The critics' take on Dragonfly, Monsoon Wedding, etc.

The critics' take on Dragonfly, Monsoon Wedding, etc.

The critics' take on Dragonfly, Monsoon Wedding, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 22 2002 2:22 PM

Currying Favor

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Movies
Dragonfly (Universal). Horrendous notices for this ghost story about "love from beyond the grave, in which [Kevin] Costner plays Joe Darrow, a doctor whose physician wife, Emily (Susanna Thompson), is seemingly killed in a Venezuelan avalanche" (Michael Wilmington, the Chicago Tribune). As "Joe amasses clues that Emily Is Not Gone, She Is Just Away, Costner commutes back and forth between the most reliable postures of his middle-aged career—mournful grumpiness and awestruck lethargy" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). The script is nothing more than "high-grade Hollywood hokum" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). And some ask "why [the filmmakers] have created characters who were never really alive in the first place" if this flick wants us to believe our deceased loved ones may be trying to reach us (Wilmington). (Read David Edelstein's review here.) (Click here to watch the trailer.)— A.B.

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Monsoon Wedding (USA). A curry of reviews for this film about "the chaos that results when a large Indian family, whose members are scattered around the globe, assembles in contemporary New Delhi for an old-fashioned marriage ceremony" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). Critics praise both the "roof-raising blast of a Bollywood score" and the film's "enchanting" ability to "capture the small, hilarious skirmishes of a culture at war with itself and the families trying to hold their ground against change" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). But others find the film over-assimilated: "Raj TV's answer to Felicity. Occupying a well-manicured landscape festooned with orange marigolds and peopled by hip-hop-accented teens and Cosmo girls, Monsoon Wedding is an air-conditioned bus tour of Punjabi ritual" (Michael Atkinson, the Village Voice). (Click here to watch the trailer.)— A.B.

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Queen of the Damned (Warner Bros.). "Just say no to blood," jeers the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell in response to this latest Anne Rice vampire-novel adaptation starring Stuart Townshend and the late pop icon Aaliyah. Other critics unanimously agree. As the infamous Rice protagonist and now-rock star Lestat—played by Tom Cruise in Interview With the Vampire—Townshend "neurasthenically slouches around the screen like a fatigued and fey Gumby"; and as his spark, Queen Akasha, "Aaliyah is costumed like someone who wandered in from the set of The Mummy" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). But worse than the "tangled" story lines and "over-explicit dialogue," writes Scott, is the film's lack of eccentricity, "the kinds of idiosyncratic gestures that used to make horror movies memorable." (Click here to watch the trailer and be afraid.)— A.B.

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Books
The Future of Life, by Edward O. Wilson (Knopf). Three tiers of criticism for this generally well-received call to ecological arms by the father of sociobiology. Cheering "authority, cogency, and style,"Booklist's Ray Olson identifies Wilson's "mainstream environmentalism" as a departure from the "heartless" mechanism of his last book, Consilience. The Washington Post's Stephen Johnson says Wilson's "rueful account of the planet's bleak prospects" intriguingly "collides with one of his other trademark theories: evolutionary psychology"; "the destructive ecological behavior" he "reviles is also, in his framework, embedded into the hardware of the human psyche." And the New York Times'Jon Turney goes one step further: "Wilson's conviction that there is a unitary human nature can translate into a too simple view of what that nature is." (Click here to read an excerpt.)— A.B.

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My Country Versus Me, by Wen Ho Lee with Helen Zia (Hyperion). This memoir—a score-settling account by the Los Alamos scientist wrongfully accused of selling U.S. nuclear secrets to the Chinese—inspires more posturing than reviews. The Washington Post's James Banford sarcastically calls it "timely" as the "government turns its attention from hunting" Chinese-American spies to Arab-American terrorists. And BusinessWeek's Bob Dowling uses the opportunity to blast Janet Reno's Justice Department for trying "to protect Bill Clinton from Republican charges that his Administration was lax on security." Thankfully, the Economist read the text: Lee's "attempt at self-vindication" is not only "badly written, sanctimonious, and dull"; the author can't see that his lies to the FBI and the "egregious" security violations contributed to his presumed guilt. (Click here to read an excerpt.)— A.B.

Adam Baer is a culture critic for the New York Sun and contributor to the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, and Slate, among other publications.