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The Charlotte Observer from Charlotte, North Carolina • Page 81
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The Charlotte Observer from Charlotte, North Carolina • Page 81

Charlotte, North Carolina
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FRIDAY DECEMBER 25 1998 THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER Wesley Snipes and Alfre Woodard star in in the Gross for the weekend of Dec 18-20 BEN MARKHOLZBERGMiramax 6 topmovies Got $184 million Total: $184 million Prince of Egypt" $145 million Total: $145 million $10 million Total: $963 million Trek: $83 million Total: $356 million Frost" $51 million Total: $137 million of the $48 million Total: $791 million $31 million Total: $1409 million Rugrats $29 million Total: $768 million $19 million Total: $185 million $09 million Total: $132 million Because of the Chnst-mas holiday top video rentals will not appear this week a mighty river Film a confluence of good acting subtle direction believable script ON MOVIES Trailers often fail to hint at plot twists all hate movie trailers that give away the whole story Once seen every character development plot twist or sight gag crammed into a two-minute ad we have no surprises left when we watch the two-hour movie But what about trailers that tell us enough? Take "Step- Lawrence mom "The ads showed Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts bickering about which of them should retain custody of two children Then in the kind of emotional shorthand common to movies everything turned out joyously as Susan and her kids lip-synched to a Motown song not half the true picture not even a third since one character finds out 40 minutes into the film that something dreadful is hanging over all their lives (I give the surprise away here but I described it in my review today) Did Sony Pictures worry that introducing a serious note would turn moviegoers away? Did they think a holiday release ought to be perceived as a blithe bauble where all troubles could be smoothed over by the final reel? Did they think people were too dumb to take in joy and sadness at once? Disney had the same problem with its advertisements for "Beloved" The ad I saw suggested a feel-good union between a mother and her daughter with other family members looking on approvingly The truth was much darker and even people who liked agreed it put the audience through rough emotional weather Lots of us want a good cry or a chance to bite our nails when we go to the theater But we may not want them when been told in for giggles and hugs So whom should we trust if not the studios? suggest the guy whose face beams at you from the top of this column Luckily infallible DOWN IN THE DELTA GRADE: A STARS: Alfre Woodard Al Freeman Jr Mary Alice Wesley Snipes Esther Rolle WRITER: Myron Goble DIRECTOR: Maya Angelou RATING: PG-13: Drug use brief nudity mild profanity RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes By LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Movie Writer Producers who bemoaned the box-office failure of should take a lesson from in the That drama shows them how to turn out a serious black film that can turn a profit Make it inexpensively with first-rate actors who burden the budget and make it attractive enough that high-salaried performers will take pay cuts to be in it Make it short say five minutes under two hours Make it easy to follow and easy to swallow Most crucially make it so honest heartfelt and dryly funny that audiences willingly sit through tough subject matter: drug abuse autism disease the prospect of a kid going armed to middle school even a more than passing reference to slavery Writer Myron Goble a white graduate of Georgia Tech University tells a convincing story The song over the final credits talks about the making of a family quilt and the analogy is apt: Goble weaves strands in an intricate appealing pattern but leaves enough loose threads to remind us this a machine-made script from the Hollywood factory Maya Angelou makes her big-screen debut as director The poet herself no mean word-smith pays Goble the greatest respect a director can: She lets the story unfold simply without camera tricks or imposition of a personal chicken plant which supplies his restaurant with cut-price chicken may be about to close And son Will (Snipes) is distant from the family both geographically and emotionally Most mainstream Hollywood writers would itch to solve every one of these problems right down to autism Goble Some of the characters take giant strides toward happiness some take baby steps Some move at all But the hope with which the movie leaves us is genuine Even minor characters have well-defined lives Zenia whose house has been built by Habitat for Humanity is a single mom who has earned her affection with gentle firmness Though we spend only a few minutes with her no less real than the others Even an inanimate object a candelabra named Nathan takes on a life of its own Since it dates back 150 years wise Earl and Rosa Lynn use it to emphasize the message: nothing more valuable than staying connected to family and family history own history gets unveiled a little at a time and the payoff of that subplot has a kick understated deeply-felt acting tops a passel of good performances Koaho is a natural veterans Woodard Alice Rolle and Devine strike just the right notes Snipes tends to rise or sink to the level of his material so in top form And ex-Charlottean Defoy Glenn a protege of has a cameo as a rural preacher high praise to say he fits in with the company he keeps i i style and she gets the job done The project has more name clout behind it: Miramax most powerful and wealthy distributor of smaller movies and Wesley Snipes not only one of five producers but also has a small part as an Atlanta lawyer who grew up in Mississippi Alfre Woodard gets co-producer credit so she did more than play the leading role Loretta single mother of 13-year-old Thomas (Mpho Koaho) and the much younger autistic Tracey (Kulani Hassen) They live on rough South State Street with devoted but clear-eyed mother Rosa Lynn (Mary Alice) Loretta who can barely do basic math keep a job and floats along on the smoke from joints and fumes from a gin bottle Thomas has brains but the easygoing drug dealer on the comer has cast the lure of easy cash So Rosa Lynn packs the three off for the summer to live with Earl (Al Freeman Jr) her brother-in-law in Mississippi Earl has troubles of his own Wife Annie (Esther Rolle) has though cared for by her patient maid Zenia (Loretta Devine) The.

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