Mars Attacked! 

Mars Attacked! 

Mars Attacked! 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 14 2000 3:00 AM

Mars Attacked! 

Book

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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown & Co.). Most critics marvel at both Gladwell's thesis—that ideas and trends spread in patterns similar to viruses—and his ability to weave together data from a variety of disparate fields. He has created "a fascinating and possibly useful theory" (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, the New York Times) that "assembles talking points from childhood development, marketing and social epidemiology, and holds them up at an angle that lets one distant notion attach to another" (Richard Lacayo, Time). But a few find the book's arguments unconvincing: "[I]ts central premise, no matter how often asserted, fails to persuade"; the book is simply "common sense dressed up as science" (Alan Wolfe, the New York Times Book Review). (Click here to read the first chapter.)

Music

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Machina: The Machines of God, by the Smashing Pumpkins (EMD/Virgin). The Pumpkins are back from the grave and ready to party. After their super-Goth flop Adore they return to their alternative rock roots and churn out a guitar- and drum-heavy album that gets reviewers' attention: "[I]nstead of feeling leaden with self-absorption, it's infused with an air of brute honesty coupled with aggressive tenacity" (Cheryl Botchick, CMJ). Most concur that the band is trying to prove its relevance after years in the shadow of the powder-puff pop that's on the radio these days: "Clear hooks, a hefty beat, words of love … these are the earmarks of a band trying to reconquer the airwaves" (John Pareles, Rolling Stone). Some critics don't think they've earned a comeback: "[T]he more he tries to convince himself that the band still matters because they can rock, the deeper in [lead singer] Corgan digs himself" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). (Find out more about the band and the album here.)

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Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, by Oasis (Sony/Epic). Also trying to make a comeback are Britain's eyebrowiest brothers, Noel and Liam Gallagher (the only members remaining from Oasis' original lineup). They start off on a bad note by misquoting Isaac Newton in their title, and it's downhill from there. Four separate reviewers describe Liam's voice as a "bray"; Newsweek calls the record "not-baddish" (Caroline Sullivan); and Entertainment Weekly calls it "less clotted and grating than 1997's Be Here Now" (David Browne). A few praise the album's new sound (they've added some drum loops and samples) as "a bold and compelling step forward" (Joan Anderman, the Boston Globe). (This anti-Oasis site includes excellent documentation of the Gallagher eyebrows.)

Movies

Drowning Mona (Destination Films). Critics to Drowning Mona: Go jump in a lake! Bette Midler plays a woman who is—well, take your pick from the various descriptions: a "ferocious harridan" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times), a "screeching harridan" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly), or a "hellacious bitch" (David Edelstein, Slate). She's murdered in the first scene, and the local sheriff (Danny DeVito) spends the rest of the film investigating who in her white-trash upstate New York town crossed the line from everyday hatred to murderous rage. After the fun opening, the movie becomes "a dreary crash of malapropisms and slapstick maimings wrapped very loosely around a murder mystery" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Or as Richard Schickel writes in Time, "there's a definite limit to the number of moron jokes we can absorb in 100 minutes, and [this] movie exceeds it." (Visit the film's official site.)

What Planet Are You From? (Columbia Pictures). Garry Shandling plays an alien with a humming prosthetic penis (which reviewers describe using a multitude of euphemisms, the most outlandish from the Washington Post's Desson Howe: "electronic downtown pal" and "buzzing, clicking Mr. Friendly"). Shandling's quest on earth is to impregnate a woman, Annette Bening falls under his spell, and the rest is straight out of Bicentennial Man: Non-human becomes human under the influence of good old-fashioned American love. Most critics get some good laughs but diss the film anyway: "Mildly amusing at best" (David Ansen, Newsweek) … "sporadically funny, often strange and almost never poignant" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) … "feels as smarmy and retro as a Playboy party joke" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). The best part of the movie is undoubtedly Bening's performance. (David Edelstein likes the movie more than most, calling it "a smutty vaudeville act with pockets of gloom." Read the rest of his review here.)

The Next Best Thing (Paramount Pictures). Madonna and Rupert Everett, best friends of the straight-woman/gay-man variety, decide to raise a child together after a night of drunken sex leaves her pregnant by him. All is peachy for this modern family until Madonna falls in love with a man who threatens to upset their equilibrium, and a vicious custody battle ensues. Madonna endures her usual flogging by the press: "Madonna still cannot act" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Even Everett, who normally charms the pants off critics, comes away with a few nicks and cuts. The movie as a whole is "a garage sale of gay issues, harnessed to a plot as exhausted as a junkman's horse" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). (Click here to find out how Madonna and Everett came to star in the movie.) 

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