To the Readers of jonathanrosenbaum.com:
This site has recently undergone a substantial change in design and a new URL, yielding in fact a new site, jonathanrosenbaum.net — hopefully an enhancement of and improvement on the old one, jonathanrosenbaum.com, with a more user-friendly search engine, many more links in the various indexes, and what I believe is a simpler and less cluttered design. I’m hosting this new site myself and owe its redesign to the exceptional generosity, talent, and resourcefulness of an Australian reader and web designer, Rowan McNaught, who was kind enough to offer me his services and his expertise.
As jonathanrosenbaum.com, this site was originally launched by the company Creative Loafing at the beginning of May 2008, largely through the initiatives of Patrick Mersinger and shortly after this now defunct company bought the Chicago Reader. I retired from the Reader on my 65th birthday, after serving for twenty years as their principal film reviewer. After the purchase of this weekly newspaper by the Chicago Sun-Times, the site continues to be housed on its web site without any active participation or much stated interest on the part of its new sponsor, which explains why a new URL and a fuller program of self-management seems desirable. To see the results of these deliberations, please go to jonathanrosenbaum.net — J.R. [10/07/13]
Please go to
Arliss Howard, making his directorial debut, takes on the self-pity of 60s burnout with decidedly mixed and often sloppy results. Adapted from Larry Brown’s short story collection, the film focuses on a divorced Vietnam vet in Mississippi (Howard) who collects piles of rejection slips for his fiction, gets occasional house-painting jobs from an old war buddy (Paul Le Mat), and sporadically makes halfhearted, wistful efforts to win back his estranged wife (Debra Winger, who also produced). This recalls a lot of 60s novels fueled by internal monologue (particularly Herzog) as well as British and Hollywood films that tried to achieve the same effect, mostly by ripping off the French New Wave; unfortunately Howard lacks the sense of film rhythm (or literary rhythm, for that matter) required to make such an exercise work. Just about the only clear triumph here is an underplayed performance by Angie Dickinson, though Winger and Rosanna Arquette also provide welcome relief from Howard and Le Mat’s self-indulgent carousing. 111 min. (JR)
This drama about Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) being groomed essentially as prostitutes to service Henry VIII (Eric Bana) might have qualified as some sort of bodice ripper/history lesson. But despite a certain amount of moral outrage and good performances from the lead actresses, it’s neither sexy enough to qualify as good trash nor serious enough to pass for history. (For starters, according to many sources, the real Mary was older than Anne, not younger, and far more promiscuous than she is here.) At least the script, adapted by Peter Morgan (The Queen) from a Philippa Gregory novel, explains how the Church of England came into being. The competent but stiff direction is by Justin Chadwick; with David Morrissey and Kristin Scott Thomas. PG-13, 115 min. (JR)
Adapted from Adolf Burger’s memoir The Devil’s Workshop, this skillful, absorbing, Oscar-winning Austrian feature involves a Russian-Jewish counterfeiter (expertly played by Karl Markovics) who gets arrested in Berlin, winds up in a German concentration camp in 1944, and is put in charge of a secret forgery unit. Staffed by prisoners who’ve been granted special privileges, the unit counterfeits pounds and dollars in a plan to wreck the British and American economies, and one of the prisoners, a member of the communist resistance, attempts to sabotage the effort. Written and directed by the able Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Inheritors), this poses some tricky moral questions, and its troubling ambiguities rank a cut above the dubious uplift of Schindler’s List. In German with subtitles. R, 98 min. (JR)
The sweet-tempered Michel Gondry works well with sharp-edged material (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but his projects as a solo writer-director have been soft and surreal celebrations of innocence that threaten to drift off into whimsy (The Science of Sleep and now this feature). Danny Glover entrusts his run-down video shop in Passaic to clueless assistants Jack Black and Mos Def, who accidentally erase all the videos and decide to shoot their own low-rent versions of popular hits. Their project is a great success with customers, but the studios object and Glover gets an eviction notice. This anachronistic tale goes beyond Capracorn to evoke Depression-era fare like One Hundred Men and a Girl in which the charm is overtaken by mush. One wants to protect this, but it’s hard not to gag on the cuteness. With Melonie Diaz and Mia Farrow. PG-13, 101 min. (JR)