THE MIGHTY (A-2, PG-13):
Christmas Eve is a time of wonderful events in movie stories, and
it proves an apt setting for the climax here. In 1990's Cincinnati,
two outsider kids follow the ideals of the King Arthur legend.
This inspiring tale
is told with heart and imaginative flourish by Brit director Peter
Chelsom, whose 1991 Irish-tenor movie Hear My Song has become
a standard joy on video. The high school odd couple are Kevin (Kieran
Culkin), the bright, dwarfish victim of a degenerative disease, and
Max (Elden Henson), an introspective, gentle giant who fears he'll
become a criminal like his father.
Instead of turning
against the kids who torment them, they use their combination of brains
and brawn "to fight for all those who ask for help." They achieve
virtue, wisdom and a symbolic immortality. Sharon Stone is touching
as Kevin's loving single mom, and Gillian Anderson shines as one of
the boys' "damsels in distress." Recommended fantasy uplift, especially
for younger audiences.
DREAMS MAY COME
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME
(A-3, PG-13): Tragedy befalls blissful, deeply-in-love soulmates Chris
and Annie (Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra) when first their children
and then Chris die in auto crashes. A despairing Annie commits suicide.
In this Orpheus-like story, if Annie is sent to an eternal
limbo-like hell, can Chris rescue her?
The afterlife is in
the style of 19th-century painting and is less Christian (Dante, it's
not) than a mix of Greek-Roman underworld legends and reincarnation
theories. New Zealander director Vincent (The Map of the Human
Heart) Ward's concept of paradise is sometimes dazzling but self-oriented,
with God only a rumor.
curious high school retreat questions: Can you be happy in heaven
if a beloved one doesn't make it? It offers a pretty portrait of immortality.
And if it represents the joy of heaven only by analogy to the best
of human romantic love, for now it's probably the best we can do.
Flawed, but poignant and provocative; satisfactory for mature viewers.
RONIN (A-3, R) inspires
a nostalgia for the way action movies used to be: exciting low-tech
stunts in real locations performed by actors rather than computers,
tough men and women who understate their feelings, with the squeamish
scenes detailing courage rather than savagery.
Titled after a group
of samurai warriors doomed to wander the country hiring out their
skills after their feudal lord is killed, Ronin is post-Cold
War in tone. Five former agentsdisillusioned and needing the cashare
hired by Irish terrorists to steal a mysterious suitcase being transported
by gangsters. The French locations (Paris, Nice, Arles) with their
steep hills, narrow streets and landmark sights are alone worth the
Classy veteran director
John Frankenheimer (Days of Wine and Roses), whose late career
has fixed on thrillers, offers shootouts, car chases (the terrified
actors are actually in the cars) and surgical operations without anesthetic.
No great literary or
moral depth here, but there's lots of style. This film offers cool
acting by Robert De Niro (as the American ex-C.I.A.), Jean Reno (as
the unexcitable Frenchman), and Natascha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce
(as ruthless IRA fanatics). Guns but no bedrooms; solid genre entertainment
HAVE & TO HOLD
TO HAVE & TO HOLD
(CBS, Wednesdays): This comedy-drama, anchored to the floor by Boston-Irish
cliches and some inept stories, will likely be dead by the time you
read this. But it's worth a note because of its frankly Catholic context
and the appeal of stars Moira Kelly
and Jason Beghe. They play Annie and Sean, an improbable feminist
public defender-tough police detective couple who really like each
Kelly and Beghe are
a delight, but Annie's court cases and the Irish neighbors and in-laws
are hard to take, especially Sean's control-freak mom who keeps coming
over and his younger brother, who's a cop. A historical cinematic
note: While the leads hug in the bedroom in an early episode, their
TV is tuned to a moment in the love subplot of Song of Bernadette.
The Catholic references
are sometimes fun (family banter about the Immaculate Conception that
becomes plot relevant) or useful to the story (a crooked charity scammer
arouses Sean's suspicions when he claims to say the rosary daily at
lunch) or deeply touching (Annie and Sean ponder the possibility of
having a retarded child and conclude, "You fall in love with the child
Mostly Annie and Sean
are wise, extremely huggable and deft at conveying the pure joy of
being young and in love. Unfortunately for the series, it depends
on its law and police aspects, and falls short of very tough standards
set by the better network dramas. Nice chemistry, unlikely future.
