Intelligent but Artificial

Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 30 2001 12:00 AM

Intelligent but Artificial

111000_111294_ai_1

Movies
A.I. (Warner Bros.). The brainchild of the late director Stanley Kubrick and grown-up Wunderkind Steven Spielberg, this futuristic sci-fi fairy tale about a lovable robot's Pinocchiolike desire to become a real boy stirs critics. The reviews reflect a complex response, finding the movie" [i]ntriguing, inspired, flawed, misbegotten and fascinating," (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). Some elements get across-the-board praise: 1) the ambition of the project; 2) the dark tone ("A.I. is a chilly fairy tale, a spooky and disturbing film," says Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times); 3) the performance of Haley Joel Osment as the young bot David; and 4) Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, of whom Howe says, " His performance as a half-machine half-soul is balletic, precise and memorable." The movie falters, though, when"Mr. Spielberg seems to be attempting the improbable feat of melding Kubrick's chilly, analytical style with his own warmer, needier sensibility" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). (Read David Edelstein's review for Slate here.)—S.G.

111000_111296_010629_crazybeau

crazy/beautiful (Buena Vista Pictures). The teen love story could be the usual rote adolescent dreck, but it isn't. Critics find that the "brown-and-white romance" (Jess Cagle, Time) between a bad-little-rich girl and a hardworking boy from the other side of the tracks transcends melodrama. Starring sweetheart Kirstin Dunst as the spoiled brat and Jay Hernandez as the industrious blue-collar go-getter, the film "occasionally runs aground on melodramatic writing" (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon). But a breakout performance by Dunst—"emotions [she] portrays with such raw authenticity have been pulled out of the dusty warehouse of melodramatic convention" (A. O. Scott, the New York Times)—and the sexy spark between the two stars help to elevate the movie: "Their potent chemistry brings the story alive (no easy task)" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (crazy/beautiful's official site features a great trailer for the movie.)— S.G.

111000_111030_empire

Books
Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (Alfred A. Knopf). Empire Falls, a dying industrial town in central Maine, is a place all the critics are thrilled to visit. Russo's fifth novel "is his best yet, a wise, wry, big-hearted epic" (Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today). Although filled with a "bumptious cast of sharp-tongued women, sarcastic old-timers, and … a tone of affable, chop-busting comedy darkened by minor chords of heartbreak and frustration" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times), the central character, Miles Roby, is sad-sack, good-egg of a guy who 20 years ago dropped out of college to return home to care for his dying mother. "No one writes better than novelist Richard Russo about the gritty dreams and quiet desperation of small towns" (Minzesheimer). "Russo's feathery foreshadowing is perhaps his finest touch, in a novel with finery all about" (Michael Prager, the Boston Globe). (Listen to Russo read from Empire Falls.)— L.S.

102000_102005_shoppingbag_24x30

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

111000_111031_noonday

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon (Scribner). Critics seem loath to criticize this book that's both a memoir about the author's battle with depression and an exhaustive survey of the disease, but even so, the reception is somewhat mixed. The least enthusiastic claim it's "a loose and baggy monster that ought to have been cut by about a third" (Gail Caldwell, the Boston Globe). Some counter that the "bulk (given its rambles through biomedical research and cultural history, and its … interviews with other people suffering from depression) renders it oddly reassuring" (Joyce Carol Oates, the New York Times). Most critics point to Solomon's account of his mother's death by assisted suicide as being particularly moving, but "[t]his sensitive material is rather swamped by the many reportorial pages that surround it" (Oates). Still, for "someone who doesn't know much about the topic—but who wants (or needs) to learn a lot, … [this book] will probably serve as the standard reference" (Scott McLemme, Newsday). (Read Slate's "Book Club" on Noonday Demon.)— L.S.

102000_102005_shoppingbag_24x30

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

Laurie Snyder is Slate's copy chief.

Siân Gibby assists in editing the Faith-Based column. She copy-edits for Slate.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s  Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 11:13 AM Your Own Personal Rand Paul How the libertarian hero makes his foreign policy contradictions disappear.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 12:07 PM Divestment Isn’t the Answer To destroy demand for fossil fuels, universities can do a lot better than just selling some stocks.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 12:00 PM Dear Prudence Live Chat For September 22, 2014.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 11:32 AM South Park Takes on Washington’s NFL Team and Its Terrible Name
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 11:23 AM Robot Plants Are the Latest in a Long Line of Robot Thingies
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 11:23 AM Two Impacts, One Landslide… on Mercury
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.