A trilogy of hope

by Robert J. Hawkins | Apr 25, 2001
A trilogy of hope This week, we introduce the final title in a trilogy of uplifting, inspiring movies that also entertain their audience. The first two, "Remember the Titans" and "Men of Honor," were based on real people and events in recent times.

The integration and subsequent triumphs of black and white football players in a Virginia high school during the turbulent 1970s inspired "Titans." And "Honor" recounted the hard-fought career of the first black Master Diver in the Navy. Now comes a fictional tale, yet no less inspiring, "Finding Forrester" (Columbia TriStar, PG-13, VHS/DVD).

The movie introduces first-time actor Robert Brown as Jamal Wallace, a bright and sensitive 16-year-old growing up in Harlem. Coming from the streets, no surprise, he also happens to be a first-rate basketball player. Jamal is gifted. A voracious reader with a phenomenal memory and eloquent writing style, he is also careful to shield this gift from his friends. They know he`s smart. But none of his pals knew just how smart until public school testing singles him out and secures his berth at an elite private school.

Like any kid on tough streets, Jamal could as easily wind up in jail as any other form of school. All it takes is a dare, a break-in, an arrest record. He does break into an apartment, inhabited by a mysterious recluse. The apartment overlooks the basketball court on which Jamal and his pals hone their court chops. On a dare, Jamal climbs the fire escape and enters, on a mission to steal an object and prove his fearlessness to the guys.

When the owner surprises him in the dark, Jamal drops his book bag and bolts. The bag contains Jamal`s writing journal which, when he recovers it, is filled with red-penned commentaries from an obviously brilliant writer. Jamal`s thirst for knowledge overcomes his fear of confronting the man, who turns out to be William Forrester (Sean Connery), a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and one-hit wonder who turned his back on the world decades ago. (Yes, "Catcher in the Rye" most certainly comes to mind.)

On the condition that his privacy will be closely guarded, Forrester agrees to mentor the boy. In return, Jamal brings the streets to Forrester`s deeply cloistered and boozy life. He encourages the man to re-enter society (if only under cloak of darkness and disguise). A healing of old and deep wounds inside the author begins.

Jamal, meanwhile, struggles with the other changes in his life - the alien nature of an upscale private school and the growing void between himself and his childhood friends. He is also a standout player on the school`s basketball team.

Jamal gains an enemy at the school, a pompous and frustrated English teacher (F. Murray Abraham), who cannot reconcile eloquent essays with their black basketball-playing author. Jamal finds himself on the verge of expulsion when he submits a paper that was, in part, a 30-year-old essay written by Forrester - one he used with permission in a writing exercise.

On the eve of a school hearing and a championship basketball game, Jamal is offered a devil`s pact - win the game and the hearing will vaporize while he moves on to another school. In other words, a shot at celebrity and no chance to clear his name. Only Forrester can go public and save him, but that is unlikely. Jamal finds himself torn between an improbable defense of his honor and an easy ticket out the back door.

Director Gus Van Sant builds upon his mainstream success in "Good Will Hunting" with yet another bright young social outcast pitted against the education establishment. In both movies, his young heroes find mentoring and hope in hopelessly lost and wounded social recluses. In turn, the mentors learn how to heal from the inspiration of their charges. It`s a great story and, so far, it has worked extraordinarily well.

A third time? That might be asking too much.

ALSO THIS WEEK:

"One Day in September" (Columbia TriStar, R, VHS/DVD) - Winner of the Best Documentary Oscar (1999), Arthur Cohn`s film is a gripping investigation into the horrifying massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Germany. Eight Palestinian terrorists were able to sneak into the Olympic village and take 11 athletes hostage. The standoff was captured on international television and the world watched stunned as the terrorists negotiated and then murdered the innocent athletes.

Michael Douglas narrates this film, directed by Kevin MacDonald. Producer Cohn has won six Oscars for documentary and foreign language films.

"Girl on the Bridge" (Paramount, R, VHS) - The chance meeting of a down-on-his-luck circus knife thrower and a young woman at a crossroads in her life dramatically changes the fates of both. In French with English subtitles, from director Patrice Leconte and starring Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis.

"Little Nicky" (New Line, PG-13, VHS/DVD) - Adam Sandler - what the hell? Yup, just as we suspected, Sandler is the youngest son of the Devil, sent from Hell to save the world from his older brothers (with the help of a talking dog and a couple for heavy metal headbangers, for starters).

The DVD version contains more than 20 minutes of outtakes - how outrageous is that? - as well as two mini-features: "Adam Sandler Goes to Hell" and "Satan`s Top Forty."

Harvey Keitel is Nicky`s dad, Satan. Cast also includes Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Tiny Lister and Kevin Nealon. Look for cameos from Rodney Dangerfield, Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Reese Witherspoon and Quentin Tarantino.

"Kill Shot" (Paramount, R, VHS/DVD) - Denise Richards is a Malibu model, who enters a beach volleyball tournament - even though her crazed ex-husband (Jack Scalia) is stalking her. Casper Van Dien is her muscular stud-muffin beach pal. The good news is, beach volleyball affords young male movie fans endless opportunities to see Richards in bathing suits.

"The Substitute: Failure is Not an Option" (Artisan, R, VHS/DVD) - And they say there is a teaching shortage? This is the fourth in a series in which a tough guy goes undercover as a teacher to clean up a high school. Treat Williams returns for his third, uh, stab at teaching/exterminating. This time he takes on a gang of neo-Nazi students at an elite military school. Angie Everhart also stars.

