Hard Drinkin' De Niro

Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 10 2001 12:00 AM

Hard Drinkin' De Niro

Movies

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15 Minutes (New Line Films). Critical reaction is mixed for this gory buddy thriller that strings up tabloid TV for its bloodlust. Those who pan it say, "15 Minutes is worth that much of your time, but only if you're a masochist" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal) and complain that it's a "predictable, heavy-handed satire" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). The fans say writer-director John Herzfeld (2 Days in the Valley) has "created a shrewd thriller" (Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle) with a bold surprise ending. (Morgenstern calls it idiotic.) The plot: Robert De Niro plays a media-savvy, liquor-loving homicide detective who teams up with a young, spotlight-shy arson investigator (Edward Burns) to track down a couple of murderous arsonists. The psychopathic duo capture their exploits on a stolen camcorder, then sell the grisly videos to a tabloid TV-show host, Kelsey Grammar, who airs them. Herzfeld's disgust with the tabloids may be genuine, but David Edelstien doesn't like that the director himself uses violence as a turn-on: "He tsks-tsks over Grammer's decision to air a horrific killing, but he has no qualms about giving you multiple views of the butchered, seminude body of a dishy prostitute" (Slate). "It's fleet-footed, merciless entertainment. But the mixture of laughs, bathos and brutality is a big turnoff" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Read the rest of Edelstein's review here.)— L.S.

Company Man (Paramount Classics). Critics seem happy to see Woody Allen again, but his unbilled appearance is just about all they're rejoicing for in Douglas McGrath's spy spoof on the Bay of Pigs invasion. Unfortunately for McGrath, Allen, "who lifts whatever scene he is in" (Jan Stuart, the Los Angeles Times) makes the shortcomings of this flick "all the more obvious by bringing to mind his own far superior espionage goofs" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). McGrath, who wrote and directed the film, also stars as Allen Quimp, a high-school-grammar-teacher-turned-CIA-agent (accidentally, of course), who gets dumped in then-backwater Cuba where he can do no harm working for a haughty American ambassador (Allen). When Fidel Castro overthrows the Batista dictatorship, Quimp finds himself in cahoots with rabid anti-Communist Agent Johnson (John Turturro) to foil the revolution. But the "vaudevillian setups fall flat as many times as they hit the mark" (Stuart) and the spoof is so lame that "the parties involved should be arrested and charged with treason" (Kempley). Even with a star-studded cast (Sigourney Weaver as Quimp's pushy socialite wife, Alan Cumming as Batista, Anthony LaPaglia as Castro), the movie ends up as "little more than a loose-jointed succession of goofy Saturday Night Live-style sketches and sight gags" that "leaves you wondering why it was made at all" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (For the movie's official site, click here, and for the trailer, click here.)—M.C.

When Brendan Met Trudy (The Shooting Gallery). It may be a plot everyone's familiar with (wacky gal loosens up strait-laced guy), but critics take a cotton to this romantic comedy written by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments). It's "an Irish lark that blows in, trailing daffodils and the sniff of spring" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). The film is more than just a romance, though: Uptight school teacher Brendan realizes that there's something a bit off about wild-child Trudy, and it's no surprise when he finds out about her outlaw tendencies. Much praise is lavished on newcomer Flora Montgomery, who plays Trudy: She's an "irresistibly brash sexual dynamo whose charm is so blazing you hesitate to consider the possibility she might be a sociopath. … Trudy is the spark that ignites the film" (Stephen Holden). A few complain that the film is too slight: It's "a decent light beer but no Guinness" (Desson Howe). But most are enchanted: "It's hard to stop quoting from a movie this good" (Joe Morgenstern). (Click here to find out more about the Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan movie this one steals a title from.)—E.T.

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Book How I Came Into My Inheritance and Other True Stories, by Dorothy Gallagher (Random House). Critics like this "strong-voiced" account of the torments and beauty of one woman's Ukrainian-Jewish roots (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). Critics are most taken with the tone of unsentimental tenderness, the "frank mixture of warmth and bitterness," wry humor, and unnerving honesty with which Gallagher characterizes her family baggage (Abby Frucht, the Washington Post). The title story, a depiction of her aging and ailing parents, attests to her frankness: "The reader's first reaction to Gallagher's talk of urine bags and cracked, bleeding hands and weeks without baths is 'You don't show this.' " (Laura Shaine Cunningham, the New York Times Book Review). As Gallagher depicts it, she had a knack for probing inquiries—asking Mom, "Why don't you and Daddy ever kiss?" and "Why did Stalin sign the pact with Hitler?"—from an early age. Critics say there is lots of lively and touching memoir material here as well: family lore and stories of immigrant relatives and friends "as richly vivid as fictional characters" (Publishers Weekly) along with autobiographical accounts of Grandfather Lenin and summers at Workers Children Camp, a brief first marriage and frustrating early magazine- and book-writing career, and an ultimate return to her parents' birthplace. Even Kirkus' harsher-than-most review, which complains that the depiction of her family veers toward caricature, grants that "Anna Yezierska she's not, but Gallagher does offer some charming vignettes." (Click here for the first chapter and here for a review of her nonfiction.)—Y.S.

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To purchase this book from barnesandnoble.com, click here.

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Music Everyday, by Dave Matthews Band (RCA). Extremely mixed reception for an extremely new sound on the fourth big-studio album from this former bootleg band. The big changes: 1) a professional, mainstream pop sleekness from producer Glen Ballard (who worked with Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, and Aerosmith); 2) Dave has ditched the acoustic for the electric guitar; 3) there's less fiddle and sax; 4) songs are shorter and more focused. The "change has been for the better" camp says that Dave is still Dave (Christopher John Farley, Time). There is still graininess beneath the gloss, sorrow and "dark beneath the sheen" (David Fricke, Rolling Stone); "tougher beats, touches of electronica ... sharpen and streamline DMB without muting its ample musicianship and passion" (Edna Gunderson, USA Today). Old fans of the long jams and the earthy ease are crying foul: " 'I Did It,' the first single, is a total dud: all swagger, no heart" (Devin Gordon, Newsweek). Those who never liked DMB think plugging in has just made their sprawling sound and clumsy lyrics feel more processed and labored and Dave's image more confused: "It's like chasing down that granola bar with a can of Jolt. ... He still straddles an uneasy line between horny frat boy and sensitive New Age guy and he seems to make up lyrics as he goes along" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here to listen to samples and here for Rolling Stone's extensive DMB links.)—Y.S.

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To purchase this CD from Amazon.com, click here.

Television
The Lone Gunmen
, Fox (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET, through March 18; Fridays at 9 from March 16). If you have any inkling to surf during the Sopranos, you'll probably be a bit disappointed with what you find if you flip to Fox's X-Files substitute. Many critics say this clumsy comedy spinoff about the three computer-geek conspiracy theorists—who previously sidekicked for Mulder and Scully—doesn't have what it takes to pull off a separate show. (The papers report Fox is giving the show the prime time for its first few weeks to appease X-Files creator Chris Carter after canceling his Harsh Realm series.) Critics say Gunmen's premise, a kind of Three Stooges meets Mission Impossible, seems old and unfunny. Cult fans may love its zaniness, but most will find silly is not as good as scary. "[W]hat made these guys such a hoot" was "setting them against a backdrop of dark intrigue and playing it straight. On Gunmen, they practically have to dodge the flying banana peels" (James Poniewozik, Time). Consensus: Bring back the aliens! (Click here for the show's official site.)—Y.S.