Lopez Dispensers

Lopez Dispensers

Lopez Dispensers

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 25 2000 3:30 AM

Lopez Dispensers

Music

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The 42nd Annual Grammy Awards. The story of the night was guitarist Carlos Santana's expected sweep—eight awards in all—matching Michael Jackson's 1983 record for Thriller. Surprise winners included Sting, who beat out the Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin for Best Pop Album, and Best New Artist Christina Aguilera, who beat out fellow teen vixen Britney Spears and soul diva Macy Gray. Highlights of the night: 1) Jennifer Lopez's nonexistent dress; 2) The triumph of relative class (Santana and Sting) over bubble-gum boy bands. Lowlights: 1) Aguilera's acceptance speech: "Omigod, you guys … I seriously do not have a speech prepared whatsoever." 2) Spears' "sappy fairy-tale rendition of 'From the Bottom of My Broken Heart' and lip-synched version of '… Baby One More Time,' " which rated the "most nauseating performance by a former Mouseketeer award" (Neva Chonin, the San Francisco Chronicle). (Click here for more Grammy gossip.)

Books

City of God, by E.L. Doctorow (Random House). Mimicking the style of a writer's notebook, Doctorow's latest novel includes riffs on bird watching and physics and a patchwork of different (often unidentified) voices. Most of the book zooms in on an Episcopal priest with a crisis of faith and two husband-and-wife rabbis who re-energize his belief. Reviewers fall into two camps. Some say the hodgepodge never gels: "These narrative strings and snippets of thought are presumably intended to produce a varied tapestry depicting contemporary life in New York. Instead, while one cannot but admire Mr. Doctorow's stitches, you quickly begin to lose the thread" (the Economist). The other camp calls it a virtuoso balancing act: "The true miracle of City of God is the way its disparate parts fuse into a consistently enthralling and suspenseful whole" (Paul Gray, Time). (Click here  to find out more about the author.)

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The Verificationist, by Donald Antrim (Knopf). Though it may not eclipse the hoo-ha over Pomo wonderboy du jour Dave Eggers, Donald Antrim's latest metafictional novel has given critics a new baby to cluck over. The premise: A psychologist gossiping with a group of colleagues at a pancake house is about to initiate a food fight when he finds himself having an out-of-body experience and spends most of the book hovering near the ceiling, contemplating life and his profession. Affection for the book runs deep: "[N]o one writes better slapstick than Antrim. … A hilarious send-up of psychoanalysis and a deeply original meditation on the nature of identity" (Kirkus Reviews) … "Antrim's prose is an acquired taste, but it takes only a few pages to acquire it" (R.Z. Sheppard, Time) … "another darkly comic tour-de-farce" (Publishers Weekly). A few critics complain that the ending trails off inconclusively, but until that point the novel "clatters and whirs like a Rube Goldberg device, spitting out, on every page, perfectly formed pellets of intellection, rude humor, grief and longing" (Dwight Garner, the New York Times Book Review). (Read the first chapter.)

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Movies

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Boiler Room (New Line Cinema). Yes, it rips off Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross, but this debut from director Ben Younger burns with enough fire for critics to forgive its derivative tendencies. Giovanni Ribisi plays a 19-year-old who has entered the world of stock scams though a shady brokerage firm that sells bum stocks to dupes, mainly via cold calls from its staff of money-hungry twentysomethings led by Ben Affleck. "The movie hums with authenticity" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times), and the highlights are "a succession of scarily hilarious riffs on the trappings of tasteless wealth and the workings of heedless desire" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). Though Younger "possesses an ear for the idioms and speech patterns of his chosen subculture that Mr. Mamet might envy" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times), his hand is less sure at coordinating subplots, romances, and non-greed-related details. Some claim that it "runs out of steam about halfway through" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe). (Slate's David Edelstein praises the film as "a damn good melodrama"; read the rest of his review here.)

Hanging Up (Columbia Pictures). Nora and Delia Ephron's half-baked semi-autobiographical screenplay stars Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan, and Lisa Kudrow as three sisters dealing with their dying father (Walter Matthau). Instead of being an emotional powerhouse, "the movie runs for cover in lame, comic shtik" (David Ansen, Newsweek). It's packed with "desperately lighthearted Hallmark moments" and ends up as "a chilly machine-tooled comedy" that takes "the touchiest of subjects, the decline and death of a parent, and efficiently Ephronizes it into a series of cute, easy-to-swallow pseudo-epiphanies" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Click here to read Ephron's "Breakfast Table" exchange with Kurt Andersen in Slate last fall.)

Pitch Black (USA Films). This update of a standard '50s B-movie plot—humans crash-land on a distant planet filled with nocturnal man-eating creatures—gets weak reviews. "[N]othing really fun, scary or exceptionally gross occurs. Instead, you end up wondering: How many unofficial remakes of Alien can there possibly be?" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). A few single out Vin Diesel for his performance as a scary human with exceptional night vision, but critics generally concede that "[f]erocious attacks by the planet's monstrous creatures manage only partially to alleviate the tedium that defines the movie" (Emanuel Levy, Variety). (Visit the official site.)

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