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The white shadow: Lucas in Glory Road.

Changing the Game
By Laura Leon

Glory Road

Directed by James Gartner

Considered by many pundits to be both the biggest sports upset of all time as well as one of the most important games ever, the 1966 NCAA basketball championship contest between Kentucky (featuring a standout player named Pat Riley) and Texas Western not only pitted a longstanding powerhouse against a little-known upstart, but literally changed the complexion of the game. It might be hard for the youngsters of today to believe, but just 41 years ago, Texas Western coach Don Haskins made history when he put five black starters on the court to play the decisive game—this in an era when the unspoken rule among Southern NCAA teams was that a coach might play more than one black player if (and only if) the team was down in points.

In the tradition of Remember the Titans and a plethora of other sports movies in which racism bows down before sportsmanship, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director James Gartner present their version of the Texas Western story, Glory Road. Because it is a Bruckheimer production, it goes without saying that viewers should not expect much depth, but rather, a feel-good experience with plenty of slow-motion build up to the Big Game. For all its lack of gravitas, the movie is a fairly solid attempt to explore the crucial moment when sports history intersected with the civil-rights movement. And Haskins’ ballsy move to recruit black players who heretofore had no intention, desire or ability to go to college, is a compelling story. The coach balances almost no budget with a huge drive to win; and he must work with very disparate personalities, melding those personalities with the talent already on the team.

Josh Lucas is a credible Coach Haskins, although much of what he has to do is yell at his players (five white and seven black men), all of whom are united in their hatred of his rigid adherence to game fundamentals. While the newly recruited black players are an interesting bunch, ranging from Bronx street players to Indiana steelworkers, we aren’t given much material with which to differentiate their personalities other than the usual stereotypical tags, e.g., the Malcolm X devotee, the big man with the heart ailment, etc. The white players fare worse, which is too bad, since what would have made Glory Road far more compelling is at least a cursory look at what they had to deal with: having to take a backseat to their talented black counterparts in order to, as Haskins expounds the night before the Big Game, shut the racists of the world up forever.

There are some great moments in which the team members bond, forgetting their racial differences, while traversing the country on the team bus, as well as some harrowing, if all too short, moments in which the full impact of racism hits them all where it counts. In particular, a scene in which player Nevil Shed (Al Shearer) gets beaten in a diner bathroom has haunting repercussions. But the movie, for the most part, goes “lite” on these issues in favor of focusing on that all-important Big Game—which is ultimately anticlimactic, despite a last-minute appearance by a nearly unrecognizable Jon Voight as Kentucky coaching legend Adolph Rupp.

It’s, Like, Tragic

Tristan & Isolde

Directed by Kevin Reynolds

As promised by the poster and tagline, Tristan & Isolde is meant to capture the same date-night youth market as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. But the poster is as close as this direct-to-video dud gets to Luhrmann’s audacious interpretation. Though it tells the Arthurian tale of doomed love between Tristan, a knight from Cornwall, and Isolde, an Irish princess, T & I is more of a poor man’s Braveheart. A very poor man’s, and not just because of the noticeably low budget.

Orphaned by war as a lad, Tristan (James Franco) is adopted by the chivalrous Lord Marke of Cornwall (Rufus Sewell), who is trying to unify the various tribes of his domain to fend off the predations of Isolde’s brutish father (David O’Hara), an Irish king. From start to finish, the machinations of the two courts are rendered in strokes so broad they preclude any strategic suspense. Most of the dumbed-down plot relies on a secret Roman passageway.

Believed dead after a battle, Tristan washes up on the Irish coast, where Isolde (Sophia Myles) rescues his seemingly lifeless body. They fall in love, an event that is mundanely heralded when Tristan gets teary-eyed while Isolde reads poetry to him. Torn asunder by duty to their respective kings, the lovers are reunited by fate and a mistaken identity when Isolde marries Lord Marke.

Sewell isn’t exactly a woman’s worst nightmare, and the scenes between Marke and his reluctant bride have the torch-lit romantic appeal expected from a Dark Age chick flick. Which only makes the tragic triangle less involving than it already is: The dopey dialogue (Ireland and Cornwall are apparently separated by Dawson’s Creek rather than the sea) combined with director Kevin Reynolds’ middling incompetence results in a rather tedious slog to the star-crossed denouement.

Franco conveys Tristan’s agonies of jealousy with the amateurish ardor of a Ren Faire stagehand, while Myles (a suitably pretty medieval princess) manages not to embarrass herself—a feat more heroic than anything accomplished by all the knights of the two realms. The supporting cast is flat-out awful, especially O’Hara. In an attempt to sound barbarically Irish, the Scottish actor exaggerates his burr into an impenetrable bramble. But maybe he should be thanked, since T & I’s only mote of entertainment value comes from the unintentional humor of all the various and faltering accents, with Franco’s sudden segue into BBC Britspeak being the most comical of them all.

—Ann Morrow

What Big Eyes You Have

Hoodwinked

Directed by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech

The new animated flick Hoodwinked, in which directors Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech, give the Rashomon treatment to the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, brings back fond memories of Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Fractured Fairy Tales. Visually speaking, it may at times resemble what’s on your kid’s Game Boy screen, but its lack of budget is more than made up for by witty writing and a tremendous cast of vocal talent, making this a rare bit of cinematic sunshine in the bleak moviegoing landscape.

The well-known tale of Red Riding Hood (voiced by Anne Hathaway) is, here, given a crime story bent, with perspectives offered by Red herself, Granny (Glenn Close), the Wolf (Patrick Warburton), and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi), to Inspector Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers). Seems a crime has been committed—somebody’s stolen Granny’s legendary cookbook of goody recipes—and Flippers and Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) are determined to get to the bottom of it. In the course of the various retellings, certain inescapable facts come to light, namely that Granny is an extreme sports fanatic and one should beware of Germanic ski teams and cuddly bunnies.

The result is inspired lunacy, complemented nicely by the fact that unlike so many movies aimed at younger audiences, there aren’t two levels of jokes, some being inanely stupid and others, presumably for the benefit of Mum and Dad, being oh-so-hip references to pop culture. Hoodwinked combines the best elements of classic fairy tales with first-rate intelligence and offbeat humor. Bugs would be proud.

—Laura Leon


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