Capsule reviews: 'Duchess of Langeais,' 'Redbelt' and 'Blindspot'

  • Updated: May 8, 2008 - 4:24 PM

"The Duchess of Langeais" revolves around a battle of wills as violent as any conflict in a Napoleonic theater of war.

THE DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS

★★ 1/2 out of four stars

Unrated by the MPAA, suitable for all audiences.

Theater: Lagoon. (View showtimes here)

"The Duchess of Langeais" is a stately costume drama of wrenching passions expressed in courtly phrases. It opens with an irresistible hook: A brooding French general (Guillaume Depardieu, son of Gérard) obtains an audience with a nun called Sister Theresa (Jeanne Balibar). Their tense interview, conducted under the watchful eye of the Mother Superior, ends when an agonized Sister Theresa shrieks, "Mother, I have lied to you! This man is my lover!"

Then the film retreats five years to replay the soldier's emotional siege of the beauty -- who was then the titular Duchess, an alluring queen bee of Paris society -- and her wily, coquettish resistance. Their elaborate strategies and mind games become a battle of wills as violent as any conflict in a Napoleonic theater of war.

COLIN COVERT

REDBELT

★★ 1/2 out of four stars

Rating: R for strong language.

Theater: Lagoon. (View showtimes here)

It sounds like a movie that was created by flipping randomly through a copy of the Hollywood Reporter: a mixed-martial arts drama written and directed by "Mr. Gravitas" David Mamet, starring art film heartthrob Chiwetel Ejiofor and comedy king Tim Allen.

Ejiofor plays a Los Angeles jiu-jitsu instructor and gym owner whose lessons have as much to do with honor as takedowns and escapes. When he rescues Allen, an over-the-hill action star, during a bar fight, he is drawn into Hollywood's world of opportunism and exploitation. He's forced against his will to enter a broadcast competition, with his marriage, his livelihood and his reputation in peril.

The film generates crackling tension as Ejiofor slowly realizes that his life is crumbling, while sharks played by Ricky Jay, David Paymer and Joe Mantegna circle him, teeth bared. But Mamet tries to load the story with more drama than it can bear. He loves twists and misdirection and overstuffs the plot with too many con games.

Ejiofor fights his way back to honor in the final minutes, usually a stand-up-and-cheer cinch of an ending. Unfortunately, the blocking of the action is unremarkable and the climax resolves the film's remaining dilemmas all too neatly. "Redbelt" ranks as one of Mamet's lesser efforts as writer and director.

COLIN COVERT

BLINDSIGHT

★★★ 1/2 out of four stars

Rating: PG for thematic elements and mild language.

Theater: Oak Street. (View showtimes here)

In Tibetan culture, blindness is seen as a punishment for misdeeds in a previous life. Lucy Walker's film "Blindsight" follows six teenage students at a school for the blind who attempt to scale a 23,000-foot peak on the northern side of Mount Everest in a bid for self-esteem and respect from others.

Under the direction of blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer and an international team of guides, the children train, develop deeper bonds with one another and share their life stories. One was sold at age 10 to a couple that made him a street beggar. If he didn't earn enough money, they beat him. His nickname: Lucky. And yet he turned out to be a tough, lovable survivor.

Much more than an "inspirational gimp" story, "Blindsight" finds drama in the disagreements between the climbing guides over what's best for the children. Westerners clash with Tibetans, Americans with Europeans and kids with adults, as tears flow (and freeze) and high-altitude health problems arise.

The structure is a bit wobbly, with an emotional family reunion in China inserted uneasily into the Tibetan climbing scenes, yet the physical hurdles they overcome are so symbolically important it's impossible not to be moved. When they reach a plateau where melting ice has created a tactile sculpture garden, their delight is infectious. We get a notion of their joy in the shapes that's as sensational as the scenery all around them. Watching it, you feel almost as much a winner as the kids themselves.

Stick around through the closing credits for a rousing solo performance of "Happy Together" by a young blind student. Who knew the Turtles were so big in Tibet?

(7 p.m. today-Thu., plus 3 p.m. Sat. and Sun. Also showing are Best of the Fest selections: "Manual of Love 2," 9 p.m. today; "Citizen Havel," 5 p.m. Sat.; "Strawberry Shortcake," 9 p.m. Sat.; "Tirador," 5 p.m. Sun.; "My Best Enemy," 9 p.m. Sun.; "We Shall Overcome," 9 p.m. Mon.; "Circumcise Me!" and "Winterland," 9 p.m. Tue.; "Bittersweethearts," 9 p.m. Wed.; "Postman in Shangri-La," 9 p.m. Thu.)

COLIN COVERT

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