Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 25 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


The X-Files (20th Century Fox). Critics deem the hit show's $60 million film adaptation a "glorified TV episode" (Todd McCarthy, Variety). Some attack its incomprehensibly labyrinthine plot, which is wrapped around an alien-government conspiracy. "A narrative as obtuse as a tax form" (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). Others praise its stylish, dark colors; terse dialogue; and self-referential humor. Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) win praise for ratcheting up the sexual tension, a central part of the TV show's appeal. (David Edelstein reviewed the film in Slate.)

100 Years, 100 Movies (American Film Institute). AFI's list of the 100 best American films (as chosen by a poll of more than 1,500 "prominent Americans") pleases no one. Only the top winners, Citizen Kane and Casablanca, win unanimous approval. The main gripes: The list rates living filmmakers (Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese) above great dead ones (no Preston Sturges or Buster Keaton). Recent Hollywood fare such as Forrest Gump and Dances With Wolves rank ahead of dozens of classics (nothing by Howard Hawks appears higher than No. 97). Some critics call the list a marketing device for the studios--which fund AFI--to sell videos. "AFI went with the money" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (See the full list. "Culturebox" has its own complaints with the AFI.)

Mulan (Disney). Disney's animation studio rebounds from a series of disappointments (Pocahontas, Hercules) with a feature based on a Chinese legend about a cross-dressing female warrior, winning praise for featuring a proto-feminist heroine instead of its usual submissive maidens. Other trumpeted virtues: A minimalist aesthetic inspired by Chinese art, and a wisecracking sidekick, whose voice is provided by Eddie Murphy. One dissenter, the New York Times' Janet Maslin, chides the film's political correctness and bland score: "the most inert and formulaic of recent Disney animated films." (Visit the official site.)



"Charles Ray" (Whitney Museum, New York City). Critics bash the 44-year-old postmodern artist on the occasion of his midcareer retrospective. Ray's works--including portraits of him masturbating and a fiberglass re-creation of an auto wreck--are faulted for being self-referential, overly clever, and emotionless. The hoopla is evidence "that the art world takes itself way too seriously" (Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times). Time's Robert Hughes cites the inflation of Ray's reputation as evidence of declining expectations for American artists: "Small bass and medium carp are treated as potential Moby Dicks." (Get more information on the exhibit.)


Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, by John Lewis, with Michael D'Orso (Simon & Schuster). Critics applaud Rep. Lewis, D-Ga., for his candid memoir of his days as a young civil rights radical. They praise his insights into the tumultuous internal politics of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the organization he headed. Most reviewers mythologize Lewis' life as an up-from-sharecropping success story: "Of all the surviving saints of the civil rights movement ... Lewis remains most committed to its original creed" (Jack White, Time). (In Slate, Brent Staples argues the book's real value lies in its revelations of the class rivalries within the movement.)

Ship of Gold: In the Deep Blue Sea, by Gary Kinder (Atlantic Monthly Press). Overlooking journalist Kinder's occasionally clunky prose, reviewers are enraptured by his page-turning account of an 1857 steamer wreck and the eccentric scientist who recovers $1 billion worth of gold from it. Some complain it's too much like other recent real-life adventure tales (Into Thin Air, APerfect Storm) and disaster stories. "It's a terrible challenge to interest a populace that's already had Titanic up one nostril and out the other" (Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly).


A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar (Simon & Schuster). Unified acclaim for a New York Times reporter's biography of mathematician John F. Nash Jr., who went mad. Nash pioneered game theory, became schizophrenic, recovered, then won a Nobel Prize late in life. Reviewers praise Nasar for her clear explications of recondite subjects and marvel at the bizarre details of Nash's disease (he rejected a tenure offer because he believed he was about to become emperor of Antarctica). They find it ironic and poignant that someone capable "of conceiving of a nuanced theory of rationality could descend into madness" (Robert Boynton, Newsday). (Jim Holt reviews A Beautiful Mind in Slate.)

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

Movie--Six Days, Seven Nights;


Movie--The Opposite of Sex;

Movie--High Art;

Theater--Not About Nightingales;

Television--The Magic Hour;


Book--Gain, by Richard Powers.

Movie--The Truman Show;

Movie--A Perfect Murder;

Movie--Kurt and Courtney;

Television--Sex and the City (HBO);

Theater--The Tony Awards;

Art--"Edward Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer";

Book--Cold New World, by William Finnegan.

Movie--The Last Days of Disco;

Movie--Hope Floats;

Television--More Tales of the City (Showtime);

Television--A Bright Shining Lie (HBO) and Thanks of a Grateful Nation (Showtime);

Art--"Mark Rothko";

Theater--Corpus Christi.


Movie--Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas;

Movie--Cannes Film Festival Roundup;

Book--Freedomland, by Richard Price;

Books--Remembering Mr. Shawn's "New Yorker": The Invisible Art of Editing, by Ved Mehta; Here But Not Here: A Love Story, by Lillian Ross;

Television--The Larry Sanders Show (Showtime).

--Franklin Foer