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
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
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
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
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.