David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Red, White, Black And Blue

    Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), the hero of Roland Emmerich's two-hour-and-40-minute American Revolution epic "The Patriot," was once a hero of the French and Indian Wars, but he's seen enough of fighting not to want to bloody his hands again. A widower with seven children, he refuses to join with his fellow South Carolinians in the battle for independence. We know, of course, that it won't be long before he changes his mind. All it takes is a sadistic British colonel (the wonderfully malevolent Jason Isaacs), who, without batting an evil eye, kills not only the wounded soldiers Benjamin is sheltering on his farm, but Benjamin's 15-year-old son. Our hero arms himself with muskets and hatchet, hands firearms to his preadolescent sons and heads for the woods in search of revenge. This time it's personal..."The Patriot" comes to brutal life in the ensuing slaughter--savage, bloody, shocking. Benjamin's rage turns him into a beast, hacking away at already dead bodies, and for a moment it...
  • Con Airless

    There are certain things you can depend upon in a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced summer movie. It will be slick, loud and fast moving ("Con Air," "Armageddon"). It will be lit like a TV ad. It will feature very good actors in roles for which they are overqualified. It will be a testosterone-fueled celebration of outlaw male bonding. And whatever it's about can be articulated in one punchy sentence. Take "Gone in 60 Seconds." A reformed car thief (Nicolas Cage) has to round up a crew and steal 50 cars in one night or his brother (Giovanni Ribisi) will be killed. Any further description is really unnecessary."Gone in 60 Seconds" is a pumped-up remake of a 1974 quickie of the same name. The original was made by actor/writer/director H. B. Halicki, who died that year in a car stunt while making a sequel. That one's claim to fame was a climactic 40-minute car chase that aficionados of the genre put right up there with the chase in "Bullitt."What's this one's claim to fame? Not Angelina Jolie...
  • Shakespeare Less Loved

    In his last Shakespearean movie,"Hamlet," Kenneth Branagh defied tradition by serving up the entire text of the play. In the romantic comedy "Love's Labour's Lost," he goes about as far as you can in the opposite direction--only about 25 percent of Shakespeare's words remain. In their place are the songs of Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. And dances that ape Astaire and Rogers, Gene Kelly and the bathing beauties of Busby Berkeley. Yes, folks, this is Shakespeare reborn as a full-fledged '30s-style musical, as deliberate-ly artificial as a paper moon. It even has Nathan Lane and a strutting chorus doing "There's No Business Like Show Business."You don't have to know "Love's Labour's Lost" well (who does?) to sense something is missing. Branagh keeps the scaffolding only: the King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) and his three best friends (Branagh, Adrian Lester and Matthew Lillard) take a public oath to devote themselves to study for three years,...
  • These Parties Get A Rave Review

    Every generation needs its ecstatic rituals, and today's kids have raves, chemically friendly overnight bliss-outs presided over by electronic shamans with names like DJ Spooky or Scanner or Moby. Manning the control boards like captains of a psychedelic ship, they guide the dancers on a throbbing techno tide, lifting the crowd's communal spirit up, up and away on a sweat-drenched transcendental joyride. This underground techno-rave culture is the subject of two current movies, the documentary "Better Living Through Circuitry" and the indie feature "Groove" -- a sure sign that the phenomenon has not only reached sea level, but probably peaked.Though the musical terminology -- jungle, acid house, trance -- may be new, the idealistic rhetoric we hear in interview after interview in director Jon Reiss's documentary will ring a bell for any veteran of a '60s be-in. "The age of Aquarius, it's here," says DJ Keoki, but without the optimism of the "Hair" years: he's seen the deep...
  • Muffed Mission

    The first time Tom Cruise rips off his latex mask and turns out to be someone else, it's cool. The next time someone else rips off his face and turns out to be Tom Cruise, it's still a kick. By the third and fourth time this ploy is used, you're not only miles ahead of the trick, you are beginning to resent it. What is this, "Face/Off-2"?If only it were. Now, that was a real John Woo movie, both exhilaratingly ridiculous and ridiculously exhilarating. "M:I-2," as the new "Mission: Impossible" is tagged, is a slick, expensive, bullet-ridden thriller that is oddly dull -- the last thing you'd expect from Hong Kong action maestro Woo. It makes one nostalgic for Brian De Palma's first M:I. The plot may have been incomprehensible, but while you were lost in its seductive hall of mirrors, it didn't seem to matter.The plot of "M:I-2" is simple enough: there's a very bad virus that could wreak worldwide havoc, and Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has to get it out of the hands of the villains. This time...
  • Of Gambling And Disguises

