King of the Castle

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 22 2001 5:24 PM

King of the Castle




The Last Castle (DreamWorks). The critics fire slings and arrows at this Castle. Robert Redford, "in the nobly burnished self-mythologic perfection of his late-middle-aged golden god-ness" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly), stars as a disgraced three-star general who arrives at a military prison run by a sadistic warden (James Gandolfini) and spearheads an uprising. "Mr. Redford's motives can never be less than noble. … At its core, Castle is less about leadership than about the perquisites associated with movie-star power" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). The film is also criticized for its heavy-handed symbolism, preachy tone, narrative holes, and slow pace. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, "[I]t grips us, and we shake away logical questions," but other reviewers don't shake away any complaints. (Click here for an interview with Gandolfini about The Sopranos.)— B.W.


Riding in Cars With Boys (Sony Pictures). The only esteemed critic who likes this coming-of-age saga—starring Drew Barrymore, directed by Penny Marshall, and based on a memoir by Beverly Donofrio—is the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert: "It's a brave movie, in the way it centers on a mother who gets trapped in the wrong life, doesn't get out for a long time, takes her misery out on her son, and blames everything on her fate and bad luck." Others see only its "miscalculated and often superficial script" and a "wasted opportunity" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Despite Barrymore's "special empathy" for her "headstrong, narcissistic" character, Marshall "regularly downshifts" the film's anger to "low-gear cute every time the road gets good and tough" (Lisa Schwartzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here to read Barrymore's letters at the film's official Web site.)— A.B.


From Hell (Fox). Critics embrace the Hughes brothers' take on Jack the Ripper, "a conspiracy-theory thriller with brains and a heart" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). The movie is a visual marvel: From Prague locations, the directors have created a vision of the Victorian underworld that is "dark, clammy and exhilarating" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Critics applaud Johnny Depp's turn as Inspector Frederick Abberline, who picks clues out of an opium haze. They're less enthusiastic about Heather Graham as a steely prostitute; she's a bit too "feminist of inclination to strike an authentic note" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). (Click here to visit the movie's official Web site.)—B.C.

Book cover


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.


To purchase this book from, click here.    

Book cover

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.


To purchase this book from, click here.

CD cover


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.


To purchase this cd from amazon, click here.




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