Summary Judgment

Minnie Driver, Lacquered


Rules of Engagement (Paramount Pictures). William Friedkin (The French Connection) directs Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson in a military courtroom drama that is like “A Few Good Men retold from Jack Nicholson’s point of view” (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Despite a good effort from the two leads, the film never adequately deals with the morality of the issues it raises (Under what conditions is it acceptable to kill? Kill civilians?) and ends up only as “passable, moderately diverting dramatic entertainment that raises all kinds of thought-provoking questions it’s not really interested in answering” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Find out more about Jones here and Jackson here.)

Black and White (Screen Gems Inc). Most critics are awed by James Toback’s mostly improvised, somewhat uneven film exploring race, sex, and power in Manhattan: “[A] pulsating snapshot of America caught in a mad, liberating identity crisis” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). The cast includes actors (Brooke Shields, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller), hip-hop artists (Raekwon, Power, Method Man), and sport stars (Allan Houston, Mike Tyson); the director lets them loose on fertile ground—namely, white kids who co-opt black culture. The result is “in your face, overflowing with ideas, outrageous in its connections, maddening, illogical and fascinating” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). A few more-conservative critics contend that the film doesn’t hang together, calling it “sometimes laughably incoherent” (Mike Clark, USA Today) and “inflammatory yet insipid” (Rita Kempley, the Washington Post). (Slate’s David Edelstein calls the film “heady, unnerving, superbly disorienting.” Click here.)

Return to Me (MGM). Nobody likes this saccharine tale of a man (David Duchovny) who falls in love with the woman (Minnie Driver) who received his late wife’s heart after she died in a car accident. Duchovny comes off awkward and stiff, while Driver “looks perpetually lacquered and ready for her In Style close-up” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). Watching it is “like having your head clamped in a vise and being force-fed sugar cubes by an ex-Up-With-People member who now owns an Amway franchise” (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). (Click here to read David Edelstein’s review in Slate.)

Ready to Rumble (Warner Bros.). If your idea of a good time at the movies includes “a high-concept highway accident involving [a] sewage-filled tanker truck and an 18-wheeler carrying a big load of toilet paper” (A.O. Scott, the New York Times), by all means run to this film. David Arquettte and Scott Caan play two guys who work emptying portable toilets and who are obsessed with wrestling; they star opposite a host of pro wrestlers playing themselves. The consensus: The film is a cinematic equivalent of “pile driver to the brain” (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). Highlight: “At the end we are treated to a montage of kicks to various groins, a perfect expression of the film’s idea of humor and its opinion of its audience” (Scott). (Click here to visit the official site.) 


Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland, by Gerald Clarke (Random House). Garland gets an insightful treatment from the author of the best-selling biography Capote. Reviewers are impressed with Clarke’s sympathetic portrait of a woman whose “desire for constant approval was pathological” (in her husband Vincente Minnelli’s words). “Exhaustively researched and illuminating,” the book is “as compassionate as it is wrenching” (Publishers Weekly), detailing her drug addictions, her suicide attempts, and her numerous marriages to gay men, as well as her twin compulsions toward self-destruction and success. Clarke was aided in his research by a rare find: 68 pages of an unpublished autobiography that were buried in the archives at Columbia University. A small number of critics complain that some of the book’s details are too lurid and that it’s less biography than “down-and-dirty pathography” (David Ansen, Newsweek). (Find out more about Garland on this fan site.)

Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates (The Ecco Press/HarperCollins). Oates’ fictionalized version of the life of Marilyn Monroe divides critics evenly into two camps. Some label the book “cutesy and contrived” and its psychology of Monroe “particularly banal” (Vanessa V. Friedman, Entertainment Weekly). Or to put a sharper point on it, the novel transforms Monroe’s life “into the book equivalent of a tacky television mini-series” by “playing to readers’ voyeuristic interest in a real-life story while using the liberties of a novel to tart up the facts” and including “pages and pages of the sort of heavy-breathing, romance-novel prose one would think beneath a writer of her distinction” (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). The other camp finds the book “part Gothic, part kaleidoscopic novel of ideas, part lurid celebrity potboiler … seldom less than engrossing … although sometimes sloppy and sentimental, [it] is perhaps the most ferocious fictional treatise ever written on the uninhabitable grotesqueness of femininity” (Laura Miller, the New York Times Book Review). (Listen to this interview with Oates, courtesy of the New York Times.)