Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Dec. 13 2002 2:19 PM

Anne of Green Fables

Angry memoirist bites New York Times critic.

New York Times Watch. "I have never gotten a daily review in the Times—not that I am bitter," writes Anne Lamott in Salon. "Nope, nope, nothing could be further from the truth. It's just that I secretly believe that if Michiko Kakutani likes your work, it means you are a real writer, and you will be happy and and wealthy and stable forever. The one little problem with Michiko, though, is that if she doesn't like your book, she will kill you— cut your head off with a surgical knife, and play hacky-sack with it until she grows bored. Then, maybe in the last paragraph, she'll pour acid on it."

One New York Times architecture critic is not enough, pleads the Architectural Record's Robert Ivy: "[R]ather than [Herbert Muschamp's] single gaze, architectural criticism in this national newspaper should more resemble the multidimensional view of the Hindu goddess Kali, a three-eyed deity simultaneously wielding the heads of her victims and the blessings of continual rebirth in her multiple hands."

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Maid in Manhattan (Columbia). This " pillow mint of a movie" earns shrugs, studded with gripes about Ralph Fiennes' " clammy gormlessness" and the plot's " Harlequin hogwash." Critics also make fun of J. Lo's thin home-girl cred: "The movie hasn't entered the Bronx, it's already entered la-la land," cracks Slate's Michael Agger. But Ms. Lopez herself garners startling accolades: "You would have to go back to Claudette Colbert or the young Lauren Bacall to find an actress capable of projecting so much erotic self-confidence in a single gaze," purrs the New York Times' A.O. Scott (who also gets in some hubba-hubbas over J. Lo's butt). (Buy tickets for Maid in Manhattan.)

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About Schmidt (New Line). "Part comedy, part tragedy, part satire, mostly masterpiece," exults Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. In the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis calls the film "a humanist triumph strip-mined of bathos," touting Election director Alexander Payne as the most gifted social satirist since Preston Sturges. Jack Nicholson's shtickless performance earns wild accolades for his " tight little smile born of obtuseness, isolation, and terror." The sole pans come from Slate's David Edelstein and Salon's Charles Taylor, the latter of whom falls into an absolute seizure of rage: "How can critics fall for this movie's rank sentimentality? How can they fail to notice its hypocrisy?" (Buy tickets for About Schmidt.)

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Star Trek: Nemesis (Paramount). Plentiful critical condescension for the latest installment, with judgments ranging from " pretty cheesy" to " an amiably klutzy affair." In the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan makes classic fan-boy complaints, noting that the movie's "evil twin shtick" rehashes TV Trek and crying "artistic sellout." But the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan shows some affection for the series' earnest philosophizing, "redolent of late-night dorm-room chat sessions." (Speaking of evil twins, read this giggle-inducing review of the Turkish Star Trek —and then an even goofier one about the TurkishWizard of Oz.) (Buy tickets for Star Trek: Nemesis.)

Baz Luhrmann's La Bohème

La Bohème, directed by Baz Luhrmann (Broadway Theater). "[B]oth the coolest and the warmest show in town, an enchanted mixture of self-conscious artistry and emotional richness," shivers Ben Brantley excitedly in the New York Times. The tabs spend some time reassuring readers that it's OK to see opera, but most agree that the Moulin Rouge director " makes a powerful case for wresting [ La Bohème ] out of the exclusive control of highbrow culture and into the realm of mainstream musical theater." Ambivalent exception: Linda Winer in Newsday, who sighs, "We would have loved to really love it, thus avoiding being accused of purist priggery." In Chicago, defiant purist-prig Hedy Weiss has no such qualms, sniffing that the production is "the equivalent of a good set of training wheels for the MTV-educated audience."

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A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (Knopf). Goldhagen's latest fist-pounder is " not a book for the ambivalent," warns Brian Richard Boylan in the San Francisco Chronicle, but critics are just that: compelled by Goldhagen's ideas but bugged by the way he turns history "into a kind of cudgel, a spiked club" (Richard Bernstein, the New York Times). In the Boston Globe, Jonathan Dorfman says the book "can be read profitably as the uneasy blend of a scholar's learning and a Jew's rage at the horrors of the Holocaust" while the New York Times' weekend reviewer, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, gripes that the author's important topic is obscured by a stridency that "seems all the more emphatic because the book is so remarkably repetitious." (A Moral Reckoning.)

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The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, by Terry Teachout (HarperCollins). Teachout is "an admirer who refuses to be awed, an apologist up to a point, a clear-sighted critic," praises Charles Matthews in the San Jose Mercury News. In the Baltimore Sun, Stephen R. Proctor calls this account "lively and unvarnished." Most other reviewers also find Teachout wonderfully well-suited to biographize the brilliant, narrow-minded Mencken, a critic possessed of "only one emotion, the pleasure of despising" (Joan Acocella, The New Yorker). The one exception is the sometimes Mencken-esque Christopher Hitchens, who grumps that the author seems " queasily aware without being fully conscious" of his subject's shrunken stature. (The Skeptic.)

Dance of the Vampires (Minskoff Theater). The "spectacularly idiotic" "campy, yet mirthless" Dance of the Vampires inspires hilarious pans, including a wry recommendation by Ben Brantley that "[t]heater disaster cultists" catch it before it's gone—though he notes that the show "exudes the less exalted, simply embarrassed feeling of a costume party that everyone got all dressed up for and then decided wasn't such a good idea."

Rock Critics. Chicago magazine's transcript of a lively music critics panel at Columbia College reveals ancient 'zine names (Butt Rag?) and contempt for Sarah Vowell. In one exchange, Greg Kot mentions hate mail he'd received that morning—Kot complains of "an anti-literary tradition, where people don't like to be challenged, don't like to hear anything negative about the bands that they like"—only to have Jim DeRogatis pipe up, "Because you were wrong! That [Peter] Gabriel write-up was so wrong!"