Tuesday, December 30, 2003


Paycheck surprised me. It is a good watch. It's not tedious like Memento but more popular. It is classy sci-fi, testosterone thriller, blow 'em up, but asks questions about knowing the future, in particular Michael Jenning's (Ben Afleck) past, present and future, the role of technology, and greed. It does go where other sci-fi films have gone before, but it is entertaining.

One problem is that there is much gun-shooting and killing and hardly any blood, so young viewers will need to be reminded of the consequences of violence... Mature teens and adults will find much to talk about though because they will hopefully understand the genre.

Cold Mountain

I was prepared not to like Cold Mountain because I did not care for the book. It didn't engage me.

However, the film far exceeded my expectations. It's got a haunting beauty, graphic battle scenes (not unlike other Civil War films we have seen), humor, great kindness and courage with much human weakness - and no cliche's. Food and "meal" is a stong motif, among many others, as well as faith and religion, without being obvious.

There is so much to say. Rene Zellweger is amazing and provides the humor. She deserves a best supporting actress win on this. We may be almost at saturation point with Nicole, but she carries off her role as Ada (she has a "piano", too) very well. Jude Law fits perfectly into his role as "Inman". To the credit of cast and director, it is more an ensemble piece than a presentation vehicle for Nicole. Very well cast.

It's moving and very much an anti-war film without being preachy.

Some aspects reminded me of The English Patient... but I got over that fast enough.

The only major gaffe is Nicole's black pant suit that is so out of character for a period piece. And if someone tries to explain it away, I am not inclined to accept any explanation. You can try though ...

Cold Mountain IS one of the good ones and I recommend it.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Calendar Girls

The Calendar Girls is based on the true story of a group of middle-aged ladies in Yorkshire, UK who create a nude calendar (not "naked") to raise money for the leukemia ward and waiting room of the local hospital. The struggle with the difference between art and non-art (pornography); they struggle with celebrity. They struggle with their personal relationships - all with a sense of droll humor and a sense of loss and empathy for those who lose loved ones through leukemia.

What impressed me is that the Calendar Girls understand what they did and why, but when they are invited to be on the Tonight Show, Jay Leno just blows it by telling them to get more women to pose naked. That it shows how shallow the journalism that surrounds them is, as well as shows that seek to promote them but end up insulting them, is a revelation.

These ladies have dignity. In the final alaysis it is about empowerment. I would have wished it could have done a bit more to resolve the relationship between the Helen Mirren character and her husband and son...

Both Helen Mirren and Julie Christie are marvelous.

By the way, they pose nude but you don't see anything (except in a couple of places, in passing, some breasts are evidenced.) Their beauty, as the flowers of Yorkshire, is best as they age.


Cheaper by the Dozen

If you saw the original, this version of Cheaper by the Dozen may not ring your chimes too much. It has some funny parts and it tries very hard. The eventual clash between the parents doesn't seem authentic because it doesn't take the time to develop the "family character" enough for us to care - or there are just too many to keep track of. Ashton Kutcher is very funny and his character works well as the true narcissist of the bunch. Steve Martin as a football coach? The time line of the mother's book being accepted and published and the book tour planned was very far fetched.

A review in the LA Times this week said Bonnie Hunt was too perfect to play mom to 12 kids. But if you recall the original, the mother was a very classy lady. I like Bonnie Hunt and she gets in her Catholic identity: go wash the dishes, sweep the floor or say the rosary...

What I would have liked to have seen was more of the father's efforts to nurture his children like the original. Alas, times have changed and economics and consumerism are big obstacles to family life.

The theater was almost full today and the crotch humor and the vomit got the biggest laughs from the kids (not too over the top.) It was enjoyable and it is pro-family, though from a Catholic perspective it has no problem with contraception (if you recall, the original had the Mrs. reject the efforts of the Margaret Sanger visitors.)

What worked was that you could imagine yourself in a family like this... at least I could since I come from a family of eight. And these kids got theri own rooms? Not so bad... Some funny out-takes at the end.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Have you ever seen a good movie made from a really poor script and conventional plot? Honey-from-the block is not a well-written movie, but I enjoyed every minute of it. (Think thoughts of Jennifer Lopez' story growing up in the Bronx - even to the choice of Castle Hill Avenue for a dance studio ... which is not even close to Hunt's Point or the South Bronx!)

