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Cinema-Scene.com
Volume 5, Number 42

This Week's Reviews:  Radio, Intolerable Cruelty, Mystic River.

This Week's Omissions:  The Cuckoo, Runaway Jury, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Veronica Guerin.


Director:
Michael Tollin

Starring:
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Ed Harris
Alfre Woodard
S. Epatha Merkerson
Brent Sexton
Debra Winger
Chris Mulkey

Release: 24 Oct. 03
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Radio

BY: DAVID PERRY

Anyone commenting on Kill Bill: Vol. 1 as being offensively sadistic need only take a look at Michael Tollinís painfully enraging Radio, one of the worst feel-good films of the year. Patch Adams, Pay It Forward, and K-Pax now have the possibility of being outdone by a schmaltzy retarded-boy-plays-with-and-trains-football-team film.

This is the type of middlebrow crap that comes cascading into theatres every year about this time, feeding the sentimental tear ducts of unsuspecting audiences who, I might add, preponderates my greatest pet peeve: when people applaud in movies at something they find humorous or uplifting. Give me a break -- this isnít a Broadway show or a symphony, the people responsible for the film are not in attendance and, thus, your applause are essentially meant only for your own ears. You make me sick.

And so does Radio, which left me wanting to applaud at its most inopportune point -- a character dies -- because it would have been a chance to ridicule the audience for their past improprieties (I think I would have still hated the film even if I didnít see it with a general audience that must have had sore palms by the closing credits). At least give the film credit for the one thing it succeeds in: machinating the sappiness to the point of ingratiating inspiration. Radio is like a feature film version of one of those letters to sap radio maven Delilah, turning someoneís inspirational story into something more than a minor, personal victory. No, really, you people and your radio shows and your movies make me sick.

Letís start with its treatment of mental disorder. Yes, the protagonist, Robert ďRadioĒ Kennedy (Gooding, Jr.), is shown in a positive light. The people who make fun of him either get their comeuppance or see the error of their ways. But what about the way the film turns him into a sideshow, a freak for the masses to gawk at? Is it acceptable for a populace to chastise the cookie-cutter perfect football players (this film makes Remember the Titans seem like the most in-depth portrayal of racism in the south since Roots) for locking up Radio in a shed, when the audience is laughing (and applauding) the way his retardation makes him talk, makes him walk, makes him cherish the little things the rest of us look over? This makes me long for the days of Life Goes On, where Corky was as much a person as the rest of the cast, not simply a novelty to throw around like a whoopee-cushion (although that is a bit harsh since a whoopee-cushion lacks the ability to cry, a paramount need for any film that intends to sell Kleenex like it sells false liberalism).

It hurts to see respectable actors -- many of whom have Oscars and Emmys on their shelves, or at least nominations -- like Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Debra Winger appearing in such dreck. Their performances are mostly disengaging (Harris comes closest to creating a credible character) because the script is so flimsy and the drama is so overbearing.

There isnít a soul to this film, regardless of what it may try to convince the audience of. It is facile, dishonest, ugly, and careless. Tollin and screenwriter Mike Rich know that they have an easy, captive audience willing to buy into their deceit. I wonít, but, considering the people at the theatre with me, Iíll applaud them for succeeding in doing just that.

©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 17 October 2003



Director:
Joel Coen

Starring:
George Clooney
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Geoffrey Rush
Cedric the Entertainer
Edward Herrmann
Richard Jenkins
Billy Bob Thornton

Release: 10 Oct. 03
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Intolerable Cruelty

BY: DAVID PERRY

One can automatically infer that Intolerable Cruelty is likely to fall short of the normal Coen brothers film when one recognizes that they came in on a preexisting draft (by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone). The film is lacking the type of freshness normally involved in their films because it didnít originate in their heads, clunking around stories of Minnesota and absurdist comedy to find a strong foundation. Instead, it feels like the type of movie they would do if they just wanted to get out of a contract, which may actually be the case.

This isnít to say that Intolerable Cruelty is bad, just that it isnít at their standards. Iím one of the first people to criticize some of their works as uneven and lacking (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Hudsucker Proxy), but even their mediocre pieces are part of an overwhelming Coen brothers oeuvre that works within their own frame of reference. No matter how much Raising Arizona and The Man Who Wasnít There may seem different, they both seem to occur in the same Coenish world.

Intolerable Cruelty doesnít. Itís like a trip into a foreign land that remained untouched by Marge Gundersson of Fargo and Loren Visser of Blood Simple. These characters have a Howard Hawks/Preston Sturges world to exist in, which could have been possible in Coenville, as I christen their world, but not in the heedlessly distanced form that can be seen here.

For that reason, Intolerable Cruelty never completely gets off of the feeling that itís a stranger in a strange land. However much it may emulate some Hawks/Sturges dialogue and situations, the whole experience never settles into any comfort. Itís like the film is waiting to find its mediator but remain in the precarious position of imbalance while it searches.

Where the film works best is in its cynicism, which helps it raise itself into something of light humor and modest pleasure. The lead character, Miles Massey (Clooney), is a divorce lawyer who gained fame and fortune for penning the Massey pre-nup, a prenuptial document that cannot be cracked thanks to its painfully complex writing. At the beginning of the film, he saves a philandering millionaire named Rex Rexroth (Herrmann) from losing half to his calculating wife Marylin (Zeta-Jones), and then is surprisingly called upon by Marylin to prepare a new Massey pre-nup for her impending marriage to a Texas oil tycoon (Thornton).

