Radiohead Killed the Video Star 

Radiohead Killed the Video Star 

Radiohead Killed the Video Star 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 3 2000 11:30 PM

Radiohead Killed the Video Star 

Music

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Kid A, by Radiohead (Capitol). After weeks of hype, the follow-up to the band's acclaimed OK Computer kicks off to good reviews: "Too often, early promises of musical perfection wind up being empty delusions of grandeur fueled by rock artists' inflated egos. Then there's Radiohead; so startlingly original and stunningly ahead of its time, each album the outfit releases justifies its pomp and circumstance" (M. Tye Comer, CMJ). The album is much further afield from the band's pop roots than anything they've done so far: "It is a kind of virtual rock in which the roots have been cut away, and the formal language—hook, riff, bridge—has been warped, liquefied and, in some songs, thrown out altogether. If you're looking for instant joy and easy definition, you are swimming in the wrong soup. …[ Kid A is] a work of deliberately inky, often irritating obsession" (David Fricke, Rolling Stone). One critic contends that on this album "Radiohead discover their inner Pink Floyd" and that "only after a dozen or so attentive listens does the album reveal itself as sublimely restless mood music" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). The charge of self-indulgence crops up here and there, with a touch of backlash creeping in: "Radiohead's excursion is texturally inviting, but it doesn't go anyplace that many experimentally minded record makers haven't been before. Sounds like a side trip. Let's hope" (Richard Cromelin, the Los Angeles Times). U.S. News' "Ask Dr. Hip" column—in which a reader asks, "What's all this fuss about Radioheads?"—admonishes that "Actually it's Radiohead" and warns that "the subdued electronica, squawking horns, and mopey lyrics may be too weird for some." (This site has tour dates, articles, and a complete discography for the band.)

 

Books

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The Talmud and the Internet, by Jonathan Rosen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The former Forward cultural editor's slim volume on the similarities between the Talmud and the Internet (with a bit of personal memoir thrown in) receives pleasant notices all around. "An admirable essay—somewhat old-fashioned but benignly so: carefully shaped; having an air of relaxation, yet with no hint of looseness in the writing" (Frank Kermode, the New York Times Book Review). Words like "charming," "witty," and "spry" pop up in many reviews, but here and there a critic calls Rosen's reasoning a bit thin: "[T]here is a certain playful sleight of hand. He joins metaphors for his twin subjects more easily than he does the subjects themselves; but we have a digressive good time watching him try. We are moved and enlightened as well" (Richard Eder, the New York Times). (Read the first chapter here.)

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J immy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware (Pantheon Books). Astoundingly good reviews for Chris Ware's collection of his "Acme Novelty Library" comics: "[T]his haunting and unshakable book will change the way you look at your world" (James Poniewozik, Time). (The raves should to a certain degree be taken with a grain of salt, as it's unlikely that any reviewer who was not already a die-hard fan would even push to cover this under-the-radar book in the first place.) Describing four generations of hopelessly lonely, ineffectual men all named Jimmy Corrigan, the book switches from the 19th century to the present and various points between: "Jimmy's inability to interact with the world makes for a humorous tragedy more worthy of comparison to Ivan Goncharov's novel Oblomov … than to anything in the comics genre. Some will find Jimmy Corrigan slow and depressing; they will be wrong. It is thrilling, moving, profoundly sympathetic—and it is the most beautiful-looking book of the year" (Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly). But more than the plot, critics can't heap enough kudos on Ware's art, which is "studded with small, precise panels that regularly expand to reveal stunning draftsmanship" (Tucker). Or as Ruben Bolling enthuses in Slate, "This is a Goddamn Masterpiece of American Art." (Read a discussion between Ted Rall and Ruben Bolling on recently published comics collections in Slate.)

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David Boring, by Daniel Clowes (Pantheon). The other comic book collection of the moment is also well reviewed, but not with nearly the same sense of hyperbolic awe. This collection is part pulp novel, part film noir, and "captures the feeling of being young and filled with ennui and living in America at the end of the 20th century. … Boring is anything but" (Andrew D. Arnold, Time). A few find the somewhat confusing tale too over-the-top (the main character gets shot in the head twice and lives, is obsessed with women with large rear ends, and winds up stranded on a remote island as the rest of the United States experiences some sort of germ warfare). "[Clowes] alternates moving scenes of personal alienation and despair with bizarre transitions, portentous plot twists and an unconvincing mix 'n' match of genres" (Publishers Weekly). Or as Ted Rall writes in Slate: The "tip o' the hat to everything-and-the-kitchen-sink postmodernism gets a bit much at times." (Click here for an exchange on recent comics between Ted Rall and Ruben Bolling in Slate. Find out more about the movie being made with Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi out of Clowes' last book here.)

