Highlights from the week in criticism.
Oct. 31 1996 3:30 AM

Reviewers reviewed.


Movie Sleepers (Warner Brothers). The top-grossing movie of the week is wildly unpopular with critics, who invariably seize upon the book's reputation for dishonesty to deplore the emotional dishonesty of the film. (The book was marketed as "true crime," but most critics dismissed its story of teen rape and adult vengeance as particularly inept fiction.) J. Hoberman of the Village Voice calls the movie "a lumpy porridge of clichés"; Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "a veritable hothouse of sensationalist-potboiler clichés"; The New Yorker's Terrence Rafferty says "Levinson's direction is entirely predictable throughout." Several reviewers, including Newsweek's David Ansen and New York's David Denby, compared the film unfavorably to another cinematic tale of pedophilic abuse, 1992's The Boys of St.Vincent.
Television EZ Streets (CBS). Elaine Showalter, a Princeton professor who has begun reviewing TV for People, says that this new drama marks the arrival of "a new TV genius" in its creator, Paul Haggis. Several other critics, including the New York Times' Caryn James and SLATE's David Edelstein, agreed. But Tom Shales of the Washington Post called the show "achy, moody, glum, stylized and almost criminally pretentious," and Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times decried its blend of "needless violence and softening of homicide with clumsy humor." (Stills and credits available at CBS' EZ Streets site.)
Books Leaving a Doll's House, by Claire Bloom (Little, Brown). In a belated review of this tell-all account of the actress's marriage to moody novelist Philip Roth, The New Yorker's Daphne Merkin compares Bloom to Lorena Bobbitt, deems her prose style unacceptably flat, and adds that she is unconvincing in portraying herself as "another emotionally battered wife with a horrific tale to tell." Otherwise, verdicts on the book appear to turn on the reviewers' feelings toward Roth. Noted Roth-detractor Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post calls it "exceptional," while the L.A. Times' Marion Winik, who considers Roth her favorite living writer, says the book is notable for its obvious "good part"--all the juicy stuff about Roth--but adds: "[Y]ou might as well just flip to it."
Art Jasper Johns (Museum of Modern Art). Peter Plagens of Newsweek, Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times, and Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times call a major retrospective of the work of the pop artist (famous for his paintings of the American flag) brilliant, beautiful, and challenging. So does Louis Menand, SLATE's reviewer. Rather predictably, the New York Observer's Hilton Kramer dissents, trumpeting his own "refus[al] to subscribe to the myth of Mr. Johns' mastery." (MOMA's site for the retrospective displays some of Johns' work.)
Music/Video The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (ABKCO). Everyone loves this long-lost concert film, which the Stones made in 1968 but which didn't debut until this fall's New York Film Festival, and is now available on CD and home video. "A romp and a requiem," says Time's Richard Corliss, while the New York Times' Janet Maslin rhapsodizes over "the sleek young Stones in all their insolent glory." Ira Robbins of Entertainment Weekly awards it an "A."

--Compiled by David Greenberg


Still from Sleepers © 1996 Warner Bros. All rights reserved; still from EZ Streets © 1996 CBS Inc. All rights reserved; Flag, 1954-1955, gift of Philip Johnson in honor of Alfred H. Barr, JR. © 1996 Jasper Johns/licensed by VAGA, N.Y.; photograph of artwork © 1996 The Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. .

David Greenberg, a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, has written for Slate since 1996. He is the author of several books of political history.