Cradle Will Rock
*** GM
Starring: John Turturro, Emily Watson, Bill Murray, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Tenacious D, Cary Elwes, Angus McFadyen, Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades


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I know this is might be coming from the pretentious theatre twerp hiding somewhere in my mind, but there's something about a play that just can't be duplicated, that just can't be replaced by movies. The drama right in front of you, in three dimensions, with the potential of interacting with you - getting into your face without the comfort zone of the flat screen... it's an immediate, amazing art form that not enough people truly appreciate any more if it isn't some extravagant spectacle like "The Phantom Of Cats."

"Cradle Will Rock" not only showcases how powerfully the theater can affect people, but it champions the rebellious nature of the arts and how much of that fighting spirit has been lost with the advent of the high-tech media. It's taken from a true story - Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes) ran a theater company that defied red-baiting federal authority during the Depression in order to perform a musical from Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) that was the first to deal with contemporary controversial issues. Other actual incidents - such as Nelson Rockefeller's (John Cusack) clash with Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) about the mural the former hired the latter to create for his hotel lobby - are meshed with the main storyline by writer/director Tim Robbins to try to create an interesting statement about the decline in the value of more sophisticated forms of art at the hands of the rich that are unable to accept that they might not know or can't control something.

The cast is excellent. It's one of those films where all these ingredients cannot possibly make a bad movie. Bill Murray, Joan AND John Cusack, Cary Elwes playing the guy who would end up playing Ricky Schroeder's grandpa on "Silver Spoons," Robert the Bruce from "Braveheart" playing the guy who would end up voicing Unicron in "The Transformers: The Movie," Hank Azaria (there's even one of his voices from "The Simpsons" present here), Emily Watson, John Turturro... you can't go wrong with these people.

A lot of people, including theater people, can sometimes sit back at home and doubt that live performances are important in the least, that acting is a real profession, that musicals are anything more than excuses for parents to watch their fledgling teenagers mangle old standards and fill up another camcorder tape with stuff never to be watched again... but with the right script and the right talent, actors can really MOVE people, touch people and stir people into action. They can reach into your mind and dust off long-forgotten fears, worries or ideals, and remind people of how they should live for each day, fighting off the forces of oppression and depression.

Only problem here is that oppression ain't so obvious anymore. As George Carlin says, "When fascism comes to this country, it won't be wearing jackboots; it'll be wearing sneakers with lights in them, and it'll have a smiley face and a Michael Jordan T-shirt on. They learned the mistake of overt control."

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