Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 20 2001 11:30 PM

How To Be Good Enough

 

Movies

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America's Sweethearts (Sony Pictures Entertainment). Intended as a screwball comedy, Sweethearts doesn't deliver, critics say. Catherine Zeta-Jones is effective as a narcissistic ice-queen movie star, but a crucial part of the love triangle—Julia Roberts and John Cusack—lacks sizzle. Or as Rita Kempley writes in the Washington Post, sparks don't fly, "they fall down and they can't get up." The movie turns on the premise that a Hollywood studio must manipulate the media for its film to be successful, which is ironic considering the fact that the film's distributor, Sony, "recently demonstrated its own expertise in this area" by creating imaginary film critics to be quoted in ads (Edward Jay Epstein, the Wall Street Journal). (For the official America's Sweethearts site, click here.)— M.C.

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Jurassic Park III (Universal Pictures). The plot is nothing new—"another party of bozos is visiting the island home of the cunning predators" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post)—but this third installment has good action sequences and is actually funny, critics concede. Though "not as awe-inspiring as the first film or as elaborate as the second … it's a nice little thrill machine" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Computer-generated effects delight with bigger, better, and fiercer dinosaurs, though some "occasionally look like demented chickens on steroids" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The movie is short, but with gags such as dinosaurs swallowing ringing cell phones, it will "scare a smile on your face" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Click here for the film's official site.) – M.C.

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Book

How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby (Riverhead). The author of such androcentric books as Fever Pitch and High Fidelity tries his hand at the voice of a middle-aged woman, and critics are divided over his success. A few say Hornby has a "deft ability to evoke the female sensibility" (Hillary Rosner, the Village Voice), but others feel the narrator "is just a rewrite of Hornby's charmingly adrift men" (Devin Gordon, Newsweek). Most like the book's premise—a grumpy husband undergoes a spiritual conversion to New Age do-gooder—but not necessarily what Hornby does with it. Despite lots of easy laughs, these detractors consider the novel "mirthless" and "flat." (Click here for an interview with Hornby.)— J.F.

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Music

Ancient Melodies of the Future, by Built To Spill (Warner Bros.). This latest release from one of indie-rock's biggest acts garners mostly high marks. "Simultaneously inscrutable, accessible and remarkably easy to listen to" (Neva Chonin, the San Francisco Chronicle), the album is not a major stylistic departure from the band's previous works, and most reviewers are glad. They praise front man Doug Martsch's virtuoso ax-handling and trademark whiny voice, but they wish the album weren't so short (only 39 minutes). One dissenting voice says that Martsch's "efforts don't carry enough charge to keep the listener engaged" (Chris Baty, the Washington Post). (Click here for the band's official Web site.)—J.F.

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Skin, by Melissa Etheridge (Island). Mixed reviews for this cathartic chronicle of the singer's breakup with her partner of 12 years. Many critics say Etheridge has finally lived up to her early promise by toning down the vocal and emotional overstatement that had plagued previous albums. Others seem to feel she has gone too far; they call Skin a passionless and superficial diversion into "milked-down, adult contemporary territory" (Jane Stevenson, the Toronto Sun). (Here is the Melissa Etheridge fan club.)—J.F.

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