Volume 2, Number 3
This Week's Reviews: The End of the Affair, Play It to the Bone, Cradle Will Rock.
This Week's Omissions: Angela's Ashes, Down to You.
|The End of the Affair
(Dir: Neil Jordan, Starring Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, Ian Hart, Sam Bould, Jason Isaacs, James Bolam, and Deborah Findlay)
BY: DAVID PERRY
As dually stated before, I am one of the biggest fans of Neil Jordan. Ever since seeing Mona Lisa I have been hooked. In fact I have liked every film that he has made since then with the exception of We're No Angels (I even liked, and placed on my top ten list, the critically frowned upon Interview with the Vampire). But that adoration has lost some of its zeal as of late. Admittedly, I liked In Dreams earlier this year, but in a weird sort of turn, his costume drama failed to grab me (for those who do not know, I have a highly irregular adoration for costume dramas with a sinister twist).
The End of the Affair has the look and the feel of a great Merchant-Ivory film of enchanted, yet ill-fated love from a classic literary piece. But with the route Jordan takes, Graham Greene becomes an over-moody bore. The film did not seem very long, but it did seem like every little thing was overly dramatized (public enemy #1: the incredibly over played Michael Nyman score; or should I say the Michael Nyman thirty second musical riff).
The films convergence between a taut affair and the Catholic beliefs works, without a doubt. The whole twist that comes in the third act of the film makes for great cinema (and, at least in this case, great literature). However over-bearing and brooding the film is, there are moments like such that make it worth seeing. There is one scene in which Jordan takes the Rashomon approach, an interesting touch. There are also some really great performances, especially from the decidedly dour Rea.
The film opens with two men, old friends, encountering each other in the rain, a force of nature that plagues the film. Henry Miles (Rea) looks to be in deep depression, a perfect tone to bring Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) to his scheme. Henry suspects that his wife Sarah (Moore) is having an affair and he hopes that Maurice could find himself on her side again. It seems that Sarah had a bit of an extra-marital affair with Maurice during the bomb raids on England during World War II (yes, that does have some pertinence to the story). But after one day of passion and a grand accident, Sarah become cold to Maurice and the affair ended. Now Maurice sees this offer as a chance to get to back with Sarah, whether as a lover or as a simple friend.
There are moments in the film, as stated, that would make this film stand-out in the war-torn love stories genre, but much of the film is too muddled for it to work as simply a film. I thought that Jordan made some terrific choices as a director and writer, but it is not his best work. Though Rea led the pack, Moore also comes off terrific here, one of her best performances (what a year for the actress: A Map of the World, An Ideal Husband, Magnolia, Cookie's Fortune, and The End of the Affair).
I can't help but say that I did not hate this film, but
for Jordan it is pretty tepid.
|Play It to the Bone
(Dir: Ron Shelton, Starring Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich, Tom Sizemore, Lucy Liu, Robert Wagner, Richard Masur, Willie Garson, Cylk Cozart, and Jack Carte)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Ron Shelton seems to have some weird undeserved fan base due to one film. I've never understood why some people stand by someone like Shelton based on one film (for the record, I personally found little to be excited about from White Men Can't Jump). Even I have revoked my membership in the Michael Cimino fan club (I do not care if he made The Deer Hunter, The Sunchaser is unforgivable).
Shelton is what I consider to be a sports film hack. While people like David Anspaugh (Hoosiers) and William Friedkin (Blue Chips) succeeded at making sports oriented films, Shelton has been irking me with horrible sports fare like Tin Cup and Cobb. I did not even see the thrill in Bull Durham (though compared to the Shelton penned The Great White Hype, Durham seems like Citizen Kane).
When both boxers in a small bout before a Tyson fight are unable to fight, big-time boxing promoter Joe Domino (Sizemore) calls upon two has-beens that he knows will fight in dreams of saving their lost careers. Cesar Dominguez (Banderas) and Vince Boudreau (Harrelson) have long been out of the boxing spotlight. Now they are close friends, practicing together in Los Angeles. Cesar is currently the boyfriend of Vince's ex, Grace (Davidovich). Since neither of them have the ability to get to Las Vegas on their own ticket and not wanting to spend the money that they are making (somewhat reminiscent of Albert Finney in Breakfast of Champions), Cesar coerces Grace into driving them.
