Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 4 2002 3:10 PM

Tooth Decay

Zadie Smith's second-novel syndrome, plus other outtakes from the week in criticism.

Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith (Random House). Reviews of Smith's second novel open with firecracker celebrations of her first—then commence unflattering comparisons, in varying shades of exasperation or sympathy. James Wood in the London Review of Books chafes at the main character's ethnic mind games, and the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani calls the book "[d]our where 'White Teeth' was exuberant; abstract and pompous where 'White Teeth' was brightly satiric; tight and preachy where 'White Teeth' was expansive." The Atlantic Monthly's Thomas Mallon is more sympathetic, although he ends with the slightly ominous Yoda warning to the author that "although she has more talent than just about anyone else in the room, no one, she needs to be reminded, has talent to burn." (BuyAutograph Man.)

Blue Shoe, by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books). "After reading 'Blue Shoe,' you feel as if you had sat on the kitchen floor and talked with the author late into the night about your mothers, your bodies, your lovers and God," enthuses Cynthia Smith in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, while the Minneapolis Star Tribune's G.E. Patterson compares "her full embrace of the messiness of real lives" to that of Balzac and Zola. The Christian Science Monitor's Ron Charles worries about her too-accepting fan base: "At some point, every artist needs to work for someone who won't celebrate each drawing she tacks up on the refrigerator." (BuyBlue Shoe.)

Demolition, by Ryan Adams (Lost Highway). Critics rumple their brows over this package of outtakes, half-praising another "close-but-not-quite release from Adams, by turns striking and mundane" (Noel Murray, the Onion). Despite the songwriter's " blindingly fervent prolificacy" (Colin McElligatt, Stylus), some suggest he begins to " confound more than he intrigues" (Bill Holdship, Launch). But on Rollingstone.com, fervent fans suggest putting things in perspective: "It doesn't have the magic that 'Heartbreaker' had and it isn't the epic that "Gold" was … but it isn't SUPPOSED TO BE. It's demos, people!" ( Demolition.)

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Bram and Alice (CBS). Squicked-out TV critics vie for adjectives to describe this sitcom pilot's premise—caddish dad unknowingly hits on estranged daughter—with TV Guide settling on "icky" and "gamy," the New York Daily News " odious" and "skeevy." But in the Miami Herald, Glenn Garvin defends the Frasier team's new show: "Honest, Bram and Alice is not only not as bad as it sounds, it's an enjoyable comedy about attempting to build a family relationship on shaky foundations." Some find Alfred Molina  miscast (Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Sun-Times even resorts to conspiracy theories to explain his presence), but Salon's Carina Chocano adores his " delightfully rakish" character.

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Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (FHE Pictures). Even the cynical Onion praises this witty Christian kiddie flick for having "absorbed the lessons of The Simpsons, even if VeggieTales seems like the sort of entertainment the Flanders kids would watch." A few secular reviewers chafe slightly at plot elements like "a CGI all-asparagus choir singing the praises of God's mercy" (Paul Malcolm, the L.A. Weekly), but Christian enthusiasts suggest fans "give this film a boost by seeing it more than once!" (Douglas M. Downs, Christiananswers.net) (Buy tickets for Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.)

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Red Dragon (Universal). Most critics find this Silence of the Lambs prequel (and Manhunter remake) genuinely creepy, if formulaic. But a significant minority mocks the gore-fest's operatic pretensions. "If you buy the overprocessed headcheese of the serial killer as refined genius, you'll love 'Red Dragon,' " sighs Stephanie Zacharek in Salon, while the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell writes, "Mr. Hopkins's satiny hamminess is so pronounced he might as well start carving thin, translucent slices off his own arm and serving them up with a side of white asparagus." (Buy tickets for Red Dragon.)

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Heaven (Miramax). A strange opening scene "pays off in an unforgettable final image of romantic and spiritual transcendence that leaves you breathless," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. But for most critics, this peculiar posthumous collaboration—with Tom "Run Lola Run" Tykwer following a script intended for the late Krzysztof "Red, White, and Blue" Kieslowski—doesn't gel. "Tykwer's surface flash isn't just a poor fit with Kieslowski's lyrical pessimism," grumps Manohla Dargis in the Los Angeles Times. "[I]t completely contradicts everything Kieslowski's work aspired to, including the condition of art." (Buy tickets for Heaven.)