"Just Looking" (Columbia TriStar, R, VHS/DVD) - Jason Alexander directs this tender coming-of-age comedy about Lenny, a sex-obsessed teen-age boy from the Bronx in 1955, facing a summer in Queens with an aunt and uncle. Gretchen Mol, Patti Lupone and Ryan Merriman star.

"A Crack in the Floor" (Monarch, R, VHS/DVD) - Stop me if this sounds familiar: Three couples set off on a camping trip and begin encountering very weird locals. They set up camp in an old cabin in the woods where - wouldn`t you know it? - three decades earlier, something terrible happened. And now someone lurks beneath the floor. Let the evil begin ...

A string of bona fide B-movie stars headline this one: Gary Busey, Mario Lopez, Bo Hopkins, Tracy Scoggins, Justine Priestly, David Naughton and Rance Howard.

"Bongwater" (First Look, R, VHS/DVD) - This direct-to-video pot-head comedy (as the title surely foretells) is most notable for some of the talent it was able to acquire early in their 15-minute celebrity trajectory, like Andy Dick ("Newsradio") and Jack Black ("High Fidelity").

Cast also includes Luke Wilson, Alicia Witt, Jamie Kennedy and Brittany Murphy.

CUTTIN` OUT `BAD` PARTS

It is no secret that major movies are hacked to pieces for safe consumption by general audiences on airplanes. For years, the Dove Foundation has been urging studios to do the same for movies in the retail and rental loop.

Those that do get the foundation`s "Family Edited Seal." Major studios have resisted, even though there`s a whole Wal-Mart world of consumers who`d prefer their entertainment toned down. Serious filmmakers would have a real problem with chopping up their works to appeal to a consumer demographic. It`s the old art-vs.-product battle.

New Line Cinema has broken ranks and, this week, introduces three watered down titles with the Dove seal of approval: "The Bachelor," "Blast From the Past" and "Lost in Space." Each is priced between $10 and $15.

It has been a while since I`ve seen any of these. They`re not the kind you save or see more than once or twice. So I`m at a loss to imagine just what scenes were cut to meet the Dove Foundation`s benchmark for "wholesome entertainment."

Personally, cutting out parts of a movie to appeal to one group is as offensive as writing in sex and violence to appeal to another. Either way, it is no longer about art or vision or story. It is about making money.

DVD UPDATE

The 10-year-old New Line studio is busy. On July 10, it launches a DVD premium line "infinifilm" with the Kevin Costner Cuban Missile Crisis drama "Thirteen Days." Titles in the infinifilm line will do what DVD does best: present an in-depth and behind-the-scenes exploration of the film subject matter, many layers deeper than the film itself.

In "Thirteen Days," for example, users will be able to see a 48-minute documentary, "The Root of the Cuban Missile Crisis"; biographical sketches of 17 key figures in the crisis; and a wealth of historical details. Pop-up navigation menus during the film can take the viewer deeper into historical details specific to a scene.

Among titles making their DVD debut this week are "My Life" (starring Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman) and "Princess Caraboo" (with Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline). Both are priced under $20 and include only star filmographies as value-added content.

Paramount releases a pair of romance favorites on DVD this week: "Ghost" (with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg) and the Ryan O`Neal/Ali MacGraw classic "Love Story."

A slate of Audrey Hepburn classics make their DVD debut from the same studio: "Sabrina," "Funny Face" and "Paris When It Sizzles." Already available is "Breakfast at Tiffany`s."

The 1971 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, "The Garden of the Finzi Continis," debuts on DVD on June 19.

Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, "Rocky" roars on to DVD this week in a special edition with a 33-minute commentary by writer-star Sylvester Stallone and an audio commentary track from director John Avildsen, among others. The disc includes lots of other behind-the-scenes features.

Winner of Best Picture, "Rocky" was nominated for nine Oscars. The price is less than $20. MGM is also offering the whole five-picture series, including the special edition of "Rocky," in a DVD box set for around $90.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

May 1: Disney`s swinging animated feature with lyrics and music from Sting, "The Emperor`s New Groove."

May 8: Mel Gibson hears things in "What Women Want." But Geoffrey Rush knows what they want in "Quills."

Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow just wants to be the Karaoke queen in the ensemble comedy "Duets."

May 15: It`s a dog`s world in the clever mocumentary, "Best in Show."

May 29: Winner of Oscars for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay Adaptation and Best Film Editing - "Traffic."

June 5: Also winner of four Oscars (Foreign Language Film, Cinematography, Art Direction and Original Score) - "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

June 12: From the Coen brothers (Ethan & Joel) comes the "Odyssey"-inspired period comedy, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Meanwhile, John Turturro, Lili Taylor and Will Patton plot and plan in the high-speed romantic comedy, "All Revved Up."

June 19: David Mamet`s satirical comedy about Hollywood big-budget movie making in small-town New England, "State and Main."

June 26: Bruce Willis and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan follow up their "Sixth Sense" hit with "Unbreakable."

Also, Gold Rush-era drama "The Claim," starring Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski and Peter Mullan.

July 3: Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey make cute in "The Wedding Planner."

July 17: Bank-robbing cheerleaders make for cheap laughs in "Sugar & Spice."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins

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