Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 23 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


The Mask of Zorro (TriStar Pictures). The latest version of the swashbuckling legend makes critics wax nostalgic for the era "when boyish adventure films still had their innocence" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). This time an aging Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) passes the mask to Antonio Banderas. Unlike campier predecessors, this movie about the Mexican Robin Hood is said to offer impeccable stunts and a genuinely witty screenplay. But the Village Voice's Michael Atkinson calls the acting "generally lifeless, [with the] contrived feel of a Thanksgiving Day parade." (Here's the official Zorro site.)

Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks SKG). The hype commences, with critics pronouncing Steven Spielberg's World War II epic "a movie of staggering virtuosity" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). Reviews dwell on the gory 25 minute opening battle scene, emblematic of Spielberg's new obsession with verisimilitude: "[O]ne of the greatest, most appalling things ever done in movies" (David Denby, New York). Applause also goes to Spielberg for bucking war movie typecasting with Everyman Tom Hanks and such unmacho hunks as Matt Damon and Edward Burns. Only Variety's Todd McCarthy notes that the premise--the Army expends ridiculous resources on a dubious rescue mission--is "far-fetched." (Join an online chat about Saving Private Ryan.)

There's Something About Mary (20th Century Fox). The Farrelly brothers' latest slapstick is said to hark back to the screwball romances of the 1940s: The Dumb & Dumber directors temper their repulsive humor--which includes gags about a mangled penis and the mentally retarded--with a touching love story. The plot: A sleazy private eye (Matt Dillon) falls for the woman (Cameron Diaz) he's paid to track down by a nerdy writer (Ben Stiller). Most critics agree with Slate's David Edelstein that the Farrellys' "tenderness [and] joy in all things scatological, rendered outrage spurious." Others are disgusted by the "sophomoric frat-house jokes" (Rex Reed, the New York Observer). (See the official site.)



Hello Nasty, by the Beastie Boys (Grand Royal/Capitol). The wise-ass rappers' first album in four years is taken as evidence of a new sophistication. Entertainment Weekly's David Browne calls the album "a sonic smorgasbord in which the Beasties gorge themselves with reckless abandon," sampling everything from Stravinsky to Tito Puente. Critics also like their combination of high-minded lyrics about Tibet and the environment with highbrow inanities about Postimpressionist painters. (Critics favorite line: "I'm the king of Boggle, there is none higher/ I get 11 points off the word 'quagmire.' ") (Check out the Hello Nasty chat site.)


Lucky Bastard, by Charles McCarry (Random House). An ex-CIA agent's thriller about a skirt-chasing spy's ascent to the presidency is deemed "Primary Colors written with imagination" (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, the New York Times). Although critics praise McCarry's entertaining prose and quirky characters, they focus more on the similarities between the sexaholic protagonist and Bill Clinton. None other than Dick Morris complains in the Weekly Standard that the book "becomes a porn novel," with its heavy focus on presidential sex. (See what the publisher has to say about Lucky Bastard.)



Twelfth Night (Vivian Beaumont Theater, New York City). Mixed reviews for Oscar winner Helen Hunt's turn as a Shakespearean: Is she delightfully down-to-earth or simply banal? The London Guardian's Joanna Coles says her presence is "so obvious a gimmick to draw in those who don't normally bother to see the Bard that it's almost insulting." Unanimous praise goes to TheMadness of King George director Nicholas Hytner's staging of the gender bender, which breaks with the recent trend of interjecting gay subtext into the play. The consensus: Twelfth Night is "the greatest of Shakespeare's romantic comedies" (Ben Brantley, the New York Times).



Drudge (Fox News Channel; Saturdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT). Internet gossip Matt Drudge milks his newfangled celebrity, debuting a half-hour political chat show. Most critics use the occasion as another opportunity to bash him for his "blatant bias and outrageous exaggerations" (Robert Bianco, USA Today). Others regret that Drudge is less than telegenic and fails to deliver the dish his promos promised. Still others, such as Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, predict the unpredictable Drudge, a "refreshingly snarky news anchor," will shake up political television. Here's the Drudge Report, which spawned the TV show. And here are Chatterbox's musings on Drudge.

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns


Tina!--The Tina Brown Years;

Art--"Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth";

Movie--Small Soldiers;


Movie--Lethal Weapon 4;

Movie--Buffalo 66;

Music--Embrya, by Maxwell;

Music--Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, by Lucinda Williams.



Death--Roy Rogers;

Book--Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, by Ron Rosenbaum;

Book--Someone Else's House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration, by Tamar Jacoby;

Book--Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding;

Performance Art--The Return of the Chocolate Smeared Woman, Karen Finley.

Movie--Out of Sight;


Movie--Dr. Dolittle;

Movie--Gone With the Wind;


Book--Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton, by Dianne Wood Middlebrook;

Book--The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Edith Grossman.

Movie--The X Files;

Movie--100 Years, 100 Movies (AFI);


Art--"Charles Ray";

Book--Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, by John Lewis, with Michael D'Orso;

Book--Ship of Gold: In the Deep Blue Sea, by Gary Kinder;

Book--A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar.

--Eliza Truitt