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Titus

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Whew! I’ve gotta say, this movie is exhausting. Directed by Julie Taymor (who, despite no information on the IMDB, is apparently an amazing theatre director), Titus is a huge, epic semi-modernization of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Taymor also wrote the screenplay, I should add – and the writer/director/theatre influence is very strong. At first I thought it was a very French take on an English work – surreal, sexual, concerned with strong imagery when the language is so dense. Later I came to feel that it was just extremely theatrical – but instead of building sets they found fantastic settings in Rome and Zagreb that were surreally unfamiliar and yet perfect.

From a technical standpoint, Titus is very bold and colorful and loud and tragic and huge. From a literary standpoint, it’s relentless misery, unbroken by comic relief, unlike so many of Shakespeare’s other works. From a design standpoint, it’s more classical than say, 1996’s Romeo + Juliet (you know, with Leo), and less of a total reinvention of a world than 1995’s Richard III. So we have incredible Roman soldiers with helmets and swords and shinplates marching in a cool opening sequence – and then we have motorcycles. The good and bad factions are as clearly outlined as cowboys with white and black hats in an old western. But, thankfully, with a creepy, Cabaret-style flamboyance (thanks in part to bizarre but perfect casting of Alan Cumming as Saturninus). All the casting is good, the performances are good, but dear lord that play doth drag on and on, taking with it the golden streams of afternoon and the heady hours of my youth.

Woe betide he who drinketh from the fountain of soft drinks before he views this tragedie of the highest order. Glad tidings to tell that despite the atrocities performed by all involved in this terrible tale of deeds, most of them are done offstage, in the classic Greco-Roman (and Shakespearean) tradition. Alas I cannot cleave to Jessica Lange, despite her performance of strength and bile. And oh, what is that terrible compositing stuff doing in this film?

Location location location – wheresoe’er one needs must find oneself in need of a place so rare, so beauteous in its splendor or simple in its grimness, hie thee to cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, for his eye is sharp, his wit is keen, his purpose, unbending. Some of the production design doth reek of the old school – the reds and whites and blacks which served King Richard III so well but now, without those Nazi parallels, seems too stark and obvious for such complex counter-revenge. I was lost a lot of the time, despite some comfort with the Shakespearean tongue, but even the most obscure of moments in plot were rendered vivid and true tripping over the lips of Sir Anthony Hopkins. And yea the barren skin of many hedonists was spread across mine eyes in flesh and in art – observe ye the Greek friezes painted on the walls of one of the many big, fabulous chambers.

The short version is, it was really well done, but it was not my cup of tea at all. If you love Titus Andronicus, I suspect you will love this movie.

MPAA Rating R for strong violent and sexual images.
Release date 12/25/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 162
Director Julie Taymor
Studio Fox Searchlight

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Magnolia

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This is not going to play well in Anytown, USA. It is non-linear, it is slow moving, it has blatant as well as subtle symbolism, it has unresolved issues, unlikeable people, lots of hate and fury and trouble, lots of tension and it always seems to cuts away just as it gets good. It is brilliantly acted, carefully structured, and bizarrely resolved. Everyone on screen is pouring their guts out, some in a flamboyant way (the always great Julianne Moore, and Tom Cruise, who, despite playing a detestable bastard, is fabulous) and some in a quietly painful way (Jason Robards, William H. Macy, more). I couldn’t possibly give anything away except to advise you to stick it out to the end (unlike many of my fellow audience members) – a very unexpected payoff-cum-newly unresolved situation is amazingly rendered. That’s all I can say.

Another way to put it would to say that Boogie Nights looked like a Disney film compared to this one, structurally as well as message-wise. I still have not seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie, Hard Eight, but I still want to. Magnolia is much more overstyled than Boogie Nights- it has more edits, more surreality, more weird references (watch for Exodus 8:2 hints but don’t look it up before you go) at the same time that it has more tight, real human pain (much of it unexplained, seemingly from nowhere) than six other movies. The acting is all this movie really is – for most of the film, or all of it for some characters, I don’t know why any character is acting the way she is, I just am enjoying watching it. I don’t know what brought these people to this point, these intersecting points of this moment in time, but they are amazing to watch while they are there. I was interested in all the stories but left frustrated by some of the gaps. I was searching for a reason for the magnolia but I only saw it in the set decorations. Everyone is really good, and the camera loves their interesting faces – most of the people are not standard Hollywood telegenic except for Moore, Cruise, and the kid, Jeremy Blackman, and these actors have to work harder to overcome their natural beauty on camera.