It's Save the Last Dance, and a little Dirty Dancing rolled into one. Great moves by Jessica Alba and the kids she teaches at the Center in Hunt's Point (South Bronx) as she strives to maintain her principles and dignity when she gets involved in the music video business. A little romance, cultural diversity and awesome dancing.

This is a nice film that addresses poverty, drugs, cast off children, working parents, family, friends, and community. Some parents won't get the urban milieu or appreciate the dancing, but if they would give it a chance... A movie with lots of heart.

And only 90 minutes long!!!!

Something's Gotta Give

Writer-Director Nancy Meyers has made a fun and very funny movie about the Ashton - Demi celebrity syndrome and its reverse in Something's Gotta Give. There is a complexity of relationships (but nothing as poorly executed as Love Actually) to be explored and sometimes it's laugh out loud. Yes, there are implied affairs and some skin (mostly Jack Nicholson's unimpressive rear) but remember: the play's the thing. Diane Keaton is Erica, a divorced writer of successful Broadway plays and Keanu Reeves the doctor who takes care of Harry (Jack) when he has a heart attack while trying to make out with Erica's daughter played by Amanda Peet. Erica ends up taking care of Harry for a week.

It's grown-up fare. However, it's nice to see people grow and change in credible ways - and middle aged people as real live human beings in mainstream media. Harry's life changes after the heart attack which is real, symptomatic and symbolic at the same time. (Towards the end, Harry does a "Schmidt" thing and goes on a journey where he learns as he brings "closure" to the hundred(s) of sexual - not loving - relationships he had with women for over a 40 year time span. Thankfully, we don't have to watch but a sample of women now rejecting him.)

Something's Gotta Give is a tiny bit too long, but worth it. Although the film starts off about the unconventional, guess how it ends? This isn't edgy movie making, but sometimes you just want - need - a good laugh. (And Keanu isn't too bad either.)

Here's one more movie that does the Casablanca thing: "We'll always have Paris".

OK. That works.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Big Fish

This latest from Tim Burton is warm, off-beat and appealing. It's themes are very Christian as are the images. Big Fish - remember the one that got away? A young man, Will, (Billy Crudup) goes home because his father (Albert Finney) is dying. They have not spoken for three years. The father is a very social person and has always related to people through fantastic stories. Will scorns his father and regrets every believing him.

The strongest feature of this film is its heart, the father-son relationship. But let us not stop there. Family, marriage, death, and very strong baptismal imagery are front and center - as are Burton-esque visual motifs that you'll recognize from his other films.

It's an odd piece, typical Burton parable. It will make you smile and maybe shed a tear or two.

Good on story-telling and metaphor.

Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a fine film and arguably Tom Cruise's best acting so far. It takes place in 1876 when three US soliders go to Japan to turn the Japanese army "western." And in some ways, this is like a Kurosawa film turned into a western and then woven together. It's about culture clash, culture colonization through trade and economics. The most appealing thing about it is the integrity of the friendship between Cruise and the main Samurai warrior. Is this an allegory for today? Oh yes. It is violent, but not nearly as intense as it could be and it is contextualized. Nothing gratuitious. It is no where near Saving Private Ryan, for example. The film avoids cliche' and has some moving moments in the film.

It could be argued that this training wrought World War II in the Pacific and that a film like this is inappropriate. This is a matter for dialogue certainly, yet it behooves us to remember that the Americans went to Japan in the first place and opened the door in 1853 (Adm. Perry with a trade agreement in hand.)

A nomination for Cruise? I'd vote yes. It's very good. If you are a student of gloablization you won't want to miss this.

Monday, December 8, 2003

The Missing

The Missing is a somber work by director Ron Howard - a western with ideas. Excellent work by Cate Blanchette and the girl who plays her youngest daughter, Dot. Tommy Lee is good, but how Howard got such performances from these two ladies is a wonder.

There is always something missing in this film, from the old woman's teeth at the beginning, to the older daughter who is kidnapped, to the father who deserted Maggie (Blanchette) and returns for his own sake as well as a kind of redemption. Takes place in 1885 in New Mexico. Blanchette plays a healer who is Christian. The foe is a renegade Indian scout turned witch. He's as scary as Blanchette's Chrisitanity is cold and ambiguous (she sleeps with the hired hand when no one is looking.)

