Here's the latest reviews for Our Sunday Visitor. I got on the list for 
advance screenings, so now I can see films before they open, with the other 
critics. Barbershop opened last Friday, and Four Feathers will open this 
coming Fri. The idea for a parish "video club" I got from St. Luke Orthodox 
Church in Palos Hills, IL, a very warm & lively church near Chicago where I 
spoke about a year ago. If you have movies you want to recommend, let me 
know. 

If you haven't been to my website lately, check out the updated photos. Four 
grandbabies, count 'em!

***

Our Sunday Visitor, Sept 29, 2002

Toward the beginning of "The Four Feathers," news arrives at an opulent 
Victorian military ball that "an army of Mohammedan fanatics" has attacked a 
British fort in the Sudan. A clergyman reminds the soldiers and their ladies 
that "the Lord has endowed the British race with a world-wide empire," and 
the soldiers will soon achieve "victories…over the heathen." 

For a film timed to open soon after the September 11 anniversary, such words 
would seem to herald an examination of contemporary tensions. Not so, and 
it's probably a good thing. The novel, "The Four Feathers," by A. E. W. 
Mason, was first published in 1902, and aimed to be a swashbuckling romance 
rather than a political treatise. Mason used the British-Sudanese struggle of 
1875 as a backdrop to examine the nature of cowardice and of courage, and 
then wove in a love story to raise the stakes. 

Thus, although director Shekhar Kapur (a native of India) would have clearly 
loved to skewer British imperialism, Mason's plot tended firmly in the 
opposite direction. Kapur has to content himself with tricks like putting the 
desert soldiers in red jackets so they'll look clueless, when in reality they 
dressed in blue and gray. But in Mason's world, going to fight the heathen 
was a good thing. 

The plot centers on Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger), latest in a line of 
military heroes whose father expects him to follow suit. But Harry is 
secretly a coward. He signed up hoping to discharge a minimal obligation and 
then settle down with his intended, Ethne (Kate Hudson). When news of the 
attack interrupts the ball, and the soldiers prepare to ship out, Harry's 
true colors -- yellow stripes -- emerge. He resigns his commission, which 
shocks and angers his friends. Three of them send him white feathers, a token 
of cowardice. When Ethne realizes what has happened, she adds a fourth 
feather.

The film concerns what happens after Harry has a change of heart. Alone and 
in disguise he follows after his companions, and attempts to save them from 
annihilation. His tardy courage proved and a love-triangle nearing 
resolution, it seems that the story is winding toward an end when it 
unexpectedly takes off in a new direction. Harry decides to go rescue the 
remaining feather-giver, who is held in a Sudanese prison. He voluntarily 
surrenders at the prison himself, a plan that might be described as "not 
completely thought through." From this point the film becomes much more 
brutal, reminiscent of the stronger scenes in "Schindler's List." Ledger's 
face, which initially seemed too blank and bland for the part, becomes 
troubled as a stormy sea. This whole segment seems out of synch with what 
went before, and seems to have come from a different movie--I might say, a 
better, stronger movie, though one which is not easy to take. 
***
In the theater next door another son is struggling with his father's legacy. 
Calvin (Ice Cube) has inherited his father's barbershop, and he stares at the 
mural of the sad-eyed old man in glasses, asking, "How did you do this for 
forty years?" Calvin is not a good businessman, and has run up a sizeable 
debt. What he really wants to do is chuck it all for a recording studio. What 
happens when dreams collide with duty?

In this case, plenty of laughs. Calvin's smooth, worried face is the still 
point about which turn a company of oversized characters, barbers, customers, 
and hangers-on. Brassy, scolding Terri (Eve) is loved by plump, poetic West 
African Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze); classy college-boy  Jimmy (Sean Patrick 
Thomas) conflicts with white yo-boy Isaac(Troy Garity); ex-felon Ricky 
(Michael Ealy) is trying to go straight, though there's a gun in his locker. 
Most colorful is old man Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), who is a font of 
strong opinions. 

As Calvin realizes the value of the barbershop as place to speak freely, he 
rethinks his plan to sell it to neighborhood loan shark Lester Wallace (Keith 
David in a blue bowler, as oily as can be). Where else can people say the 
things that, according to Eddie, can't be said in front of white people? For 
example, that Rodney King "deserved to get whupped," that "OJ did it," and 
that Martin Luther King was unbecomingly promiscuous (Eddie expresses this 
concept more concisely using a two-letter word). 

The action takes place in a single day, as Calvin makes a deal with the 
devilish Wallace, then tries to undo it, only to discover that the interest 
is 100% per day. Meanwhile the barbers feud among themselves, and customers 
breeze in with complex rapid-fire requests: "A little off the top, long in 
the back but not quite a shag, slope to the left like Gumby, Eddie Munster in 
the front, a little Wyclef on the right." Meanwhile, Ricky's cousin Billy 
(Lahmard Tate) and his crony JD (Anthony Andrews) have stolen an ATM machine 
and cart it from place to place in their slapstick attempts to break it open. 
The comedy is broad, but often very funny, and the audience laughed 
uproariously.

More serious moments convey surprisingly conservative messages, primarily 
that self-respect is earned by behaving honorably. When the barbers discuss 
the concept of reparations, Ricky delivers the film's strongest message, 
almost directly to the camera: "We don't need reparations, we need restraint. 
We need self-discipline." If anything mars "Barbershop" it's the frequent use 
of mildly off-color language, but this old-fashioned ensemble comedy still 
delivers lots of solid laughs and leaves with a warm glow.

Video Club: You don't go out to the movies? Join the crowd. Many people balk 
at high ticket prices and uncertain fare, planning to rent the video later 
on. So why not organize a parish video club? Each month, announce in the 
parish newsletter the title of a movie available for rental. Participants 
view the film at home, at their own convenience (after the kids are in bed, 
if the film would be over their heads). Once a month--say, on the last Sunday 
night--everyone meets at the church or a home for coffee, dessert, and 
discussion of the movie.  

The "golden age" of American film is the 1930's and 40's, so let's start with 
a polished comedy from that era. "The Palm Beach Story" is a good example of 
the genre called "screwball comedy," which meant a wacky romance in an 
elegant setting. While some factors here have become stereotypical (the black 
actor "Snowflake" as a wide-eyed cook), others retain their fresh oddity, 
such as the philosophizing "weinie king" and Rudy Vallee's awkward, sincere 
J.D.Hackensacker III. Director Preston Sturges is deservedly acclaimed as one 
of America's most intelligent comic filmmakers. Find out why, and pick up 
catch-phrases like, "What's knittin', kittens?" along the way. 


********
Frederica Mathewes-Green
www.frederica.com

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