The Brockovich Brief

The Brockovich Brief

The Brockovich Brief

Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 17 2000 11:00 PM

The Brockovich Brief

Movies

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Erin Brockovich (Universal Pictures). The combination of a scantily clad Julia Roberts and a real-life feel-good story proves irresistible to most critics. It's a "hugely satisfying feminist fairy tale" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) following a down-and-out single mother of three who helps a working-class town recover damages from a polluting power company. By all accounts Roberts is better than ever, sporting a new degree of self-confidence. A few critics snipe, calling the film a "doggedly conventional crusader-for-justice Hollywood soap opera" that "retails the fantasy that selflessness and self-interest are perfectly congruent" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). (David Edelstein champions the film in his Slate review. Click here to read it.)

Final Destination (New Line Cinema). Yet another addition to the well-stocked teen horror genre, this one from veteran X-Files director James Wong, who makes his big-screen debut. The plot gives a little twist to the usual story of a group of kids getting picked off one by one. This time one of them is clairvoyant and prevents them from getting on a doomed airplane; but fate catches up with them, killing each one in an unexpected way. The critics yawn: "[A] heavy-handed fable about death and teenage illusions of invulnerability … even by the crude standards of teenage horror, Final Destination is dramatically flat" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Check out the trailer and stills from the movie here.)

Beautiful People (Trimark Pictures). Serbian-born director Jasmin Dizdar wows the critics with his debut feature, which traces the repercussions of the war in Bosnia through the lives of expatriates living in London: "He's all intensity. And control. There's not a wasted word or an extraneous shot in his film" (Richard Schickel, Time). He "directs with extraordinary exuberance and self-confidence, in a style that combines documentary realism with a playful, improvisatory sense of formal possibility" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). A few complain that the film is overpopulated with story lines and that the profusion of characters means some end up more like caricatures than real people. (Click here to visit the film's official site.)

Book

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In America, by Susan Sontag (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Reactions to Sontag's sixth novel, about a 19th-century Polish actress who emigrates to America, range from breathless awe to barbed attacks. Some gush: "[A] brilliant and profound investigation into the fate of thought and culture in America. … It is something restless, hybrid, disturbing, original … [and it] shows what prose can achieve in our time" (Michael Silverblatt, the Los Angeles Times). Others say the "onetime high priestess of the avant-garde" has churned out "a banal, flat-footed narrative" that is "a thoroughly conventional imitation of a thoroughly conventional 19th-century novel" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). Most agree that this one doesn't approach the level of her last novel, the acclaimed Volcano Lover, and all say it's nowhere near the caliber of the critical essays that established her reputation. (Find out more about Sontag here.)

Theater 

True West (Circle in the Square Theatre). The critics are in heaven with this "smashing Broadway revival" of Sam Shepard's play, "a fierce, funny and frightening take on sibling rivalry" (William Tynan, Time). Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly (known best for their film work in Magnolia and Boogie Nights) alternate playing the two lead roles of brothers Lee and Austin, one a small-time thief, the other a Hollywood screenwriter. Matthew Warchus' direction is "pitch-perfect," and the two leads "keep their audience in a state of aching laughter. … But the comedy never for an instant feels contrived; it seems to emanate as deeply from the characters' viscera as the froglike belches of the beer-swilling Lee" (Ben Brantley, the New York Times). (Click here for the production's official site.) 

Music

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Get Some Go Again, by the Rollins Band (DreamWorks SKG). Rock-solid reviews for the widest-necked man in rock. As usual, the former Black Flag frontman churns out an album of "200-proof rawk" (Cheryl Botchick, CMJ) that is "rife with the fist-waving angst and raw sexuality that draws hordes of teenage males" (Billboard). But this isn't just Rollins-as-usual. He's "never been more relaxed and effective" (Billboard), and with the presence of a new backing band the music is "significantly rejuvenated"; it's "punk rock without the self-conscious stylistic limitations, classic rock without the lowest-common-denominator pandering" (Dan Epstein, LA Weekly). Some have started to tire of Rollins' knee-jerk anger, noting that he busts on successful acts like the Offspring and Beck "and just about anybody else who has ever had a hit. It's meant as cultural critique—or something—but comes off as sour grapes" (Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone). (Find out more about Rollins' media empire here.)