It is about Indians and white people and Mexicans - how the US calvary betrays the Indian scouts, they turn renegade and kidnap white girls to sell south of the border. One subtext is religion and culture. It would be, and might well to do, to parallel this film with current events.

This is a film worthy of Clint Eastwood, as theme, landscape and lighting. There is a lot of violence, but the people have souls.

Compare this to Open Range? The Missing is a real movie, with pain, ideas, drama. Open Range is an exercise in method dullness.

Both are too long, but with THE MISSING I didn't look at my watch for 90 minutes. This is a compliment.


Saturday, December 6, 2003

Peter Pan

Peter Pan is really Wendy's movie. This new version, directed by Australian PJ Hogan is a delight. He and screenwriters based it on the original 1904 play by J M Barrie - not the Disney version (heaven forbid.) They did add one character, an aunt, played by the wonderful Lynn Redgrave. They also used the book PETER PAN as a reference, but the play's the thing.

So, OK, the actor who plays Peter Pan is a male (for the first time instead of a middle-aged female in a live-action film) and American. Everyone else is British.

The Pirate (who also plays the father) is the best - and the costumes are very very good.

If you love the Peter Pan story, this will not disappoint. Some parts might, note might, scare some little kids. However, the scary parts are not too intense and tempered well by humor and - fairies. My nephew Jake has been a devoted pirate since he was about 2, and he will eat this right up. No matter the age or gender, viewers will relate to this film.

But the film does belong to Wendy.



Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Last night I got to see this film at a press screening and I am on my way out the door for the press interviews, but I want to let you know that this is a great film. It is very long at 200 minutes, but if you want to experience the entire trilogy, this is a must. More later...

I'm back.

The Return of the King is really the heart of this cinematic masterpiece. I just learned yesterday that five of our sisters in Boston and three of our lay employees already have their tickets for a midnight showing of LOTR: Return of the King the day it opens! Now that's devotion!

Don't read any further if you don't want to learn more details about the film...

It starts differently than the other two films. We get back story about Gollum and find out his relationship to the Ring. Remember, I have not read the books, so I need this. The reason this is so important is because of what happens at the Crack of Doom when it is time to destroy the Ring - finally.

Who destroys the Ring? You have to see it and find out. If you are a Tolkienmeister then you have no choice but to see this and explore the scenes...

Who is the hero? Again - you have to see it and decide.

The best special FX, (the spider!), and the most moving. We have come to care about these characters.

The themes and ideas are myriad. A catechist's gold mine.

Enjoy! The Tidings here in Los Angeles is publishing my essay this week or next and then our web site at www.pauline.org will publish the extended version (for you Tolkien miesters, I know. The only DVD's worth anything are the extended versions! At the press junket that's all about three of the journalists would refer to - and the cast knew them well, too.)

The ending - different from all the other films, naturally, because the tale comes to an end. The music is wonderful, too. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

My Life Without Me

I saw My Life Without Me at the Berlin Film Festival. It's the story of Ann (Sarah Polley), a young, struggling mother, who finds out she is dying. Her husband, Scott Speedman (Felicity) is a good person, but doesn't know what is happening to Ann so he cannot help her. Ann sets out to find out what life is like beyond her working class trailer life. This is a sad, though not despairing journey. Ann has an extra-marital affair just to see what it would be like, as if this experience of passion would some how help her live more fully while she still can. This is a sad film by Isabel Coixet. Bring a kleenex. Lots to talk about here: life, death, morality, love, family, loss.

Mostly Martha

If you are looking for a movie to rent for this weekend, check out the German film "Mostly Martha." It's a gem. Martha is ia chef who is a perfectionist. Her boss insists that she go to therapy because she is driving everyone in the restaurant kitchen crazy. She lives all alone and when she cooks for herself, she cannot eat. When her sister dies and her young niece comes to live with her, she begins to see that no one can make it alone. This is a touching and funny story with a flavor of romance, love and beautiful food that can change you. Subtitles.

Plots with a View

Alfred Molina plays Mr. Plots, a mortician who has been sweet on Betty (Brenda Blethyn) since they were very young. Betty's husband Robert is a jerk. There is a rival funeral service in the Welsh town headed by Christopher Walken (!). This is a "comedy" of errors where Plots and Betty plot her death so she can go ballroom dancing into the sunset together with the insurance money. A bit contrived but if it's the last film selection on an international flight, you might as well. 

