DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Cradle Will Rock, Magnolia, Moulin Rouge , The Player, Short Cuts, Jindabyne

Title:  Cradle Will Rock

Release Date:  1999

Nationality and Language: USA English

Running time: 132 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Touchstone

Director; Writer: Tim Robbins


Cast:   John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, Bill Murray, Susan Sarandon


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Movie Review: Cradle Will Rock; Touchstone Films (1999); Starring: John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, Bill Murray, Susan Sarandon; MPAA Ration: R  (soft),  140 Minutes,  Panavision, Grade: 8.5/10

As for the Cradle (not to be confused with the thriller The Hand that Rocks the Cradle): This curious film is a "Magnolia" style hodgepodge of musical comedy and drama, period piece, and satire, all to convey to the viewer a political exercise asa docu-drama.  And the concerns of the script with Free Speech are very compelling, and complement material that I present elsewhere on this site (colpa.htm, and empint.htm).  

The particulars are that a theater troupe has been funded by the FDR/WPA "Federal Theater" during the Depression, and then wants to mount a vaudeville musical "Cradle will Rock" to advance the cause of worker's rights.  The government barges in, orders 20% job cuts, closes the theater down, and conducts McCarthy-style "anti-Commie" hearings.  There are wonderful lines in the script about "Jewish Fascists" and "rich Communists," and at one point one of the troupe's actresses tells Congress that she would support a play that advocates public ownership of utilities but not of all land, because that would "overthrow the government."  Then, she admits that she advocates revolution "by degree."  In another episode, a sculptor/painter insists on presenting Lenin on a mural in the RCA Building (now GE - I worked there myself in the 1970's for NBC!!) because Lenin was a wonderful revolutionary.  Cusack (playing John D Rockefeller) had suggested Thomas Jefferson (yup, the slaveowner).  And one of the actors refuses to accept money from his family (to feed his kids) if accepting the money would undermine what he believes in.

Of course, the problem was that these writers, actors, puppeteers, ventriloquists and artists were all trying self-expression on someone else's dime.  In the age of cheap publishing and the Internet, that's no longer necessary.  But the free speech paradigm is curious indeed.  I hardly agree with labor union "mentality" but I support the idea of anyone to advocate them in his own intellectual property (well, can you get in trouble for trying to organize your own workplace?)  Odd, too, is the government clamping down on the "Red Scare" when FDR New Dealism, certainly socialistic, might have seemed almost as left wing.  Or that the government, in 1936, still didn’t see that Fascism was every bit as "collectivist" as Communism, and that authoritarianism in any form orbits 180 degrees away from liberty.

Magnolia (as had American Beauty) (New Line Cinema - AOL Time Warner), with Tom Cruise, Jason Robards and William H. Macey, 190 Minutes, Panavision. MPAA Rationg: R , also, shows how a slow buildup of intersecting stories among previously unrelated characters can become effective. And these are stories mainly about character, as the Tom Cruise talk show character spends his life teaching other men to be proud of who they are "as men," and then calls his dying father (Robards) a "prick" for neglecting his wife and leaving the younger Cruise to take care of his mother for three years.  There is the talk-show host who collapses on the set, aware of the bankruptcy of his own manipulations, and the little quiz-show kid ("What Kids Know") who pees in his pants, on camera.  At the climax, the blizzard of frogs falling from the sky (they sound like gunshot when they hit your car) is plain bizarre -- but the world survives for one more day.  (Magnolia's TP was the name of a gay bar in Dallas before it became the Village Station; there is a Magnolia's in St. Louis also).

Moulin Rouge (20th Century Fox, 2001, with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman) is a collage musical remake (in the style of both Casino Royale (1967) and That’s Entertainment (1974) with a mixture of all kinds of movie-musical styles, from the period 1890s thru The Sound of Music to today’s disco.  (‘NSync doesn’t walk in, but I expected it!)  The original 1952 movie (based on the life of dwarf Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) was (after The Prisoner of Zenda) one of the first movies my parents took me to see.  The dwarf is pretty much an extra in this version, which focuses on a newcomer writer, limited to a pica typewriter by the technology of the times, who suddenly notices his moral dilemma: he wants to write about love, but he has never loved (or fallen in love—there is a difference!)  He does fall in love with a show girl with consumption (tuberculosis, “the white plague”, the AIDS of that era) and the idea that he can help her stirs up his basic humanity, Okay.  Of course there is a duke who will marry her as if she were a prostitute.  There are great lines: “I’m not a duke, I’m a writer!” and later “we’re members of the underworld; we can’t afford to love.”

20th Century Fox (not Y2K compliant yet!) does a cute thing with its trademark, framing it with the cabaret curtains in the opening scene.  I liked it when the possible murder weapon bounces off the Eiffel Tower as if it were a baseball as it is thrown away—couldn’t happen.     

The Player (1992, Fine Line Features, dir. Robert Altman) is a famous slow-moving mystery about the politics of Hollywood.  Studios do hire theater and film school graduates to read scripts (I’ve met one), and in this movie a writer tries to blackmail a script reader after his script is rejected – but which one? He accidentally gives the writer real material for blackmail, leading to catastrophe. One wonders how the story would play out in the Internet age where ideas can flow much faster and where personal contact between stars and directors and the interested public is becoming much more open, at least in my experience. But for its time a great film. An indie film that cost $20 M. Tim Robbins and Greta Scacchi star. The Dying Gaul (2005) is a somewhat simpler version of this kind of story.

Short Cuts (1993, Fine Line Features, dir. Robert Altman) is another andante-tempoed classic, almost three hours, of the tangential lives of a number of LA residents drawn together by a helicopter attack of a medfly infestation. Eventually, there will be fatality at a fishing hole, and the men who discover the corpse refuse to act, leading to their demise. (This plot device would occur again in "Jindabyne" in 2007.) Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Bruce Davison, Matthew Modine.

Jindabyne (2007, Sony Pictures Classics / April Films / Babcock & Brown, dir. Ray Lawrence, short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" by Raymond Carver, Cinemascope, 123 min, R). The movie is named for a little town in New South Wales, Australia, near the "Snowy Mountains" of the Great Dividing Range, relocated when the mountain stream it was on was dammed up in 1964. The countryside looks like California, and looks hot and dry, more like the interior. The film is a curious mixture of modern Australian western and "Robert Altman" style closeup of the intersecting lives of people, again, as in the Altman film above, centered around the discovery of a corpse by men fishing. This time the victim is a female aborigine, and one of the men is slightly injured, and that somewhat explains their desire to wait when they find the body. But it gets out (the local newspaper says "Fishing over a dead body") with major social consequences for the men. The central characters seem to be transplanted Irishman Steward Kane (Gabriel Byrne) and his pregnant wife (Laura Linney), whose spells of sudden on-camera vomiting without warning are not explained for a while, but she may be headed for hyperemesis of pregnancy. She wants to make things right, and even (with her small boy) conducts a door-to-door campaign to raise money for a decent funeral. Young actor Simon Stone plays Billy, the mechanic, who seems to want to get out of the situation quickly when it is found (he calls it a crime scene). The sex offender who kills the girl in the opening scene is always hovering on the roads in his pickup truck, an is a constant menace, although nature will dispatch him at the end.  The film is an interesting examination of community and public moral values lingering in a society of growing individualism.


Related reviews: Latter days etc. The Dying Gaul


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