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Two Film Reviews By Alex Grant

Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam
Directed by Neil LaBute

The marriage of world class but glib misanthropic film-maker Neil LaBute to the preening polymath literary lioness A.S. Byatt could have produced a very ungainly, unbecoming offspring. Byatt’s huge tome (five hundred plus pages) Possession took the Booker Prize in 1990.
Like John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Byatt’s novel interweaves past and present in its account of two love affairs: One Victorian and C19th; the other Elizabethan C20th. You could rename the movie as The English Lesbian’s Man.
Possession has been scripted and directed so as to ruthlessly simplify the obtusely mock-poetic and rhapsodic novel into a seemingly juvenile or adolescent bodice-ripper/Harlequin Romance.
The process of dumbing down its literary source leaves the film Possession superficially no more than an empty travelogue vessel.
The handsome, dashing lovers in the 1859 episodes flit from luxuriant Anglo country houses to lavish Gallic chateaux – by way of evocative waterfalls and sylvan trysting places. Europe has seldom looked so captivating. Glistening cobblestones, dreaming spires, and bosky groves galore.
A New Yorker glossy travel insert come to life.
Yet director LaBute and his pair of top draw scenarists – playwriter David Henry Hwang and arch-feminist Laura Jones – are capable of daring sleight of hand.
Just when you think you can safely sink into an eiderdown comforter of a self-indulgent bodice-ripper, the film-makers haul a colony of frisky white rabbits from out of their shiny top hat.
They cuff us briskly around the ears at the exact moment we are about to surrender to the rampant romantic poppycock they have confected to lead us gullible romantics entirely astray.
The ill-fated outcome of the passionate adultery of the Victorian couple, two poets – one a former follower of Sappho: the other a man, who for far too long has "understood" his wife’s frigidity – involves both a ghastly suicide and a beautiful love-child.
These two revelations ground Possession in a moving adult undertow of genuine regret and remorse. Suddenly, the film divests itself of the trappings of hollow Harlequin moaning and groaning and becomes worthy of our respect by reminding us forcibly of our own emotional reality.

Neil LaBute

A Film Review By Alex Grant

Angela Bassett - Desiree
Perry Edie Falco - Marly Temple
James McDaniel - Reggie Perry
Ralph Waite - Furman Temple
Richard Edson - Steve Tregaskis
Miguel Ferrer - Lester
Timothy Hutton - Jack Meadows
Mary Steenburgen - Francine Pickney
Jane Alexander - Delia Temple
Marc Blucas - Scotty Duval
Gordon Clapp - Earl Pickney
Alan King - Murray Silver
Mary Alice - Eunice Stokes
Bill Cobbs - Dr. Lloyd
Tom Wright - Flash Phillips
Alexander Lewis - Terrell

Directed by John Sayles
Bill cobbs and Angela Bassett

Writer-director John Sayles, at age 55, has over a a twenty year period painstakingly and laboriously learned how to infuse telling visual imagery into the smart-as-a-whip, choc-a-bloc with detail scenarios that he has wittily been penning since his debut 'The Return of the Secaucus Seven'. With 'Sunshine State' Sayles brings to bear unnervingly well his customary gift for brisk, no-nonsense dialogue; his well-versed affinity for bringing out the very best of sincerity from his cast. More importantly he shows a previously untapped talent for surreal imagery and delicate, other-worldly editing. Too often in the past, with the exception of his masterly 'Lone Star', Sales has severely sold short his lucid scripts with inept scene-setting and ham-fisted visualization, despite his powerful thematic drive. 'Sunshine State', an ambitious multi-layered satire on progress as the all-American rampant vice, is set in idyllic Florida backwater. Plantation Island is divided into two racially segregated communities: white Delrona Beach and black Lincoln Beach. The film offers a rich panoply almost entirely devoid of Sayles preachiness and droning didacticism. For once the filmmaker simply tells his tale by means of both a resonant visual style and a punchy pictorial panache. A host of credible characters cope with the insistent ingratiating influx of corrupting latter-day carpetbaggers­real estate developers bent upon slashing and burning the past.

In the Deep South, the Civil War has never ended. Nowadays, lawyers, accountants, landscape architects and their cronies are the front-line troops battling in the corporate trenches hand-to-hand. I would prefer not to hand out kudos to individual players. The cast is uniformly strong committed and uncannily vivid in each of their portrayals of modern muddle-headed men and women. An overwhelming undertow of melancholy and profound dissatisfaction with public and private selves ebbs and flows throughout the two hours, twenty-one minutes of Sayles¹ superb Sunshine State. It is a cutting commentary on the dilemmas of the heartless, capitalistic engine grinding down both dissent and diversity, seeking conformity and a scorched-earth denial of a common past, or what is known as history.

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