Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 29 2003 3:28 PM

Going Batty

Critics find Jeepers Creepers 2 surprisingly homoerotic.

Listen to Slate's Summary Judgment segment on NPR's Day to Day. 

Jeepers Creepers 2 (MGM). This sequel to the 2001 horror hit—whose monster was "a cross between the Alien creature, a giant bat and Freddy Krueger"—doesn't build upon the original as a sequel should, complains the Charlotte Observer's Lawrence Toppman: "We learn nothing new about the Creeper, an unforgivable failure." LA Weekly's Scott Foundas describes director Victor Salva as a "fine orchestrator of close-quarters panic" though he "could do without" the "odd strain of juvenile homoeroticism that feels particularly unsavory in a movie made by a convicted pedophile." The Toronto Globe and Mail's Jason Anderson agrees on the "incongruously homoerotic" front: "What are we to make of the Creeper when he appears at the windshield, ogles the kids and points out his favorites before lasciviously licking the glass? Or when he wraps a wing around one hapless hunk and removes both his head and his shirt?" (Buy tickets to Jeepers Creepers 2.)

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American Splendor (Fine Line Features). This film about the comic book writer Harvey Pekar is "not exactly ha ha funny," notes Time's Richard Schickel. Like its subject, it's more "moody and cantankerous," Elvis Mitchell explains. But despite Splendor's somewhat angry tone, it's still one of the best reviewed this year. (Or, "the movie of the summer as per a conclave of critics convened by Charlie Rose.") The original mix of fictionalized re-enactment, animation, and real life (Paul Giamatti plays Pekar, but the artist also appears as himself) has Washington Post critics coining all sorts of new phrases. Stephen Hunter calls Splendor a "hybrid doc drama" while his colleague Desson Howe refers to it as a "superbly conceived anti-biopic." The Onion's Scott Tobias thinks the hybrid style addresses the "deeper problems of identity and celebrity that beset a man famous for turning the stuff of ordinary life into a groundbreaking form of autobiography." (Buy tickets to American Splendor.)

Freshman Diaries(Showtime). According to the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley, this new documentary-style compilation of video diaries kept by 12 freshman at the University of Texas—"edited to highlight drinking, parties, sex, angst and more drinking"—shows that television "has homogenized American culture." Many of the students featured have learned life lessons from The Real World (though one thought that college would be more like what's on Felicity). But Diaries reminds the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman of "the inherently interesting aspects of people experiencing major change." The Newark Star Ledger's Alan Sepinwall notes "how unselfconscious the kids are" ("Episode one features some on-camera vomiting," for instance): "Watch any home movies" through the early '80s and you'll find everyone is usually "uncomfortable being filmed." And there's a no-holds-barred aspect to the show that you won't find on MTV, explains Chicago Sun Times' Phil Rosenthal. This is Showtime, so "there are no bleeps."

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Thirteen (Fox Searchlight). This film was co-written by Nikki Reed, one of its teenage stars, and it's "one of the most honest and harrowing depictions of female adolescence ever," thrills the New York Daily News' Jami Bernard. Other critics find the movie harrowing but not necessarily "honest." The "panicked and excessively moralistic tone" generates the "parenting equivalent of an old drunk-driving film, all grisly pileups and smoking wreckage," explains the Onion's Scott Tobias. (L.A. Weekly's Ernest Hardy calls it "a 50's propaganda reel.") Drawing attention to the "carefully laid trap" of the premise that "if an actual 13-year-old" came up with it, "then it must be realistic,"Salon's Stephanie Zacharek finds the intended lessons about "peer pressure in contemporary teen life" overshadowed by the fact that Thirteen is really just about "a classic bad egg." (Read David Edelstein's Slate review here.) (Buy tickets to Thirteen.)

The Battle of Shaker Heights (Miramax). Most critics agree with the New York Post's Lou Lumenick: The second film from HBO's Project Greenlight series—a coming-of-age tale about a sour teenager who participates in battle recreations—is "wildly uneven." Though L.A. Weekly's Ron Stringer admires the "witty" banter that perks up several otherwise "derivative set pieces," the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell dismisses the dialogue as "sub-John Hughes"—"sub-Dawson's Creek for that matter." The directors, nastily portrayed on the TV series about the making of the film, veer "sharply back and forth between broad comedy and heartfelt drama, ultimately succeeding on neither level," explains the Hollywood Reporter'sFrank Scheck.Casting about for a silver lining, the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan notes that the film is, at least, better than last year's "even more pathetic Stolen Summer." (Buy  tickets to The Battle of Shaker Heights.)

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And Now You Can Go, by Vendela Vida (Knopf). "Stingy with ornament, humor, even polysyllables," this first novel from Vendela Vida—who co-edits Believer magazine, is married to Dave Eggers, and this week is writing Slate's "Diary"—strikes the San Francisco Chronicle's David Kipen as "fairly trying company." In the first five pages, the new-to-Manhattan narrator is almost mugged; she spends the next 185 dealing with how it makes her feel. It's a story that "lacks the cohesion of a novel," explains the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Vikas Turakhia. The Miami Herald's Margaria Fichtner, however, praises the "jangling, double-latte prose" (whatever that means) and the author's "splintery eye for life's random, quietly madcap possibilities, some of which spin up from these pages in such phrases as 'fly strips,' 'eggs,' 'Walk! Philadelphia,' 'coin slot,' 'Jane Eyre' and 'I am going to be killed by a man wearing Giorgio Armani glasses.' " Who knew that "coin slot" and "fly strips" could get a critic so excited? ( And Now You Can Go.)

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, by Max Ludington (Doubleday). "Destined to be a kind of classic," this first novel, told from the perspective of an 18-year-old who, in 1985, drops out of school to follow the Grateful Dead, gets the "beauty and loneliness of the drug culture" just right, argues New York's John Homans. (The title comes from a line in the Dead song "Saint and Circumstance.") Ludington displays a "wonderful ear for freak speak" and crafts "delightful set pieces," including one in which the protagonist watches "his girlfriend eat her pancakes at an IHop." But Newsday's Emily White is bored by the "sea of Deadheads" portrayed in "brief, superficial sketches." Even the concerts are described in the "flat" prose of "a tired music critic." The author also works in a slew of overly obvious character motivations, draining the novel of "unpredictability—exactly the element that characterizes a junkie's life." ( Tiger in a Trance.)

Marshall Heyman is an editor and writer living in New York.