Gere Shift

Gere Shift

Gere Shift

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 14 2000 12:00 AM

Gere Shift

Movies

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The Contender (DreamWorks Distribution). This political thriller starring Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, and Gary Oldman gets good marks all around. It's a bit trashy (Allen, playing a vice-presidential nominee, is the subject of a scandal involving a supposed orgy in her past) but manages to be "a spellbinding movie whether you are into politics or not" (John Simon, the National Review). The three leads all draw top-notch notices, with a few nods Oscar-ward when mentioning Allen's performance as the beleaguered nominee. Complaints do arise: It "aspires to be a kind of feminist Capraesque morality play" and "surfs on the ripples of recent events" but "is so riddled with implausibilities and plot holes that it collapses into hokum long before its rousingly phony conclusion" (David Ansen, Newsweek). Most like it despite the need for some suspension of disbelief: "A political thriller pumped with as much dramatic juice as The Contender doesn't have to be believable to be gripping. ... It is essentially a pro-Clinton editorial in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal and an angry brief against what it calls 'sexual McCarthyism' and the dragging of private consensual sex into the public arena" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Jeff Bridges' official site includes a small sample of his collection of excellent photographs taken on the sets of his films; some are even for sale.)

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Dr. T and the Women (Artisan Entertainment). Critics agree that Richard Gere gives "the most appealing and probably best performance of his career" (Mike Clark, USA Today) in Robert Altman's film about a popular Dallas gynecologist whose family goes into meltdown. Most also agree that though this "lacks the resonance of a major Altman film," it's still "a funny and ebullient look at a man in full confusion" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). Here's where they disagree: Is Altman's depiction of Texas high-society ladies misogynist? Rita Kempley of the Washington Post sure thinks so: "Robert Altman is crabby, grouchy and bloated with male supremacist ideas. … Though it's allegedly a comedy, there is nothing funny about this tasteless, shallow and mean-spirited slam. [Screenwriter] Anne Rapp, who collaborated with Altman on Cookie's Fortune, must have penned this catty yarn in a fit of self-loathing. … It's clear from the start that neither Altman nor Rapp has much compassion for women at their most vulnerable." Most critics confine their musings on this subject to a line or two: "a streak of misogyny runs through [Altman's] work. An astonishing number of his movies feature, at a crucial narrative juncture, the sexual humiliation of a female character, and sometimes, it has seemed, of an actress" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). But Roger Ebert launches a full-on defense, claiming that "in a time when almost all movies revolve around men, Altman alone gives more than equal time to his female characters. … Dr. T is that rare creature, a male hero who does not represent the director's need to dominate. … Yet Dr. T has been accused of misogynism. … How can this be? [It is] not the impulse of a misogynist, but of a documentarian." (Click here for a write-up of Altman's career to date.)

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Ladies Man (Paramount Pictures). Yep, you guessed it, this is yet another "cheesy, overdrawn and witless Saturday Night Live takeoff" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). This one spins an 85-minute feature out of the beloved cognac sippin' and lady freakin'SNL character who seems to have been caught in a time warp from the '70s. A small number of critics profess to laughing at the gags, but no one is willing to actually give it a good review. A.O. Scott of the New York Times comes close, calling it "not bad" and adding, "If you have some familiarity with recent examples of this benighted genre [i.e., SNL spinoff]—like Stuart Saves His Family, It's Pat, A Night at the Roxbury or Superstar—you will take this evaluation as a giddy rave." (The film's official site includes trailers for the film.)

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Books
The Beatles Anthology, by the Beatles (Chronicle Books). This massive collection of photographs and reminiscences of the Beatles doesn't offer much in the way of new material (most of it already appeared in the TV series of the same name), but it is "entertaining and, to a degree that depends on your previous grasp of the information, informative" (Mim Udovitch, the New York Times). But "for anyone seeking a critical, even scholarly, examination of the Beatles, this isn't the ticket" (Russ Smith, the Wall Street Journal). Despite these minor gripes, most critics find much to love about the book: It's well designed and bursting with photos, some never published before. The more cynical wonder whether "somehow the word got out that we Boomers are finally old enough to have coffee tables, so they gave us the ultimate coffee-table book to put on it" (Adair Lara, the San Francisco Chronicle). (Read a discussion of The Beatles Anthology on Slate.)

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An American Story, by Debra Dickerson (Pantheon Books). Excellent early reviews for Dickerson's memoir of her path from misfit child in the St. Louis ghetto to Harvard Law School. Not only is it a "confident and courageous look at one woman's determination to survive racism, sexism and classism," (Patrik Henry Bass, Essence), it is also a brutally frank discourse on race: "[I]t is a startling thing to hear an American speak as frankly and un-self-servingly about race as Debra J. Dickerson does" (Janny Scott, the New York Times). In a starred review, Publishers Weekly describes the book thusly: "Rarely does a memoir strip away so much emotional armor to expose so many defects as well as strengths. … If Dickerson is ruthless in her appraisal of others, she is twice as hard on her own shortcomings, especially the views about poor and lower-working-class blacks trapped in poverty and despair she held as a young woman." (To read the "Diary" she kept for Slate, click here.)

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