Another reviewer said this about Being John Malkovich (and I totally agree, wish I had said it), but it also sums up how I feel about Magnolia (totally different films, by the way) – I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I liked it. As I am typing this review, I am wondering, what would I rate this? The acting is Full Price all the way, but Joe Average (not to underestimate my audience) is not going to take to this movie. I don’t even know if I liked it or not, I just know what I thought about it. In the quick glance, it will seem as though I don’t respect this movie for what it is, and my readers might not go. I want people to go, but I don’t want people to be misled. Magnolia is fascinating, like watching open heart surgery or an entomology special on Discovery Channel is fascinating – not things you want to come rushing into your own life, but morbidly gripping our attention anyway.

MPAA Rating R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence.
Release date 12/17/99
Time in minutes 180
Director Paul Thomas Anderson
Studio New Line Cinema

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Anna and the King

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I tried to come up with reasons why I should give this movie a lower rating, but I really couldn’t. I’m partially pleased, partially ashamed that I had never seen The King and I or any other take on this true story, for I believe that I enjoyed it all the more waiting to see what happens. I can’t imagine the bloody war stuff is in the musical, is it?

Jodie Foster is perfect as a forward thinking, independent Englishwoman thrown into the path of the King of Siam to teach his children – she as an actress is quick-witted, beautiful without being frail or wimpy, and good natured. Chow Yun-Fat is a total bad-ass – Thailand should recruit him now to run their country. He’s strong but he has depth below the blustering Kingly front, and he seems very solid and wise. They are a great match – certainly more believable than Jodie with Richard Gere! Or Chow with Mira Sorvino. The movie is entirely carried on their shoulders, despite dozens of royal children, political maneuvering, and breathtaking, eye-wateringly beautiful scenery and settings. At several points I was moved by the purity of the visuals to feel as though I were about to cry. It is a condition familiar to sufferers of PMS, that sense of about-to-cry with no real input, so I assumed I was just stirred by the score and feeling vulnerable. Not so! One of my companions leaned over to me and said he felt like he was about to cry just looking at the shot we were at that moment seeing, and I was THRILLED to hear it. My god, but Malaysia (where they shot it) is a beautiful place!

A side story that threads through the main one involves a concubine and her lover, and I am not sure if it was to illustrate how “backwards” the Siamese culture was relative to English ways or if it was showing how much more real Siamese people are than the laissez-faire attitudes of the English…it did not serve an obvious purpose, but it held real emotional depth and was very interesting as well.

Outside of the breathtaking wonder of the scenery and the strong, nicely balanced relationship between Anna and the King, the kids are good, the ample use of subtitles is not at all distracting or detracting, and the score does indeed complement the story. Anna Leonowens’ diary is the basis for this story – she went there in 1862 to teach the King’s children, but we do not know who she was before her husband died or why she got this plum job. The movie assumes we know or don’t care, and that is fine, but when clearly her feelings about British Imperial superiority change, we don’t really have a litmus for how much of a personality shift it really is. It is another movie (like say, Dances With Wolves or the movie Amistad meant to be) where our own culture is thrown up in our face for what a shameful mess it really is at times, pointing out the hubris and arrogance of distinct cultures in general, and basically saying “why can’t we all just get along?” without being overtly preachy or anything. Quite refreshing.

See it for the leads, see it for the story, see it for the scenery. It is really a great, satisfying movie and worth every penny.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/17/99
Time in minutes 148
Director Andy Tennant
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Stuart Little

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As kid’s films go, this was not too bad. A little obvious here and there to us crusty veterans, but basically a pleasant diversion for the shorter set without totally boring their parents. The one thing I have to complain about really is the utter waste of some seriously gifted actors, notably Hugh Laurie as the father – it seems cruel giving such a fabulous performer the role of straight man to a computer animated mouse. Stuart, on the other hand (voiced pretty perfectly by Michael J. Fox) is a technical marvel. His fur looks amazing – those who don’t realize it should know that good looking computer animated fur is what we like to call *really hard.* And he looks great.

