Prediction: There'll be nary a dry eye when audiences witness archival footage of Robert Kennedy's speeches in Bobby, writer-director Emilio Estevez's ambitious attempt to examine a turbulent decade through the prism of a single event. "This much is clear," the soon-to-be-assassinated presidential candidate observes at one point, "violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul."
A Nashville wannabe without Robert Altman's subtle wit, the new film - opening in the Burlington area this week at the Roxy and Palace 9 - ponders the American dreams about to be dashed by the death of RFK. His legacy is reflected in the myriad perspectives of employees, guests and campaign workers gathered at the scene of the impending crime, the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, on the night of California's June 1968 Democratic primary.
The overlapping stories of 22 key characters address war, racism, women's equality and immigration, among other issues percolating back then. But that very topicality tends to stymie an all-star ensemble cast, which must recite heaps of Important Dialogue rather than engage in realistic conversations.
Anthony Hopkins, a Bobby executive producer, portrays a retired doorman who hangs out in the lobby reminiscing with an old pal (Harry Belafonte). A bigoted kitchen supervisor (Christian Slater) is fired for not allowing the black and Latino staff time off to vote. A waiter (Freddy Rodriguez) comes across as one of the good guys. Ditto for a chef (Laurence Fishburne), who suggests how people of color can navigate the nation's dominant white culture.
Goddard College graduate and part-time Woodbury resident William H. Macy appears as the Ambassador's manager, an improbable lothario cheating on his in-house beautician wife (Sharon Stone) with an in-house switchboard operator (Heather Graham). Another soap opera unfolds as a boozing cabaret singer (Demi Moore), slated to perform at the hotel, continually berates her passive husband (Estevez). The actress' real-life spouse, Ashton Kutcher, pops up in the role of a hippie drug dealer. Helen Hunt and Martin Sheen, as a wealthy New York couple, are mostly there to give the director's dad a gig.
This wouldn't be a contemporary Hollywood production without darling-of-the-tabloids Lindsay Lohan; here she plays a girl marrying a guy she knows (Elijah Wood) so he won't be sent to Vietnam. Joshua Jackson, Nick Cannon and Shia LaBeouf portray young idealists stumping for Kennedy, whose passionate eloquence is a reminder that the country lost a true visionary that day.
Still living in the Plainfield home where he was born, Ben Youngbaer found himself bitten by the cinema bug about five years ago. Video camera in hand, he began documenting fellow skateboarders. A 2004 summer session at Fledgling Films, the Lyndonville program for teens, led him to an opportunity in Massachusetts: handling cinematography on a peer's still-unreleased project.
Now 19, Youngbaer is unveiling his own first feature, Amitié. On November 25 he hosts an 8 p.m. screening at the Barre Opera House. (Details at www.barreoperahouse.org or 566-3556.) As the French title implies, this is a tale that concerns friendship.
"It's about a group of young adults who meet under strange circumstances," Youngbaer explains. "My script is slightly autobiographical, but mostly based on people I know."
His saga is reminiscent of Slacker, the generation-defining 1991 Richard Linklater movie about loquacious but not necessarily articulate college-age kids prone to aimlessness. Youngbaer's protagonists are initially chatty and discursive. About two-thirds of the way through Amitié, however, the lighthearted narrative suddenly veers into tragedy.
Youngbaer and some of his actors composed music for the soundtrack, which also spotlights work by local bands. In addition, he bought the rights to a song by Radiohead.
The nonprofessional cast, half of whom worked as crew, includes Youngbaer's parents. His mother Jane is a teacher; his father Peter is executive director of the People's Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre. Both are credited as producers of an enterprise their son shot primarily in central Vermont on a $10,000 budget.
"My family helped with the finances," notes Youngbaer, who hopes to arrange a Green Mountain State town-hall tour for Amitié and submit it to festivals.
He probably won't attend a film school. "I'm not sure I want a degree, but I definitely want a future in film," Youngbaer says. "Learning hands-on seems like the best way. I'm just seeing where this takes me." Prediction: There'll be nary a dry eye when audiences witness archival footage of Robert Kennedy's speeches in Bobby, writer-director Emilio Estevez's ambitious attempt to examine a turbulent decade through the prism of a single event. "This much is clear," the soon-to-be-assassinated presidential candidate observes at one point, "violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul."
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