Highlights from the week in criticism.
July 2 1998 3:30 AM



Franklin Foer Franklin Foer

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


Out of Sight (Universal Pictures). TV star George Clooney, long maligned for his "one-trick-pony acting style ... [of] ducking his handsome head and raising his eyes" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone), finally emerges as a movie star. Critics delight in the chemistry between his character, a charming bank robber, and that of Jennifer Lopez, a federal marshal. Director Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape) wins praise for preserving the humor, unorthodox narrative, and genre-bending of Elmore Leonard's noir-thriller-romance novel. (Visit the official site; also read David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

Smoke Signals (Miramax). Billed as the first feature film by Native Americans, this picaresque tale wins reviewers' admiration for being "palpably authentic" (Richard Schickel, Time). Critics like the story, about a young man and his friend who set out to retrieve his father's ashes, for eschewing "the high seriousness and dubious mysticism" of most films about the Indians' plight (John Anderson, Newsday). Although everyone enjoys its wry humor and cutting observations about life on the reservation, a few say its aimless plot betrays its makers' inexperience.

Dr. Dolittle (20th Century Fox). After reviving his career with a smash-hit remake of The Nutty Professor (1996), Eddie Murphy reprises Rex Harrison's 1967 role as the man who talks with animals--but to less acclaim. Forgetting that the original Dolittle was also panned, critics pine for "the good old days of children's movies" (Rod Dreher, the New York Post). They lament the remake's addition of "a witless barrage of off-color bathroom humor" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) and its use of sophisticated computer graphics to make cute animals engage in sexual innuendo. Murphy's comic talents are said to be underutilized. (The studio trumpets the site here.)

Gone With the Wind (New Line Cinema). A critical backlash against the 1939 classic on the occasion of its remastered rerelease. "Overrated, overlong and overdue for oblivion," says the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter. The revisionists harp loudest on GWTW's racist romanticization of the Old South. Most critics still consider it a masterwork and celebrate the virtuosity of Vivien Leigh's performance and the film's Old Hollywood grandeur. The counterrevisionist spin: Leigh and Clark Gable are unsentimental "moderns ... who have no time for the fake politeness of this fatally genteel world" (Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (The official site offers tie-ins galore.)



"Bonnard" (Museum of Modern Art, New York City). With his first New York show in 30 years, the French painter (1867-1947) overcomes his dismissal by Picasso on the grounds that "he's not really a modern painter." Critics declare Bonnard's landscapes, nudes, and self-portraits more than dated Impressionism, deeming them "[s]ome of the most extraordinary paintings of his quickly ending century" (Christopher Benfey, Slate). They say that his dreamlike images show a "Proustian" concern with the mechanics of perception and that his later nudes are "tinged with necrophilia" (Francine Prose, the Wall Street Journal). (MoMA's site serves up a slew of paintings.)



Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton, by Dianne Wood Middlebrook (Houghton Mifflin). A new biography of Billy Tipton--an obscure jazzman who was revealed, only at death, to have been a jazzwoman--elevates its subject into the "pantheon of legendary women who have successfully passed as men" (Holly Brubach, the New York Times Book Review). Middlebrook, a professor at Stanford, uses Tipton to support the postmodernist contention that gender is a historic construction, but critics mostly wax prurient. They obsess over how Tipton duped her wives into believing she was male. Some chastise Middlebrook for resting her speculations on scant evidence.


The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Edith Grossman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Critics are divided over the Peruvian novelist's latest, about the fantasies of an insurance executive whose estranged wife slept with his preadolescent son. Some critics are tickled by his parody of Latin American machismo, his scatological humor, and his taboo-busting musings about sex. "[I]t would be pornographic, if it weren't art" (Walter Kendrick, the New York Times Book Review). Others find that the novel's format--a combination of letters and rambling diatribes--makes the story repetitious and tedious.

Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

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.

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.

--Franklin Foer