He cannot understand why Marylin, a gold-digger to the core, would be willing to enter a prenuptial agreement that might keep her from millions more. Her worries -- and momentary gain in reverence for the idea of love -- are answered at the wedding. Much of the film is built on recognizable outcomes -- the wedding, as well as the blossoming relationship between Marylin and Miles -- but the ease with which the film goes through these conventions is charming to some extent.

The two actors work splendidly together, especially in the cool, dry way Clooney plays characters like this (not unlike his Danny Ocean in Oceanís 11 or Jack Foley in Out of Sight). They have the breezy cynicism of Preston Sturges in Unfaithfully Yours without that filmís sappy ending. The Coen brothers may not have made a film thatís their own, but at least the actors have.

©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 17 October 2003



Director:
Clint Eastwood

Starring:
Sean Penn
Tim Robbins
Kevin Bacon
Laurence Fishburne
Marcia Gay Harden
Laura Linney
Kevin Chapman
Adam Nelson

Release: 3 Oct. 03
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Mystic River

BY: DAVID PERRY

The story goes that Dennis Lehane, the pulp fiction writer behind the novel Mystic River, came up with the story when he reminisced about a childhood run-in with a cop who, as his memory dictates, failed to show any badge when he took the youngster into custody. In adulthood, Lehane imagined that this could have been much worse than a criminal slap on the wrist: the man who he took as an authority could have been a kidnapper. Childhood, he seems willing to acknowledge, is a time when hope springs eternal and trust can be damnable.

The film version of Lehaneís novel, exquisitely directed by Clint Eastwood, begins with a similar scenario. Three Boston kids in 1975 come upon some drying cement and decide to write their names in it, forever marking their existence in this rudimentary manner. When the third of the group, Dave, begins writing his monogram in the sidewalk, a sedan drives up, a man flashes his badge, a priest (perfect for the milieu, timely for the impact) sits in the passenger seat, and castigation begins. Jimmy and Sean live nearby, so the cop tells them to go home. Daveís mom is a few blocks away. He better get in the car to ride over there.

Needless to say, these men were predators, and the disappearance of Dave is representative of violence, pederasty, and evil. Jimmy (Penn) and Sean (Bacon) spend their lives wondering what would have happened if they had been forced into the car; Dave (Robbins) spends his in a bit of arrested development. The friendship that seemed clear in the filmís beginning (even if itís a short glance) is never again attainable. Dave is an outsider, both with his friends and within his own body.

Mystic River is a masculine film, perhaps the most manly of any Eastwood feature yet. But its machismo isnít built on guns and violence, but on the brooding, chin-up mentality of manliness beside the childishness of those who cannot (or should not?) exist. It is a sensitive feature, but never sentimental. Grounded by a collective of amazing actors and an unwavering establishment of setting, Mystic River emphasizes manliness in the face of debilitating pain.

Daveís isn't only the expository pain for this film, which tries to find a relationship between it and the pain that Jimmy finds in his adulthood. Again, the action is a loss of innocence, but this time through a proxy. Jimmy has a gaggle of children, but only one from his late first wife, a daughter named Katie (Rossum) who he seems to love beyond anything else in this world. When she dies in a violent attack one evening, his own reflections are rocked much like the way Dave was rocked. The question is whether Jimmy will now remain a beat away from catatonia in his reaction.

But Jimmy has grown into a bit of a hood, spending some time in prison and fraternizing with some of the neighborhoodís least respectable figures. Vengeance becomes the only form of satisfaction, and he becomes intent on finding the person to pin it on. Too bad Daveís a mess, with a wife (Harden) worried that he might have killed Katie. It doesnít help that he came home late the night of the murder, drunk, bloodied, and raving about a mugger. Also too bad the police investigation led by Sean and his partner Whitey (Fishburne) hasnít many leads other than those that hint of Daveís guilt.

Apart from a repetitive score by the director, Mystic River offers an unending stream of rapturous compassion, a sensitivity that Eastwood was unceremoniously criticized for in his underrated A Perfect World. Eastwood choosing to never appear in the film, Mystic River is distanced from the directorís last few works, most of which have been about his geriatric hopes and fears. To some extent, this is like Woody Allenís Interiors, a film that lost its lead actor to work behind the camera and found an emotional assurance heretofore only hinted at in his previous work.

Whatever criticisms Mystic River may find -- I admit its preponderance of coincidences (the parallel of Sean and Jimmy is a wee bit contrived) are noticeable, but they affect the audience without removing them -- no one can question the casting of the feature, which has some of the best performances of the year. Robbins is on top of his game, allowing Dave to become less showy Rain Man and more 1950s Method Brando. He is perfectly paired with Marcia Gay Harden, who deserves credit whenever she chooses rolls unlike the shrill, annoying proto-Jewish wives/daughters/landladies that made it such a surprise when Lee Krasner came reeling out of her.

But the heart and soul of Mystic River, the reason that it becomes a testament to masculinity crippled by lifeís setbacks is in Sean Penn, a manís man among actors who gives what may be his finest performance. When he cries, the emotions feel so real because one recognizes how unusual it is. This is a person whose strength is in his maleness, debilitated by one of those atrocities which never merit a ďtake it like a manĒ mentality. Penn has long deserved an Oscar for his decades of consistently strong work. Itís about time he gets it.

©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 17 October 2003



Reviews by:
David Perry
©2003, Cinema-Scene.com

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