Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 13 2001 11:30 PM

Jet Crashes and Burns 

 

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Movies

Kiss of the Dragon (20th Century Fox). Reviewers love Jet Li's fast fists but find the hackneyed plot of this chopsocky flick almost unbearable. Li is universally criticized for his lack of charisma when not breaking bones, and his suggested romantic rapport with co-star Bridget Fonda is deemed utterly unbelievable: "There's more physical chemistry between Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat than between these two" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). The film's raw brutality—chopsticks through throats, hot irons on faces—puts off some critics, but others say Li has "set a new standard for action" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). (Here is Jet Li's site.)—J.F.

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The Score (Paramount). Most critics love The Score: Rita Kempley of the Washington Post hails it as "sublime, a cunning heist movie that thrills the senses." Robert De Niro, as a retired thief reluctant to do one last heist for an old friend (a porcine but still regal Marlon Brando), continues to charm, even in his relative old age: He has the "gumption to grunt with exertion" (Kempley). Dissenting voices: A.O. Scott of the New York Times deems it "a spiritless, unimaginative exercise in professionalism for its own sake," an opinion shared by Slate's David Edelstein. (Read Edelstein's review here.)— S.G.

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Legally Blonde (MGM). Critics find Legally Blonde guilty of being thin and pointless, though star Reese Witherspoon is pronounced too good for the movie; she's a "sharp, quick-witted Doris Day for our drab age" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). The story of a bimbo who follows her snobby boyfriend to Harvard Law School only to become a legal eagle in her own right, the film is boring and predictable, save for Witherspoon's performance: "[T]he movie is a guilty pleasure and a half, but I wish it were better" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times calls it "Clueless Goes to Harvard," except "this is no Clueless." The movie's official site is here.— S.G.

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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (20th Century Fox). Forget about plot, and just admire the animation here, critics say. Based on the video game with same name, this sci-fi flick is the first with completely computer-generated human leads. Though the characters do look real, romantic scenes are "about as involving as watching two expensive mannequins kissing in a Macy's window" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times), and the dubbing is like a "Japanese creature feature from the 1960s" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). While most see it as a "technical milestone" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times), some feel it's merely "a clever 106-minute promo for Sony's PlayStation II games" (Jay Epstein, the Wall Street Journal). (Click here for the movie's official site.)—M.C.

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Books

Up in the Air, by Walter Kirn (Doubleday). High praise for this wry third novel from GQ's literary critic. In it, a well-traveled protagonist, Bingham, dispenses with many customary amenities—family, friends, a home address—in favor of a lone pursuit: that millionth frequent-flyer mile of the year. Some critics see the influence of Kirn's day job on his writing, saying this glib account could only come out of the "self-awareness of a literary critic," (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). But they're impressed nonetheless: Bingham's "as original and cool a character to come along in literary fiction for a long time" (Christopher Buckley, the New York Times). Most impressively, Kirn's novel ably suggests that "the American dream has become sterile and meaningless" (John Freeman, the Wall Street Journal). And of course, there are heaps of airplane metaphors: "Sit back in your seat" (Buckley), "fasten your seatbelt" (Rudy Maxa, the Washington Post), and prepare to ascend. (Click here for an excerpt.)—D.N.

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

Book cover

The Stardust Lounge: Stories From a Boy's Adolescence, by Deborah Digges (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). This book, an award-winning poet's account of her son's descent into delinquency, draws somewhat mixed reviews. All critics say it's wrenching to see 13-year-old Stephen transform from sweet kid to teen-age thug, and they admire Digges' refusal to consider her son worthless despite his gun-toting and rabble-rousing. The book is "fascinating is its honesty," and USA Today's Carol Memmot is struck by how Digges sees the "rough times as an unavoidable part of her son's evolution from boy to man." But the book loses steam as Stephen slowly wends his way back toward the straight and narrow: "Digges declares victory too early" (Emily Fox Gordon, the New York Times), and "this account frequently seems as self-absorbed as Stephen himself" (Kirkus Reviews). (Read two of Digges' poems here.)— L.S.

102000_102005_shoppingbag_24x30

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



 

David Newman is a contributing editor at Legal Affairs.

Laurie Snyder is Slate's copy chief.

Maureen Sullivan is a Slatecopy editor.

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

In addition to being the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura, Joshua Foer is the author of Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, which grew out of a story he wrote for Slate.

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