To Kill a King

I saw To Kill a King on the plane coming back from South Africa. It's about the English Civil War, the rise of Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth) and the temorary demise of the monarchy when Charles I (Rupert Everett) was beheaded. Not sure if or when it will be available on video or DVD in the US (if it got theatrical release here I missed it), but if you are into post-Henry VIII England, you will find this well acted, directed and probably interesting. Dougray Scott (Ever After) plays the general who helps Cromwell oust the king, and is caught between his wife who is pro-monarchy and his loyalty to his friend Cromwell. Scott is not just another pretty face, actually.

Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat has always been one of my favorite Dr Seuss books. I wish I could say the same for the film. I thought it was over long and over done and a little crass. As I have heard around, perhaps if you are 8 years old you'll like it. Dr. Seuss had a way of engaging children's imaginations but this movie answers all the questions before they are even asked. The Cat reminded me more of the Cowardly Lion. He ought to have figured out which feline species he was before the cameras rolled. I don't mean to negate a movie that's fine for everyone. The little kids will watch and the parents will nap.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Russell Crowe is brilliant as the captain of a British war ship in 1805 following orders to sink or capture a French vessel. Napoleon is in the midst of conquoring the world. The French ship engages the British off the coast of Brazil and a gory (very gory) and ferocious battle ensues. Then Captain Jack (Crowe) goes after the French ship and does a kind of "Crazy Ivan" (remember The Hunt for Red October?). More battle scenes and then three weeks of repairs and off around Cape Horn they go looking for the French ship, which they find and subdue. Peter Weir is one of my favorite directors and he has made a good if not great film. It was just too long for me and very thin on character development - you wish you knew more back story for example. It was as if there was so much to tell Weir couldn't decide to go with story or style. There are themes of leadership and even nature and science and such. I can only imagine that the fans of Patrick O'Brian's novels will be enthralled. But not me.

Love Actually

Love Actually looked very inviting to me in the previews. After spending 2 1/2 hours watching Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World I was looking for some light Christmas refreshment. Alas, what could have been a montage of about eight love stories turned out to be a hodge-podge of tales that intertwined (more or less) and made this, to me, a less than appealing Christmas film. The one part that made me give this a thumbs down was the soft porn actors falling in love as they went through their scenes - which the audience gets to see. Sure, it's a comedy. I just didn't laugh very much. I did like the Liam Neeson and step-son story as well as Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman... Colin Firth and the lovely Portugese housekeeper in France was somewhat puzzling, but with only two hours you have to get in all you can. What was really insightful, though, was Billy Bob Thornton as the Clinton-esque visiting President and Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister showing the US who's who. There is enough love to go around, but I am not sure this movie does a good job of spreading it.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Matrix Revolutions

This final installment in the Wachowski Brothers amazing trilogy about humanity vs the machines (that's way over simplifying it) is excellent. For those who find the Creed in The Matrix, look for the revelation to reach its zenith in The Matrix Revolutions. If you are a fan, I believe this will meet your expectations, especially if you are into transcendence.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Station Agent

The Station Agent is my new favorite movie of the year, just replacing Whale Rider that came out today on DVD. Wonderful themes of community, kindness, compassion - and just being quiet. Fin is a dwarf who inherits an old train station "house" in rural New Jersey. He cannot rid himself of the kindness of strangers. This is a celebration of the human family.

I went to an art house in Santa Monica and it was about 1/3 full. Amost everyone stayed as the credits rolled, and the folks I saw came out smiling.

In the midst of so many dark films this week, this one is full of light without being a cliche'. See it.

Singing Detective

The Singing Detective is the poor man's version of A Beautiful Mind. Whereas A Beautiful Mind was based on the true story of John Forbes Nsh, Jr. who suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia, Robert Downey, Jr. plays a fictional (from what I can tell) paranoid /schizophrenic writer who hallucinates into song because he witnessed his mother and her lovers' sexual misbehavior as a child. Fine acting but a really weird movie. Mel Gibson's most unusual and creative role yet as the psychoanalyist. (That's a compliment.)

Monday, October 27, 2003

Beyond Borders

Beyond Borders - I liked it. Good acting from Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen. If someone says that the refugees are exploited or the audience's emotions are being unduly engaged, don't listen. I'd give this film a chance. It covers global humanitarian disasters from 1984 to 1995 or so through the experiences of aid workers and an American woman who at first has a bleeding heart, but who then makes good on it. People who live in comfort need to see the effects of the US not banning land mines. And such. Enough moral choices on every level. Lots to talk about.

