RADIO (A-2, PG): James (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) walks along
a rural road in South Carolina with a shopping cart full of his
small treasures. The mentally-challenged man is, in the words
of his mother (S. Epatha Merkerson), the same as everyone
else, just a little slower than most.
James gets the cart going, hops in for a ride and throws his
arms up in joy as the wind rushes across his face. It is a beautiful
day in a happy world.
James comes to the Hanna High School football field, picks up
a stray football, puts it in his cart and walks off. Some of the
team members, especially Johnny (Riley Smith), take note. Later
the boys take James into a room, tie him up and taunt him. The
high school coach (Ed Harris) rescues the terrified young man.
Coach Jones is not good at relationships, but there is something
about James that captivates him. He begins to look out for James,
whom he calls Radio because of his love for music
and old radios.
Radio, based on real-life events, is told in the inspirational
style of such earlier sports films as Remember
the Titans (2000), Rudy (1993) and Hoosiers
(1986). Director Mike Tollin learned of the relationship in a
1996 Sports Illustrated story (Someone to Lean On,
by Gary Smith).
This film will evoke tears but it is not overly sentimental.
Its strength lies in the manner in which it reveals friendship,
acceptance, empathy, tolerance, diversity and generosity. Radio
learns from his coach and the school. But, more importantly, he
brings a lesson on being human to Coach Jones and the people of
Anderson. Mildly problematic language and themes.
SECONDHAND LIONS (A-2, PG): Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) needs
to spend the summer studying court reporting, so she deposits
her 14-year-old son, Walter (Haley Joel Osment), at the farm of
his great-uncles in rural Texas. She tells Walter to find out
where the uncles hid the money people believe they stole: The
men had been missing for 40 years.
The two uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine),
know nothing about raising kids. They sit on the front porch and
exude eccentricity. They fire their shotguns at anyone who dares
to visit them. They send off for a retired lion so they can keep
up their big-game hunting skills.
Hub sleepwalks down to the pond and dreams of the past. Both
men have marvelous stories of great adventures and lost loves.
But are they criminals or heroes?
Lions is about two aging, tough and tender brothers who
take in a young boy. In their own way, they give him love and
In addition, they provide him with a much-needed male presence
in his life. Their masculinity involves the elements we see all
too much in contemporary entertainment: They shoot rifles, drink
alcohol, chew tobacco and use their fists to solve problems.
But the uncles also show Walter that men can live and love deeply.
They really lived, says Walter at the end, after his
own life is transformed. Fans of Duvall and Caine should enjoy
this entertaining and imaginative tale. Some violence and problem
OPEN RANGE (A-3, R) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO
(O, R): The first film focuses on cowboys grazing their small
herd on the open range. When Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charley
(Kevin Costner) send Mose (Abraham Benrubi) to the nearest town
for supplies, he is harassed by the men who work for Baxter (Michael
Gambon), a rancher who despises free rangers.
The sheriff is on Baxters payroll and most of the town
is intimidated by the rancher. Boss, who says he does not like
violence, opines that Baxter may need killing.
Charley, who was an expert gunman in the Civil War, says, I
got no problem with that.
Against a gorgeous landscape, Boss and Charley, with the help
of some of the locals and the sister of the town doctor (Annette
Bening), elicit revenge to protect the rights of the people and
the cattlemen. The battle is long, brutal, bloody and horribly
Range (directed by Kevin Costner) perpetuates the Western
myth of silent, larger-than-life heroes who conquered the land
and oppressors, and the often ambiguous values that guided them.
Violence and some problem language.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (written and directed by Robert
Rodriguez and a sequel to El Mariachi and Desperado) brings the
same story of oppression, corruption and greed from the micro
(American West) to the macro, the global stage (Mexico), and from
the past to the present.
A psychotic C.I.A. agent (Johnny Depp) tracks down El Mariachi
(Antonio Banderas) and hires him to prevent the assassination
of the president by the head of a drug cartel and the rogue military.
The drug lords daughter is a dirty cop. The C.I.A. agents
plan goes awry and El Mariachi gets revenge and does battle for
the freedom of the Mexican people.
This battle is also long, brutal, bloody and incredibly violent.
El Mariachi is a mythic hero whose ambiguous values and actions
provide an overarching story that seems intended to give courage
to the people. Strong violence, problem language, brief nudity.
Open Range (which I did not like because it is too slow,
self-conscious and ambitious for a very thin story) and Once
Upon a Time in Mexico (which I at least appreciated because
it is offbeat, honest and shorter) are two films that basically
tell the same story. The good guys, however flawed, will risk
their lives for the freedom of others.
While Range pitted (U.S.) Americans against one another
in a situation that no longer exists, Mexico shows how U.S. government
agencies try to manipulate events in our times on the world stage:
in this case, North Americans against one another.
I would not take my grandmother to either film, but as pastoral
people, it behooves us to listen to the cry of the oppressed wherever
we hear it.
HBO continues to launch original and innovative programming with
this fly-on-the-wall half-hour program on the political
process inside Washington, D.C.s Beltway. Directed by Steven
Soderbergh and George Clooney, K Street is like The West Wing
(minus the flash) mixed with Meet the Press.
Real-life Democrat James Carville and wife, Republican Mary Matalin,
are in the midst of starting a consulting firm in K Street
and they are always a good watch. Now well have to see if
this blend of fiction and fact, actors and politicos, can be bipartisan
or, as Mary mutters at the end of the first episode, will it be
too good to be true? Adult language and content.
SAINTS PRESERVED (The History Channel, October 30): This one-hour
special by Paulist Productions is a look at the phenomenon of
the incorruptibles, those holy persons whose bodies have not decayed
over the centuries. It goes beyond trivia to help the viewer understand
whats most important about the saints: that they practiced
charity to a heroic degree.
OH DAVEY! HISTORY OF THE DAVEY AND GOLIATH TELEVISION
SERIES: Following renewed interest in the series that began when
PepsiCo obtained rights to use Davey and Goliath for a Mountain
Dew commercial, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has
produced a one-hour documentary on its hit TV series that ran
between 1962 and 1977.
Mary McDonough (The Waltons) is one of the narrators who trace the series from
its inception as a values-based series to teach children that God loves them, through
an in-depth look at stop-motion animation and into the future for these two characters.
The documentary will air through November 2003 on ABC affiliates across the country. Check
local listings (www.daveyandgoliath.org).