Summary Judgment

Grandma Martin


Big Momma’s House (20th Century Fox Film Corp.). Martin Lawrence in a fat suit and a flowered housedress gets some critics giggling, but even more just roll their eyes. The comedian plays an FBI agent posing as an overweight Southern granny, with predictable results. The punch lines consist of “flatulence, diarrhea, fat puddles of wattled flesh on big old people, horny old men, horny old men sticking their tongues out in the hope that a French kiss awaits them, the grossness of the birth process, t., a., b-ball, the similarity of erect penises and flashlights, karate moves, crossed eyes, cross-dressing, getting wet, walking funny, [and] dresses that get stuck in underpants bands” (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). Some critics seem to like the movie despite their better judgment: “Any movie that employs an oven mitt and a plumber’s friend in a childbirth scene cannot be all bad,” writes Roger Ebert, even if the “opening toilet scene, featuring the biggest evacuation since U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam,” is a touch “grisly” (the Chicago Sun-Times). (Visit Martin Lawrence’s official site.)

Better Living Through Circuitry:A Digital Odyssey Into the Electronic Dance Underground (Seventh Art Releasing). Director Jon Reiss’ documentary about rave culture in the United States “is intriguing—yes, and thrilling” (Eric Harrison, the Los Angeles Times). Covering the scene’s electronic music, drugs, dancing, philosophy, and graphic art, the film “is an insider’s guide to rave culture, but it’s also a manifesto aimed at the outside world” (Neva Chonin, the San Francisco Chronicle) with a decidedly pro-Ecstasy and pro-rave slant. “The film comes through in its home stretch with interesting stuff on rave’s utopian spirituality and ‘implicit politics’—kids who ‘make for themselves some of the things that are missing from their lives’ ” (Simon Reynolds, the Village Voice). Several critics compare the phenomenon with ‘60s hippie counterculture but also note their differences: “These idealistic electronic rituals belong to an era of diminished expectations; the political grandiosity of the ‘60s (and its accompanying sense of privilege) has been replaced with a more circumscribed notion of bliss—nirvana as a night on the town” (David Ansen, Newsweek). (Find out about raves near you here.)

8 1/2 Women (Lions Gate Films). What the hell happened to director Peter Greenaway? His early films (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; The Draughtsman’s Contract) were sumptuous visual feasts that explored taboo subjects, but his latest work gets roundly panned. It features a father and son who, obsessed with Fellini’s film 8 1/2, turn their Geneva home into a harem stocked with, you guessed it, 8.5 women (the .5 has no legs). The splendidly terrible movie gives critics a chance to sharpen their claws: “combines the sexual loathing of a death-fetish pornographer, the willful pretension of a ‘60s avant-garde theater guru, and the tender woman worship of Andrew Dice Clay” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly) … “watching it gives you the queasy feeling that you are taking a math exam” (Stephen Holden, the New York Times) … “his movies are pretentious bores whose provocations seem intended merely to shock” (Jack Mathews, the Daily News) … “the deeply ridiculous 8 1/2 Women could have been made only by a cranky dotard … Greenaway’s distinctive brand of cerebral, gross-out, body-horrific humor has never been so shrill or so unfunny” (Dennis Lim, the Village Voice). (Find out more about Greenaway here.)


Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, by Tom Robbins (Bantam). Either reviewers are getting older and crankier or Tom Robbins is losing his touch. “His earlier novels … were antidotes to D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce” (Susan Salter Reynolds, the Los Angeles Times), but now the knee-jerk kookiness and anti-establishment ravings feel tired. James Poniewozik nails the general sentiment nicely: “If there’s one thing more irritating than a self-appointed policeman of conventional morality and dogma, it’s a self-appointed outlaw against them” (the New York Times). A select few disagree: “Zany, wacky, and full of little wisdoms, Invalids is the literary equivalent of whitewater-rafting the rapids of Africa’s Zambezi River with the Marx Brothers in tow” (Daneet Steffens, Entertainment Weekly). (Listen to Robbins read from this novel. Click here to buy Robbins’ best-known book, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.)

Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg (Doubleday). First-time novelist Goldberg scores with her tale of a shy, not particularly bright fifth-grader named Eliza whose life gets upended when her uncanny talent for spelling is discovered. Her family, heretofore preoccupied with her brilliant rabbi-to-be older brother, shifts to focus on her with unexpected results. The critics are smitten not only with young Eliza—“one of the most appealing girls in fiction since Scout Finch narrated To Kill a Mockingbird” (Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today)—but also with the novice author. “It is amazing how quickly a true talent can announce itself. In the case of Myla Goldberg, it is not even a matter of pages, but of sentences” (Jeff Giles, Newsweek). (Read an excerpt from the book here.)


Love, God, Murder, by Johnny Cash (Sony Legacy). Instead of putting together a greatest-hits compilation, Cash has selected his favorite works and organized them according to the themes that form the pillars of his music: love, religion, and outlaw life. The collection “comes across like a set of mix tapes put together by the Man in Black himself” (Brian Mansfield, USA Today) and leaves critics positively agog. Rolling Stone gives the three-CD collection four and a half stars, saying, “Whether he’s quivering with a lover’s obsession or sneering with a murderer’s indifference or praying for forgiveness, Cash creates phrases that sound like more than music. They’re moments of truth” (Tom Moon). Winner of the most-over-the-top-praise award goes to the Baltimore Sun’s J.D. Considine, who says the album is not just “the definitive statement on his own career, but a summation of country music itself.” (Buy the album here.)