    Coolly hypnotic, the lean British sleeper "Croupier" is a reminder that movies don't have to wave their arms and scream to hold our attention. Stillness can be as riveting as frantic activity, and there is a chilly stillness in the eyes of Jack Manfred (Clive Owen), an aspiring novelist who finds his subject matter in the airless casinos of London, where he deals blackjack, spins the roulette wheel and becomes "hooked on watching people lose."Tautly directed by Mike Hodges, who made the classic 1971 noir "Get Carter," and cunningly written by Paul Mayersberg, "Croupier" is a thriller whose thrills derive less from the suspense of a heist Jack is lured into joining than from the mysteries of identity. People are not quite who they appear to be in this slippery tale, including our unnervingly detached protagonist, who splits himself into two people--Jack the novelist and "Jake" the hero of the gambling novel he's writing. Equally ambiguous are the three women in his life--his...
  • Ray And Frenchy's Big Adventure

    Woody Allen is confused with the characters he plays more than any other performer, but "Small Time Crooks" should give that game a rest. No one is likely to mistake him for the hapless con man Ray Winkler, a bank robber so inept he and his gang of equally dimwitted thieves (Jon Lovitz, Mark Rapaport, Tony Darrow) dig a tunnel into a clothing store, missing the bank altogether. But if Ray is a loser, he's lucky in his choice of a wife. Frenchy (Tracey Ullman), an ex-stripper, has a gift for baking. She's fronting the cookie store where the gang is doing its tunnel work, and her sweet confections turn out to be an unexpected gold mine. Instead of jail, Ray, his wife and the gang that couldn't dig straight find themselves rolling in dough. Their sham store turns into a national franchise that Krispy Kreme might envy, and soon the nouveau riche Winklers are confronting the horror of getting everything they ever dreamed of. The incurably vulgar Frenchy suddenly fancies herself a...
  • Building A Better Dinosaur

    The First Movie From Disney's Digital Studios Brings The Prehistoric Age To Virtual Life
  • The Battle For Summer

    To play the role of Maximus, a Roman general turned gladiator in Ridley Scott's $103 million epic "Gladiator," Russell Crowe first had to lose the 38 pounds he'd put on to play tobacco- industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand in "The Insider." "I didn't want to create a contemporary gym body," Crowe says, his deep, rich, echo-chamber Aussie voice enriched by Marlboros. "I wanted him to have a bit of the beast about him."There are those who would say there is always a bit of the beast inside this complex, 36-year-old, New Zealand-born actor. Certainly you can see it in many of the characters he has played: the angry mule inside Wigand's pale, portly frame; the raging bull inside cop Bud White in "L.A. Confidential"; the wild animal that was the racist skinhead in the 1992 "Romper Stomper." These are performances that emerge from some deep, primal place. Yet this is the same man who convincingly played a sweet dishwasher in "Proof" and a sensitive gay son in "The Sum of Us." In ...
  • What A Total Psychopath

    In the world of the narcissistic lady-killer Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), appearance is everything, whether it's the perfectly designed nouvelle cuisine he consumes at the chic Yuppie restaurant du jour or his own sculpted and pampered body, as gleaming and flawless as a Calvin Klein ad. In Mary Harron's bold, coolly satiric adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's infamous novel "American Psycho," we are wittily plunged back into the soulless excesses of Reagan-era Wall Street, where the reigning emotions are greed and disgust, and the "inside no longer matters."Our tour guide is Bateman himself, a white-collar serial killer who flies into a panic when a colleague produces a business card with better lettering than his own but is curiously unruffled when he must carve up his latest victim with a chain saw. Harron ("I Shot Andy Warhol"), who adapted the book with Guinevere Turner, is smart to tone down the book's violence and play up the dark humor. Her stylish movie has the sleek,...
  • Thirteen Steps

