Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 8 2002 3:05 PM

Stealing Beauty

The verdict on Winona's courtroom attire.

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Winona Wear. She's guilty ... of being completely adorable! The New York Times' Rick Lyman lauded the saucer-eyed felon's "conservative but very chic outfits" (including "a black Marc Jacobs dress with peach-and-white collar trim that crisscrossed at the bosom"). A fashion spread in USA Today featured a trial consultant's semiotic analysis. But the funniest observations are found on John Callender's site, where he wryly analyzed her outfits day by day ("Winona Day IV: Green and Frumpy"), offering highest praise for a stunning white dress. "I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus, lying there in the dust, shielding my eyes from its radiance."

Still from 8 Mile

8 Mile (Universal). In this breakout performance, Eminem projects "the scurrilous, soft-eyed yearning of a hip-hop James Dean," writes Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly. While the movie itself may be "an old-fashioned somebody-up-there-likes-me kind of story, replete with traditional plot devices" (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times), most critics say it works. "Flaws and all, it really does show a star being born," writes Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune. (Buy tickets for 8 Mile.)

Still from Far From Heaven

Far From Heaven (Focus). Critics swoon for Todd Haynes' " supremely intelligent pastiche," labeling this Sirkian melodrama "bold and brilliant," "riveting, rapturous fun," a "joyous cinematic experience" (and a bunch of other really, really positive phrases that make me want to see it immediately!) "The most casual moments are suffused with a feeling of emotional extremity; the air is as charged and threatening as it might be in a horror film," raves A O. Scott in the New York Times." Special kudos for Julianne Moore's "devastating" performance as a yearning '50s housewife. (Buy tickets for Far From Heaven.)

Still from Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale (Warner Bros.). Choose your critical stance: giddy embrace, guilty embrace, or eye-rolling? The Los Angeles Times' Manohla Dargis calls De Palma's porny romp an " exuberant, blissfully entertaining new thriller." In the Washington Post, Stephen Hunter describes it as "so full of astonishments, cornball revelations, succulent camerawork, vivid angles into the action and all the other candy of movies, that you forget how stupid it is." Meanwhile, in the New York Post, Megan Turner gripes that "no amount of cinematic artifice can varnish over the fact that this is simply a bad film." (Buy tickets for Femme Fatale.)

Book cover

Journals, by Kurt Cobain (Riverhead Books). "I hope I die before I become Pete Townshend," Cobain wrote in these diaries. In the London Observer, Townshend responds: "Why? Because I had become a bore? Because I had failed to die young?" Cobain's scribblings are "devastatingly hard to contemplate," writes Townshend, "the scribblings of a crazed and depressed drug-addict"—a state of mind, he adds, he knows all too well. (Click here for the unedited version, posted on Townshend's Web site.) But if Townshend is harshly empathetic, the Boston Globe's Steve Morse seems downright freaked, calling it "degrading to think that [Cobain's] widow could make a dime from such private nightmares." And in the New York Daily News, Jim Farber suggests listening to the music for "a wit, liveliness and transformative power these depressing little scrawls can't touch." Only Salon's Bomani Jones sees value in excerpts of the journals: "Simple and plain, Kurt Cobain was a fuckin' genius." (Journals, or read excerpts here.)

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Dead Cities, by Mike Davis (New Press). Cassandra comparisons abound, as does frustration with the book's fact-fudging. The Wall Street Journal's Mark Lasswell calls him a "professional scourge with dodgy methodology" while the Village Voice's Jim Lewis prefers "merchant of spiritless misanthropy." But in the New York Times, John Sutherland takes a wryer, more wait-and-see stance, praising Davis' insights but noting, "There comes a point in all Davis's tirades when, like a poker player, he calls the reader. Do we go along with him or fold? Many, I suspect, will fold." (Buy Dead Cities.)

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Reversible Errors, by Scott Turow (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). "[L]et's agree to dispense with the unnecessary modifiers and just call Scott Turow a novelist," cheers Wendy Lesser in the New York Times, praising "page turners that are also pleasing literary artifacts, mysteries that are also investigations into complicated social questions and complex human emotions." She might be speaking directly to the breathtakingly condescending Marta Salij, who cheers "[ Go] Scott!" for his few "nice images" and describes the Turow demographic as "those bright folks who live for 'Law & Order' reruns." Still, even if they stick with pigeonholing, critics universally praise Turow's " literate and fluid" prose and "multidimensional" characters. (Reversible Errors.)

Movin' Out, by Twyla Tharp (Richard Rodgers Theater). "Here is bone marrow, mainstream pop authenticity on a street best known for the ersatz and the sanitized," raves Linda Winer in Newsday of this oddball Twyla Tharp/Billy Joel collaboration. "When Eddie, who is a car mechanic, does a grande pirouette à la seconde, it doesn't look put on; it looks beautiful, and makes him noble and important, the same way it would in 'Swan Lake,' " writes Joan Acocella in The New Yorker. But there are also a few naysayers. "[O]ne long string of baby boomer bromides," gripes Jim Farber in the Daily News. "[ M]ore dizzying than dazzling," shrugs USA Today's Elysa Gardner.

Emily Nussbaum lives in New York; she writes for Slate, the New York Times, and Nerve.