Fans of E.B. White’s book (as I have been for many years) will be hugely disappointed. I reread the book when I knew the film was coming out, just so I could test its interpretation. This Stuart Little has literally as much in common with its source material as Lawnmower Man had with its own; however, as a standalone work Stuart is a much better film than Lawnmower Man. All the technical aspects of Stuart Little are very well executed – and the cat acting is actually superb. Sadly, the best role in the house goes to Nathan Lane as Snowbell the housecat – he gets some goofy kid-friendly lines, but the animators who did his facial expressions and the animal trainers who manipulated him and the other cats in the movie, well, bravo!! Seriously, the cats are fantastically done.

It’s worth seeing but it will be more fun if you bring a kid with you – kids somehow can render the older jokes funny again. It is amusing (but not played up enough) how tall Geena Davis (also given nothing to do with her comic talents) and Hugh Laurie are. It is amusing to play “who is the voiceover artist” with the scads of cameos – Steve Zahn was my favorite. The little house that the Littles live in is adorable and reminiscent of the house in which Fry lives on Futurama (and may indeed be a real NY house for all that) – a tiny Victorian house sandwiched between huge buildings. Julia Sweeney is repressed, Jennifer Tilly is reduced (literally) almost to nothing, and Nathan Lane gets all the laughs (but half of them are from his cat face’s expressions). It’s a shame they were all wasted, as were others in the Little family. Jonathan Lipnicki (you know, that kid from Jerry Maguire) was not at all annoying as he could have been and actually is a good kid in general. There’s a nice message there for the tots and some fun action sequences, again involving the cats.

Crazy trivia – M. Night Shyamalan, the director/author of the Sixth Sense, is one of the credited writers on Stuart Little. Coincidence? Not at all. But I suspect he was brought in for the cooler things (like the cats sequences) and possibly the totally cool boat race. Technically speaking, the boat race will be one of the great neglected scenes of this year, I bet – it’s really well done. Another Shyamalan touch – important things are red. Discuss. Check it out, take the kids to see it, and watch the technical stuff – that stuff is pretty darn good. It’s not an ideal adult film, but it’s a nice kids film.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/17/99
Time in minutes 83
Director Rob Minkoff
Studio Columbia Tristar

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Topsy Turvy (1999)

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Topsy Turvy is an astoundingly detailed, fantastic little movie centering on Gilbert and Sullivan mid-career, climaxing with the opening of The Mikado. If you do not like Gilbert and Sullivan, you will detest this movie, as there are tons of scenes that are lovely performances of their work (not just The Mikado) – however, if you love G&S, or even just like them, then you will enjoy this movie very well. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, (whose most famous work recently is Secrets and Lies), there is no doubt that his fine legion of stage actors provided some of the naturalness and warmth in the scenes, as I am led to understand that Leigh works largely scriptless, with improvisation. To that end, since they are performing well-known works, it is like an irony-free Waiting for Guffman – but utterly different. Those audience members unfamiliar with the rehearsal process might be surprised at the amount of work “even” a chorus member endures.

The cast is filled with largely unfamiliar faces to Americans(save that of W. S. Gilbert, played by Jim Broadbent, of Bullets over Broadway, Little Voice, and others), strong singers and TV and stage actors as delicious characters from the 19th century theatre: the married homosexual, the laudanum addict, the gouty ingenue, the single mother-cum-spinster, the practical Irish business woman. Having a huge group of new faces lends a tone to the film that is difficult to reproduce – between the casting and the unbelievable period detail (huzzah to the art department!), we are given an impression of actually having traveled back to their time to peek in their salons and rehearsal halls. The downside is that the IMDB is totally devoid of any information beyond the major cast members and Leigh.