    If you thought Sandra Bullock was a wild thing in "Forces of Nature," check her out as the disheveled, alcoholic party girl Gwen in "28 Days." At her sister Lily's wedding she licks the hors d'oeuvres right off the tray, tumbles into the wedding cake, insults the bride and groom, hijacks their limo and crashes it into a house. Would you say this girl has a problem?This is the movie's overstated opening, and its uncertain tone--pitched sloppily between farce and nightmare-- doesn't bode well for what is to come. Director Betty Thomas and writer Susannah Grant ("Erin Brockovich") want to rehabilitate the overly familiar rehab drama ("Clean and Sober," "When a Man Loves a Woman") by injecting it with a streak of gallows humor. It's a good idea in theory, but it requires more than synthetic sitcom humor. The laughs in "28 Days" are designed to distract us from the subject, not illuminate it. This is a movie afraid of its own shadows.D.A.28 DaysColumbia Opens April 14
  • Cup Of Joe To Go

    Joe Gould, a legend in Bohemian circles in New York in the early 1940s, "looked and lived like a bum," as Joseph Mitchell wrote in the second of his two New Yorker profiles on Gould. No ordinary scavenger, this Harvard grad hailed from one of the oldest families in New England. Though dirty, demanding and an exhibitionist, his flamboyant eccentricities (he often squawked like a seagull) and flashes of brilliance gave him entree into the homes and hearts of Greenwich Village's artistic elite, who eagerly awaited the magnum opus Gould had been working on for decades. It was called "The Oral History of Our Time," and it was rumored to be the longest book ever written.The role of the half-mad Gould is a gift you'd want to give only to the most worthy actor, and Ian Holm does it extravagant justice. This great English actor makes Gould hilarious, scary, tragic, pitiable and exasperating, sometimes all at once. "Joe Gould's Secret" is the story of his long relationship with Mitchell ...
  • Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

    Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" wonders vinyl junkie Rob (John Cusack), the romantically damaged, self-obsessed and very funny hero of "High Fidelity." The owner of a barely surviving Chicago record store, Rob has two obsessions in life--music, and the women who have rejected him. Rob has an encyclopedic memory for every humiliation he has suffered, going back to grammar school, but his recall is faulty when it comes to the pain he's inflicted himself. The latest to leave is Laura (Iben Hjejle). She has not yet made his top-five list of painful breakups, but as soon as he hears that she has taken up with a pony-tailed creep (Tim Robbins) who used to live upstairs, she makes the grade. "Number five with a bullet," Rob tells us.Nick Hornby's novel was set in London. Screenwriters D. V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, Cusack and Scott Rosenberg wittily reset it in Chicago, and Stephen Frears directs with unassuming brio. ...
  • Lurching To Oscar Night

    We may not know who's going to win the Oscars, but you can be sure what Billy Crystal is going to skewer when he takes the stage on March 26--the bedeviled Oscars themselves. There's plenty to joke about: The 4,200 ballots that temporarily disappeared into the bowels of the postal system, forcing the Academy to send them out again and extend its voting deadline until March 23. The Wall Street Journal's attempt to scoop the results by polling the voters, which sent the Academy into a tizzy. Then came the ultimate humiliation--the possibility that there might not be any Oscars to hand out. Last week the entire shipment of 55 gold-plated statuettes--valued at $18,000--was swiped off a loading dock in Bell, Calif. (oddly enough, the same place where the missing ballots turned up). The LAPD and the FBI were all working on the case. Most likely the thieves didn't know what they were stealing, as the little bald devils were in unmarked boxes. (Good luck fencing those.) Would the presenters...
  • Bad News From Mars

    It's a shame that Brian De Palma's "Mission to Mars" is, on so many levels, a risibly bad movie. The characters are hackneyed, the dialogue is dismal and the concept takes the most overused ideas from such New Agey science-fiction fables as "Contact" and "The Abyss" and old Arthur C. Clarke novels and turns them into a mushy extraterrestrial Hallmark greeting card.In the year 2020, a NASA mission to Mars encounters a mysterious phenomenon that wipes out the crew. A rescue mission (Gary Sinise, wearing too much eyeliner, Tim Robbins, Connie Nielsen and Jerry O'Connell) is sent to search for the one possible survivor (Don Cheadle). Once there, they encounter strange messages emanating from a giant metallic face buried in Mars's craggy soil. I won't reveal more except to say that whoever designed the spindly, cartoonish great-great-granddaughter of the "Close Encounter" aliens should be sent to bed without dinner.Still, this is no ordinary bomb. It's a gorgeous bad movie, the folly of...
  • Pretty, Witty And Gay?

