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Critics’ Voices: Nov. 26, 1990

5 minute read
Time's Reviewers/Compiled by Andrea Sachs


AFTER THE WARMING (PBS, Nov. 21, 8 p.m. on most stations). Environmental documentaries continue to pour forth like acid rain. This one is sparked by a lucid, witty host, James Burke (Connections), who “looks back” from the year 2050 to see what disasters global warming has wrought.

BROKEN BADGES (CBS, debuting Nov. 24, 8 p.m. EST). Stephen Cannell, creator of The A-Team, concocted this series about a crime-fighting team of cops with emotional problems, among them a kleptomaniac and an excitable ventriloquist. And they still manage to get in car chases.


TITIAN: PRINCE OF PAINTERS, National Gallery of Art, Washington. A partial but still magnificent sampling of the work of the 16th century’s unrivaled topographer of male power and female beauty — a portraitist who brought the projection of character to new heights. Through Jan. 27.

THE ROMANTIC VISION OF CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH: PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS FROM THE U.S.S.R., the Art Institute of Chicago. The flood of treasures from Russian collections continues, here with a trove of haunting, otherworldly works by the great German mystic Friedrich (1774-1840), loaned by the Hermitage and Pushkin museums. Through Jan. 6.


BOBBY KING AND TERRY EVANS: RHYTHM, BLUES, SOUL & GROOVES (Rounder). Give these guys top marks in all those categories. This is neotraditional music done the hard way: sublimely. Some superlative backup too from guitarist Ry Cooder and keyboard player Spooner Oldham.

DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO. 9 (Telarc). Could Andre Previn conduct electricity with both feet in a bucket of water? Probably not. Still a fine jazz pianist, Previn remains a resolutely unimaginative conductor whose performances are habitually marked by a dull rhythmic sense and colorless orchestral playing. Here, the Los Angeles Philharmonic sleepwalks through Dvorak’s symphonic masterpiece.

JELLY ROLL MORTON: THE JELLY ROLL MORTON CENTENNIAL — HIS COMPLETE VICTOR RECORDINGS (Bluebird/RCA). This jaunty, saucy pianist with a diamond-studded tooth and an ego as big as Mount Rushmore claimed to have invented jazz. He didn’t quite do that. But he did compose, arrange and perform some of the greatest jazz ever played, as this digitally remastered 5-CD set, spanning the years 1926-39, amply demonstrates.


SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION. John Guare’s cocktail of a comedy — part Manhattan, part Molotov — skewers countless foibles while musing on the chief irony of urban life: how closely related people are, yet how distant they feel. Stockard Channing stars in this transfer, from off-Broadway to on, as a moneyed matron stirred by vague (and then graphic) discontents.

LIFE DURING WARTIME. Keith Reddin’s mordant comedy at California’s Berkeley Rep depicts war outside the front door: burglars, muggers and other paranoia inducers who make homeowners yearn for security, and alarm salesmen who prey on their fears.


POSSESSION: A ROMANCE by A.S. Byatt (Random House; $22.95). Two young British scholars, one male, one female, investigate a possible affair between two long-gone Victorian poets. This novel, which has already won two major international fiction prizes, proves that a serious, intricate book can also be a page turner.

CASEY by Joseph E. Persico (Viking; $24.95). It has been said that CIA director William Casey “believed in the American flag, the Catholic Church, and nothing else.” This hard-eyed biography suggests that history might have been altered for the better if the man behind Iranscam had also had faith in the Constitution.


DANCES WITH WOLVES. If there must be a New Age western, let the Indians be the good guys. Let it be full of horizons unvexed by civilization. And let it star Kevin Costner, the ’90s’ avatar of Gary Cooper. Let Costner direct it too; he won’t let a good old genre down.

MARKED FOR DEATH. He can’t act — don’t ask him — but Steven Seagal is the new Brahmin of brawn. His latest essay in mindless movie mayhem, in which our sullen hunk of a hero breaks the will (also the fingers and spines) of some Jamaican drug dealers, is one of the season’s big hits. See it and wonder: Why?

BAXTER. A vicious bull terrier (who growls the narration) finally finds an owner meaner than he is. Jerome Boivin’s minimalist French thriller is no carnival of canine violence. It rarely goes for the jugular, yet it drains the viewer bloodless.


BIG APPLE CIRCUS. A one-ring circus that is both breathtaking and witty. The traditional panoply of acrobats, elephants and high-wire artists is presented with a sophisticated theatrical flair — to the delight of kids and adults alike. In Manhattan through Jan. 6.


Back in the days when you went to a joint with checkered tablecloths and candles stuck in straw-covered Chianti bottles to order spaghetti with red sauce, grappa was the throat-searing firewater that il padrone sometimes served with espresso if he was in a very good mood. Just as pasta has gone upscale and pricey, so has this Italian peasant brandy, usually colorless, that is distilled from grape husks and skins after the juice has been pressed to make wine. These days, many of Italy’s top vintners are aging and refining grappa and infusing it with herb and fruit flavors so that its raw edge has a satiny finish. At fashionable American trattorias it has become an acceptable alternative to Delamain or 12-year-old Macallan as a postprandial sip. Many top-of-the-line grappas are sold in designer decanters that add to their, alas, considerable price. Expect to pay anywhere from $25 for Ceretto’s grappa (even in a plain bottle) to $90 or more for Nonino’s best. Some California wineries, including Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon, make a plausible domestic version.

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