Angela's Arses

Angela's Arses

Angela's Arses

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Jan. 26 2000 3:30 AM

Angela's Arses

Movies

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A Map of the World (First Look Pictures Releasing). Mixed reviews for Sigourney Weaver's turn as a mother stretched to the limit after a child in her care accidentally drowns. Some blast the film because it uses a child's death "as merely the first manipulation of many meant to engender sympathy for its heroine" and call it "fraudulent in every detail" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). Others deny these charges, saying the movie has "an emotional depth and psychological acuity that place it in a category by itself" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). Most concur in their estimation of Weaver's work: "emotionally direct … lovely, warm" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here to read a review of the Jane Hamilton novel that was the basis of the film.)

Angela's Ashes (Paramount Pictures). The film's not bad, but it's nowhere near the caliber of the beloved Frank McCourt memoir on which it is based. Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle play Frank's parents; Alan Parker (The Commitments) directs. While the adaptation is respectful, it "mostly misses the humor, lyricism and emotional charge of Frank McCourt's magical and magnificent memoir" and unfortunately becomes "something resembling a conventional tale of a gifted young man's struggle to lift himself out of oppressive circumstances" (Todd McCarthy, Variety). The harshest complaint: It's just "two hours and 20 minutes of beautifully photographed rain, mud, blood, lice, vomit, dead babies, and whining" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). The more upbeat take: The movie is "a thinner version of the novel, but you still get a drama that has you laughing and brokenhearted" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Click here to read an excerpt from the book.)

Down to You (Miramax Films). Negative notices from all concerned for this cutesy college romance. The leads, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles, are "scrubbed, wholesome and bland," while the writer-director Kris Isacsson "flees from anything that might involve real human emotion, or for that matter any credible human activity other than looking good" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). "You keep waiting for a twist, a difficulty, a dilemma, a single cleverness," Stephen Hunter writes in the Washington Post. "Wait in vain, partner." (The official site includes a list of helpful dating tips, such as "Don't be afraid to eat in front of your date.")

Play It to the Bone (Buena Vista Pictures). This road-cum-boxing movie starring Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas is both trite and strange: On one hand it "knocks the Rocky tradition on its ear by giving us two boxers to root for in the same match" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal), but despite this departure from convention, it manages to include "an assembly of ancient and familiar prizefight clichés" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) is a veteran of successful sports movies, but this one lacks the "off-the-wall larkiness" of his previous efforts (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe). The film culminates in a gruesome fight between the two stars that leaves several critics bemoaning the confusion over whom to root for; others contend that the scene's emotional conflict works in its favor. (Click here to watch the trailer.)

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Book

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Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton). This "vibrant, sumptuous novel" (Kate Flatley, the Wall Street Journal) is dripping with slaver by the time reviewers finish with it. Set in 17th-century Delft, the "outstanding" (Denise Kersten, USA Today) novel traces the singular life of a girl working as a servant in the home of painter Jan Vermeer. The precocious teen-ager ends up sitting for the famous portrait that shares its title with the book. Something of an entanglement develops between the intelligent, artistically aware young girl and the painter, but the book is in no way a conventional romance; it's "a brainy novel whose passion is ideas" (Richard Eder, the New York Times). (Click here to look at the titular painting.)

Television

Malcolm in the Middle (Fox; 8:30 p.m.; Sunday). Critics pour the love on thick: "Fresh as a Twinkie right off the assembly line, more welcome than a power failure during the State of the Union speech, fitfully 'Seinfeldian' in its pure, crazed hilarity … [it] could very well be the best new sitcom of the season" (Tom Shales, the Washington Post). No laugh track, cinematic single-camera shooting, and an appealingly daffy family all add up to a fresh-feeling show. Newcomer Freddie Muniz plays Malcolm, a gifted 9-year-old, and is "that rare thing, an uncloying child actor" (Caryn James, the New York Times). Many critics compare the show to Fox's best-known half-hour comedy, The Simpsons, saying it shares the same sense of the absurd (mother shaves father's back at the breakfast table, etc.) with an "undercurrent of love and gentle support" (Ramin Zahed, Variety). (Click here to find out more about the show at Fox's official site.)

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