Summary Judgment

Depp Man Walking


Sleepy Hollow (Paramount Pictures). Strong reviews tempered by warnings of excessive gore for director Tim Burton’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s classic headless-horseman tale. The art direction, costume design, and photography are top-notch: “It’s the most gorgeous, sumptuous, painterly movie ever made about multiple decapitations” (Jeff Giles, Newsweek). Johnny Depp, playing Ichabod Crane as an effete Manhattan detective sent to get to the bottom of a rash of beheadings, shines (or more accurately, is appropriately pallid). As his love interest, Christina Ricci is not so well received; she seems less adept at blending into the 18th century than Depp is. (To catch a glimpse of the tremendously creepy sets, visit the film’s official site.)

The World Is Not Enough (United Artists). The usual fun Bond fluff, with Pierce Brosnan doing his best turn as 007 yet–though he’s still nowhere near the caliber of Sean Connery. Roger Ebert calls it a “splendid comic thriller” (the Chicago Sun-Times). The chases are inventive (skis, powerboats), the double-entendres apt (secretary asks Bond if he’d like to “check her figures”), the women beautiful (Denise Richards and Sophie Marceau), and the plot irrelevant (something about oil pipelines). Critics say that this one–No. 19 in the series–comes in above average but isn’t a classic. (Click here to find out everything you ever wanted to know about Bond.)

Liberty Heights (Warner Bros.). Director Barry Levinson’s fourth Baltimore picture (after Diner, Tin Men, and Avalon) gets wildly inconsistent reviews. The film follows a collection of teen-agers from different ethnic and economic backgrounds (ranging from WASPy country-clubbers to middle-class Jews to blacks who have recently been integrated via forced busing) as they mix in 1954 Baltimore. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal calls the plot “schematic” and “synthetic” and says the film “loses its way.” But at the other end of the spectrum, Todd McCarthy raves in Variety that it’s “a grand slam” and proclaims it Levinson’s best film yet. (Click here to find out more about the director.)

All About My Mother (20th Century Fox Film Corp.). After winning Best Director at Cannes and making a splash at the New York Film Festival, Pedro Almodóvar’s ode to women opens to gushing praise: “the most moving film of his career” (David Ansen, Newsweek). A single mother whose teen-age son is suddenly killed makes a pilgrimage to track down the boy’s father and in the process encounters women from all walks of life–transsexuals, pregnant nuns, divas, and more. Spain’s most famous filmmaker–Almodóvar directed Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, among others–demonstrates what Janet Maslin calls “a newly sophisticated style that is far more passionate, wise, and deeply felt” than his previous work (New York Times). (This page has biographical information and a filmography for Almodóvar.)


Timeline, by Michael Crichton (Random House). Crichton (Jurassic Park) follows his usual MO: Turn a scientific concept into a hi-tech thriller with loads of action and bare-bones characters. This time a sort of quantum 3-D fax machine with the ability to digitize people and send them back in time is at the heart of the story. “Crichton isn’t nearly as interested in people and their inner workings as he is in things and their inner workings,” but that doesn’t stop the book from being fun to read: “It’s the geeky stuff, in fact, that makes Crichton’s books so hugely entertaining” (Daniel Mendelsohn, New York Times Book Review). A few critics can’t work up any excitement, labeling it just another “dull time-travel tale” (James Poniewozik, Time) that is bound for the movies. “His characters are only insubstantial shadows on a screen and Timeline is not a novel, but a shooting script” (Richard Dyer, the Boston Globe). (Crichton’s official site includes an excerpt from the book.)

Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss, by Frederick Barthelme and Steven Barthelme (Houghton Mifflin). Uniformly first-rate reviews for this memoir of two brothers, both professors of English, who become obsessed with gambling after their parents’ deaths: “superb and horrifying” (Tom De Haven, Entertainment Weekly); “an exquisitely crafted memoir of their three years in the grips of Mississippi casinos” (Lisa Gubernick, the Wall Street Journal). Not only is their story surprising, but the ending is a real doozy: They are charged with conspiring to cheat at blackjack, even though they have managed to lose their entire $250,000 inheritance in just three years. (The charges have since been dropped.) “What Double Down teaches that other memoirs don’t–preoccupied as they tend to be with the triumph of the individual–is that while we’re busy playing with life, life is playing with us as well” (Walter Kirn, New York). (Chat with the authors on Dec. 7.)