Movies

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Girlfight (Screen Gems). This indie shared the top prize at Sundance, and first-time director Karyn Kusama won best director, so it's no shock that the movie gets consistently great reviews. Its best feature by far is newcomer Michelle Rodriguez, playing Diana, a tough young girl living in Brooklyn who decides she wants to learn how to box. Critic after critic is dumbstruck by her seething power and say her occasionally amateurish acting (this is her first film) plays in her favor: "[T]he movie belongs to Ms. Rodriguez. With her slightly crooked nose and her glum, sensual mouth, she looks a little like Marlon Brando in his smoldering prime, and she has some of his slow, intense physicality. ... In recent years, athletes like Venus Williams, Rebecca Lobo and Marion Jones have given the world a new, intoxicating image of female beauty rooted in power and confidence as well as grace. Ms. Rodriguez is the first movie star—and she is, without question, a movie star—to embody this new ideal." (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). A few critics note that the plot is standard sports-movie fare (complete with setbacks and a buildup to the Big Fight), but say that Rodriguez saves the movie from its weaker impulses: She's "so dynamic as Diana, so full of life, so unassumingly herself, those boxing cliches feel original all over again" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Find out about women's boxing on the International Female Boxers Association's Web site.)

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Best in Show (Warner Bros). Mockumentary master Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman) doesn't exactly win a blue ribbon with this film on dog-show culture, but he's not far off. Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard (whose performance as a bumbling announcer is a critical favorite), and others in the ensemble cast worked without a script, ad-libbing from a rough outline. The results are described either as "a little more hit-or-miss than its predecessors" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) or as "well-organized, exquisitely nuanced skit comedy" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) and a reinvigoration of the mock documentary: "[J]ust when you thought the genre had lost its sparkle, along comes Christopher Guest to remind us how good it can be … it's as smart, quiveringly alert and fleet of foot as a purebred pointer on the scent of fresh game" (David Ansen, Newsweek). (The official site includes film clips and outtakes.)

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Remember the Titans (Buena Vista Pictures). The only surprising thing about this by-the-numbers football 'n' racial integration flick is that it was produced by Jerry "More Car Chases and Explosions, Please" Bruckheimer. Based on the true story of the 1971 integration of a Virginia high school, the film has some good performances (Denzel Washington's coach is much complimented), but it's more about warming hearts than testing limits: "[T]he movie is heartfelt, yes, and I was moved by it, but it plays safe" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Some are less generous: "It's so smug and so proud of itself, and you can tell that everybody involved conceives of it as a civics lesson instead of a story" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Many scoff at Bruckheimer's departure from type: "Titans is apparently producer Jerry Bruckheimer's idea of a serious, small-scale movie, but by any reasonable standard, it's still boorish and flatulent" and "engineers a shameless moment of courageous-athlete poignancy that wouldn't be out of place on NBC's doggedly lachrymose Olympics coverage" (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). (Find out more about the high school in the film here.)

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Beautiful (Destination Films). Ugly reviews for Sally Field's directing debut. Minnie Driver stars as a bitchy, underhanded beauty-pageant contestant who later sees the error of her ways. Critics call it "a movie with so many inconsistencies, improbabilities, unanswered questions and unfinished characters that we have to suspend not only disbelief but intelligence as well" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Who's to blame for this dud? "Responsibility for the movie's relentless shrillness belongs both to Sally Field, who is making her insecure feature-film debut as a director, and to Ms. Driver, who is woefully miscast" as the beauty queen (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Did you know that the preliminary Miss America judging is based 40 percent on "Talent," 30 percent on "Interview," 15 percent on "On-Stage Personality in Evening Wear," and 15 percent on "Physical Fitness in Swimsuit" ?) (Click here to find out more at the pageant's official site.)