Mad Mel 

Mad Mel 

Mad Mel 

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

Mad Mel 

Movies

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The Patriot (Columbia Pictures). Good but not ecstatic reviews for Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War epic. Most say the filmmakers miss greatness, but that the film is "pretty damn good, anyway—square but also stirring, and in a way that never feels cheap" (David Denby, The New Yorker). The plot is your standard revenge drama, but it manages to deal intelligently with the ethics of war, and Gibson's performance as a man struggling with his own enthusiasm for violence is "powerful and effective" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). A few sour notes: 1) The film falters in its attempts at "reconciling its extremes of maudlin emotion and graphic violence: It's hard to know what to make of a film that wants to feature winsome grins from gaptoothed kids as well as a graphic shot of a cannonball taking a man's head off" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times); and 2) the depiction of African-Americans is woefully inauthentic. Not only are there hordes of contented freemen working on a North Carolina plantation, they "are so enlightened in dress and lifestyle that the scene might be from an Erykah Badu video" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (For more on Gibson, check out this devoted fan's site: "With each work of art he shares a part of his soul. There will never be another.")

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The Perfect Storm (Warner Bros.). The storm dazzles, but the cast doesn't. George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, and others are given meager roles and clichéd dialogue while the storm itself takes center stage. The "quotient of human drama is finally too stingy for the personal stories of a group of New England fisherman battling 'the storm of the century' to hit the emotional bull's-eye" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). But for most critics the special effects make the movie worth watching: "[O]nce that awesome storm, one of the most terrifying ever put on film, gets cranked up," the onshore dramas are rendered irrelevant (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The film has one wholehearted cheerleader, Roger Ebert, who calls it "a well-crafted example of the film of pure sensation. … The film doesn't have complex and involving characters, but they are not needed (the Chicago Sun-Times). (Read an excerpt from the book that the movie is based on.)

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (Universal Pictures). Mixed reviews for this feature-length adaptation of the 1960s cartoon. Peopled with both live actors (Rene Russo, Jason Alexander, Robert De Niro) and animated characters (moose, squirrel), the film is full of the expected bad puns and the self-referential irony that at the time of the original show seemed so ahead of its time. Whether it works now is up for debate: Is it "a film of modest aims, pleasing moments and genuine smiles" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) or "a noisy, bloated mess" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times)? Depends on who's watching. Most likely to love it are nostalgic "baby boomers with fond memories of the early '60s TV show" (Joe Leydon, Daily Variety). (Find out more about the original TV show at this fan site.)

Book

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The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, by Christina Hoff Sommers (Simon & Schuster). The author of Who Stole Feminism? whacks Carol Gilligan with a screed against the "feminization" of boys as dictated by contemporary elementary- and high-school curricula and advocated by books like Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia. True to the political proclivities of their publications, critics hail the book as speaking truth to power (the Wall Street Journal) or condemn it as a willful distortion of the facts (the New York Times). Most do concede that to prove her points, Sommers commits many of the sins she accuses her enemies of—namely depicting "an anecdotal, extremely one-sided portrait of schools" that is "at least as convenient as Gilligan's in the narrowness of its evidence" (Judy Lightfoot, the Seattle Weekly). Nonetheless, the book does come up with some damning statistics: "Most educational yardsticks indicate that girls are doing far better than boys in school and have been for roughly a decade. Girls get better grades, take more advanced-placement classes, display more musical and artistic ability, and study abroad more often" (Fred Barnes, the Wall Street Journal). One point of consensus: "It's good sport … watching bluestockings black each other's eyes" (Norah Vincent, the Village Voice). (This article by Sommers gives a taste of the subject she covers at length in the book.)

Music

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Invincible Summer, by k.d. lang (Warner Bros.). Warm, fuzzy, and mellow reviews for this '70s-influenced album about summer lovin': "A glorious blend of surf-pop and Brazilian rhythms … arguably her most accessible offering since 1992's Grammy-lauded Ingenue," the CD "comfortably cruises from retro-spiced tunes … to edgy jams with a tasteful hint of electronica" (Billboard). Influences listed include the Mamas and the Papas, Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson, and Karen Carpenter. One critic launches a zinger into the group hug, claiming the album is just "quick-paced fluff with the retro exactness, and the soul, of a Pottery Barn sofa" (James Hunter, Rolling Stone). (lang's official site has merchandise and tour information.)

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The White Pony, by Deftones (Warner Bros.). Although some reviewers think the latest album "effectively dispels any and all nasty rumors that the Deftones are a Korn/Limp Bizkit rip-off" (Amy Sciarretto, CMJ), others say the exact opposite—that the album "veers between sounding like a sweeter Korn and a more user-friendly Tool" (Jim Farber, Entertainment Weekly). Despite these quibbles, the reviews are generally quite good, noting that unlike many metal bands, the Deftones "leaven their power-chord mushroom clouds with vocal harmony and tender melody" (Marc Weingarten, the Los Angeles Times). One might reasonably wonder, though, just how "user friendly" an album can be when one moment the vocalist sounds "like an angel whispering in your ear, but the next he erupts like he's clawing out from the bowels of hell into your nightmares" (Sciarretto). (This fan site has video and audio clips as well as photos of the band.)

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