The critics' take on the reissue of E.T., etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 22 2002 3:16 PM

E.T. Calls Back

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Movies
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (Universal). Joyful tears for the return of outer space's most endearing 20-year-old. Critics' heartfelt tribute essays—and there are many of them—don't even cry "false advertising" about the three whole minutes of so-called "extra footage." In fact, The New Yorker's Anthony Lane says the smallness of Spielberg's tweaks proves that the re-release of this work of "pure art, not just sentiment" is "hardly a vanity project:" "[T]he plot retains the thrust and simplicity of a parable;" E.T., paunchy though he may be, is "spared the [plastic] surgeon's knife;" and Spielberg "has made just enough alterations to draw in anyone who is tempted by the promise of novelty but not enough to offend the diehards." Other critics write that "[t]here's a naturalness, even an inevitability about the film's story line, a narrative pull that draws us in again even though we know exactly what is going to happen" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). And some note that the movie "if anything, looks subtler, darker, and more intimate now than it did when originally released" (Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here to visit the anniversary Web site and here to read Lane's essay, a work of art in itself.)— A.B.

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Blade II (New Line). Appreciative reviews for this gruesome sequel to the 1998 hit. Half-man half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes) teams up with the bloodsuckers he usually fights to face the larger threat of a new, tougher breed of vampires. Guillermo del Toro (Cronos) picks up the directing reins, and "freed by a large budget, a major star who gets it, and uncountable gallons of fake blood, he's created something ghastly yet wonderful at the same time" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Every critic notes Snipes' acting talent, and while some feel he squanders it here, most appreciate how he "combines a formidable physical presence with a depth of feeling and capacity for reflection" (Kevin Thomas, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here for a fan page dedicated to genre favorite and Blade II co-star Ron Perlman [the Beast in the TV version of Beauty and the Beast ], about whom the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter exults "what a great performance!")— B.W.

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Sorority Boys (Touchstone Pictures). Not much critical appreciation for this Animal House-meets-Tootsie college drag comedy. Three guys get kicked out of their fraternity, dress as women, and move into the sorority across the street "in one of the least convincing feats of cross-dressing ever perpetrated on screen" (A. O. Scott, the New York Times). Not every critic loathes it: Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum finds "moments of real funniness in this smarter-than-anticipated goof-fest." In the end, "this is another movie where the filmmakers' idea of character development is to remove a woman's glasses to transform her into a desirable companion" (Dave Nuttycombe, the Washington Post). (Click here for memorable quotes from Tootsie.)— B.W.

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Music Sha Sha, by Ben Kweller (ATO). Critics like this first solo album from the 20-year-old Dave Matthews protégé and ex-leader of Radish. They praise his words ("it's hard to believe that Kweller is writing from his own vantage point when offering lyrics on unmotivated youth") and his music (which according to Andrew Katchen of Billboard"relies on the fuzzy, garage-pop sentimentality of early Weezer, the piano-driven earnestness of Ben Folds, and the cut-and-paste folk idiosyncrasies of Beck.") Rolling Stone's Rob Kemp notes: "He hasn't lost interest in swelling guitar crescendos, but this time around, his impressive melodies aren't drenched in distortion." And the Boston Globe's Joan Anderman calls him an "undeniable craftsmen" with a "youthful, exuberant, and quirky" voice. (Click here to visit Kweller's down-to-earth Web site, complete with pictures of his favorite baseball cards.)—A.B.

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Books
Dot.Con: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, by John Cassidy (HaperCollins). Pans for the New Yorker writer's insta-history of e-commerce. Critics want more thought from the finance wonk, claiming "sections fail not only because the terrain has been thoroughly mined by other journalists but because Cassidy relies so heavily on the published work of these other journalists to tell the story." Worse, the book "is actually mistitled: According to [Cassidy's] account, there was no conspiracy behind the dot-com boom" (Hugo Lindgren, the New York Times). "Engagingly written as it is, [ Dot.C on ] contains little in the way of fresh revelation or against-the-grain argument" (Rob Walker, the Washington Post). And more damning, "Cassidy comes across as an elitist, broadly dismissing Americans by analogizing them to H.L. Mencken's 'sordid, money-grubbing people' " (Alex Raksin, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here to read an excerpt.)— A.B.

 

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A Multitude of Sins, by Richard Ford (Knopf). Tepid reviews for this latest short-story collection about adultery from the Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner laureate. In the New York Times, Colson Whitehead claims "the [whining] characters are nearly indistinguishable" and "[a] Muted Epiphany caps off each story, causing you to believe that perhaps, maybe, the protagonist might have learned an indefinable 'something' (one of Richard Ford's favorite words), but it is hard to remain convinced." Most of the stories "fail because of their tedium and sloppy style. Much of the writing reads like an unedited first draft" (Steven Moore, the Washington Post). And even though "almost no one looks harder at contemporary American life, sees more or expresses it all, with such hushed, deliberate care," Ford "could stand to rotate his crops a bit" (David Kipen, the San Francisco Chronicle). (Click here to read an interview with the author.)— 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.

Ben Wasserstein is an associate editor at New York magazine.

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