Hannibal (MGM). Surprise, surprise: The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs is a bit of a letdown. Why? Critics say the original’s fear, suspense, and dread have been diminished and replaced by camp and gore that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Julianne Moore makes a fine Jodie Foster but doesn’t get to do much. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter still thrills but “on the loose loses power” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). (In this film he’s a kind of Jekyll-Hyde, living large as a Renaissance scholar in Florence, Italy, and wearing a Panama hat that two reviewers say makes him look like Truman Capote, but Lecter’s still dining Titus style.) Critics laud director Ridley Scott’s “operatic staging” (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times) and give in to the film’s Grand Guignol with lots of talk of “just desserts” and other cannibal puns. There’s a sense among some reviewers that “[p]robably nothing any critic has to say can keep the public away from the seductive Dr. Lecter” (David Ansen, Newsweek), so why not indulge a little? Best of all are their descriptions of the mauled and made-up Gary Oldman, who plays Mason Verger, Lecter’s only victim to survive. He looks like “Michael Jackson in about 10 years” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly); “a melted Muppet” (Desson Howe, the Washington Post); “steak tartare” (Todd McCarthy, Variety); and “a blood brother to Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Click here for a “behind-the-screams look at the making of Hannibal,”here for the film’s official site, and here to read David Edelstein’s review in Slate.)— Y.S.
In the Mood for Love (USA Films). Critics are swooning over Wong Kar-wai’s latest award-winning masterpiece about unconsummated passion in Hong Kong. (The New York Times’ Elvis Mitchell goes so far as to claim it has a unique “romantic spirit that has been missing in the cinema forever.”) The film tells the story of gorgeous Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and dapper Chow Mowan (Tony Leung), decorous, lonely neighbors who discover their spouses are having an affair. Critics say the film is all about ambience and manners and the way the camera plays the nosy neighbor, peeking at the protagonists’ awkward, repressed encounters in cramped hallways and rain-drenched back streets. Best of all, the movie—touted as one of the best of the “Asian new wave”— has something for everyone: highbrow (cinematic gestures like absent presence and negative space); pop (lots of Nat King Cole songs and period kitsch); fashion (according to the Los Angeles Times, Cheung’s wardrobe of cheongsams has made them all the rage); and history (a nostalgic depiction of the Shanghainese community in early 1960s Hong Kong). Critics feel a bit frustrated by the sexual restraint, but only one, longing for kung-fu action, finds the film “painfully laborious” (Mike Clark, USA Today). (Click here to read an interview with the director and here for the film’s official site.)— Y.S.
Saving Silverman (Sony Pictures). This dumb comedy by the director of Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore strikes critics as unfunny and downright offensive. The plot: Wayne (Steve Zahn) and J.D. (Jack Black) connive to save their best buddy Darren Silverman (Jason Biggs) from marrying his mean fiancée (Amanda Peet) by getting him back together with his nice high-school girlfriend (Amanda Detmer). Reviewers are most offended by the film’s gratuitous violence and bad gags (electro-shocked nipples, butt-cheek implants, and wrestling with fake raccoons, for example), “racist Asian jokes” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly), and “unreflective misogyny” (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). The comic talents of Black and Zahn are squandered, but “their antics were the only things that stopped me from battering my head bloody against the seat in front of me” (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). (Click here for the film’s official site.)—Y.S.
The Body Artist, Don DeLillo (Scribner). Reviewers find DeLillo’s spare 12th novel—a novella really—beautiful and moving but also hard to pin down; it’s a “dark, elliptical tone poem” (Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times). There isn’t much plot: A performance artist named Lauren finds a strange, muttering man (“Gertrude Stein on a bad day” quips Adam Begley in the New York Times Book Review) in her house after her husband commits suicide. Everyone mentions the book’s brevity and intimacy (especially compared to the author’s last work, the 800-plus-page historical epic Underworld), but insist its minimal style and focus on interior life are a nice change and an intellectual challenge. “It is for readers who like questions more than answers, and who appreciate writers who play with their words and with the mystery of ideas” (Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today). (Some of the big ideas discussed: grief, identity, reality, language, time, creativity.) A few reviewers find his Beckett-like style and metaphysics unsettling: “DeLillo is renowned for the haunting difficulties and complexities of his fiction, but the enigmas of The Body Artist suggest a new order of imponderables” (Paul Gray, Time). Many, however, are so moved that they echo DeLillo’s rambling imagery and highly symbolic and all-encompassing prose in their reviews and insist that, by making its readers work, the book turns its audience into artists. “DeLillo slows the reader down. All the way through, The Body Artist requires close attention to each word in each artfully made sentence” (Begley). (Click here for the New York Times DeLillo archive, including interviews, reviews of previous books, and the first chapter of The Body Artist.)—Y.S.
Cause Celeb, Helen Fielding (Viking). Critical consensus: This first novel doesn’t come close to achieving the wit of Fielding’s later Bridget Jones’s Diary, which might explain why it was released second in the United States though written first. Set in the early ‘90s, the story stars a young publicist named Rosie Richardson who nobly sets out to help refugees in Africa but ends up returning to London to raise needed funds, Live Aid-style. It’s supposed to be “an amusing satire of the celebrity-obsessed West, and a sharp report on the callousness and inefficiency of relief work in Africa” that veers “from laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreakingly sad” and is designed to “please Fielding’s old fans and win new ones” (Publishers Weekly). Not so, other critics say. Here’s why: “Rosie is much less daft than Bridget … and therefore less fun” (Sherryl Connelly, the Daily News). “Take away the fabulous asides and wisecracks and the skewed observations that make up Bridget’s voice and what’s left is a rather empty vessel” (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). Plus, Fielding is “simply in over her head with some of the book’s most serious matters” (Maslin). (Click here for an excerpt; here for Katha Pollitt’s view of Bridget Jones’s Diary in Slate.)—Y.S.
Evolution II, by John Lewis (Atlantic). The renowned pianist and founder or the Modern Jazz Quartet does not let his fans down with the second volume of a three-part coda (Lewis, aged 80, claims this series might be his last hurrah). A mix of originals and standards, the album pleases critics with its subtle and familiar melodies. Because Lewis has been criticized for his formalism and interest in merging fugues with blues, some reviewers wax defensive: “[T]he quartet never held much appeal for those who expect their jazz to exude the sweat of its origins. But jazz has traveled far from those origins in its short history, and it is a kind of racial romanticism to pretend otherwise. … Some listeners may find Mr. Lewis’s jazz boring, but this is a careless way of saying that it lacks the hard bop pyrotechnics that inattentive ears require for stimulation. What it offers, instead, is mature music by a mature artist, expressing an autumnal awareness of time’s passing and a wider range of emotions than most musicians can summon in a lifetime” (Adam Shatz, the New York Times). An overwhelmed Gary Giddins calls Lewis “our greatest living melodist” and claims tracks like “Cain and Abel” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” exemplify the “great paradox about Lewis,” namely that “his moderation masks a ruefully blues-driven vivacity that proceeds inexorably from the strategies of his compositions. More than anyone else, he has combined jazz and classical techniques into an insoluble whole, and yet they often bring him to a terrain one is more likely to associate with Ray Charles” (the Village Voice). (Click here for a biography of Lewis and here to listen to excerpts from songs from the album.)—Y.S.