Not only is this film a "road" film gone
awry, it is also a terribly boring fight film. I'm not sure exactly how long the
fight sequence is, but it sure felt like an hour. I do not care if there were
moments of directorial ability in the fight scene, it lasted way too long. None of
the actors are any thing to write home about. For the record, I cannot stand Lolita
Davidovich as an actress. Lucy Liu as a hitchhiker with the hots for Vince is a
horrible addition to pretty bad film. The anticlimactical finale is enough to make a
viewer sick, but this film is more or less a two hour plague.
|Cradle Will Rock
(Dir: Tim Robbins, Starring Hank Azaria, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Bill Murray, Angus MacFadyen, John Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Cary Elwes, Vanessa Redgrave, Emily Watson, Philip Baker Hall, Bob Balaban, Rubén Blades, Cherry Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Harris Yulin)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year. No it is not a contender for my top ten list, it is way too flawed for that, but the pure pleasure of this film is one that is not seen enough in a year. There is a great deal of care in the way Robbins takes on the large cast in this film. I can safely say that I did not feel stifled in the character development, everyone seemed to be rather three-dimensional.
And even the extreme leftist agenda of the film worked with me. I may be rather political in person, but my criticisms of film are extremely apolitical. How else can you explain my complete adoration of the films directed by well-known liberals Robert Redford and Oliver Stone, as well as conservatives like Howard Hawks and Cecil B. DeMille. Hey, I even adore Leni Riefenstahl films, and she was sanctioned by Adolf Hitler to make the Nazi propaganda films (of course, most film scholars would agree, Triumph of the Will and Olympia are, cinematically speaking, two of the greatest films of the WWII film period). So needless to say, I liked the film from a completely objective view.
In fact, the only predisposition I had on the film was of a positive note: I happen to think that Tim Robbins is a very able director. I'd actually say that I enjoy him behind the camera more than I could ever in front of the camera. While not a ranker on my crowded 1992 top ten list, Bob Roberts served as one of my favorite films of that year (maybe, I was hoping that he could premier as a director in the same magnitude as Robert Redford with Ordinary People). While I thought that there was a great deal of cinematic prowess in Bob Roberts, I did not fully recognize its extent until 1995, when Robbins made one of the best films of this decade, the sublimely powerful Dead Man Walking (and, to further state my point, I am pro-death penalty). I do not think that Cradle Will Rock has a chance of making my top ten list this year (I believe that there are already 15 films that had higher ratings), but it is still no film to frown upon.
It is the story of censorship and the theatrical agenda. In the 1930's, Roosevelt imposed the Federal Theatre project as part of the WPA, a project set-up to save theatre workers from starving during the depression and give cheap entertainment to others. The New York branch of the WPA that is present in the film is run by Hallie Flanagan (Jones), trying her best to keep the shows coming while warding off accusations of the communist infiltration into the organization. At this same time, one of her productions is creating a great commotion. Penned by Marc Blitzstein (Azaria), produced by John Houseman (Elwes), and directed by Orson Welles (Macfadyen), The Cradle Will Rock is a grand musical about the loss of the worker in a large steel-fueled town. The play stray so towards pro-unionism, an ideal that wet with communism at that time in history, that many of the well-to-do of the time fear it. With the play being attacked by conservative "Witch" hunters, the play is shut down and those involved must strive to get it to the public.
The cast is superb, ranging from large dramatic parts (the scenery chewing Welles; the homeless stagehand Olivia Stanton [Watson]) to the supporting comedic parts (the somewhat depressing ventriloquist Tommy Crickshaw [Murray]; the vampish fascist envoy from Italy Margherita Sarfatti [Sarandon]).
In many ways the film looks at those that fight to stop censorship and those that help to run it. Flanagan and WPA worker Hazel Huffman (Cusack) both go in-front of the anti-communism committee run by Congressman Dies (Yulin) to testify to the communist influence, or lack thereof in the WPA. There is also a magnificent subplot involving Nelson Rockefeller (Cusack) hiring communist Diego Rivera (Blades) to paint the mural in the new Rockefeller Center, complete with plagues above the rich and the face of Lenin.
That subplot makes way for one of the greatest sequences
in film this year, with Godfather allusion heavy, Robbins cuts between the
hammering of the mural and the performance of the play. Where one is a testament to
censorship winning, the other a note of progress to Constitutional freedom.