As the backstage portion of the G&S love-fest, we see glimpses into Gilbert’s and Sullivan’s disparate home lives and their methods of creating their art. Allan Corduner, as Arthur Sullivan, presents us with a genius-in-waiting who indulges himself in all things. Lesley Manville turns in an interesting performance as Mrs. Gilbert, essentially a theatre widow with the forbearance and outward sunniness as was expected of women at the time. Both the men labor intensely on their plays to the exclusion of much else, even neglecting their health. Now, their work is perceived as fun, brilliant fluff, whereas for them (as in Shakespeare’s time) they were guns for hire, churning out product which they themselves found lacking. I wonder how today’s Hollywood product will look to us in 100 years.

Since the story is almost literally just a slice of their life (covering about 3 years, I was unsure of the exact chronology), the story arc is secondary to the sampling of the wares of the time. (This is a polite way of saying it is quite long but not boring) This is not to say there is no story – it just takes a while to become centered on the inspiration and production of The Mikado, so that it could hardly be called the focus of the film itself. But once that plot swings into life, the movie picks up its pace and purpose and becomes an amazing depiction of culture shock and “non-political-correctness” – or just plain old ignorance. It is amazing to see what a zoo-like atmosphere a visiting Japanese fair creates. I had seen the Mikado in performance, but it had never occurred to me that British people had simply never been exposed to that culture *at all* prior to seeing that operetta. Gilbert’s fastidious attention to detail and research and correctness aside, he still names his characters Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo.

I am pleased to report that I was able to turn my companion to the dark side – he clutched my sleeve in the darkness as the onscreen stage curtain dropped, and hissed urgently, “You must buy this DVD!” And so I should – there are many details and small moments that flitter by (not to mention drop-dead Victorian gowns that would make a grown seamstress cry) eclipsed by the other details and small moments that make this work such a glittering mosaic of a period piece. The last time I was this impressed by the production design and period detail was either Shakespeare in Love or Forgotten Silver. It’s a pleasant diversion, different from the works of the men it depicts, but equally enjoyable to the patient.

MPAA Rating R for a scene of risque nudity.
Release date 12/17/99
Time in minutes 160
Director Mike Leigh
Studio October Films

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The Cider House Rules

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I am probably going to be whipped behind the woodshed for saying so, but I was seriously underwhelmed by this Best Picture nominee. I just don’t see what everyone is so worked up about. Yes, I am certain the novel is very touching, moving, deep, and filled with metaphor and allegory, but the film adaptation feels labored and restless. John Irving wrote the novel as well as the adaptation, and maybe that is the problem. It is hard to tell when you cannot show in a novel, and then hard to show what you have easily told in a film. It’s amazing books get adapted at all, frankly, especially introspective dramas like this one. He seems to waffle between obtaining a beautiful subtlety in weaving together his various takes of choices and rules, rarely known and broken by choice, and so on, but then he beats you over the head with it in the very next scene. It’s lovely to look upon, this kingdom of Maine in 1943. The instruments of medicine used throughout are alarmingly primitive – our parents went under knives like that, oh my god, how did they survive to produce me?

Nearly everyone in the film had smile-inducing performances, warmth and depth. Michael Caine is just as good as he always has been, but perhaps he has never been appreciated because he was always waxing Cockney. Tobey Maguire has always come off to me as reserved and kind of Wesley Crusheresque, like he doesn’t really want to be in the movie. As he is the lead in the film, it is kind of inexcusable for me to be emotionally disconnected to him, isn’t it? Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu were lovely, I’d like to see her more especially. Charlize Theron is a waxwork image of the beautiful perfect mid-century bombshell, fragile and objectified. It seems a terrible waste, as when she is given something to do she is quite good at it, but then Mighty Joe Editor comes along and you just see her in her panties.

The titular Rules, and the examination thereof, were actually the weakest part of the film. It was a leaden treatment of what the movie was doing perfectly well in portraying all along – and using that particular item as the title just drove all the focus away from the real important stuff that was going on. A pity. It may be a surprise to some that some discussion of abortion (as a practice, not as a character’s option) takes place that, to me, in my political arena, seemed very rational and also very giving to both sides of the opinion coin. I wondered if a certain situation had not been painted with extra vigor in order to appease the conservative half of the audience. It’s a touchy topic, but not the focus of the movie, just another string in the admittedly complex Maypole of choices and life decisions and rules choosing the truths you live with and what have you that make the story so satisfying. A shame the movie is not as satisfying as its ideas.