L.A. DOCTORS (CBS, Mondays):
Compassion seems the main distinguishing ingredient in this new medical
drama. But in its first month, this show about four affluent docs
who open an idealistic, patient-centered private practice didn't hit
a championship stride.
A typical episode subplot
mixes farce, personal angst and social relevance. An irate doc (Matt
Craven) comically tracks down an HMO supervisor in the office before
being tricked by his phony pleas for mercy. Another (Ken Olin) doesn't
communicate well with his father. The youngest (Rick Roberts) realizes
he knows nothing about a young Latino selling oranges he passes each
day in his fancy convertible.
Maybe this isn't that
bad. Even average dramas in recent years always look good compared
to sitcoms. The medical area is obviously fertile for nitty-gritty
human stories, and L.A. Docs has that potential. For now, it
needs creative energy in writing and production. Survival would make
it the third-best medic show on prime time. Satisfactory, but needs
a reason to exist.
SPORTS NIGHT (ABC, Tuesdays)
has a little class from creative movie people (Ron Howard, Aaron Sorkin),
and all its compromises with commerce and formula were conceded in
a superb New Yorker piece describing how it made it to air.
The series emerges as a reasonably fresh broadcast-workplace sitcom
(like ESPN's SportsCenter) with a familiar bunch of characters,
including a really tough female producer (Felicity Huffman) and a
hero anchor, Casey (Peter Krause).
One show involved bright
dialogue about nothing (Seinfeld effect), for example, whether
a fly did or did not buzz Casey during a broadcast. The morality is
at a Friends level. The freshest joke was that it cost $2,500
in royalties for co-anchor Dan (Josh Charles) to sing a spontaneous
"Happy Birthday" to Casey on camera, and if you're gonna do that,
you better use tunes in the public domain, like "O, Dem Golden Slippers."
So far, the best things
about SN are that it spoofs sports and uses a very quiet laugh
track. Above the usual standards of TV literacy, this could be
a late bloomer and may get enough time to prove it.
WILL AND GRACE (NBC,
Mondays) aims to repeat the vibes from the film My Best Friend's
Wedding of a friendship between a gay man and an attractive straight
woman, which is not all that unusual in ordinary life. They have the
pleasure of difference, but not the tension of sex and how it will
all end. They often share feelings, interests and senses of humor
unlikely in more conventional pairs.
some of this in the rapid-fire banter and stresses between pals, New
York lawyer Will (Eric McCormack), gay but nonstereotypical, and decorator
Grace (Debra Messing), a smart, funny redhead hopeful of being a bride.
But the real comic hit is Jack (Sean Hayes), Will's theatrical gay
friend who is not effeminate but otherwise predictably over-the-top.
In the La Cage Aux Folles tradition, he's more laughed at than
Perhaps the most valuable
part of this series is that it shows gays and straights mixing and
accepting each other with ease and civility. (It's not part of the
faith to dislike gay characters.) W&G is likely to have
problems because it centers on a relationship that is non-climactic
by definition. For now, it widens TV access to more realistic gay
humor and is clearly another nudge in the moral-cultural wars.
AFRICANS IN AMERICA
(PBS documentary): This hypnotic four-part series that aired in October
is by the creators of Eyes on the Prize. It reworks American
history from the perspective of slavery, the experience we seem desperate
to forget. The style owes a lot to Ken Burns: insight by historians,
readings from personal letters, portraits, natural locales, evocative
symbols like torches and ropes, and haunting music.
It's a part of the
American story that explains who we are and why freedom is
a holy word for blacks. The facts surprise many of us: 500,000 slaves
in the colonies in 1776; two million in the decades before the Civil
War. We learn about the destruction of the African family structure
(in slave marriages, "Let no man put asunder" was omitted). Sold away
from his wife and children, one man is told, "You can always get another
wife in Georgia."
We ponder the legacy
of the cotton gin, which enriched the South but expanded slavery,
and the huge impact of the 19th-century evangelical Christian missionaries
who preached the equality of all people in the eyes of God.
The theme is the contrast
between slavery and our ideals, with Thomas Jefferson, as the conflicted
author of "All men are created equal," as an example. In school, we
revered Yorktown as a great climactic victory, never realizing that
afterward thousands of black refugees were driven from the British
camp and guards lined the beaches to prevent their escape to the boats.
The series, exec produced
by Orlando Bagwell, is classic educational TV. Only Angela Bassett's
overly gentle narration and the quiet pace seemed less than required.
But this story carries its own rage, sorrow and tragedy.