Exorcising Arnold

Exorcising Arnold

Exorcising Arnold

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Dec. 1 1999 3:30 AM

Exorcising Arnold



End of Days (Universal Pictures). Arnold Schwarzenegger's apocalyptic action thriller gets spanked by the critics. The plot: The devil has come to Earth to mate at the stroke of midnight (Eastern Standard Time) as the millennium turns over, and Arnold must stop him or the world will end. Critics call it preposterous and filled with baffling inconsistencies, or as Roger Ebert writes, "[m]ovies like this are particularly vulnerable to logic" (the Chicago Sun-Times). Words such as "ridiculous" and "absurd" pepper the reviews: It's "fire-and-brimstone bunk, a tired compendium of involuntary crucifixions, grim messages carved into human flesh, fly buzzings, ominous choral chants on the soundtrack and at least one head twisting" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Click here to find out how religious leaders persuaded the filmmakers to change the story's ending.)

Toy Story 2 (Buena Vista Pictures). A rare verdict on the sequel to Toy Story: It's better than the original. Why? 1) The animation has improved noticeably in the four years since the first one came out, with more detailed surfaces and more nuanced facial expressions. 2) The plot is a winner: A toy must chose between eternal life in a collectibles museum and the more dangerous life at home with his beloved owner, who may abandon him as he grows up. 3) It is a vivid reminder of the "love, pity and guilt that a child feels for a favorite toy" that many adults have probably not thought about in quite a while (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). (Visit the film's official site.)

Flawless (MGM). Writer-director Joel Schumacher's (Batman Forever) tale of a gruff, homophobic ex-cop (Robert De Niro) who ends up bonding with his drag queen neighbor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) exasperates the critics. "Flawless is so awful it just might put an end to Hollywood's hypocritical infatuation with men in drag as symbols of its own supposedly liberated sexual attitudes" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). Critics call it corny, predictable, and packed with gay stereotypes. USA Today's Mike Clark looks at the film's chilly reception and points out that "one suspects that this atypically 'little' Schumacher movie might get better reviews if it were a starless, low-budget indie that could catch viewers by surprise" and adds that "though formulaic, [it] plays better than other equally contrived genre hybrids." (Click here to visit an unofficial De Niro fan page.)



Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America, by Alison J. Clarke (Smithsonian Institution Press). British design historian Clarke delivers a "heavily academic cultural critique of Tupperware" (Rachel Hartigan, the Washington Post), but all the critics can talk about is the story of how Brownie Wise, a struggling single mother, turned the languishing line of plastic containers into a booming success via one simple idea: the Tupperware Party. Inventor Earl Tupper came up with the idea, but it wasn't until he handed over control of sales to Wise (the first woman ever to appear on the cover of Business Week) that the company took off. The book tells how these parties helped women isolated in 1950s suburbs gain a social network, as well as providing them with an acceptable way of earning income. When critics do get around to talking about the quality of the book, they praise its "wit and erudition" (Laura Shapiro, Newsweek). (The Tupperware Corp.'s home page includes information on its products as well as how to give a Tupperware party.)

Women, by Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag (Random House). Leibovitz's book of photographs (which includes the works in her current show of the same title at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington) is described by critics as both slickly commercial and annoyingly didactic. The idea of the book, as Susan Sontag explains in her opening essay, is to demonstrate the amazing diversity of women. But as Peter Stevenson notes in the New York Observer, the point "feels a bit tired by now," and Sontag's preface fails in its attempt to "wrest Ms. Leibovitz's photographs back from the magazine pages where they help sell movie stars and BMW's." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt departs from the critical pack, declaring that "this mesmerizing book shows women in such astonishing variety that no cliché or generalization about the sex will ever again suffice" (the New York Times). (View a collection of the photographs here.)


"Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" (High Museum of Art, Atlanta). Rockwell's transformation from lowbrow illustrator to classic American artist is now complete: A documentary on his life and works has aired on public television, a traveling exhibition of his work is making stops at Washington's Corcoran and New York's Guggenheim and, what's more, his work is being tentatively embraced by postmodern critics. Michael Kimmelman glows in the New York Times, "[m]useums are full of pictures by old masters like Hals and Greuze and Boilly that, like Rockwell's pictures, show everyday scenes. On top of which there is Rockwell's subterranean complexity: the buried allusions he made to Michelangelo's Isaiah … or to Mondrian's grids." Forbes runs an article on the exhibition titled "America's Vermeer?" that revels in the irony of a sentimental illustrator, so long contemptuously dismissed by critics, being installed in the American artistic pantheon. (The Norman Rockwell Museum's Web page lists future dates and locations for the traveling exhibit.)

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