Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Jan. 31 2003 4:51 PM

Weird Al

The latest "Al Pacino crazy mentor picture."

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The Recruit. Reviews for this "diverting, slick nonsense," praise/dismiss it as "compelling, if throwaway, drama" with "an old-school solidity." The New York Times' A.O. Scott riffs brilliantly on that heretofore unnamed genre, "the Al Pacino crazy mentor picture"—noting that "in an unimaginative, by-the-book movie like this one, the best thing an actor can do is dare to be strange." (Buy tickets for The Recruit.)

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Final Destination 2. This "smooth and sharp slice of teen-gothic cheese" ratchets several reviewers' thumbs upward for its gore and Rube Goldberg wit. The graphic sequel's violent sequences "elicit a pitch-dark humor, but they are not for the faint of heart," warns Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. Entertainment Weekly's Bruce Fretts dissents, giving it a D+ and terming it "the cinematic equivalent of rubbernecking." (Buy tickets for Final Destination 2.)

Revenge Fantasies. So, like—Sarah? That snooty blonde on Joe Millionaire? Turns out she's done fetish movies. And while the flicks predate her on-air fame, the plot of one of them sounds like the twisted fantasy of any reality contestant pilloried in the press: She plays an actress who confronts a hostile critic, dopes him with a chloroform, gags him, and ties him to a chair—and then writes herself a glowing review in his name. 

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Manohla Dargis. The New York Post's Page Six slams the Los Angeles Times movie reviewer for her latest Ask the Critic column—in which Dargis suggested that New York critics went soft on Gangs of New York out of sympathy to homegrown director Scorsese's struggles with "Everybody Loves" Harvey Weinstein. Dargis also explored the question of whether critics' picks influence the Oscars, concluding dryly, "It would be disingenuous to say that critics don't want to influence the Academy but it's untrue they're just serving the Academy, if only because most critics are too egotistical and pig-headed to do anyone else's bidding."

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Gilligan's Wake, by Tom Carson (Picador). Mixed notices greet this "dense, elaborate riff on the venerable '60s sitcom," with some calling it "intoxicating, ecstatically inventive"; others "a mite shallow." In the New York Times, David Kelly writes that Carson's "pastiche of a novel is not compelling, intriguing or even nuanced, but a lot of it is very funny and has a trashy exuberance that comes from spending much of one's life watching TV and listening to rock 'n' roll." In the Miami Herald, Ariel Gonzalez laments that Donald Barthelme would have made a great five-pager out of the central conceit, but says Carson carries it too far: "One wonders what Carson is planning next. Gomer Agonistes? Or maybe Chachi the Obscure?" ( Gilligan's Wake.)

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The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency Of George W. Bush, by David Frum (Random House). Critiques of the former Bush speechwriter's early-bird memoir speculate whether his account "suffers from the rose-colored-glasses perspective of a participant"—in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bob Hoover snarks that Frum "opted to keep the door to re-employment open." But in the Los Angeles Times, Ronald Brownstein says that if Frum's "polemical kiss-and-tell" whitewashes outside criticism, it's fair-minded enough about the Oval Office. From opposite ideological corners, Clintonite Jeff Shesol and right-winger James P. Pinkerton are unimpressed, with the former comparing Frum's tale unfavorably to that of earlier political Chatty Cathys, while the latter shrugs that the book's "carefully sifted" details just aren't all that illuminating. ( The Right Man.)

Movie Critics. As if the Battle of Peter Bart weren't enough, put-upon movie critics now have to deal with competition from Russ Leatherman, aka that Moviefone guy, aka Mr. AOL Time Warner. The big-voiced announcer has begun performing segments on CNN and the CBS Saturday morning news, booming out cheerily synergistic opinions along these lines: "Catherine Zeta-Jones is great, Renée Zellwegger is great. Richard Gere, he bugs for about the first 10 minutes, but then even he's good." Gary Dretzka is appalled, but puts the conflict of interest in rueful industry context. "It would be difficult for Mr. MovieCritic—who almost certainly doesn't need the money—to be any more ethically challenged than Liz Smith, Larry King or the staffs of such publicist-friendly shows as ET, Access Hollywood and Extra."

Amazon. The product reviews on Amazon continue to be an enclave for creative pranksters. Take the mysterious Arbit Adams, whose shaggy-dog responses feature the revelation that "bib" is the Yiddish word for printer; a warning that one should wear a tin-foil cap to program a Tivo; and a surreal review of the Apple eMac M8892LL/A that begins with a tale of supposed medical catastrophe and ends with the earnest recommendation that "anybody who is looking to get rid of their helper monkey should definitely look into getting an eMac."