews for this film about a group of urban high-schoolers who take a security guard hostage after an accidental shooting; they end up becoming heroes when they demand improvements to their run-down school as conditions of the negotiations. Singer Usher Raymond earns praise as the leader of the group, but the rest of the cast goes largely unnoticed. The film achieves "not much more than the level of a passable TV movie" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe) and "never quite catches fire" (Robert Koehler, Daily Variety). (Click here for more info on Usher and here to visit the official site.)

Book

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Gore Vidal: A Biography,by Fred Kaplan (Doubleday). "At least one writer will be happy with Fred Kaplan's new book: Gore Vidal," writes William Deresiewicz in the New York Times Book Review. It's a common note sounded in reviews of this exhaustive authorized biography--namely that Kaplan simply reports Vidal's version of events without question. Some wonder if this is a result of having a living subject--"Kaplan doesn't push, doesn't ask discomfiting questions" (Richard Dyer, the Boston Globe)--and note that Vidal "seems to have been able to exert his considerable charm, guile, and authority over his biographer" (Martin Rubin, the Washington Times). Several also mention that Kaplan has been beaten to the punch by Vidal himself, who released his own memoir, Palimpsest, just three years ago. (Click here to read the first chapter.)

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