A Hardball for Softies

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 18 2001 11:30 PM

A Hardball for Softies

Critics in New York didn't go to screenings because of the terrorist attacks, but in other parts of the country newspapers published reviews as usual.

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Movies
Hardball (Paramount). Mixed notices for this film starring—whoa!—Keanu Reeves as a compulsive gambler who coaches a baseball team in the Chicago projects. Every review notes its formulaic nature, but some say the film transcends it. "There's no denying that Hardball—yet another tale of personal redemption through sports—is one big baloney sandwich, but it's a baloney sandwich made eminently palatable by the whopping dose of grit filmmaker Brian Robbins spreads on the bread" (Michael O'Sullivan, the Washington Post). Reactions to Reeves' performance are as mixed as O'Sullivan's metaphor; it's either "pained" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) or it's "a career high point" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here for Little League's home page and here for a Slate diary by a Chicago father whose son's team made it to the Little League World Series.)— B.W.

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The Glass House (Columbia Pictures). You know a movie's bad when blurb-hound Kevin Thomas calls it "so laughably awful that it begs to have stones thrown at it" (the Los Angeles Times). Though it features two intelligent actors—Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting) and Leelee Sobieski (Eyes Wide Shut)—this thriller devolves into a "spasmodic display of unintended comedy" (Robert Koehler, Daily Variety). Other complaints: 1) "The movie's trailer doesn't help, with its comprehensive betrayal of the movie's key secrets" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times); 2) too many coincidences for even the most gullible audience. (Click here to visit the film's official site.)— E.T.

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Books
The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Excellent reviews for the most hype-swaddled novel of the season. Five years after his 15,000-word Harper's essay decrying the withered state of the modern novel, Franzen shows the world how it's done: "If John Irving and Tom Wolfe stopped bickering about how to write the Great American Novel long enough to sit down and tap one out together, they'd probably end up with something a little like Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections—only not as good" (Benjamin Svetkey, Entertainment Weekly). Both old-fashioned—"a conventional realist saga of multigenerational family dynamics"—and modern—with "just enough novel-of-paranoia touches so Oprah won't assign it and ruin Franzen's street cred" (David Gates, the New York Times)—this tale of one disintegrating Midwestern family both tugs at the heartstrings and comments sagely on contemporary culture. Michiko Kakutani lobs a few bombs in her generally positive review, complaining that Franzen is "often self-indulgent and long-winded" and "would have benefited enormously from a strict editing job" (the New York Times). Most critics simply sing the sprawling novel's praises: "an energetic, brooding, open-hearted and funny novel that addresses refreshingly big questions of love and loyalty" (Chris Lehmann, the Washington Post). (Click here to read about Franzen's bizarre writing habits and here to read the first chapter.)E.T.

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

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Heavier Than Heaven, by Charles Cross (Hyperion). The critics call this biography of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain "an expert telling of a hellish life" (Chris Nelson, the Seattle Weekly). Music journalist Cross' 400 interviews and "access to Cobain's unpublished journals help … the narrative move like the best Nirvana anthems: a slow build, some off-kilter rhythms, softly seductive passages followed by loud screams and a devastating finish" (Jeffrey Ressner, Time). Though he does dispel some of the mythology and apocrypha surrounding Cobain (no, Love did not hook him on heroin and his first concert wasn't Black Flag), the biography is largely respectful, written with "intelligence and an insider's perceptiveness" (Kirkus Reviews). Fascinating detail: Cobain's artistic side "was encouraged by a paternal grandmother whose hobby was carving Norman Rockwell images on the caps of mushrooms with toothpicks" (Robert Christgau, The New Yorker). (Click here to visit the Internet Nirvana Fan Club.)E.T.

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

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Music
Iowa, by Slipknot (Roadrunner). Bad reviews for this "unrelentingly brutal disc" from the clown-mask wearing Midwestern nu-metal nonet. With lyrics sure to shock ("I wanna slit your throat and f--- the wound"), the band "makes you long for the wit and inventiveness of Eminem" (Tom Sinclair, Entertainment Weekly). The music consists of "growls," "nearly indecipherable lyrics," "rapid-fire guitar licks," and "jackhammer drums" (Bill Werde, the Washington Post). Is it dangerous? Most say it "isn't so much disturbing or scary as it is numbing and lifeless" (Edna Gundersen, USA Today). Others fear it's "just the kind of aggro anthems that speak (or rather scream) to the latchkey generation" (Lina Lecaro, the Los Angeles Times). One semi-positive review comes from Rolling Stone, which calls Billboard's 3rd most popular U.S. album"[s]urprisingly sophisticated at times" (David Sprague). (Visit this fan site for lyrics, pictures, and more.)—E.T.

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

 

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