I had actually forgotten that the film was up for Best Picture when I went to see it – I knew I had to see it in order to comment in my Oscar Predictions for this year (coming soon!) but I could not for the life of me see how this would have garnered a Best Picture nomination after seeing it. It’s lovely, it’s pleasant, it’s better than most – but it’s little more than that. I don’t want to trash it, there is nothing *wrong* with it per se, it just didn’t stick with me and it wasn’t the Oscar cream fest I had been expecting. Everyone has been crowing about Michael Caine but he has always been this good, why hasn’t anyone noticed before? His Dr. Larch is layered, caring, flawed, altruistic, and grounded (mostly). Did he just have to speak like an American for people to notice?

I think people should see it, but I don’t think they should spend too much money on it. Save money on watching it and buy the book as a supplement.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 130
Director Lasse Hallström
Studio Miramax

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The Green Mile

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I have to say, it’s no Shawshank, though it could have been! Tom Hanks plays the main prison guard in this fable of miracles and respect and life…it’s a pretty freakin’ heavy movie, so do not go if you are the slightest bit blue. The acting is marvelous, you should recoil in horror and cry within only a few moments of each other somewhere in that third reel. You should not drink anything before you sit down. It is three hours long and you feel every minute, but that is not to say that the movie drags – but it took almost as long to watch as it did to read all six books. If you don’t know the story, don’t let my waxing poetic about the magic and stuff turn you off – it has a supernatural element but it works, more like The Dead Zone successfully being supernatural than (gulp) Pet Sematary, say.

The Green Mile, like so few Stephen King movies before it, is a beautifully faithful adaptation of the book(s) – Frank Darabont, who elevated a forgotten novella into Oscar Bait with The Shawshank Redemption, wrote this one as well and also directed. Some of the other crew are different – notably instead of Roger Deakins’ poetic camera work we have Episode One’s David Tattersall (he also did Con Air, and the film is scattered with Con Air alumni), and the magic of the film suffers a bit for it.

Michael Clark Duncan was genetically engineered to play the gentle giant, John Coffey – he’s absolutely gi-normous and his voice is deeper than the Pacific, and he looks like a guy you’d want as your best friend. You may remember him from Armageddon. Add some Depression-era “massa” speak to that character and of course eliminate all post-modern sarcasm and you have half the man John Coffey is. Tom Hanks IS Paul Edgecombe, he always has been Paul Edgecombe and there’s no reason to stop now. Dabbs Greer should make a career of playing Tom Hanks as an old man. David Morse (you’ll recognize him) is finally fleshed out as a real 3D guy after all these movies he’s done. The rest of the supporting cast is equally strong, equally well-cast. James Cromwell might be a wee too old for his wife, but we’ll let that slip. It’s so close to being magic that it hurts – but ultimately, despite the overall positive aspect of the story, it’s depressing as hell! Merry Christmas! I got you tickets to see The Green Mile.

The supernatural aspect is handled as naturally as possible, perhaps to not freak out the “oh boy it’s an Stephen King story” faction, perhaps just to make it more about the people and less about the effects, but it still requires you to do a little suspension of disbelief dance for which Shawshank may have spoiled you. One of my companions settled back in smug “oh yeah Stephen King” right when he should have been really starting to dig in to the story, but he recovered. Ironically, he was the most affected by the movie once the cold night hit our faces again. It’s moving, it’s a downer, it’s really well done by all, go see it. But it is a downer.

MPAA Rating R-violence, language &some sex-related material.
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 180
Director Frank Darabont
Studio Castle Rock Entertainment

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Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo

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What? Are you surprised? Surprised I even went to go see it? OK, here’s the deal. We wanted to see another movie to lighten the air after The Green Mile (which is very good but obviously intoxicated us), so we chose this instead of Toy Story 2 (which is fantastic). I expected very little, as I always do, but I got quite a bit less. Gone is the humor potential of the film by most of the decent jokes being shown a hundred times in the preview. Gone is the hope that it will be silly, raunchy fun along the lines of Something About Mary when they cast no one else to support Rob Schneider. Yes, we laughed begrudgingly a couple of times. Other times, other people in the audience laughed while we stared, saddened and vaguely furious that we hadn’t snuck in. One of my companions (the deciding vote in the film selection – NOT THAT I AM BLAMING YOU!) was extremely apologetic and fearful of my wrath. Not so – I expected exactly what I got which was a steaming pile of dull, witless antics with humor that South Park fans would find simplistic and puerile.