    Rupert Everett is making a habit of playing a straight woman's dream best friend. Playing more or less the same gay role in "The Next Best Thing" he did in "My Best Friend's Wedding," Everett once again waltzes away with the picture. But this time the perfect friendship runs into trouble. Everett is the L.A. landscape architect Robert. His best friend is single yoga teacher Abbie (Madonna). On a night of too many cocktails and '30s show tunes, Robert and Abbie become lovers for the first and last time. Lo and behold, she becomes pregnant, and the two soulmates agree to raise their child together. They will live together as mom and dad, but not as husband and wife.It's a rich subject for a movie but the glossy, schizoid "The Next Best Thing" has little clue what to do with it. Initially, John Schlesinger's movie aims for romantic-comedy insouciance. This is a tone Everett could master in his sleep, but Madonna, for all her other talents, has never been an effortless screen presence....
  • A Trash-Talking Crusader

    Julia Roberts is flat-out terrific in "Erin Brockovich." She's playing a brash, tenacious, trash-talking heroine unlike any she's played before, and she's utterly convincing in the part. At the same time you never forget you're watching Julia Roberts, possessor of the most incandescent smile in Hollywood. This is not a dis: it's just further proof that she's a bona fide movie star. Stars, by definition, do not change their essential properties, that force of personality that connects them to an audience with an almost familial intimacy. Roberts has wasted her effervescence on many paltry projects, but she hits the jackpot this time. Erin, single mother of three, a former Miss Wichita who improbably rallies a community to take on a multi-billion-dollar corporation, is the richest role of her career, simultaneously showing off her comic, dramatic and romantic chops.It also happens to be a rousing, hugely entertaining movie. Director Steven Soderbergh, on a roll since "Out of Sight,"...
  • Lover From Another Planet

    Garry Shandling is an alien from outer space. On his advanced planet, which seems to be entirely populated by men, the ambitious citizens have no emotions and no sexual organs. Shandling is chosen to propagate the future of their species. Outfitted with a penis, he is sent to Earth on a mission to impregnate a woman and thus begin his planet's ultimate takeover of Earth. His destination: Phoenix. His alias: bank officer Harold Anderson from Seattle. His weapons: an arsenal of stale come-ons ("I like your shoes," "You smell good") that will only confirm a woman's suspicions that men are indeed from Mars.The premise of "What Planet Are You From?"--dreamed up by Shandling and Michael Leeson--sounds like the basis for a raunchy farce. The comedy that Mike Nichols has directed has its fair share of phallic jokes (the best is just a sound: the whirring noise that begins every time our randy alien is aroused), but the movie wants its satire to be taken seriously. Nichols and Shandling...
  • Winning Wei

    Not one less," the latest film from Zhang Yimou, China's foremost director, has an almost spartan simplicity. Following the historical epic "To Live" and the lush, gilded "Shanghai Triad," it feels like a palate cleanser. Zhang has returned to the harsh countryside of "The Story of Qiu Ju." As in that Gong Li film, his heroine is a stubborn, obsessive woman who journeys to the city on a monomaniacal mission.Wei Minzhi is a 13-year-old schoolgirl who has to fill in as a substitute teacher in her village's one-room schoolhouse. Only a year or two older than her charges, she hasn't much knowledge to pass on, or interest in teaching. Before he leaves to tend to his sick mother, the regular teacher exhorts her to prevent any of the students from dropping out: in this impoverished area, kids are always leaving to find jobs to help their families. He promises her a bonus if she succeeds. Wei fixates on this task, so when 10-year-old Zhang Huike vanishes from her class to search for work in...
  • Meaning At Middle Age

    Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is not having a good day. His wife leaves him in the morning. He finds out that his lover, Sara (Frances McDormand), is pregnant. She's the chancellor of the Pittsburgh college where Grady teaches creative writing--and she's married to the head of the English department (Richard Thomas). Worse yet, his prize pupil--a strange and rather morbid young man named James Leer (Tobey Maguire)--shoots Sara's blind dog and steals her husband's most prized possession, the actual jacket Marilyn Monroe was wearing when she married Joe DiMaggio. All of which occurs at a party at which Grady's editor from New York, Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.), arrives with a strikingly tall transvestite (Michael Cavadias) on his arm.This is the beginning of the misadventures of the former wonder boy Grady Tripp, an acclaimed writer who has not published a word since his first novel seven years earlier. His problem is not writer's block. Indeed, fueled by the pot he smokes from...
  • Call Waiting

    In "Hanging Up," director Diane Keaton aims for the laugh-through-your-tears mode of "Terms of Endearment." Three working sisters (Keaton, Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow), who communicate largely via telephone, are forced to deal with the imminent death of their father (Walter Matthau). Dad, a former Hollywood screenwriter (as was the father of Delia and Nora Ephron, who based their script on Delia's novel), is a monster who, though losing his marbles, can still fire off a mean one-liner. In flashback, we see the damage this alcoholic, selfish man has inflicted on his daughters. Ryan, the perpetually flustered middle daughter, is forced to deal with his hospitalization--she's the sister with "heart," as we're repeatedly told. Keaton, the family superstar, is a self-involved careerist too busy running a magazine she's named after herself to deal with the mess. Kudrow, the youngest, is a ditsy soap-opera actress who can't get anyone to take her seriously.There are some raw, uncomfortable...
  • Leonardo Misses The Wave

    A friend who'd seen a trailer for "The Beach" described it, only half joking, as a cross between "The Blue Lagoon" and "Lord of the Flies." It's easy enough to see why Danny Boyle's movie would evoke such analogies. Here are nubile young Westerners in pursuit of endless pleasure cavorting on a lush Thai tropical island. And here, of course, is paradise lost--the inevitable moment when the dreams of these young utopians turn into nightmares, and violence supersedes peace, sex and pot-laced pipe dreams."The Beach" is a much less silly film than "The Blue Lagoon," that "tasteful" 1980 exploitation film designed to showcase Brooke Shields's kiddie-porn chic. But I have a hunch that "Lagoon" will be remembered longer than Boyle's gorgeous but curiously weightless fable--in spite of the fact that it is Leonardo DiCaprio's eagerly awaited follow-up film to You Know What.DiCaprio, to his credit, has never courted matinee-idol status. The character he plays here, Richard, a young backpacker...
  • Any Given Sundance

    Demonstrative doesn't begin to describe the audiences at the recent Sundance Film Festival. Maybe they're so happy to be out of the freezing Utah air they leap to their feet to cheer just to get their circulation going. At this annual Super Bowl for independent film, anything less than a standing ovation can be taken as a snub.Still, there were some real reasons to cheer at Sundance 2000. For one, the general level of competence was higher than it has been in years, though there was no breakout sensation like "Reservoir Dogs." For another, the invading armies of Hollywood agents, hustlers and wanna-be filmmakers are no longer wearing their baseball caps backward.The shared Grand Jury Prize for best feature film actually went to the two best films in competition. Karyn Kusama's delightfully unladylike "Girlfight" is a potent mixture of Old Hollywood boy-meets-girl formula and indie grit. It introduced the strikingly sultry Michelle Rodriguez as the macho heroine Diana Guzman, a...
  • The Envelope, Please

    They came and they bonded. They also quarreled, hugged and exchanged phone numbers. NEWSWEEK invited the makers of the year's most talked-about films to discuss art, money, studios and statuettes. There were a pair of thoughtful Brits (Anthony Minghella, Sam Mendes), a feisty Canadian (Norman Jewison) and three very different, but equally driven, Americans (Michael Mann, Kimberly Peirce and M. Night Shyamalan). Excerpts: ...
  • Crazy For 'Topsy-Turvy'

    Topsy-turvy," a period film so lived-in it makes most historical movies look like costume parties, begins in the humid London summer of 1884, when Gilbert and Sullivan's latest Savoy theater production, "Princess Ida," is wilting on the boards, and the two utterly different collaborators have reached a creative impasse. The composer, Arthur Sullivan (Alan Corduner), is a hedonist and bon vivant who aspires to write more serious music. The grouchy, proper W. S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), married to the long-suffering, childless Lucy (Lesley Manville), writes the clever librettos, whose inspired silliness seems an unlikely outgrowth of such an anhedonic man.Mike Leigh's wonderful, bittersweet film (voted best picture of the year by both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics) isn't actually about their collaboration--they work separately, and have surprisingly few scenes together. It's Leigh's loving but tough-minded salute to the creative process...
  • You Oughta Be In Videos

