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. 17 2003 1:18 PM

Where's the Beef?

A $41 burger … that tastes terrible.

Burgers. The New York Times' Ed Levine ate hamburgers every day for the last two months—thanks, Ed!—to bring us this finding: "Smaller, thinner burgers are more likely to achieve the right ratios of bun to meat to condiment to toppings." He praises the "superlative beef patty" of Prime Burger (formerly Hamburger Heaven) and denounces a "a $41 monster" from Old Homestead (beer-fed Kobe beef, lobster mushrooms, and micro-greens, on a Parmesan twist roll) as "genuinely lousy, a mushy, gray thing of loose consistency and little flavor."

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City of God (Miramax). Raves for this "scorching anecdotal history of violence in the slums of Rio de Janeiro," with critics praising it as "both ghetto-hell realistic and nearly Homeric in its episodic, subjective mythomania." (Whew, say that 10 times fast.) A few reviewers fret subtly about the "riveting and disconcertingly MTV-cool" movie's mix of "Dickens and dazzle crossed with Social Darwinism," but all admire it as "seductive, disturbing, enthralling —a trip to hell that gives the passengers a great ride." (Buy tickets for City of God.)

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A Guy Thing (MGM). This potty-humored farce reminds critics of that dreaded January tradition: movie companies releasing "their most odoriferous sewage" into the theaters. "Give us jokes about diarrhea! That's what everyone wants," groans the Washington Post's Desson Howe. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr is comparably Zen, shrugging that the film is simply "the CliffsNotes version of anarchic classics like Bringing Up Baby. " Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman frets about the career of former indie hottie Jason Lee, who "seems to have been bitten by a vampire who sucked out all his prickly charisma." (Buy tickets for A Guy Thing.)

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National Security (Columbia). A split decision! Thumbs down from the New York Times' A.O. Scott, who dryly notes that one character's "look of impassive disgust makes him the audience's surrogate."Entertainment Weekly's Scott Brown complains that Martin Lawrence "stubbornly refuses to jell" with buddy-pic partner Steve Zahn. But in the Chicago Tribune, Michael Wilmington claims, "There's just enough chemistry here." And the Los Angeles Times gives the movie a startling out-and-out rave, calling it "laugh out loud funny and surprisingly subtle" and praising a bit of Rodney King humor everybody else found dismissible. And hey—shouldn't they know? (Buy tickets for National Security.)

Reality TV. At the Television Critics Association tour, ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyn compares the genre to crack for network execs. On PopMatters, Robert Rue moans that Joe Millionaire is "Misogyny TV" (and a passel of do-gooder organizations predictably protest it). But The Bachelorette is peculiarly well-liked, with Entertainment Weekly's Jessica Shaw confessing "I want the girl with the annoying giggle to find true love."

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Samaritan, by Richard Price (Knopf). In the New York Times, Price gets the classic review that starts like a rave and ends like a pan—a tradition for books a critic wanted to adore but didn't. "A sprawling cast of highly cinematic characters, an air of pungent menace, a full-to-bursting package held together by a strong, suspenseful plot" is the summary delivered by an enthusiastic-sounding Mark Costello—but by the end, he's labeled the urban mystery a "perplexing read" with "forced and manufactured" passages and a flat major character. Michiko Kakutani calls the book "gripping but oddly hollow." A small flotilla of warm positive reviews do praise the book without caveats, but in the Boston Globe, Gail Caldwell finds the white-guilt-ridden protagonist downright off-putting: "Half mensch and half loser, he's Bill Clinton bumping into a smarmy Robin Williams." (Buy Samaritan.)

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Dancer, by Colum McCann (Metropolitan). This "exuberant and exhilarating" bio-novel is "like a gallery show of Nureyev photographs, family snapshots jostling with theatrical portraits jostling with newspaper photos." In The New Yorker, Laura Miller applauds McCann for transcending the "static, ornamental prose" of his earlier books, while Newsday's Dan Cryer lauds the author's skill with multiple narrators. Terry Teachout muses, "I've been friends with a couple of geniuses, and now that I've read Dancer, I think perhaps I understand them a little better." Weirdest review conceit comes from Rusty Pray, who latches onto a baffling Babe Ruth metaphor: "McCann points to the center-field fence as he steps to the plate—and then delivers a clean single." (Buy Dancer.)

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Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear, by Paul Fussell (Houghton Mifflin.) "This is not a book about uniforms, it's the notes for a book about uniforms," gripes P.J. O'Rourke in the New York Times. Fussell's roundup attracts quite a few lousy notices, many complaining about what he leaves out, including women's clothing and hip-hop garb. (In the New York Observer, Alexandra Jacobs is wryly appalled that he has ignored Catholic school girl uniforms.) A minority praise the book as an "amusing and curious coda to his brilliant career." (Buy Uniforms.)

Movie Critics. Variety editor swats crits! Salon's Charles Taylor and Slate's David Edelstein take extreme umbrage to Variety editor Peter Bart's categorization of film critics into "pop culture is yucky," "obscurantist," and "I admit to brain damage" schools. "The categories may be new but the arguments are the same tired horseshit dragged out every time some blowhard feels the need to condemn movie critics," gripes Taylor, who rages that Bart (the producer of Revenge of the Nerds 2) is an insidious corporate hack. Taylor moans that these are "rotten times" for critics—dishing up some intriguing blind items, including an anecdote about a writer who was chastised for panning Men in Black II.