Rob Schneider, for all his career mistakes, does have one thing, well, two. He has that great, dead-eyed expression which makes him look like an idiot, but when he then does something clever or reacts belatedly to something, it’s good plain old slapstick acting. He is the king (or the man-queen, in Deuce parlance) of the unmoving-head doubletake. The other things he does (besides whine) is pull off a sincere nice guy, an everyman who appreciates that he doesn’t get much good in life and therefore when he does, we can really see that he appreciates it. If only he were given decent material, he might actually save himself from Deuce Deuce: The Man-Whore returns.

Surreally scary is William Forsythe as some poorly explained cop character, who is really just an excuse for some penis talk in a movie, about gigolos, mind you, almost utterly devoid of sex. The other decent thing about this movie (which still does not make it worthy of recommendation) is the fact that Rob’s character actually does some good and extends a message – granted, a message on how to get in good with women, but a sincere one. Like, with tolerance and kindness and stuff. But it doesn’t, you know, make the movie any funnier. The worst part was seeing gags that could have worked, even would have worked, but then crashed and burned. Nothing is depressing about seeing a pie in the face gag flop – you don’t expect it to work. But when a moderately original idea, executed so badly that it just eliminates all hope of someone else trying it and succeeding, that makes it the most painful.

The internet movie database helpfully notes, “If you like this title, we also recommend…Election.” By all means, just go rent Election (an odd recommendation, really, seems like Night at The Roxbury or Kingpin would be more the companion piece to this dreck) – Election is marvelous. And, if memory serves, there is much more nudity.

MPAA Rating R for sexual content, language, and crude humor.
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 88
Director Mike Mitchell
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Cradle will Rock

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A fascinating little Written-And-Directed-By-Tim Robbins(channeling Robert Altman) period piece, Cradle Will Rock is not a farce, nor is it a drama. It has elements of both in it, as well as a zillion smarty-pants references and sight gags (some harking to the French Revolution in 1789, others to modern Broadway), so it’s not necessarily the movie that Joe Armageddon would want to take his best girl to on a Saturday night. I know the title makes it sounds like some awful USA Up All Night slasher film, but it’s not. Let me put it this way – one of my companions (and I know you must think I make this stuff up but I don’t!) got a Bachelor’s degree in Music and he has a Ph.D. now, he took a class on Art and Literature of the Depression, he loves the music of the 1930’s (when the film takes place) – and STILL he felt that the movie was targeted to a niche audience even more select than himself. You should also know something about theatre, the Red Scare, and Diego Rivera.

That said, it was totally interesting, never slow or boring, even when you aren’t sure where the action is leading. Historical figures are played by familiar faces (John Cusack as Nelson Rockefeller, anyone?) and some dialogue is lifted right off of federal court transcripts. But it is an era about which little is really taught or discussed. The film circles around the troubles encountered by the Federal Theatre Project, part of the WPA program during the Depression, and the constant, manic terror of the Communist Threat. All kinds of things happen but with our…for lack of a better word, “more enlightened” hindsight, the political actions of our own United States back then seem hypocritical, and deliciously so. While anti-Red factions are marching against Communism, they are doing it in the most Iron Curtain-y, censorshippish and tyrannical sort of way. Very sly, that Tim Robbins. Oh and he does it with really long, luxurious takes and pretty music too.

Cradle Will Rock does not have the documentary feel of his Bob Roberts, but the same deadpan lambasting of the powers that be permeates this film. Even Dead Man Walking skirted around preaching to us and just showed us what the director has his own opinions about, bald faced, naked, and present, and let us respond to it the way we will. Bob Roberts was controversial because it poked fun at our current politics; Cradle Will Rock is japing at 1930’s New Deal politics, which, no matter what side of the fence you stand on now, seems hopelessly naive and quaint. Or does it? Do politicians still seek to prevent the viewing of public works of art because of some personal fear of what might be incited by viewing? Cradle Will Rock can poke fun at that hypocrisy because it is portraying real events (with fictional bits thrown in for color) through a lens 65 years long.

