of despair: Chweneyagae in Tsotsi.
by Gavin Hood
the point in which titular gangster Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae)
discovers the infant in the backseat of the car he’s hijacked,
the viewer might well consider running out to use the loo,
purchase some snacks, or just leave. Given the fact that in
just 10 short minutes, we’ve witnessed Tsotsi cold-bloodedly
assault a man on the subway and then, just as shockingly,
brutally kill fellow gang member Boston (Mothusi Magano) after
the latter questions the necessity of the attack. And so,
when Tsotsi unpacks the unruly tyke, steps out of the stolen
vehicle and gazes out at the unforgiving Soweto landscape,
one can’t help but anticipate the horrific end of one more
especially innocent victim.
is when the movie, which won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar,
takes a slight detour from its essentially genre roots, and
delves into the realm of redemption and hope. Hiding the baby,
whom he dubs David, in a shopping bag, Tsotsi brings it home
like a kid with a new puppy. Interspersing flashbacks of a
childhood made rough by a mother dying of AIDS and an embittered
father with suddenly pressing necessities like feeding David,
the movie displays a gritty realism reminiscent of early silent
films. Interestingly, the movie is based on a 1960 Athol Fugard
book, which dealt largely with the title character’s victimization
under apartheid. While screenwriter-director Gavin Hood’s
treatment takes place now, thus eliminating much of the politics,
the unremitting poverty of the surroundings and the incessant
black-on-black crime—Tsotsi’s carjacking victims are a well-to-do
black couple—speak volumes about the aftermath of that system,
and contribute to a sense of unease about Tsotsi’s likely
of the plot of Tsotsi is relatively simple—it is, after
all, a formula story which wouldn’t have been unusual, in
another time and place, to feature James Cagney living by
his wits and finding redemption in an unlikely source. And
while I generally cringe at stories that simplistically equate
a character’s poor choices with impoverished upbringings,
I didn’t mind so much here, and that’s almost entirely because
of Chweneyagae’s impressive performance. For most of the movie,
Tsotsi is an eerily still presence, with only his eyes depicting
the feral quality of his mind (not to mention the menace in
his heart). And yet, as Tsotsi remembers his mother, or cradles
David, he suddenly becomes a little boy in front of our eyes.
The movie’s end, a crucial standoff between Tsotsi, the cops
and David’s actual parents, is masterful in its utter stillness.
By this time, we’ve become so invested in Tsotsi, despite
his criminal past, that we’re hoping for a miracle, for some
ray of hope. Without betraying its sense of realism, the movie
comes off as slightly more uplifting than Fugard’s novel,
and overall, Tsotsi packs an emotional wallop.
Talk to the Animals
by Steve “Spaz” Williams
Disney’s The Wild has been in the making for many years.
So, it only looks as if it’s copying last year’s Madagascar,
with its somewhat domesticated lions escaping from Manhattan
zoos and embarking on ocean voyages that take them back to
nature, and critters being mistaken by African animals as
gods from heaven (and so on). Then again, The Wild
also borrows freely from a long list of other movies, such
as Finding Nemo, The Lion King and A Shark’s
Tale. Apparently, it took four screenwriters to come up
with this decidedly mixed bag of recyclables.
the animation (by Toronto group Core Digital Pictures) is
remarkable, especially when it comes to depicting the tufts
of mane on Samson (Keifer Sutherland) and his little cub Ryan
(Greg Cipes), the story is anything but. Basically, Ryan is
suffering from preadolescent angst, which boils down to the
fact that he can’t yet roar and feels hopelessly inept in
comparison with his father, whose swashbuckling exploits are
legend among the zoo animals. Upset one night, Ryan takes
shelter in a container, which ends up en route to Africa.
Somehow, Samson and giraffe Bridget (Janeane Garofalo), anaconda
Larry (Richard Kind), koala Nigel (Eddie Izzard) and squirrel
Benny (James Belushi), follow the cub—amazing, really, considering
the lack of opposable thumbs (and the minor point that the
tug boat in which they ride never needs a fuel refill). While
in Africa, the friends and Ryan discover that Samson’s big
stories were just hot air, a fact that becomes dismally clear
just as they are about to be eaten by crazed wildebeests.
Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly.
Wild is another in a growing list of depressingly banal
computer-generated films, movies that Hollywood seems intent
on pumping out because they realize that there are a lot of
us out here with kids who need something to do on cold or
rainy days, or a DVD to rent or purchase for when the babysitter’s
coming over. Sure, Finding Nemo mined familiar themes
and spun time-tested morals, but it did so in such a superior,
highly entertaining and intelligent way that it became an
instant classic. This movie retreads the usual “Everybody’s
unique” and “Be true to yourself” lines, but it’s got absolutely
no subtlety, grace or smarts. The Wild is a lesson
in mediocrity that kids truly don’t deserve.