Home Alone 4: The Nixon Years

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 16 2001 11:30 PM

Home Alone 4: The Nixon Years

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Books
President Nixon: Alone in the White House
, by Richard Reeves (Simon & Schuster). Critics bestow the crucial title of "important" upon Reeves' Nixon biography/history. "It's hard to think of a better introduction to the man and his presidency," writes Rick Perlstein in the New York Times. Reeves is a "great archival historian, a judicious sorter of paper" (Christopher Caldwell, Slate), and all praise his analysis of Nixon documents such as the "rhetorical treasures" of the president's personal yellow legal pads (Perlstein). If there's a problem with the book, it's that "Reeves doesn't give us much that other biographers and analysts haven't already provided" (Kirkus Reviews). (Click here for the Slate"Book Club" discussion of Reeves' book. Click here to "debate RN's legacy 24-7 in the Nixon forum" on the Nixon Library's Web page.)—B.M.L.

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Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf (Doubleday). Critics veto this narrative journey through pregnancy, but they can't agree why. Some call Wolf's first-person style "self-indulgent" and say the account proves the "precious insularity of her world" (Judith Warner, the Washington Post). Others rap Wolf for stepping outside the narrative to make larger points about culture. Her policy positions—"We need to overhaul the birthing industry"—are "so vague as to be airborne" (Claire Dederer, the New York Times). Even a supporter like the Guardian's Ian Sansom admits, "Like a visionary, or an idiot, she seems continually amazed at the way the world is."—B.C.

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Music
Feminist Sweepstakes, by Le Tigre (Mr. Lady). The critics purr at the second album from the trio led by former Bikini Kill front-woman Kathleen Hanna. Reviewers love the way they "meld cheesy lo-fi electronica, garagey hip-hop, cerebral sound collage, and new-wavey songcraft into infectious, stripped-down tunes" (Scott Schinder, Entertainment Weekly). The Village Voice's Robert Christgau even claims "they got more jam than Sum 41 or the Strokes." Others praise the way they "continue to push the boundaries of feminist politics and the SP-1200 synthesizer they rode in on"( Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone). Those who nitpick say some tracks "plunk along like a kid's first Casio program" and that "the reductive sloganeering" sometimes "rudely turns the house lights on the party" (Jessica Winter, the Village Voice). (Unfortunately, the band's Web site doesn't seem to include lyrics, such as"For the ladies and the fags, yeah/ We're the band with the roller-skate jams.")—E.T.

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Movies
Bandits (MGM). Mixed reviews for this heist comedy starring Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as sweet bank robbers and Cate Blanchett as their daffy hostage-turned-accomplice. The film is attacked for being overlong and derivative: "[I]t steals from so many other sources that we're forced to realize that it has little of its own to offer" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Others sing the film's praises: "It's a rare romantic comedy/road picture that's not only flat-out funny, but also presents complex and well-developed characters" (Claudia Puig, USA Today). The cast gets universally positive notices; the Washington Post's Rita Kempley savors the "droll and delicious interplay among the actors." (Click here for information on Bruce Willis' music album The Return of Bruno. Read Slate's David Edelstein's review here.)— B.W.

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Iron Monkey (Miramax). Critics say this re-released Hong Kong kung-fu flick, lacking much in the way of plot or character development, "strives for no more or less than comic-strip thwack and thump," and in that succeeds (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). Much praise for Yuen Wo Ping's direction of the plentiful fight scenes, described as "remarkably graceful" (Mike Clark, USA Today), "imaginatively staged" (Dave Kehr, the New York Times), "astonishingly acrobatic" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times), etc., etc. Many single out the "audaciously choreographed" (Turan) final scene, involving long bamboo poles and a fire pit, as particularly entertaining. (Click here for the film's official site. Click here for the lyrics to another artistic work about metallic primates, the Beastie Boys' song "Brass Monkey." Read Slate's David Edelstein's review here.)— B.M.L.

Corky Romano (Buena Vista). Critics wince at this "crushingly conventional mob comedy" (David Kehr, the New York Times). The son of a mafia kingpin, Corky (Chris Kattan) must pose as an FBI agent, infiltrate the bureau's headquarters, and swipe some evidence to protect his family. In the process, he falls for a seductive female agent, which further muddles "this inane clutter of a story" (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). To sum up: "The physical gags are routine, the story is labored, [and] the actors look like they can barely contain their doubts about the project" (Roger Ebert, the ChicagoSun-Times). (Click here to visit the movie's official site.)—B.C.