The critical buzz on Art Buchwald, Sundance, and Stephen Colbert.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Jan. 19 2007 1:06 PM

Art Buchwald, R.I.P.

The critical buzz on Art Buchwald, Sundance, and Stephen Colbert.

Art Buchwald.The humor columnist died yesterday at the age of 81 and managed to be as memorable in death as he was in life—thanks to a New York Times video obituary in which he proclaims, "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald and I just died." He also published a final column, written last February with the instructions that it should not be released until his death. The Washington Post memorializes him, writing that "[H]e brought to daily commentary a touch of wit, a gentle kind of humor and a brave willingness to launch himself occasionally into flights of utter absurdity that produced some of his best moments." And the Baltimore Sun recalls that Dean Acheson once referred to Buchwald as "the greatest satirist in English since Pope and Swift." (NPR has sound clips of Buchwald on All Things Considered, as well as a final interview with him last June.)

Sundance Film Festival.The Park City, Utah, festival opened more somberly than usual, due to the premiere of Adrienne Shelley's film Waitress; Shelley was murdered in Greenwich Village in November. The New York Times' David Carr remarks, "Even for someone who did not know Ms. Shelly, watching the movie might prove to be a bittersweet experience." Observers are also wondering what this year's Little Miss Sunshine—which was bought for $10 million at last year's Sundance and has grossed over $60 million so far—will be, though the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan warns: "Unlike other festivals, where the heavyweights are more or less predictable, this event is so focused on unseen films by unfamiliar directors that the identities of the successes and failures simply aren't knowable in advance."

Stephen Colbert and Bill O'Reilly.The Fox News pundit and his Comedy Central sendup appeared on each other's show Thursday night, and they kept things remarkably civil. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley seems disappointed that the two didn't come to blows, but she concludes that O'Reilly presented himself well: "[He] remained good-humored throughout, and that was perhaps the real point. The Fox News commentator is famously thin-skinned and bellicose." After Colbert's appearance on O'Reilly's show, he stole a microwave from the Fox News green room. According to Editor & Publisher, "A spokesman for Fox News confirmed that Colbert stole the microwave, but said it was all in good fun."

Scrubs
Scrubs, "My Musical," Episode 607
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Scrubs (NBC, 9 p.m. ET). A patient on Scrubs has a condition that causes her to imagine that everyone is singing, and as such, tonight's episode is staged as a musical. Critics are (perhaps surprisingly) indulgent, even effusive, about both the conceit and the music, which was written in collaboration with two of the creators of Broadway musical Avenue Q. The Boston Globe calls the episode "extraordinary" and admires the songs, noting that with "influences ranging from Les Miserables and Grease to Gilbert & Sullivan, [they] fit effortlessly into the wacky environment of Scrubs." "[T]he cleverness of the songs, which mock patient paranoia, the process of diagnosis and doctors' apparent fascination with all things scatological make up for the ineptness of vocal talent," muses the New York Times. And the Chicago Tribune notes approvingly, "It's all quite silly and done with a lot of zest."

Golden Globes

Golden Globes. The postgame analysis of Monday night's awards is coming fast and furious. In the New York Times, David Carr notes that the ceremony managed to please almost everyone: "Remember that preschool graduation at which everyone got an award for something and parents left feeling validated that their pride and joy was in some way special? Monday night felt a bit like that." The San Diego Union-Tribune reminds readers that the Globes have no impact on Oscar nominations, which have already been submitted—but argues that we should still care about the Globes, because they "still manage to spotlight some works that could get lost in the shuffle come Oscar time." But Hollywood Reporter columnist Martin Grove believes in reading the tea leaves, prognosticating, "What's been a wide open Oscar race to this point remains so, it seems to me and to those I spoke to off the record Monday night, because the Globes wins were spread around so broadly."

Anthony Swofford, Exit A

Exit A, Anthony Swofford   (Scribner). The former Marine's first novel, a military romance set in the United States and Japan, has left critics like William T. Vollmann cold. In the New York Times Book Review, Vollmann states bluntly that the book lacks the qualities that won Swofford's Gulf War memoir, Jarhead, wide acclaim: "[I]t doesn't convey life vividly or believably. It analyzes nothing. ... Swofford's ability to create character is vastly inferior to his capacity to describe reality as he himself experienced it." The Los Angeles Times is more forgiving, lauding Swofford for his "great eye for detail and cultural kitsch, which imbues Exit A with a lot of incidental humor despite its weightier themes." The San Francisco Chronicle praises the book, remarking that Swofford "tramps deep into Updike's terrain with his torturous descriptions of [his protagonist's] slowly eroding marriage, proving that this Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate can easily hold his own with the giants of American letters." (Buy Exit A.)

Neal Pollack, Alternadad

Alternadad, Neal Pollack (Pantheon). The caustically funny author of Never Mind the Pollacks has written a memoir of his first few years as a "hipster" father, and the New York Times' Elissa Schappell notes wryly that "what concerns Pollack most is that his son be happy, dig music and be cool." The Los Angeles Times argues that Pollack, himself a poster child of a generation that had "an unusually elongated adolescence," can't help but raise a kid "for whom pop culture is a religion and cynicism an involuntary reflex." And Texas Monthly observes, "Even the most cynical hipsters are terminally charmed by their own offspring, which explains how the birth of Neal Pollack's first child, Elijah, sparked the satirist's transformation … into America's postmodern Erma Bombeck." (Buy Alternadad.)

Martin Amis, House of Meetings

House of Meetings, Martin Amis (Knopf). The narrator of Amis' latest novel is a Soviet defector who returns to Russia from the United States for one last visit before he dies—unearthing some unsavory memories of World War II and his time in the gulag along the way. In the New York Times Book Review, Liesl Schillinger observes, "Through his singularly unlikable narrator, Amis attempts to impart to readers (as he has done before) his revulsion at the depredations of Soviet Communism and, latterly, post-Soviet history … along with his bleak idea of the Russian God." The Boston Globe is skeptical about the project, chiding, "Amis has taken on more than he can handle —more, realistically speaking, than any non-Russian writer could handle." But the Washington Post commends Amis for a book it calls "vivid and even scarifying, more than some mere noble acknowledgment of mass suffering, a suffering that Western intellectuals so often excused." (Buy House of Meetings.)