Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 11 2003 3:44 PM

Jack Be Ticked

Nicholson and Sandler make Anger Management less painful than anticipated.

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Anger Management (Columbia Studios). Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum praises this Jack Nicholson/Adam Sandler comedy as "high-concept gold" in which "each star's comic talents clarify the strengths of the other." The New York Times' Elvis Mitchell sneers that it's "so primitively staged that you can almost hear someone riffling through the book of instructions that came with the camera." To the Washington Post's Desson Howe, it's "Miller Time for the funny bone"; to the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro, "Punch-Drunk Love for the masses"; to the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, "a dental appointment that didn't turn out to be as painful as anticipated." And in the Globe and Mail, Liam Lacey takes a mild-mannered medical approach: "It's always a relief to come out of an Adam Sandler movie without a case of hives, and you can comfortably attend Anger Management without prophylactic antihistamines." (Buy tickets for Anger Management.) (Read Slate's review here.)

XX/XY (IFC). Once again, we've got EW and the Times locking horns, with Lisa Schwarzbaum kvelling over this "intimate sketch about longing and ambivalence" while the New York Times' Stephen Holden condemns "a sour portrait of Gen X yuppies who settle for adult lives that appear at once soulless and overprivileged." In the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis finds this indie bland, with "nothing necessary about the story and the filmmaking, and nothing essentially unpleasant and unrecognizable." But for the Onion's Keith Phipps, the slow build pays off: "[Director Austin] Chick opens on a world with no strings attached, then pulls back to show that the strings stretch to infinity." (Buy tickets for XX/YY.)

Letters to the Editor. Speaking of anger management, David Foster, one of the producers of the delightfully corny disaster flick The Core, might benefit from a session or two. Check out his letter in response to a pan in theNorthCounty Times. "When I read that The Core suffers from 'a preposterous plot, cliched characters, and silly special effects,' I realized [critic Jeff] Pack didn't do his homework. … If Pack thinks our plot is preposterous, then our team of geophysicists are all wrong, which I seriously believe is not the case. If Pack was alive and well in the '50s and '60s, he probably would have said we'd never walk on the moon or land on Mars."

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Pulitzers. As he prophesied in Chicago Magazine a month back, Roger Ebert is no longer the only movie critic with a Pulitzer. On Monday, the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter was singled out for "authoritative film criticism that is both intellectually rewarding and a pleasure to read." And already with the backlash! On Metafilter, "Johnny Novak" sniffs that Hunter's "prose is hackneyed, his jokes poor and his insight minimal." The Antic Muse nastily deconstructs Hunter's writing tics. And during a Washington Post Online Q&A with comedy writer Gene Weingarten, some guy insults Hunter, causing his colleague to rise to his defense: "Stephen Hunter is the best movie critic I have ever seen. Number two is quite a distance away. This is not even debatable. If you don't get it, you are not a reader."

For fans, the Unofficial Stephen Hunter Web site offers copious background on Hunter's novels, his fascination with guns, and his critical philosophy. In a Washington Business Journal interview from 2001, he offers this take on reviewers. "There does appear to be a Washington film-critic culture, in which I am a complete outsider. Most of them know who I am. I have some friends and there's some chit-chat. But I hate film talk. I just hate it. I hate to hear critics sort of auditioning their reviews for other critics. They come up with a line and sort of test that line. There's some sort of New York-y, self-dramatizing pretension in critics talking. I'm not a big schmoozer."

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Property, by Valerie Martin (Doubleday). This "painful and elegant study" of a Southern slave owner's wife is praised widely as "a bitter, mesmerizing account of the caustic costs of slavery." Reviewers call the slender book a "fascinating little gem of darkness" featuring a "quasi-unreliable, often despicable narrator." In the New York Times, Kathryn Harrison admires the way the novel's structure "forces the reader into the complicity and discomfort of a voyeur." But in a lone pan, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Helen Mitsios condescendingly recommends that Martin read Hegel and dismisses the narrator as a "kvetchy princess on a plantation." (Buy Property)

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Cosmopolis, by Don DeLillo (Scribner). Critics split on DeLillo's latest, and the worst reviews are full of passionate intensity. The Boston Globe's Gail Caldwell labels it "DeLillo Lite (or worse, DeLillo stoned)," sighing that the book is "absurd where it means to be absurdist; eye-glazing where it wants to evoke entropic gloom." Michiko Kakutani calls it "a major dud, as lugubrious and heavy-handed as a bad Wim Wenders film." But in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Kipen finds the book "unsurprisingly brilliant" and writes that "DeLillo continues to think about the modern world in language and images as quizzically beautiful as any writer now going." In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Eric Hanson praises Cosmopolis as "a brisk, absorbing book that pulses with [DeLillo's] trademark themes," but offers a defensive caveat: Cosmopolis is not the writer's greatest work, but since DeLillo has "inspired the founding of entire organizations devoted to the study of his work, it's among the best anyone will write this year." In The New Yorker, John Updike praises the author's "fervent intelligence and his fastidious, edgy prose," but notes that "the trouble with a tale where anything can happen is that somehow nothing happens." ( Cosmopolis.)

Embeds. Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic P. Papatola cooks up some Onion-flavored satire with his latest column, the tale of G. Ima Toady, the first embedded theater critic. "Toady rebuffed concerns that the agreement … would compromise his journalistic integrity. 'With budget cutbacks and an economy perched again on the brink of recession, the world of theater is becoming an increasingly complicated battlefield,' he said. 'In order to make this complex landscape more comprehensible, it's vital for journalists such as myself to offer richly detailed portraits of a single aspect of the industry, filling it with poignant images and long, seemingly meaningful quotes like this one.' " Toady's final pitch for embedding: "Perspective is for wusses and wonks."