Summary Judgment

Ebert Angered by Coitus Postponus 


Shaft (Paramount Pictures). A remake of the 1971 blaxploitation film, with John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) directing Samuel L. Jackson, seems like a sure-fire hit, and sure enough, most reviewers revel in its “stylish, funny and inevitably brutal” glory (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). But several take issue with its politics. “This Shaft recycles the same old right-wing vigilante action-movie tricks to achieve its anti-racist, ‘liberal’ ends: It says police brutality is great if the brutal policeman is black” (David Edelstein, Slate). Others note that this Shaft has been neutered—gone are the sex scenes and women of the first movie. “Though an outrageous flirt, the nouveau Shaft has more affection for his wardrobe than anything else” (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Jackson is in his element, but it’s Jeffrey Wright, playing a Dominican drug dealer, who ends up stealing the show. (For a comprehensive tribute to Blacula, Super Soul Brother, and other blaxploitation films, click here. Read the rest of David Edelstein’s review in Slate here.)

Titan A.E. (20th Century Fox Film Corp.). This animated sci-fi film—about a handsome youth who saves the human race from evil forces—has some cheerleaders, though most critics think it’s a great-looking dramatic dud. The 3-D rendering of space is “an extraordinary visual document” (Stephen Holden, the Washington Post), but the trite Star Wars-wannabe plot doesn’t measure up. Even with Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, and Janeane Garofalo voicing the parts, the film feels “woefully dumbed-down” (Mike Clark, USA Today). Another complaint: “[T]he whole project, from the pulse of its soundtrack to the tattoo on its hero to the slinky look of its heroine, has been ruthlessly calibrated to the likes and dislikes of teenage boys” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). Critics who favor the film claim “when it shifts into action mode, the movie can be a spectacular rush. It’s the video game that plays you” (Richard Corliss, Time). And Roger Ebert is positively smitten, praising the way it “uses the freedom of animation to visualize the strangeness of the universe in ways live action cannot duplicate, and then joins its vision to a rousing story” (the Chicago Sun-Times). (Check out Titan A.E.’s official site.)

Boys and Girls (Dimension Films). Lame, contrived, and bland, this teen love film starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Claire Forlani is so vacuous critics can’t even trash it: “It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s that I don’t care” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). The two leads play best friends who don’t realize they’re meant for each other and who “specialize in that form of sex most maddening for the audience, coitus postponus” (Ebert). The plot contrivances that keep the two apart are paper thin—she’s a freewheeling spontaneous gal and he’s a dorky uptight engineering student, but as one critic points out, the idea that the handsome, winning Prinze “could be at all troubled, lonely or neurotic is a conceit the movie can’t possibly sustain” (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). (For goopy Freddie Prinze Jr. fan mail, click here.)


Sam the Cat and Other Stories, by Matthew Klam (Random House). Last year The New Yorker named Klam one of America’s top 20 young writers, and his first collection is greeted with equally enthusiastic praise. He “offers the polar opposite of what used to be called ‘women’s fiction’ in the ‘80s: These stories are ‘guys’ fiction.’ … Pitiable and noble at the same time, these men command our unflagging attention and somehow our admiration, albeit grudging. Such is not the case with their creator: Our admiration for Klam is unqualified” (David Wiegand, the San Francisco Chronicle). This “unnervingly dead-on debut collection” showcases Klam’s “mastery of the fine art of irony, exposing the nerve endings of his complex, often tormented, sometimes funny, characters, while allowing the reader to make his or her own judgments” (Publishers Weekly). Some of the stories seem like “an ongoing series of unexpected outbursts, embarrassing insights and oddball revelations rendered in agile sentences that turn on a dime, from sweetness to obscenity, from comedy to cruelty. It’s a riveting, honest and unvarnished voice that sounds like no one else’s” (Mark Rozzo, the Los Angeles Times). An example, voiced by a bilious wedding guest in a toast to the groom: “How come you never call me back anymore, you fat, pusillanimous, popcorn-eating, obsequious, spermy, whoring, curry-barfing ass licker?” (quoted by Rozzo). (Click here for another choice morsel of Klam.)

Chang and Eng, by Darin Strauss (E.P. Dutton). Mostly good reviews for this novel based on the lives of Chang and Eng, the conjoined twins for whom the term “Siamese twins” was originally coined. It’s a “stunning debut … Strauss’s vivid imagination, assiduous research and instinctive empathy find expression in a vigorous, witty prose style that seduces the reader” (Publishers Weekly). One strong dissent surfaces from a reviewer who spots lazy writing left and right: “Adelaide [Cheng’s wife] uses the words ‘obviously’ and ‘obvious’ dozens of times, and Sarah [Eng’s wife] can scarcely utter one sentence without using ‘stomach’ either as a noun or as a verb, sometimes twice in three lines. The Caucasian man who first exhibits the twins uses the word ‘literally’ in almost every sentence, and every character in this book, from Bangkok to New York to Wilkesboro, inexplicably ‘chuckles’ every five pages or so. … [I]s this a serious American novel or a careless graduate-student romp?” (Carolyn See, the Washington Post). (Find out more about Chang and Eng here.)


Faith and Courage, by Sinéad O’Connor (Atlantic). She’s shaved her head, she’s ripped up the pope’s picture on television, she’s been ordained a priest by a controversial Catholic sect, she’s ditched her husband and come out as a lesbian, but O’Connor’s latest album is not in the attention-getting look-at-me vein of much of her past work. It “radiates forgiveness, and the music is often as sweet and smooth as strawberries and cream” (Christopher John Farley, Time). It “restores this wayward soul to major rock-goddess status even as she strips down to her human essence. This is the Sinéad album you’ve been wanting for years” (Barry Walters, Rolling Stone). A few find the album uneven, saying the opening track so outshines the rest of the album that what follows “is like a footnote” (Robert Hilburn, the Los Angeles Times). (Read an excerpt from the forthcoming interview in which she identifies herself as a lesbian. VH1 President Bill Flanagan discusses his tiff with O’Connor in his SlateDiary.”)