A Murder of Crowe

A Murder of Crowe

A Murder of Crowe

Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 5 2000 11:30 PM

A Murder of Crowe

Movies

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Gladiator (DreamWorks Distribution). Pre-release hype put Ridley Scott's (Thelma & Louise) beefcake extravaganza, starring Russell Crowe, on a pedestal, and several critics try to knock it off. Roger Ebert calls it a "Rocky on downers" that "employs depression as a substitute for personality" (the Chicago Sun-Times). Under attack: The movie's WWF-style gladiator showdowns are gruesome but unmoving, possibly because the special effects are sub-par (many of the crowd scenes at the coliseum are computer-generated). "It's hard to pin down, but your senses are never quite pricked with the sharpness of the real" (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker). The film gets some strong reviews: "[Q]uite a good movie … big, fat, rousing, intelligent, daring, retro" (Richard Corliss, Time), and Crowe receives plaudits from all for the way he "brings essential physical and psychological reality to the role" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). But his off-camera behavior takes a beating: "[H]e got into brawls with villagers on one location and laid such waste to his rented villa in Morocco that the caretaker protested to Scott, saying 'He must leave! He is violating every tenet of the Koran!' " (Corliss). (Slate's David Edelstein calls the film a "turgid slab of big-budget bloodletting." Read the rest of his review here.)

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I Dreamed of Africa (Columbia Pictures). A brutal post-L.A. Confidential letdown for Baldwin babe Kim Basinger in this Out of Africa wannabe. Yes, the countryside is stunning, but the story—about a self-indulgent rich lady who moves to Africa to find herself—isn't. "If they cut the Kim Basinger parts out of I Dreamed of Africa and blew the remaining 11 minutes up to Imax size, it would be pretty good" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). The problem is two-fold: The story is "disappointingly tame and dramatically inert" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today); and Basinger is no Meryl Streep—"Even when Ms. Basinger has her hands in the dirt, she appears to be floating through the movie like a Tennessee Williams wraith" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Click here to find out more about Basinger.)

The Virgin Suicides (Paramount Classics). Reviews run hot and cold for Sofia Coppola's directorial debut. This famous daughter does some things right: The atmospherics capture '70s suburbia with precision; the acting from Kathleen Turner, James Woods, and most notably Kirsten Dunst is excellent; and Jeffrey Eugenides' novel survives the transition to the screen largely intact. Gripes focus instead on the depressing nature of the material (five beautiful teen-age sisters who commit suicide): "glum and preposterous—an operatically stilted adolescent martyr fantasy—and yet, as staged by Coppola, it's well worth seeing" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). Most critics agree that it ends up as "a strange mix of the clumsy and the haunting, with the haunting finally winning out" (Mike Clark, USA Today). (The film's official site has printable stationery as well as the usual trailer and stills.)

Books

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White Teeth, by Zadie Smith (Random House). Arriving on a tide of good reviews from its British publication, the first novel by 24-year-old Londoner Zadie Smith is greeted by equally warm reviews stateside. (Smith's personal style also receives high marks: "[H]er leather jacket, her glasses, her shoes, her deep, jazzy speaking voice" are all extremely cool, says Newsweek's Jeff Giles.) The novel follows a large, unruly gaggle of multiethnic Brits who struggle with the tensions of assimilation, ethnic pride, and intergenerational strife. The tale is "reminiscent of books by Dickens and Salman Rushdie with a nod to indie movies like My Beautiful Laundrette," and the author "announces herself as a writer of remarkable powers, a writer whose talents prove commensurate with her ambitions" (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). One sour note comes from the Wall Street Journal, which accuses her (of all things) of having published a novel of ideas in which "her characters come off as well-intentioned puppets in the service of an ideological thesis rather than as real people" that is "a bit of a chore to read"—the exact opposite reaction from most critics (Robert J. Hughes). (Read The New Yorker's item on Smith.)

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Crazy, by Benjamin Lebert; Carol Brown Janeway, translator (Knopf). This import written by a 16-year-old German also lands awash in European praise (it's a best seller there, and Der Spiegel gushed that it is "a thoroughly amazing and wonderful book"), but it gets a spanking from the U.S. press. The New York Times lays into the young upstart: "There is nothing whatsoever fresh about the language of Crazy. It tastes like a week-old salad" (Christopher Lehman Haupt, the New York Times). "At its best, Lebert's slim wisp of a book is moving and funny, but it is often marred by creeping sentimentality and cloying pseudo-profundity" (Heller McAlpin, the Los Angeles Times). It "revolves around the clichés of adolescent life. … Lebert's insights into human psychology, society and development are understandably limited" (Publishers Weekly). The book's only saving grace is what Newsweek calls "a sweet, Salingeresque charm" (Jeff Giles, Newsweek). (Click here to read the New York Times' profile of the author.)

Music

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Skull & Bones, by Cypress Hill (Columbia). The Los Angeles rap group's fifth album includes two discs—one rap, one rock—and the critical response is likewise double. Some praise them for branching out and say that including both their signature "melancholic hip-hop" as well as a new "thrashing, metallic rock-rap hybrid that sometimes sounds … like Fugazi" shows that they're "capable of morphing into anyone they wanna be" (Pat Blashill, Rolling Stone). Others scream "sellout!" and say the band "abandons its trailblazing ways in favor of a safer, more predictable approach" and now is just part of the pack trying to "keep pace with the Korns, Kid Rocks and Limp Bizkits of the world" (Soren Baker, the Los Angeles Times). (This article on the group includes audio and video clips as well as interviews.)

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