In the Cut

In the Cut proves that Meg Ryan can act in other roles besides cute ones. However, I'd really need to interview Jane Campion before I would dare to hedge a bet on what this was about. Try a female version of The Bad Lieutenant. This is not pretty, not nice and someone put curry in the apple pie. OK, Blue Velvet also comes to mind. Life under the under belly. Maybe its time to take a look at Jane Campion's women. It's about a lighthouse without any light except the revleation of a truth - and at that point, who cares? Maybe I will feel differently in a couple of years. Meantime, I want to go and watch Seinfeld reruns.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Runaway Jury

The Runaway Jury, based closely on a John Grisham novel, is complex and it sure got my attention. It's about the gun lobby as much as it is about amoral - and moral - lawyers.

Sobering, moving, probably confusing at times, but I felt like I got my money's worth. This is not the run of the mill courtroom drama.


Veronica Guerin

I am writing this entry in "red" and "bold" because in the amazing film, Veronica Guerin, her little car is red and she is so bold in her search for truth about the drug kings of Ireland in the mid-1990's and her efforts, mostly post-mortem, to have the laws protecting unaccountable income confiscated. Her death caused a change in the Irish Constitution.

Cate Blanchett "is" Veronica, and this brief film, only 98 minutes, has such power that it makes you want to do everything you can to support and protect the freedom of the press - for the good of humanity.

I was sorry that on this Monday afternoon I was the only one in the theater (I saw this just after The Runaway Jury - which I don't recommend; seeing both films back to back will wipe you out emotionally)... whereas The Runaway Jury was about 1/3 full.

Please put this one on your list.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Italian Job

Did you happen to notice how many films about Los Angeles use the same locations? Hollywood Homicide and S.W.A.T. both used several of the same as The Italian Job. I thought other heist movies were better - The Thomas Crown Affair (original and remake) for example, and Ocean's Eleven (remake) was a hoot. Honor and dishonor among thieves. In The Italian Job it's easy to note a new filmmaking technique - the gorgeous stars stop, pose and sparkle for the camera as if for a magazine. All in all, it was very entertaining. But don't look to stay awake at 3:00 in the morning thinking about deep, important, meaningful things. Not while you could be driving your Mini Cooper down the train tracks... (In Ocean's Eleven there's no bad language, sex, or violence and it's completely immoral. Now, that's worth talking about!)


Great movie about the little horse that could ... the book made me laugh more, but for a 2 hour version of a book, the film was just fine. Loved the acting... Gosh this past summer had a lot of guy movies. At least this one was based on fact... Will receive the Catholics in Media Award this coming Sunday at the Beverly Hilton. Well deserved (though Bruce Almighty gets my #1 vote!)

Le Divorce

Le Divorce is a comedy of manners and cultural contrast from Merchant Ivory. From the first scene at the Paris Airport, when a Franch and US airliner are shown side by side, we know this is a set-up. This is an artsy film - watch the red handbag. I enjoyed it, it made me chuckle and it offered my sister and I something to talk about. My niece, who is a junior in college, didn't get it and didn't like it. Hard to say if Le Divorce had any deep meaning - don't think so. But it was a fun watch.

Magdalene Sisters

The Magadalene Sisters is a sad, terrible tale based on facts. Irish girls and young women assumed to be "sinners" because they were raped, sexually active or even suspected of being so, were sent to work in laundries run by nuns and the Irish government. These laundries were in existence until the 1990's when the last one was closed.

The film does not show even one sympathetic nun - and this is too bad because there had to have been at least one. But this is two-hour story-telling, so we do not see anything redeeming about the situation except the courage of a few girls to escape and make lives of their own. You can "google.com" this topic or even Magdalenes and find out more information.

To be noted is that some religious communities have admitted and apologized for their role in this injustice. I don't know about the Irish government or the hospitals who benefited from this form of slave labor. It's hard to imagine that very many people would even want to see such a film. On the other hand, once injustices are exposed and owned up to, there is a stronger chance they will not be repeated.

(Please note that this writer does not assume these victims to be "sinners" - this was the what the Irish government, Irish Catholic Church and even the girls' families believed them to be....)


Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Luther begins with a tortured young man pleading with God for forgiveness. He enters a monastery, probably for the wrong reasons. But he studies and learns and knows heresy when he sees it.

