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

9½ Days to Video

 

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Movies The Replacements (Warner Bros.). Can you make a feel-good movie about a band of rascally but bighearted union-busting scabs? Apparently you can, but judging from the reaction to this Keanu Reeves football flick, everyone's going to call you on it. After decrying its anti-labor politics, reviewers dig into the rest of the movie: "dumb by any standard" (Richard Corliss, Time) … "a haphazard film about half as sophisticated as the average beer commercial" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). During a pro-football strike, a replacement coach (Gene Hackman) assembles a ragtag band of so-so players led by Reeves. The jokes are weak, the soundtrack is sentimental, and Hackman's coach "seems to be repeating lines he used in Hoosiers and old United Airlines commercials" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Find out more about Reeves' band, Dogstar, at their official site.)

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Cecil B. DeMented (Artisan Entertainment). Mostly poor notices for the latest from Baltimore art-trash auteur John Waters. Melanie Griffith stars as a Hollywood actress kidnapped by Cecil B. DeMented (Stephen Dorff), a guerrilla filmmaker with a cult following, who uses her in his battle against the wretchedness of Hollywood movies. Many critics note the lack of subversive energy in this and other recent Waters films: "Where once Waters was brilliantly polluted, now he comes off diluted" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Some reviewers make rude comments about Griffith: "As Holly Whitlock, the kidnapped airhead prima donna, Griffith isn't stretching much" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). Others have nicer things to say, calling this "her most engaging screen performance since Working Girl" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). Kevin Thomas, always gunning for a quote on the movie poster, praises the film as a "fast, furious and funny fusillade of a movie" (the Los Angeles Times), but most find DeMented a "bore of a tirade" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). (Click here for clips starring Divine from John Waters' earlier, filthier movies.)

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Bless the Child (Paramount). Terrible reviews for this latest horror flick/spiritual hokum-fest. Kim Basinger, apparently trying to make the worst career decisions of any recent Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner (take that, Mira Sorvino!), stars as a New York City nurse raising her 6-year-old niece, who has special powers. Sure enough, the girl is kidnapped by a Satanist cult, and Kim has to rescue her. Critics delighted in insulting this film: "Lowers the bar for an already poor summer season" (Robert Koehler, Variety). "Bless the Child seems derivative of so many other movies that you're surprised that it doesn't have to credit its sources the way hip-hop artists do when they sample songs" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). "This misguided attempt at redoing The Omen for Touched by an Angel times was also touched by a hack" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Ultimately, "the scariest thing about this hokey bombast is that it got made in the first place" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). (Click here to read about a recent Microsoft-Satan business arrangement.)

Music 

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Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, by De La Soul (Tommy Boy). Mostly fantastic reviews for this first installment of a planned three-album series from "the quintessential thinking person's hip-hop group" (Glen Sansone, CMJ). "As always, lyrical complexity and wordplay dominate, challenging listeners to explore their subtleties and clever similes" (Celine Wong, the Source). There are more R & B-style choruses on this album than usual, but "although their music has gotten smoother, it remains witty, eccentric and full of left-field sonic detours" (Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone). Reviewers say the many guest stars—including Redman, Chaka Khan, Busta Rhymes, Xzibit, and two-thirds of the Beastie Boys—don't distract from the trio's unique sound; De La Soul brings "the visitor into their unmistakable fold" (Jon Caramanica, Vibe). One naysayer complains this is "just another hip-hop album" (Soren Baker, the Los Angeles Times), but the majority of critics agree that "De La Soul's Art is a triumphant declaration of their staying power" (Murph, XXL). (Explore the subtleties and similes of the group's lyrics here.)

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Tonight and the Rest of My Life, by Nina Gordon (Warner Bros.). If you're a former indie-rocker (Gordon was in Veruca Salt), probably the last band you want to be compared to is female corn-trio Wilson Phillips. Gordon's first solo album suffers that comparison twice, not to mention a slew of other slams. "The only tragedy about sulking songwriter-singer-guitarist Nina Gordon's leaving loud alt-rockers Veruca Salt … is that Gordon's still making music" (A.D. Amorosi, the Philadelphia Inquirer). "If you thought her old band's lightweight alt-pop was too sweet, taste this syrupy outing" (Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly). Rolling Stone spends much of the review bashing her former band and then closes with this bit of faint praise: "Far from innovative, Gordon nevertheless justifies her continued existence as a recording artist with some tuneful adult-rock craft" (Barry Walters). (Listen to some of Gordon's songs on her official site.)

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Fragments of Freedom, by Morcheeba (Sire). The British trip-hop trio's latest offering is more pop-flavored and upbeat than their usual fare, and critics brace devotees for disappointment: "Lacking much of the musical and lyrical depth of the band's previous work, Fragments of Freedom will likely leave some hardcore fans disillusioned." But fans be damned, critics like the new sound and think Morcheeba has "succeeded in making an album that's accessible without compromising their artistry" (Jason Mandell, LA Weekly). "Gone are the trip-hop-skewed beats, gone are the electronica mood swings, and gone is the band's signature downbeat vibe (don't fret, the band's thorough understanding of melancholia is in full effect, albeit with a touch more optimism). In their place are sunny rhythms, buoyant melodies, and hip-twitchin' beats" (Billboard). (Download Morcheeba MP3s here.)

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

Ben Wasserstein is an associate editor at New York magazine.