    The new century is only a few days old and already the media world has been turned topsy-turvy. It isn't just the merger of AOL and Time Warner that's got people furiously gazing at their crystal balls. From the snowy slopes of Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival just kicked off, to the synergy-mad suites at Sony Pictures, movie people are pondering the impact of the looming digital revolution. Twenty years from now, will movies as we know them be as quaint as a horse and buggy?Orson Welles once wrote that the central fact that distinguishes the filmmaker from other artists is that "he can never afford his own tools." Never say never, Orson. Today you can shoot a movie on a digital video camera for less than $2,000. Throw in an additional $1,500 for an iMac DV computer and you can do all your own editing, special effects and titles. Look at it this way: an hour of video costs about $10 to $20. A minute of film costs roughly $100 to shoot, develop and print, according...
  • A Blue Season

    Let's face it once and for all: Hollywood has no concept of winter holiday fare (what do you expect from a town where it never snows?). Every year it happens, as routine as clockwork: all that people in the industry think about is the prospects for their stinking Oscars. "We've got to save the serious stuff for the year-end," they tell themselves, convinced that no motion-picture Academy member has a functioning memory. (You'll get no argument here.) So let's check out what the movie biz deems Quality this season. Are they right? We rate Hollywood's hopefuls on a scale of one to five stars.Any Given Sunday Warner Bros. (4 stars)The matchup of Oliver Stone and pro football makes a not-so-surprisingly good fit: after all, Vince Lombardi often compared football to war, and war is Stone's favorite cinematic turf. Stone hurls the audience onto the field, surrounding us with the most bone-crunching, earth-shaking game of football ever put on film. The Miami Sharks--coached by veteran Tony...
  • A Little Advice For A Little Man Named Oscar

    Hollywood will reveal its Oscar nominees on Feb. 9. Meanwhile, Newsweek's David Ansen offers his pick of the truly deserving movies and performances of 1999. It was a year of surprises: who could have predicted that "The Matrix" would outdazzle "The Phantom Menace," that "The Blair Witch Project" and "The Sixth Sense" would rule the box-office charts, that a movie would transport us inside John Malkovic's brain? There was a lot to cherish in the century's final year—enough to make us forget we had to sit through "Wild Wild West."The InsiderToy Story 2MagnoliaAmerican BeautyJim BroadbentJim CarreyDenzel WashingtonKevin SpaceyHilary Swank 'Boys Don't CryElodie BouchezKate WinsletAnnette Bening Tom Cruise 'MagnoliaHaley Joel OsmentJohn MalkovichTerrence Howard Lesley Manville 'Topsy-TurvySamantha MortonAngelina JolieChloe SevignyRosetta (Belgium)Autumn Tale (France)All About My MotherShow Me LoveI Stand Alone
  • A Blue Christmas

    Let's face it once and for all: Hollywood has no concept of Christmas fare (what do you expect from a town where it never snows?). Every year it happens: all they think about are their stinking Oscars. "We've got to save the serious stuff for year's end," they tell themselves, persuaded that no Academy member has a functioning memory. (No argument here.) So let's check out what the movie biz deems Quality. Are they right? We rate them on a scale of one to five Xmas trees. ...
  • Red Alert

    It's always a shock to run into a Hollywood movie with a sense of history, much less one as ambitious as Tim Robbins's "Cradle Will Rock." Perhaps inspired by the mural Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) commissioned from Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) for Rockefeller Center, Robbins has mounted a swirling mural of his own, attempting to capture the political and artistic fever of New York in the mid-'30s. Here are Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen), producer John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and composer Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) mounting their Federal Theatre production of the political musical "The Cradle Will Rock," when it is suddenly shut down by the government on the eve of production. Here are socialist Rivera and millionaire Rockefeller fighting over control of that doomed mural (never mind that this took place three years earlier). Here are a Jewish Mussolini sympathizer (Susan Sarandon) trying to raise money for Il Duce from rich industrialists, a fake countess with bohemian urges ...