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Cinema Signal:

Make Gentle the Life of This World:
The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy
by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
. "Bobby"

This is a vehicle disaster movie in the genre of a "Poseidon" and "United 93" in which an ensemble of players give you vignettes of their lives in an effort to create bonds and sympathetic reaction when the disaster-bound ship, plane, island or whatever goes down. The vehicle of disaster is, in this case, the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where Robert Kennedy was assassinated after his acceptance speech for the win in California's primary election. The setting doesn't move, of course, but the story formula is the same.

Mini-stories overflow like an untended pudding in the kitchen. You have your hotel greeter John Casey (Anthony Hopkins playing it for all the nostalgia to be squeezed from the iconic setting and circumstances); aging, doting resident Nelson (Harry Belafonte, full of philosophy); nightclub singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) and manager-husband Tim (Emilio Estevez, the writer-director); sexy phone operator Angela and sideline squeeze for the philandering manager Paul (Heather Graham and William H. Macy); his hurt, faithful wife Samantha (Helen Hunt); chief chef Edward Robinson (Laurence Fishburne); pantry worker Jose (Freddy Rodriguez); hairdresser, cheated wife, and erstwhile psychotherapist Miriam (Sharon Stone); and the strangest story of all, Diane (Lindsay Lohan), a girl who is marrying her dead brother's friend William (Elijah Wood) to keep him out of the Vietnam draft.

Believe it or not, I've left a few of the 22 characters out. (Did I mention Christian Slater and Ashton Kutcher?).

Though many clips of Bobby Kennedy are included to provide the course of outside political events in the primaries of 1968 and keep us reminded of what this assemblage of people is all about (awaiting his arrival for a speech), it is, thankfully, not focused on him. It's primarily focused on the human foibles and ironies of the staff and guests on the ship heading for the shoals of political disaster that was painfully personal for many of us who voted for the man.

In that, as a reminder of a historical tragedy for a later generation, wrapped up into a pop movie so as to appeal to that generation, I pat writer-director Estevez on the back. As an evocation of cultural issues we now find intolerable and music of the time (Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Moody Blues, Simon & Garfunkel and more), it works nicely, as well. But praise stops there. By comparison to afore-mentioned disaster vessels, in terms of writing, this one is sunk.

Film editor Richard Chew did a good, pro job of keeping the story flows coherent. Out of all of them, the events in the pantry, and busboy Jose's angst over not being able to use his tickets to the Dodger game left the deepest sense of reality and involvement. In addition, it makes a significant contribution to the real story being re-created, offering a suggestion of background on the real busboy who held Bobby's head as he lay dying on the kitchen floor in the famous photo by Boris Yaro.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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