I liked this telling of Luther's life, especially because in its two-hour life span it brought in Luther's personality and character, the Catholic Church at that time - almost 500 years ago, and how the "princes" played into Luther's calling the truth as he saw it.

This could be a valuable film for anyone seeking to know more about the Protestant Reformation. It would be interesting to watch this side by side with A Man For All Seasons. Seems to me, a film like this can lead to greater understanding and dialgoue between Protestant and Catholic Christians.

Freaky Friday

This film about a mother and daughter who exchange bodies/identites for twenty-four hours was a lot of fun. It's always a good thing to walk in another person's shoes and see life from adifferent perspective, especially a loved one. Rather than a preachy family movie, it reinforced the idea and value of family. What a difference a day makes.


And the plot was about... studly LAPD characters doing the action thing. Even with a Latina as a token female lead, there was not enough there to impress me. I imagine there will be a sequel.



This feature-length documentary is opening this weekend in Los Angeles, and I must say, I liked it very much. Bonhoeffer's story is fascinating on its own merits. This documentary adds photos, context, theology, history - and ecclesiolgy to his life (1906-1945) that ended when he was executed by the Nazi's for participating in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

His decision to take an active role (however quiet) in the conspiracy was rooted in his contemplation of the Sermon on the Mount.

I hope that Bonhoeffer's contribution to theology and life, how he integrates it, can someday be studied side by side with Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II - the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

There is more that unites than divides Christians.

The movie introduced me into a whole new way of being a follower of Christ in fidelity and relevance. I hope you get to see it.

Open Range

I wish someone could explain to me why this film did so well. I saw it on an August afternoon soon after it opened in suburban Sacramento and I was the youngest person in the theater (+50). Three people rode in sitting in wheel chairs and a couple walked with canes. There were only white people in a theater almost 3/4 full. They clapped at the end.

Aside from the forced, deliberate cinematography and Annette Bening really playing her age, I was not impressed. Two old-ish guys fight off a whole town? The violence as intense as the rest of mainstream action flicks? No realistic social situation to call for such a disproportionate unbelievable response... I didn't "like" the Duvall and Costner characters...

If this was an attempt at some kind of movie nostalgia, it didn't work for me. No subtlety. Bland and boring.


Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Robert Rodriguez' sequel to El Mariachi and Desperado is more of a witness to something than a story anyone can repeat. Johnny Depp is back in another 2003 film, loopy and dangerous, as a CIA operative trying to manipulate Mexican politics. "El" (Antonio Banderas) is out to avenge the murders of his wife and daughter who represent his country, Mexico. It's hard to believe that the creator of the family-friendly Spy Kids franchise could produce a trilogy so violent it repels as it fascinates. But Rodriguez has a theme: family and culture.

Unlike Quentin Tarantino whose ideology seems to be to give back the entertainment he consumed as a kid (taken up a few notches), Rodriguez is always about - family and culture.

The All Souls Day motif in Once Upon a Time in Mexico provides the metaphor: masks. They hide all manner of reality and sins. But to cover up truth also can mean not to see the truth. When Johnny Depp loses his eye, the irony is not lost on us. The film is about pain coming deep from the heart - personal and national.

Whale Rider

Whale Rider was the BEST film of the summer of 2003, the highlight, the blessing. If you were enchanted by "Island of the Blue Dolphin" as a kid, and "Gifts of the Sea" as an adult, then you'll want to experience this quiet contemplation of a young girl's life and her desire to belong to her Maori tribe and make a contribution. There is a deep longing in the film that if you let it, will move you and stay with you. Mythical and mystical.

This movie was more than worth it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Everyone says the Academy won't give an Oscar to a Disney film. If that's the case, I will give Johnny Depp my own Candle Award (I just thought of that!) He is so loopy and fun in this movie - it has to be the most entertaining film of the summer. He owned this movie. Pirates had all the right ingredients - fantasy, history, reality, romance, quirk, adventure ... to name a few. And if you dig a little deeper you can even hit some social justice issues, like the rape of South America's gold that underpinned the economy of Europe for more than 300 years.

This one was worth it.


Daddy Day Care

This is not a great movie, but my 5-year old and 2-year old nephews kept chanting "Daddy Day Care! Daddy Day Care!" And they sat there and watched the film all the way through (my sister was so relieved because she had told them they were going to see Finding Nemo, and it was a week too early!!) As I have said before, the funniest thing was seeing a 3-year old talk Klingon with an adult. The thread about marketing sugar cereals to kids made an important media education point.

