The critics' take on Insomnia, Enough, etc.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 24 2002 5:57 PM

Not Enough

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Movies
Insomnia (Warner Bros.). Great reviews for the latest from Memento director Christopher Nolan, a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. This version stars Al Pacino as a cop with the titular sleeping problem and Robin Williams as the bad guy. Critics love Nolan's "sharp-witted" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times) and "intelligent" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) direction, which gives extra dimensions to the somewhat standard plot. "A director this thoughtful doing genre material results in considerably more texture than usual," says Turan. Also earning effusive praise are the performances from stars Pacino (who gives "a more powerful, nuanced performance than he has in years," says Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum) and Williams ("a triumph of against-type casting," says USA Today's Mike Clark). (Click here to read about the original Insomnia.)— B.M.L.

Enough(Columbia). "Everyone has a limit" is this movie's slogan and reviewers agree. "A jarring thriller packed to the gills with cheap shocks," it "suggests the emergence of a new Hollywood subgenre: the male yuppie horror film" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). A working-class waitress called Slim (Jennifer Lopez) marries a rich power-monger and eventually beats him (literally!) after being cheated on and physically abused. Critics' conclusion? "It's really a bogeyman horror film in sociological drag—'I Know You Married an Abusive Creep Last Summer' " (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly)—and "the climax is a cheat and a bloody cliché" (Michael Wilmington, the Chicago Tribune). (Click here for J.Lo's Web site, where you can view the trailer.)—A.B.

CQ (United Artists). Dim notices dominate this brassy homage (by Roman Coppola, Francis' son) to '60s films. "Set in the Paris of 1969, CQ is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Dragonfly, a femme-fatale spy movie that's a gravity-free confection similar to Barbarella and Modesty Blaise" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). While Mitchell claims "[t]here's nothing like love to give a movie a B-12 shot, and CQ shimmers with it," others write that "[e]ndearing but pointless, at once cluttered and tinny, this film-dork fantasia suggests a shopping spree at a high-end vintage emporium underwritten by Daddy's blank check" (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). (Click here for the Web site.)—A.B.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (DreamWorks). A mottled herd of reviews for this animated flick about a silent horse. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman calls it "[a] solemn neo-Bambi that dares to enchant kids without comic relief" that's made with "simple, elegant conviction." But the New York Times' Dave Kehr takes issue with its "transitional" technique of "dropping two-dimensional figures down in an expansive, three-dimensional landscape, where they look wispy, slight and out of place." And the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, a critic who actually likes the visuals, thinks it "hedges its bets by giving the animal voice-over narration (read by Matt Damon) that sounds like this is one horse who found time to take creative writing courses." (Click here for the Web site.)—A.B.

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Fox). Later reviews are more kind to Lucas' latest than the early ones.  Slate's David Edelstein writes that "[w]ith all the screaming Lucasoids on one side and all the hand-wringing critics on the other, it might be hard to remember that Attack of the Clones is more or less OK."The New Yorker's David Denby agrees: "The plot is incomprehensible to anyone over fourteen, and the actors intone their starched-collar lines as if they were attending a convention of rural vicars. But, allowing for some dull moments, George Lucas' latest movie has considerable style. Digital invention is becoming grander, wilder, more free-spirited: the multi-leveled cities of the future overflow with life." And "[i]t would be nice to think that Lucas' visual imagination is just now taking off." (Click here for Slate's first Summary Judgment of the film's early, bad reviews and here for a piece on the big business of Star Wars queues.)— A.B.

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Music 18, by Moby (V2). Critics praise Moby's follow-up to his jillion-selling 1999 album Play. "Savvy enough not to fix something that isn't even remotely broken" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly), he retains his trademark eclecticism as "bluesy electro numbers follow new-wave tunes that float around orchestral interludes and gospel-sampled pop" (Solvej Schou, CMJ). "If you have a mood or desire, 18 has a song to match," says Time's Josh Tyrangiel. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield writes approvingly that the erstwhile underground DJ's "impolitic insistence on stroking his pop-star ambitions" has forced him to "master the pop virtues of melody, variety and rhythmic drive." The consensus: if you liked Play, you'll like 18. "It'' a formula, but damn if it isn't still effective," says Browne. (Click here to read Moby's extensive tour diary. Buy.)— B.M.L.

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Mended, by Marc Anthony (Columbia). Critics say the new album from Latin explosion veteran Anthony is mediocre. Several praise his voice—" I could listen to this guy sing the phone book," says Elysa Gardner of USA Today—but criticize his "spice-meets-schmaltz" material (Nina Malkin, Entertainment Weekly), which could "sap the most prodigious talent of its distinction" (Gardner). The music is "slickly produced filler" (Gardner) with "forgettable" melodies (Barry Walters, Rolling Stone) and "inane," "tepid," and "predictable" lyrics, including a song that rhymes "loneliness" with "onlyness." "It's a shame when expressive singers waste surreal amounts of emotion on songs so lacking in substance," complains Walters. (Click here for online salsa dancing lessons. Buy.)— B.M.L.

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Down the Road, by Van Morrison (Universal). Most critics like this new album from the middle-aged Irish folkster. "Neither slickly modern nor resolutely old-fashioned, the music has a good-natured feel, blending New Orleans R&B-bluesy ramble, traditional and pop jazz, and a dash of country, with Morrison playing much acoustic guitar and a little alto sax" (Natalie Nichols, the Los Angeles Times). Plus, the album "is cut from the same scar tissue and country-funk backbone as Bob Dylan's Love and Theft" (David Fricke, Rolling Stone). Just one problem: "It isn't so much that there's something horribly wrong with the record just that there isn't anything terribly right with it" (Jim Farber, the New York Daily News). (Click here to listen to the songs. Buy.)— A.B. Maladroit, by Weezer (Geffen). Reviews for this fourth full-length release from the best-known purveyors of "emo" pop run the gamut. Critics say they rock out harder than before—"[t]he songs are built on loud, wrecking-ball riffs that snarl and flail" (David Browne, Entertainment Weekly)—and that "this ability to channel conflict into compelling music is what catapults Weezer from the arena of merely good bands into the realm of potential greatness" (Neva Chonin, the San Francisco Chronicle). But others give negative critiques, saying "Maladroit is dominated by songs that are heavy, man but feel slight or unfinished" (Browne). (Click here for the band's Web site. Buy.)— A.B.

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Books Female Trouble, by Antonya Nelson (Scribner). Warm notices for this story collection about "women in the act of returning, often to a childhood home somewhere west of Chicago and hoping for a second chance, a way to pursue what each sees as her true story" (Frederick Busch, the New York Times). Critics agree "Nelson's prose is beautiful without being afraid to be coarse, and her strong, confused, wild and funny women are unforgettable and, while troubled, ready for anything" (the San Francisco Chronicle). "These stories are the work of a strong writer who sees both panoramically and with a powerfully close focus. She celebrates the American landscape and the needy, damaged searchers who cross it" (Busch). (Click here for a Nelson interview.)— A.B.

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The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein, by Sandra Mackey (W.W. Norton). Mixed reviews for this Iraqi history by a veteran Middle East journalist. Spotlighted as an editor's pick by the Foreign Policy Association, the book garners praise from the Economist for arguing that after a U.S. affront, Iraq's "collapse into vengeful anarchy would be catastrophic" because Hussein is "above all a tribal leader, his power based on a complex network of kinship." Yet regardless, says Fouad Ajami in the New York Times, the book is both "derivative" as well as flawed for positing that Iraq's "radicalism and anti-Americanism arise from our ties to Israel, when they spring from countless other sources." (Click here to read a Slate review of Ajami's last book.)— 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 Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

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