Rez Dispensers

Rez Dispensers

Rez Dispensers

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 2 2000 3:30 AM

Rez Dispensers

Movies

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Eye of the Beholder (Destination Film Distribution Corp.). Ashley Judd plays a serial killer being tailed by a British intelligence agent (Ewan McGregor) who ends up falling in love with her. The movie's bad; critics, in turn, flash their most glib prose: "Do the words el stinko mean anything to you? What about that old standby, el pieco de crapo?" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). One half-hopeful comment: "It isn't insultingly bad; it's just incompetent" (Eric Harrison, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to find out more about Ashley Judd.)

Titus (Fox Searchlight Pictures). Julie Taymor, fresh from directing the much-loved stage production of The Lion King, heads straight for Shakespeare's least-loved play. The cast is rich—Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming—and the art direction unusual (a mixing of fascist Italian and ancient Roman settings). Reactions are all over the map. Some revel in Taymor's fearless, brash production of the brutally bloody play: "a brilliant and absurd film … goes over the top, doubles back and goes over the top again. The film is imperfect, but how can you make a perfect film of a play that flaunts its flaws so joyfully?" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). The downside: "Taymor's rendering of the play is so remote and cold, so disjointed, so devoid of Shakespearean current and surge, that the result is a sequence of fragments" (Stanley Kauffmann, the New Republic). (Click here to read the play online.)

Isn't She Great (Universal Pictures). This biopic about Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann, starring Bette Midler, is damned for its lack of dish. Instead of exposing the seamy side of Hollywood's favorite steamy writer, the film is "defanged," making it "like watching a sketch from the old Carol Burnett Show" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Negative reviews pigeonhole it as a "bottom-rung Bette Midler vehicle" (Mike Clark, USA Today). Its most upbeat notice: "a surprisingly warm and engaging entertainment—brassy, schmaltzy, funny" (Jay Carr, the Boston Globe). (Find out some of the dish missing from the movie here; click here to read David Edelstein's review in Slate.) 

The Big Tease (Warner Bros.). Critics have a laugh at this slight but fun film about a Scottish hairdresser (TheDrew Carey Show regular Craig Ferguson) intent on winning Los Angeles' World Freestyle Hairdressing Championship—a sort of "Strictly Ballroom with scissors" that "knows enough not to take itself too seriously" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The film is "funny but ramshackle" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) and "aims to do nothing but please, and it accomplishes its modest aim with charm and intelligence" (Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle). (Visit the film's official site.)

Book

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On the Rez,by Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Mixed responses to Frazier's description of his friendships with various Oglala Sioux who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Some critics praise the book as a "careful evocation of the honor and squalor of Indian life" (Andrew Ferguson, Fortune) that is remarkable for its honesty: "Here is a first-person narrator who is forthcoming but not self-involved, and who is self-effacing in a way that does not suggest the opposite" (Tracy Kidder, the New York Times Book Review). But in the Los Angeles Times, Sherman Alexie begs to differ: "A white man using the word 'rez' to describe the reservation is the equivalent of a white man using the word 'hood' to describe a black inner-city neighborhood." He goes on to call the author "an outsider eager to portray himself as an insider, as a writer with a supposedly original story to tell and as a white man who is magically unlike all other white men in his relationship to American Indians." He is not alone in calling Frazier's vision flawed: "The problem with this book is that Mr. Frazier never really comes to terms with the disparity between his romanticized dream of Indian life … and the often discouraging facts of day-to-day life 'on the rez' " (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). (Click here to read the first chapter.) 

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