Video Vault: New Releases

2005 – Gavin Hood
Rated R – 94 minutes
Vault Rating: 8

Foremost on the new release rack at Adventure/Silver Screen this week is a marvelous offering from South Africa that studies the hard-scrabble life in the South African townships of a young gang leader named Tsotsi.

Tsotsi is a magnetic thug, barely more than a fresh-faced boy really, who makes his way in the only way he can, by robbery and theft. His is truly a dog-eat-dog world and he is the feral product of it. His three friends, Boston, Butcher and Soekie, usually appear at his shanty inquiring “What do you want to do today?” like some warped scene out of “Marty.” What they do is hunt down the well-off in the nearby city.

The quartet reminds a little of the droogs from “A Clockwork Orange” with the exception that they are not amoral like Malcom McDowell was back in the mid-70’s.In fact, Boston, who has had the benefit of some schooling, explores the moral concept of decency with Tsotsi early in the film.

And Tsotsi, who is hard enough that he can casually kill, is clearly wrestling with his own soul during the six weeks in a sorry life that the film covers.

The depictions of the black townships in South Africa are something to behold. They remind a bit of massive depression era “Hoovervilles,” only worse. A house consists of patched together corrugated metal where doors are chained shut. A long-standing stack of heavy concrete pipe is like a birdhouse for homeless children who bed down in twos and threes inside, taking shelter from the beating sun.These children clearly are wild.

Tsotsi commits a crime at one point that forces him to the edge of human decency, where he is forced to introspection on whether he should do what is expedient and thereby cast himself spiritually into the abyss. Because we’ve seen what the young teen is capable of, because his reality is so savage, the viewer really does not know what this otherworldly person might do.

That is the emotional tightrope that draws us through a nightmare world in this 2006 Academy Award winner for best foreign film.

Above Tsotsi in the food chain is a well-dressed mob figure named Fela, who seemingly exists outside the law. Stolen cars wind up at his chop shop, and he is rich, maybe even by white standards, but we are never given background on him. To do so, the filmmaker would have to distract from his narrow subject and dilute the strong narrative. We only imagine that Tsotsi, if he survives, might become just like Fela, or supplant him in a best case scenario.These are Tsotsi’s few options.

Still, the signs of outright rage, the natural fear a young person would feel in this strange world, and bouts of humanity rage in this one boy who might be beyond redemption.

New releases this week include a DVD treatment of the Billy Wilder classic comedy, “Some Like It Hot.” Starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis, this 1959 gem demands attention from a modern audience. If you’ve never seen Norma Jean in a film, or if you’d like a strangely funny precursor of why Jamie Lee Curtis turned out so good looking, then you ought to do yourself the favor. This is a great movie, by any account.

It was supposed to star Patty Duke, but instead, that’s a young Sally Field as the original girl with 16 personalities, “Sybil.” This 1976 TV movie runs 198 minutes and was a big deal back in the day. It ought well to be worth a look depending on how many personalities your significant other already has.

Now here is a curious object in the horror genre.“Subject Two” deals with a doctor who invents a resurrection formula and tests it by killing his assistant repeatedly. Just how many times CAN you kill your assistant in 93 minutes? And just where is subject number one? Looks like a clever kind of Frankenstein take with a curious premise but critics are a bit lukewarm on it. Vault has the feeling that it would come off like leftovers from the magnificent horror/sci-fi “Re-animator,” which might be a better bet if you have a strong enough stomach.

“Code Breakers” is a 2005 ESPN original about a 1951 cheating scandal at West Point where 83 cadets were ultimately dismissed.

“She’s the Man” sounds like fun to this writer if you’re in the mood for fluff. It is the story of a girl who disguises herself as her vacationing brother and attends his boarding school where … well you can imagine all the cross dressing entanglements for yourself.

Christian musician Michael W. Smith stars opposite Jeff Obafemi Carr as two pastors from opposite sides of the tracks in “The Second Chance.” One works in a mega-church and the other in a poor neighborhood. “Better to be poor than be a fat man in the eye of a needle …”

“ATL” is the autobiographical story of the real life Antwon Fisher.This 2006 comedy/drama observes four friends in Atlanta as they prepare for life after high school.

“Edison Force” is a 2005 crime/drama starring, well, just about everybody: Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Justin Timberlake, LL Cool J and others. It is a story about journalists who discover a den of police corruption.

All of these films appear to be worth a look on a busy new release rack this week, so enjoy, but we heartily recommend “Tsotsi.” We in the vault are still hot on two recent releases that you’ve probably missed, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” and “Schultze Gets the Blues.”

Video Vault: Schultze Gets the Blues
Video Vault: Nine Lives

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