Bongo Boy Becomes War Hero 

Bongo Boy Becomes War Hero 

Bongo Boy Becomes War Hero 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 21 2000 11:30 PM

Bongo Boy Becomes War Hero 

Movies

81000_81080_u571
Advertisement

U-571 (Universal Pictures). Although it pales in comparison to the submarine movie that all future submarine movies will be judged by— Das Boot—this World War II flick is a rollicking good time. Matthew McConaughey, "awfully handsome in his dress whites and appropriately sweaty under the strain of combat" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times), plays a young officer hoping to command his own boat. When his crew hijacks a Nazi submarine in search of an Enigma machine, he gets his chance. Despite McConaughey's top billing, "the real star of U-571 is its sheer visceral atmosphere" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). Critics say the submarine set is amazingly authentic (though most ignore the fact that the feat of stealing an Enigma off a U-boat was actually accomplished by the British Royal Navy). The film is nowhere near as deep as Saving Private Ryan but, "Is it fun? Hell, yes. Do you emerge soaked in your own sweat with your knees atremble? Totally" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). (Find out more about the history of U-boats here. Click here to read a review of U-571 that includes a video clip of Bon Jovi talking about the film.)

81000_81081_lovebasketball

Love and Basketball (New Line Cinema). Most critics give mixed reviews to this film about romance, sports, and the conflicts they generate. Everyone agrees that at times it descends into "a soap opera driven by cliché situations" (Jack Kroll, Newsweek), but most also concede that it "has moments of such tenderness and sophistication, complimented by such romantic dreaminess between lead performers Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan, it's easy to forgive the movie's slower sections" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). Following one male and one female basketball player through high-school tournaments, college ball, and eventual professional careers, the film is saved by "[t]he director's feel for characterization and her knack for ambience" that keep it "on the move until the realization sets in that it's not really about anything" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Visit this fan site for more on Omar Epps.)

81000_81082_gossip

Gossip (Warner Bros.). Dismal reviews for this rich-kids-in-peril fantasy about a group of ridiculously high-living college students who start a rumor and are unprepared for the consequences. Similar to last year's Cruel Intentions, this film is "crammed with moist human eye candy squished together in lip-locked close-ups at impossibly glamorous parties" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times), which makes it sound more fun than the critics let on. Damned as stupid and predictable—"[y]ou'd get bigger shocks from shuffling on nylon carpets" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today)— Gossip finds only one critic who admits to liking it: Daily Variety's Dennis Harvey says it "delivers more nasty fun than you'd expect." (Visit the official site.)

Books

80000_80821_booktaboo
Advertisement

Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid To Talk About It, by Jon Entine (Public Affairs). You might expect that claiming to show a genetic basis for the dominance of certain sports by people of African descent would raise a firestorm. But in fact Entine's book gets warm reviews: "a careful and reasoned case for this point of view" (Richard Bernstein, the New York Times) … a "balanced, well-reasoned and—above all—calm examination of the issue" (S.L. Price, Sports Illustrated). But even the good notices include caveats: "The problem is that once you have isolated one genetic distinction in a racial population, even an advantageous one, the field is open to find other racial attributes, including disadvantageous ones" (Bernstein)… "[H]e falls into the sports world's common trap of equating who's 'best' with who is winning what sport right now" (Paul Ruffins, the Washington Post). There are some negative reviews, which call the book "a piece of good old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism (those dang perfessers!) that plays to vulgar beliefs about group differences" (Jonathan Marks, the New York Times) and argue that we don't have enough information to draw conclusions as to whether nurture or nature is the cause of blacks' dominance of certain sports: "[A]ny genetic differences that may exist between racial groups are, in the long run, utterly swamped by environmental influences" (Jim Holt, the New York Times Book Review). (Click here to read an excerpt from the book.)

80000_80822_bookreagan

Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster). The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fire in the Lake draws excellent reviews for her look at Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. She "provides ample evidence to distrust the thesis that Star Wars and the early 1980s arms buildup … toppled the Soviet Union" (David Greenberg, Foreign Affairs). Her main accomplishments: 1) A "devastating, carefully researched study of the Reagan Administration's confused, chaotic, and contradictory" Soviet foreign policy (Lars-Erik Nelson, the New York Review of Books), and 2) she "clearly, eloquently and engagingly" elucidates "a set of obscure and complicated events" (Alan Brinkley, the New York Times Book Review). A few quibbles arise. Some call FitzGerald too biased against Reagan, claiming that he "remains elusive" in this volume, and "his ability to capture the public imagination and the White House will always be something of a head-shaking puzzle to those indifferent to his charms" (James G. Hershberg, the Chicago Tribune). Others note that FitzGerald didn't research the Russian side of the story: "[S]he has made no sustained effort to determine how the Soviets really perceived and responded to Star Wars, or why Gorbachev abandoned the Soviet policy of betting all on military power" (Thomas Powers, the Washington Post). (Star Wars is still in business to the tune of several billion dollars a year, though it is now known as National Missile Defense. Click here to find out more about it.)

Music

80000_80823_musicfigure8

Figure 8, by Elliott Smith (Uni/DreamWorks Records). Reviews of the singer-songwriter's fifth album are glowing but focus just as much on his withdrawn, melancholy persona as on his music. The album is "exquisite" (Kelso Jacks, CMJ), and as usual, his songs "provide ruthless, sad-eyed insight swathed in melodies that the Beatles would not disown" (Jon Pareles, Rolling Stone). In the same vein as his other DreamWorks album, XO, this one features Smith's haunting voice and guitar backed up with "saloon pianos, polite garage-band bashings, crisp jangles, and dark-castle chamber pop" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). This album is more proof that Smith has progressed from recording on four tracks in a basement to studio-produced slickness without ever sacrificing the "exquisite purity and commitment behind his perpetual bummer" (Pareles). One critic dissents, calling the songs "slighter than ever" and the album "innocuous background music" (Browne). (This excellent fan site has photos, interviews, and tour dates. DreamWorks' site has video of Smith recording and riding a skateboard in the studio.)

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