Shooting the Moon

Shooting the Moon

Shooting the Moon

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Dec. 29 1999 3:30 AM

Shooting the Moon

Movies

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The Talented Mr. Ripley (Paramount Pictures). Most critics are seduced by Anthony Minghella's first work since The English Patient; a few are left cold. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel, the film follows Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a poor loner who usurps the identity of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), a rich playboy loafing around Italy in the late '50s. The "hypnotic, sensually charged adaptation … has the same kind of complex allure that made The English Patient so mesmerizing. … [It] offers diabolically smart surprises wherever you care to look" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). The wild measures Ripley takes to maintain the charade cause some critics to lose interest in the second half of the film: "When Tom's aberrant qualities become more dangerous, the movie loses its moorings and drifts into a sort of highly polished, implausible melodrama" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Visit the official site.)

Man on the Moon (Universal Pictures). Lukewarm reviews for Milos Forman's biopic about offbeat 1970s comedian Andy Kaufman; tremendous reviews for Jim Carrey in the lead role. Even critics who can't stand the film are impressed by Carrey: "His performance is a brilliant, almost terrifying impersonation" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The critics' main bone of contention is that the film makes no attempt to explain the source of his eccentricity: "Mr. Forman and his colleagues present the Andy Kaufman mystery as if they thought it was utterly impenetrable" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal), or as Janet Maslin writes in the New York Times, "what is missing here, though it might have been the first thing expected from an ostensible film biography, is an answer to the simplest question: Who was Andy Kaufman, and how did he get that way?" (Read Slate's "Life and Art" to see how the film compares with Kaufman's real life.)

Any Given Sunday (Warner Bros.). Oliver Stone directs a flashy, high-speed football film. Critics are amused but not impressed: It's an "energetic and diverting sports soap opera" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Al Pacino plays an aging coach whose balance is upset when his two top quarterbacks get injured and he's forced to put in the untried Jamie Foxx--in a "standout performance" (Mike Clark, USA Today). From here the film "develops into a kind of mega-Rocky" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) complete with crucial last-minute plays. The MTV-style editing leaves some critics dizzy, others complain that once again Stone is peddling "conventional wisdom disguised as manically charged, cutting-edge consciousness" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Visit the official site.)

Book

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson (Scribner). This compendium of information on proper housekeeping gets a tongue-bath from the critics: "It's an extraordinary achievement that has no peer in this century and may well have none in the next" (Laura Shapiro, Time). The author, a former lawyer with a Ph.D. in philosophy, is no Heloise. Her writing is "crisply entertaining" (Cynthia Crossen, the Wall Street Journal), her ideas are "revolutionary … a manifesto in praise and defense of the home" (Susannah Herbert, the Chicago Sun-Times), and the information is indispensable: "Home Comforts is to the house what Joy of Cooking is to food" (Katy Kelly, USA Today). The only negative comment critics can come up with is that on occasion "a schoolmarmish, admonitory tone creeps in" (Corby Kummer, the New York Times Book Review). (Click here to buy the book.)

Opera

The Great Gatsby (The Metropolitan Opera). After much buildup, the Metropolitan Opera's last commissioned work of the century, an opera based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, draws weak reviews overall, with a few raves here and there. Complaints: 1) Gatsby (sung by tenor Jerry Hadley) lacks "the vocal flexibility or top notes to capture Gatsby's sentimental underbelly and heroic decency" (Philip Kennicott, the Washington Post); 2) it's slow (Gatsby takes 45 minutes to show up). On the positive side, the cast includes a few standout performers, and the set and costumes are stunning. The few who find the production enchanting claim, "It is hard to think of another American opera composed with a comparable degree of musical sophistication and sheer virtuoso compositional chops" (Richard Dyer, the Boston Globe). Even the negative reviews give grudging respect to the opera, with the New York Times' Bernard Holland admitting that it "may also be the victim of the inflated expectations surrounding it." (Find out more about the production on the Metropolitan Opera's Web page.)

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