Fighting Temptations

Fighting Temptations is a fun movie. Sure, the premise is thin, but it's about the rousing Gospel music and human goodness. You'd have to be a block of wood not to just sit back and enjoy. Not-so-subtle message about the whys, ways and means of the advertising industry, too.

Secondhand Lions

Haley Joel Osmet is still acting like he was in A.I., but if you can look beyond that to the very original story and the eccentric personas of the characters that Robert Duvall and Michael Cane play, you'll have a good time. It's about having dreams and living them - or maybe not. The thing is to be so free on the inside that you can live your dreams. As usual, the trailers have most of the good parts in them, but if you like imagination, this is worth your time. There's a lot of love in Secondhand Lions.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things

In a year filled with dark films, here's another with a difference. This one has to be a contender. It takes place in London. An illegal immigrant from Nigeria tends the front desk at night for a small hotel. The manager is involved in harvesting organs from the willing and the unwilling for profit. The Nigerian man lives illegally with a political refugee from Turkey. She has her own struggles. Just when human dignity seems to be completely lost, an unrequited love story  blooms, fulfilled by great sacrifice. Ends hopefully. Directed by Stephen Frears (Liam). This movie was worth it.


A cautionary tale, written by a fifteen year-old kid. Amazing though dark and desperate. No one "likes" a film like this, but parents, if you are in a listening mode, listen. A "nice" girl goes bad when she hits middle school and mom doesn't have a clue about the kinds of questions she might ask and her kids don't come first. She (Holly Hunter) is not a bad person, just so clueless and without personal resources. She kind of floats through life and when she finally does get involved, we wonder what difference it will make because she just doesn't know what to do.

Mystic River

Dark and despairing story about three friends in a Boston working class neighborhood. Their lives are changed forever when one of the boys is kidnapped while they are playing in the street. Thirty years later, the 19-year-old daughter of the Sean Penn character is murdered. The kidnapped boy, now married and barely able to work (Tim Robbins), and the other friend (Kevin Bacon, a state trooper detective), are thrown back together with devastating results. Not a lot of hope, though the filmmaking is fine - Clint Eastwood's work is excellent. Why such a dark, sad, dead-end story appealed to him (almost a story of despair), I don't know except that I had the same feeling from this as I had from Unforgiven. Bleak. The women are very good - Marcia Gay Hardin and Laura Linney - she's downright Lady MacBeth. For those of us who know Boston, though, it will ring true. Filmed on location in Boston, you feel like you are there.

Under the Tuscan Sun

I loved it. I mean them.

I went out and bought the book right after seeing the movie and though the film and book are not the same, almost all the plot points in the film are in the book. The author, Frances Mayes, calls the film just another "interpretation" of her book. If you've ever dreamed of living in Italy, getting in touch with the land, experiencing life as raw, new and old, read the book and see the movie. Hopeful, beautiful - you feel like you are there. I loved the way the Blessed Mother's presence and influence is woven through both book and movie. What a lovely journey.


Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Quenten Tarantino returns with a two hour sequence of female revenge. When The Bride slays or seriously damages 88 assassins, the audience laughed. Tarantino has made spouting blood and cuts (amputations) a cliche'. It's all about the movie because there is no story. More linear than Pulp Fiction, I don't get the fascination with choreographed slashing as a proposed art form. It is smart (self-referent to the martial arts and such films; includes animation) but I was bored. Some women I met on the way out liked it - they could identify with The Bride who had to do what she did to survive. Huge super-hero comic book wanna be. Unless you are a Tarantino fan, go see Under the Tuscan Sun.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Intolerable Cruelty

George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are fine but the film lacks the loony humor of O Brother Where Art Thou? and the ironic tragedy of Fargo. However, note that the film is not cynical - it's a commentary on the contemporary cynicism about marriage. Ends satisfactorily. Kind of O'Henry-ish

School of Rock

I loved School of Rock. Pro-kid, lots of heart. Amazing talent.

It's easy to see how some parents might get nervous at the way parental authority is questioned, but I think this and other points that might make adults nervous are the very reasons why parents need to see this film - after all, their kids are seeing the film, or talking with kids who have. This way, you can have respectful conversations with your kids about what's important.