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Tsotsi

"Tsotsi" means "thug" in South African dialect. Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae, in a remarkable debut) is a thug, all right, from the slums of Johannesburg. He glares constantly, as if always boiling with rage. He is cruel, violent, and humorless. He surrounds himself with other thugs, and together they go to the central train terminal, where they find their victims. They rob people who are unguarded enough to flash a wad of bills when they are paying for a newspaper. When they return to their slums, they spend their stolen money gambling at dice, and when it runs out, they go steal again. Tsotsi seems to be practically unredeemable. And then something unexpected happens.

‘The End of the Spear” and “Curious George”

Both are about journeys from the cosmopolitan United States to the jungles of another continent. In both, the central characters are nice, trusting, non-violent, and affectionate. In both, the first foray ends in great disappointment, but perseverance pays off when the second attempt succeeds. In both, there is a kind of determined optimism, almost to the point of suspending disbelief. In both, love triumphs, but it's not always romantic love that matters, but the genuine caring that binds one being to another despite their unlikely alliance.

A Good Woman

Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden. (Proverbs 30: 18-19)

 

There's a decided disadvantage to making a movie of a play. It's probably going to look "staged"--lots of conversation, lots of character interaction, plot development through dialogue, but it all feels confined to tight quarters. There are a couple of decided advantages, though, of converting a successful play into a movie: the snappy repartee is already audience-tested, and the ending is going to feel like a finale.

"A Good Woman" is based on Oscar Wilde's 1892 play, "Lady Windermere's Fan." There's a mature kind of jocularity here, as if it's the older folks who are funny, intelligent, and wise, and the younger folks are physically handsome, but tend to be victimized by their own immaturity, ardor, and impulsiveness. But, of course, there's no fool like an old fool, and the young have to be prevented from being impaled by their own principles.

Glory Road

It's 1965. Vietnam was on television, and so was Lyndon Johnson. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading the Civil Rights movement, and racism in America was both subtle and overt, particularly in the Deep South. Bouffant hairdos. Motown sound on the radio. And college basketball was a white man's game.

It's not that there weren't some black players. But the ones who toughed out the taunts from the stands had to endure the unwritten expectations of Division One competition: You can play one black at home, two on the road, and three if you're desperately behind. But a whole team of blacks would be undisciplined, would only be capable of the "playground" game, no teamwork, all "showboating."

Don Haskins was a successful high school girls' basketball coach. Sure, he had dreams of coaching a men's program at the college level, and he was amazed when he was offered the position at Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso). He didn't realize they had no recruiting budget, little talent to work with, and few expectations even of itself. He set out to change all that. He wanted to go recruit some good players. So he scoured the playgrounds, not only in Texas, but also in places like Gary, Indiana, and Harlem. He told those black kids that if they followed his program, they would play. And so a dedicated group of seven black players all accepted scholarships. And Haskins (played capably by Josh Lucas) went about trying to shape them into a team.

Mrs. Henderson Presents

It's an old story: aging widow is left with lots of money and little to do. She tries needlework, charity work but finds the other old biddies dreary and tiresome. She definitely doesn't want to be like them. She visits the grave of her only son, who died at 21 years of age on some field in France, fighting the Germans. His headstone is in the middle of a neat, crowded row of other headstones, silent, mocking monuments to the "War to end all wars."  

Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) has a car, and driver, furs, an elegant estate, and all of one lady friend. She's sharp-tongued, sharp-witted, and is often construed as rude, selfish, and eccentric. She's also bored to tears. She desperately needs an occupation, and could really use a cause.

One day she happens upon an old, closed-down theater called "The Windmill." It's London, during the Depression. On a whim, she buys it. She then contracts with a local out-of-work but experienced manager, Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). They like each other because every time they meet, it's a clash of wit and will. It gets the blood pumping for both of them.

Oh, and they hit on a formula that keeps the blood pumping for their patrons. It seems that the Windmill Theater initially enjoyed significant success with the modest innovation of the continuous musical revue. But then, all the other theaters copied them, and they were no longer unique. Sales slumped. Mrs. Henderson quite seriously suggests to Mr. Van Damm that a true innovation would be if their girls were nude. Mr. Van Damm acts shocked, but can't help but be intrigued by the idea. He says the authorities would never allow it. It turns out that Mrs. Henderson knows the particular government administrator, and she wears him down with her bargaining technique, until he finally allows it, but only if the women in question are completely still, like a sculpture in a museum.

King Kong

The long-term appeal of "King Kong" is the unique dynamic of the Beast being attracted to Beauty, as she brings out his softer, gentler side. In this re-make, the Beast protects her, enjoys a sunset with her, laughs with her, and is even playful with her. But, of course, he's too brutish to survive in this world, because he's too much of a threat to others.

This version of "King Kong" is set in the 1930's, like the original. It's actually three movies of one hour each: the prelude and the voyage, the island, and the return.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe”

It's London, during the Blitz. Frightened by the bombing, mothers (the fathers have gone for soldiers) are putting their children on trains to visit any relative who might live out in the countryside. And so Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, who look to be about six, ten, fourteen, and sixteen, find themselves in a ramshackle old home out in the country with an overbearing housekeeper, an absent relative, and a lot of spare time on their hands. During a rainy-afternoon game of hide-and-seek, Lucy stumbles into an old wardrobe, and when she tries to hide in the back of it, she finds herself in another land!  

Red Eye

We've all been conditioned to fear the Saudi, the terrorist with the thick Middle Eastern accent and the half-crazed look in his eye. But what if we board a plane on a "red-eye" flight and the killer turns out to be a nice, slender, attractive, blue-eyed Anglo?

Wes Craven delivers a straight suspense movie, no tricks, nothing supernatural, not sci-fi. It's the story line that propels this movie, and the stars do a nice job of taking us all for the ride.

Dark Water

"Dark Water" is one of those creepy/tingly films that you don't think you want to see, then pulls you into its dreary, dank interior until you go home not wanting to turn on a water faucet.

Jennifer Connelly plays Dahlia, a just-separated Mom in the midst of trying to work with mediators about the visitation arrangements. It's wearying business. Each parent is trying to undermine the other, and both firmly believe they're operating in the best interests of the child, but they're too emotionally involved to separate that from their own best interests. The Dad, Kyle (Dougray Scott) is not portrayed as an uncaring monster, but is just frustrated enough to be believable, especially as he loses his temper over the way she remembers a shared past. He thinks she's re-writing history. She thinks that he could not possibly be as good a parent as she is. And so they stalk off to their respective desultory apartments.

Kingdom of Heaven

Yes, it's the Crusades, and the Church can't help but come off badly: you'll save your immortal soul if you'll go kill some infidels?

But for those who love the Church, it's worse than that: early on, the parish priest goes to the blacksmith's shop to assure the young recent widower that his wife is surely in Hell because she committed suicide (after the death of her baby). Not only that, the "helpful" priest reminds the grieving blacksmith that his wife's head was severed prior to burial, so she's in Hell headless, as well. This gruesome representative of the Church doesn't promise the young blacksmith that going on the Crusade will deliver his wife from Hell, but does try the "save your own soul" appeal. We hardly want to blame the enraged blacksmith for applying his rage to the incredibly insensitive priest.

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