Copping Ophelia 

Copping Ophelia 

Copping Ophelia 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 16 2000 3:30 AM

Copping Ophelia 

Movies

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The Beach (20th Century Fox). Leonardo DiCaprio takes a nose dive off his Titanic high with this derivative, jumbled flick, "a sorry excuse for a star vehicle" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). DiCaprio, French starlet Virginie Ledoyen, and other youngsters are touring Thailand looking for the ultimate off-the-beaten-path experience. When they find it on a remote island, what happens under Danny Boyle's (Trainspotting) direction is sort of a "Colors by Benetton take on Lord of the Flies," (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Most Painful Pun of the Week goes to the W ashington Post's Desson Howe: He writes that the two stars "swim out to a school of luminous shrimp at night and frolic among them underwater. I guess that's what you call prawnography." Ugh. (The official site has the trailer and photos of the tawny young Leo; click here to read David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

Snow Day (Paramount Pictures). Critics nail this moronic preteen pic for what it is: "a scheme—likely to be successful for a week or so—to separate a few million 10-year-olds from their allowances" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). Despite the presence of Chevy Chase and Chris Elliott, it never gets stupid or disgusting enough to match Vacation or There's Something About Mary; instead it limps along on its lame premise—a bunch of kids trying to foil the snowplow operator so they can get another day off school. One reviewer's trenchant suggestion: "consider this the cinematic equivalent of yellow snow" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). (Find out more about one of Chevy Chase's more successful films here.)

Music

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, by Yo La Tengo (Matador). The sages of indie garage rock crank out their 10th album, and major media outlets prick up their ears: Newsweek calls it "lulling and surreal" (Devin M. Gordon), and Time declares that the album shows that "the adult love song—gentle, small, intimate—is very much alive" (Josh Tyrangiel). The mood of the music is mellower than the group's recent work, and the lyrics focus on the marriage between drummer Georgia Hubley and guitarist Ira Kaplan. But "if the connection between rock & roll and romance still means anything to you, if guitars play a key role in your bodily chemistry, if you don't gag at the idea of record-collector geeks having sex … [this album] will open you up to intense new pleasures" (Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone). (Find out more about the band here.)

Making Nothing Out of Something, by Modest Mouse (Up). The Northwestern trio gathers the scraps of its independent label career and throws them into an album before heading over to Epic. The results are surprisingly good. The collection of B-sides and singles that "should sound scattered and piecemeal instead glistens with eclectic joy, moving from jagged garage rock to dreamy pop" (Neva Chonin, the San Francisco Chronicle) and ends up working as "a nice overview of the band's ragged, punk-tinged sound" (Ben French, Billboard). Robert Christgau declares "they're irreproachable—dissonant, vulnerable, geeky, and, crucially, sweet where so many other dissonantly vulnerable geeks arm themselves with sarcasm" (the Village Voice). (Find out about the band and tour dates here.)

Book

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Gertrude and Claudius, by John Updike (Knopf). Updike's 51st book reimagines Shakespeare's Hamlet, telling the story from Gertrude's point of view and focusing on the events that precede the action in the play. The reception is generally excellent, with a few sour notes here and there. Fans call it "[p]recisely honed, buoyant with sly wit, masterful character analysis and astutely observed historical details. … Sometimes accused of misogyny, Updike acquits himself of the charge here in his sympathetic depiction of [Gertrude's] character" (Publisher's Weekly). Ron Rosenbaum agrees in the New York Observer, calling the novel "daring," "playful," and "thrillingly heretical." Raining on the parade is the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, who says it "often reads like one of Mr. Updike's slighter tales of suburban jealousy and adultery done in costume dress," and "is less a playful improvisation upon Shakespeare's play like Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern than a simple filching of characters and plot for Mr. Updike's own ends." (Click here to buy the book.)

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