WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 30

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 30th WWW:

1) Windtalkers:
This has to be one of Nicolas Cage's better roles, in which he portrays a World War II soldier with a difficult assignment. After being the only survivor in a brutal campaign, he gets himself back in the field by concealing some hearing damage he suffered. In order to keep the Japanese from intercepting our message, we apparently employed the aid of some Navajo Indians. They spoke in their own language, which also had coded phrases. So even if you knew the Navajo word for “turtle”, you might not realize they were using it to refer to a tank. So valuable was this code, that America couldn't risk these assets falling in to enemy hands. Cage and Christian Slater are each paired with a Navajo, but they're protecting the code, not the men. They keep them alive, but if a situation would arise in which capture was imminent, they were sworn to kill them rather than let the Japanese take them. This task becomes increasingly difficult as the men bond in battle and share stories about their families back home. It's probably one of the more brutal depictions of war I've seen, with explosions, limbs flying off, and people burning. It's not pretty, but it's pretty powerful. The Navajo actors are solid, as are Cage, Slater, and Mark Ruffalo. Will Cage be able to carry out his duty? Will he find peace and redeem himself for his first loss? The film does run a little long, but it's other than that it’s not bad.

2) Antwone Fisher:
This is the way to adapt a true story. The real Antwone Fisher survived a traumatic childhood in foster care and spent time in the navy before becoming a security guard on the Sony lot. It was there that he was discovered, and his autobiography adapted by FOX for the big screen. Derek Luke did an outstanding job portraying Fisher, with LOST's Malcolm David Kelley playing him in childhood flashbacks. The film's Fisher is a troubled young man, always getting in fights and on the verge of discharge. Denzel Washington plays the navy therapist who eventually gets through to him, and learns what childhood events shaped and scarred him. Their therapist-patient/surrogate father-son relationship reminded me a little bit of the dynamic in Good Will Hunting. Fisher was born while his mother was in prison, and his father was killed before he was born. He was beaten and abused while in foster care, and never had a true sense of family, only a finite hint of it from a best friend. Washington's character reaches out and breaks through to him, while Fisher helps him as well, becoming like the son they never had. In the end, Fisher is strong enough to seek out not just the people who abused him, but his real family. I won't spoil what happens, but there's a very moving scene that made me appreciate the warmth some families have toward one another. It's a film about finding home in places you didn't expect, and being welcomed in ways in which you could never dream.

3) Against the Ropes:
This is not the way to adapt a true story. The plot, though a decent enough dramatization of the real-life tale of the rise female boxing manager Jackie Kallen, was someone flat and predictable, but it was the script I really had problems with at times. “The world is your oyster and you're a pearl, pretty and tough, and pretty tough can get far in life.” “If he's the gum and you're the shoe, then why does he walk all over you?” I'm roughly paraphrasing because I've already hurled the DVD back into the mailbox, but lines like that had me silently mouthing “Whaaat?” more than once. Meg Ryan portrays Kallen, picking up a gruff accent instead of her usual dulcet tones. As a little girl, she was inspired by her boxing uncle(the guy with the aforementioned corny oyster line), but finds little satisfaction assisting another boxing promoter. It's a man's world, and like characters out of 1930s cinema the villains of the piece are quick to remind her of that fact. Tony Shalhoub is one of these sexist fiends, a mobster with a couple of boxers in his stable, and the only real male support Kallen finds is from a reporter friend who'd be more than friends if she'd just let down her tough exterior. Tim Daly plays the reporter, so we do get a small Wings reunion here. It's not all bad. Kallan gives Shalhoub's character some pointers, and he's so amused and irritated by a woman telling him what to do, he offers to sell her one of his boxers for a dollar. Daly quickly steps in to agree to the deal for her. She's a little nervous about going to a bad neighborhood to meet her new acquisition, so her friend from work (Kerry Washington) comes along for, as her character puts it, “black-up”. Yeah. So they get to this boxer's apartment, and he and another guy are both craving cocaine and demanding, “bitch, where's my ROCK?” because, apparently, black folk. Then out of nowhere, Omar Epps punches down the door and beats the crap out of the two crackheads while Ryan and Washington look on. Rap music plays over this scene because, again, black folk. The ladies flee the scene, but Ryan doubles back, because Epps had a mean left hook. She bails him out of jail after he's arrested, drops him off back in the projects, then hangs around until she can convince him to hear her out. They go grab a bite to eat, and if you guess that they go to a fried chicken place, you already see where this whole sequence is going. Seriously, every racial and gender stereotype imaginable is called upon in this film, rendering both the heroes and villains of the piece ridiculous caricatures of real people. Charles S. Dutton lends some dignity to the piece as Epps' trainer, who leaves his job at the DMV to return to a job he gave up after having a stroke, because he knew Ryan's uncle. Dutton also directed the film. In the end, it's certainly not Rocky or Cinderella Man, but Ryan, Epps and Dutton do give decent performances when not delivering ridiculous lines. There was real potential for an interesting story, especially if they'd followed Kallen's actual life story instead of focusing on a cliché that even includes a slow clap scene at the end, in which even the vilest foes give in and put their hands together for our heroine. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars, but only barely.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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