Besides all that deep stuff, there’s the cast! John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Bill Murray, Angus MacFadyen, Emily Watson, Hank Azaria, Bill Murray (riding his post-Rushmore credibility wave with aplomb), Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti, Philip Baker Hall (recently in Magnolia), Vanessa Redgrave, John Turturro, Jack Black…my heavens! And I don’t recognize Cherry Jones but she was great, too. There’s something for everyone here, but don’t feel bad if you feel left out. We all did! But we still enjoyed it.

MPAA Rating R for some language and sexuality.
Release date 12/8/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 132
Director Tim Robbins
Studio Touchstone

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End of Days

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You know, I am just as surprised at that high rating as you are. Maybe I am watching the movie through rose-tinted glasses, but I really viscerally enjoyed that movie. And remember, I rate by entertainment value, bang for your buck. You want an end of the world kind of action thriller, this is the place to go. If you are sick to death of the whole Y2K bug end of the world nonsense, why not curl up with a nice Biblical hellfire and devil reigning for a thousand years kind of end of the world tale, just for variety’s sake. You’ve no doubt seen some iteration of the preview (and I am always leery of movies that cut radically different previews, as if angling for an audience they don’t believe is going to be there) and thought, well, that looks pretty cool. It does look pretty cool and I thought the score was pretty bad ass too! Overall the movie was a moderately hackneyed vehicle for some genuinely cool stuff – so if you want cool stuff, you’ll enjoy the movie. Also (having double featured with The World Is Not Enough) I have to say that all the explosions and whatnot actually happen for a REASON which is novelty enough these days.

Gabriel Byrne bored me as a priest in Stigmata but let me tell you one thing – he was BORN to play this part. He’s delightful!! He’s filled with a casual “oh I am like this all the time” offhandedness about his Satanic glory – as if, as he should be, he’s used to having this power, these feelings. I am sooo tired of the Devil’s Advocate WOW I have NEVER been this EVIL histronics of actors who think, “I am playing the pinnacle of bad guys, I have got to dance for the man and make him BELIEVE!” Ugh! Satan as a coolly confident, low key, serpentine smoothie has always been more effective when winning over his victims or winning over his movie audiences. Come on, who do you buy from when you shop? CRAZY AL who jumps around and waves radios under your nose, or the guy who convinces you it was your idea to buy it all along? And Byrne is so deliciously casual about it, so non-standard sexy and charismatic. You don’t buy in to it so much that you want him to win, however! Go Ahnold!!! I love Arnold Schwartzenegger in movies, almost all the time. I don’t know if it’s his accent or how immense he is (without anyone else seeming to notice this hulking man in their midst) or just his dry, wry delivery, but Arnold does it for me as an action and (for the most part) comic actor.

The woman, you ask? Who is the woman? (I know my audience – you boob hungry fiends, ya!) Robin Tunney is her name and looking terrified is her game. She’s not good or bad, she’s just what she needs to be – She was in Niagra Niagra, Empire Records, Encino Man, and some other stuff, and she looks like the 20 yr. old character she is playing but she is really a doddering 27! You don’t get to see her boobs, sorry – but there are boobs.

Director Peter Hyams has, in my opinion, really missed over the years, and even detractors of End of Days would have to agree that this is his best film. I don’t want to scare you away, but he is also credited with, erm, well, Timecop, The Relic, and Stay Tuned. Oh, and Capricorn One! Does that help? I used to make fun of The Relic, which also looked pretty cool (I mean the effects) but was kind of silly – but after seeing Anaconda all I could say was, “At least The Relic had (missing aspect of Anaconda) and at least The Relic wasn’t (visual expression of excrement)!” So, you know, if you liked those movies, you will cream over End of Days, and if you hated those movies, well, Hyams may have improved enough to make you like this one as I did. It probably helps that the screenwriter for Air Force One wrote this one. So think of it as a pre-biblical-apocalypse Air Force One, rather than The Relic with Ahnold.

MPAA Rating R-intense violence/gore,strong sex scene&language
Release date 11/24/99
Time in minutes 115
Director Peter Hyams
Studio Universal Pictures

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