Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 21 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

Franklin Foer is a Slate contributing editor and the author of World Without Mind.


Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). On his death, Ol' Blue Eyes is pronounced "one of the great talents of the century" (the Washington Post). Obits extol his unparalleled phrasing and effortless style and glance over his unexceptional pitch and range. They attribute his enduring popularity to his complex persona, which coupled upper-class urbanity with working-class gruffness and machismo with tenderness. All but a few whitewash his Mafia ties, brawling, silly grudges, boozing, racism, womanizing, and the fact that "he not infrequently resembled a thug" (Frank Rich, the New York Times).


SeinfeldFinale Roundup. Most critics say the sitcom's grand finale fails to live up to its hype, and a few even pronounce it "a major comedic disaster" (Marvin Kitman, Newsday). The episode, in which Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are jailed for failing to stop a car theft, is judged as lacking the show's long-standing hallmarks: multiple subplots, tight writing, and humor about everyday situations. Others are pleased that the show stayed unsentimental to the last and didn't compromise itself with a sappy, feel-good ending. Still others rejoice that the narcissistic characters finally got their comeuppance.




Bulworth (20th Century Fox). Critics find Warren Beatty's chutzpah and charm irresistible and praise his political comedy despite its hokey plot. Beatty plays a depressed U.S. senator, who orders his own murder and then begins rapping about the virtues of socialism and miscegenation. "Beatty deserves credit for having the audacity to shove a personal political agenda down the throats of an audience," says Newsday's Jack Mathews. Several African-American critics charge that Beatty adopts racist stereotypes of black ghettos. Conservatives, meanwhile, accuse him of turning out "agitprop for a politics whose few remaining adherents know nothing of America except Beverly Hills" (John Podhoretz, the Weekly Standard). (Click for a trailer or to read David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

The Horse Whisperer (Touchstone Pictures). Robert Redford wins praise for bucking Hollywood formula and directing a movie "so chaste and so conservative, it's practically Republican" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). Redford plays a cowboy who rehabilitates an injured horse and falls in love with its married owner (Kirstin Scott Thomas). Reviewers rhapsodize over the scenic vistas of Montana and laud the film--adapted from a best-selling New Agey novel--for dispensing with the book's spiritual pap. Detractors say the film, at two and a half hours, is too long and that Scott Thomas and Redford lack chemistry as a couple. (Here is the official site.)


The Everlasting Story of Nory, by Nicholson Baker (Random House). After two books about sex, novelist Nicholson Baker writes about the inner life of a 9-year-old girl. Critics love the child's comic riffs but lament that the narrator's voice often sounds more like a middle-age man's than a 9-year-old girl's. Others say the novel rambles: "As with a bright child brought down to entertain the guests, you begin to wonder when it will be bath time" (Richard Eder, the Los Angeles Times). They also note the new novel's fortuitous publication date: The rumor that Monica Lewinsky bought Baker's 1992 phone-sex novel Vox for President Clinton has upped that book's sales 200 percent.


Cities of the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf). The third installment in McCarthy's trilogy about cowboys in the mid-20th century seals his canonization. Although critics find Cities of the Plain less inventive than All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, they still celebrate McCarthy's Faulkneresque use of flowing, punctuationless sentences and arcane language. Others praise his cowboys for being macho yet vulnerable. "McCarthy comes on like a bracing slap of Aqua Velva," says the New York Times Book Review's Sara Mosle. Dissenters say he glorifies violence, writes one-dimensional villains, and doesn't understand women.

Identity, by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher (Harper Flamingo). The Czech expat's second novel written in French causes some reviewers to proclaim his decline. No longer "a Nobel Prize waiting to happen" (Jeff Giles, Newsweek), Kundera is said to overindulge in his philosophical musings, which no longer seem fresh. The book's plot (about a man's anonymous love letters to his girlfriend) is said to be trite, and the ending is called a cop out. But the New York Times' Christopher Lehmann-Haupt describes the book as classic Kundera--skeptical of modernity, unpredictable, and reminiscent of his masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Movie--Deep Impact;


Music--Into the Sun, by Sean Lennon;

Book--Titan: The Life and Times of John D. Rockefeller, by Ron Chernow;


Book--The Time of Our Time, by Norman Mailer;

Book--A Widow for One Year, by John Irving.

Movie--He Got Game;

Movie--Les Misérables;

Movie--Summer Movie Roundup;

Television--Newsmagazine Roundup;

Book--Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, by Peter Biskind;

Book--The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels;

Theater--The Judas Kiss.

Movie--Two Girls and a Guy;


Book--DamascusGate, by Robert Stone;

Book--Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, by Barbara Goldsmith (Knopf); Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, by Mary Gabriel (Algonquin).

Television--Merlin (NBC);

Art--"Alexander Calder: 1898-1976";

Opera--Kirov Opera.

Movie--Wild Man Blues;



Television--Seinfeld (NBC);

Book--Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, by Elizabeth Wurtzel;

Book--Closed Chambers: The First Eyewitness Account of the Epic Struggles Inside the Supreme Court, by Edward Lazarus;

Art--"Shadows of a Hand: The Drawings of Victor Hugo."

--Franklin Foer