Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 4 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


The Last Days of Disco (Gramercy Pictures). A modestly warm reception for the last installment in director Whit Stillman's trilogy (following Metropolitan and Barcelona) about neurotic, hypereducated young WASPs. Critics forgive the incoherence of the film--set in early '80s New York, in a nightclub modeled on the legendary Studio 54--and lap up the characters' witty exegeses of yuppie culture. "Stillman is the Balzac of the ironic class," says the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter. Others claim Stillman's semiautobiographical musings on the decline of the WASP have long been exhausted of insight. (Click here for the official site.)

Hope Floats (20th Century Fox). Critics find Waiting to Exhale director Forest Whitaker's latest chick flick guilty of the genre's worst defects: tear-jerking melodrama, shots of little girls with stuffed animals, and the "emotional range of a sympathy card" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Some predict that Sandra Bullock's performance--as a prom queen who returns to her hometown after her husband cheats on her--will only deepen her midcareer funk. Crooner Harry Connick Jr. is also judged charmless. Some reviewers endorse the film as benign summer fare with "nary a car chase, explosion or loaded weapon" (Leah Rozen, People). (To download the trailer, click here.)


More Tales of the City (Showtime; June 7 and 8, 9 p.m. ET/PT). Like its predecessor, the second film made from an Armistead Maupin novel about gay San Francisco sparks controversy. Critics attack PBS's timid refusal to air More Tales, even though the 1994 original was one of its highest rated programs ever. Still, they admit the sequel isn't that great. While full of delightfully quirky characters (peeping Toms, Scientologists), it is also "undeniably reminiscent of daytime soap opera" (People). (Click here for the official site.)


A Bright Shining Lie (HBO) and Thanks of a Grateful Nation (Showtime). Two docudramas about military cover-ups win praise for their high quality but criticism for playing fast and loose with the facts. Journalist David Halberstam and former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg, who are characters in Shining Lie, complain that the Vietnam film distorts the nonfiction book it is based on. Grateful Nation is said to present a powerful but one-sided argument for the existence of the "Gulf War syndrome" that many vets claim afflicts them.



"Mark Rothko" (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Critics argue over the meaning of the Abstract Expressionist's famous floating rectangles. "Like Seinfeld," the Washington Post's Jo Ann Lewis asks, "are they about nothing?" Some declare Rothko a pure painter who was concerned only with color. Others insist he self-consciously aimed to represent emotions and landscapes. A few interpret the dark hues of his later works as a reflection of his own tragic life, which ended in alcoholism and suicide. (Click here to read Christopher Benfey's review in Slate.)



Corpus Christi, by Terrence McNally (Manhattan Theatre Club). The press rallies to the Pulitzer Prize winner's defense on hearing that the Manhattan Theatre Club was canceling his play about a gay Jesus. Though the theater relented when Arthur Miller, Wendy Wasserstein, and other top playwrights howled, most critics still paint the incident as a free-speech outrage. "American theater has surrendered to thugs," charges the New York Times' Frank Rich. Conservatives retort that liberals would never tolerate similar bigotry aimed at beliefs sacred to Jews or blacks. "A so-called work of art that maligns Jesus is an affront that warrants protest by every legal means. If that's censorship, so be it" (Bill Reel, Newsday). (Click here to read Jon Robin Baitz's take on the controversy in Slate's "Diary.")


While conservatives bash Bulworth for its political correctness, The Nation likens it to Citizen Kane. "Like [Orson] Welles, [Warren] Beatty brings to this production a history of left-liberal politics and an admiration for black musicians," says Stuart Klawans. ...New York Times Book Review Editor Charles McGrath, a former deputy to William Shawn at the New Yorker, calls Lillian Ross' memoir about her affair with Shawn "on occasion factually inaccurate or misleading" and "a betrayal of Shawn's high editorial principles. ... [S]ome of it would almost certainly have made him wince."

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns



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).

Death--Frank Sinatra;

Television--Seinfeld finale;


Movie--The Horse Whisperer;

Book--The Everlasting Story of Nory, by Nicholson Baker;

Book--Cities of the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy;

Book--Identity, by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher.

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.

--Franklin Foer