Sunday, December 30, 2007

Orphanage, El Orfanato

Why do characters in movies insist on prowling around in the dark when they hear a noise even though they have a husband or wife or someone who could prowl with them? Maybe because fear is a solitary thing, and maybe because the prowling goes into "parallel perceptions", as The Orphange does, and ultimately one must go it alone.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro (2006's brilliant Pan's Labyrinth), The Orphanage is a film lover's movie because you have to be willing to stay with it and wait, letting the dread and anticipation build.

A 37- year old woman, Laura, and her husband, Carlos, move with their adopted son, Simon, into an old Victorian-style orphanage on the Spanish coast. Simon, at 7, does not know he is adopted or that he is HIV positive. Laura is herself an orphan; she and Carlos, a doctor, have bought Good Shepherd Orphanage, to make a home for themselves and five or six sick children.

But this is indeed a house of spirits; when an elderly and creepy social worker appears with Simon's files, Simon begins friendships with make-believe friends and then goes missing in the noisy, mysterious house, and remains of children are found, unanswered questions ratchet up the audience's tension and anxiety.

This is a supernatural/psychological and I think a religious thriller straight out of Hitchcock rather than the latest bloody horror flick. It uses James M. Barrie's Peter Pan as a kind of framework, about a boy (and other children who don't want to grow up, or whose opportunity to grow up is taken away.) It is smart and expertly filmed. It does take its time, though. I think it's worth it if this is your genre. Very art house. Geraldine Chaplin plays a psychic who tries to discover what is going on in the house as the search for Simon continues. There's an interesting dynamic between faith and superstition as well: seeing is not believing - believing is seeing. There's a medium and a psychic on one side, and a chapel in the old orphanage of The Good Shepherd, flashbacks to prayer, and Carlos' St. Anthony medal. He wears it because Laura believes. I am still trying to figure out what the film might have been trying to say about faith and the afterlife. A very good watch.

For actors and other details, see

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Great Debaters the Movie

In the mid 1930's Wiley College, a tiny Methodist school in east Texas, had a winning debate team. This film, starring Oscar winners Denzel Washington (he also directed) and Forest Whitaker is a proficient histoical drama about the team and the times with flashes of brilliance.

In this scene for example. Dr. James Farmer, the president of the college and a minister, calls Denzel, as Professor Melvin B. Tolson, coach of the debate team, on his extra-curricular activities: organizing share-cropers into a kind of union. They go at each other with intelligence in friendship and respect.

It is a believable sequence that pulls you into the characters. I think adding in the union activities as a theme made the film a little too busy but was needed to move the action along.

The film has the flavor of the sports formula film about it, David and Goliath and so forth. This is, after all, one of the most winning of formulas there are.

There is a flavor of the 1987 film "Cry Freedom" about it, too. It could be because Denzel played in it (as Steve Biko, the martyr of aparheid) and a few of the scenes took place in "shabeens", the pubs of South African townships. These have been recreated for this film only in a U.S. south, that is, Texas, setting.  It is remarkable to think, however, that in 1935 the U.S.  south under Jim Crow, was South Africa under apartheid.

What I liked about the film, in addition to Whitaker's performance (and Denzel Whitaker's - no relation to Forest it seems), is that it has a feel of authenticity about it. Some of the characters portrayed went on to play roles in the Civil Rights Movement in the '60's and the film shows where they came from, where they got their ideas and the impetus to do something to make a difference. The role of the churches cannot be underestimated in the Civil Rights Movement and I think The Great Debaters portrays this very well.

The Great Debaters is about education, civil rights issues, and racism; it is teaching and informing us, and I enjoyed it even though I knew how it would end from the opening scene.  

I think Forest Whitaker is very good in this film.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Golden Compass Controversy: Shedding Light

Here is an article from The Fairfield County Catholic (Diocese of Bridgeport, CT) that I think will shed some light of understanding and calm on the recent controversy surrounding reviews about The Golden Compass. This interview/article says to me that it is good to read carefully, think, and ask questions in the interest of authentic dialogue about the products of popular culture. I think the paper has chosen the better part: to respond rather than react.  



The December 14, 2007 The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdicoese of Los Angeles ( ran two letters to the editor about an article and my review of "The Golden Compass". Although the film is on its way out of theaters, it will come out soon on DVD and will have a long shelf life, as the books already have. Therefore, I think it is deeply interesting and meaningful to compare and contrast the two perspectives as we consider the lingering presence of this title and any other controversial films/books that may come out in the future.

'The Golden Compass': Just say no? Or shall we talk?

'Compass': Challenging believers to articulate faith, values

Bravo to Sister Rose Pacatte’s Nov. 30th article, “’The Golden Compass’: Just say no? Or shall we talk?”


            What a well-written article! This topic has inspired me to pursue certain avenues that have fallen by the wayside. I believe your call to action on letting children think for themselves is the most valuable virtue we can give a budding Catholic. Our example is the best teaching method we have.


When others try to attack our hard work, we need to prepare our children for that. My motto is “There should be no shortage of wonderful stories for children to read.” Obviously we need to share in useful discussions about thegood and the bad.


Anna Martinez

Los Angeles

I was troubled by Sister Rose Pacatte’s conclusion after reviewing “The Golden Compass” and related controversy (Dec. 7). She stated, “To just say no is not a valid option in today’s media world.”


The church encourages the discriminating use of the media. If I want to protest the supposedly benign atheist agenda of Phillip Pullman, coming as it does in the context of an increasingly aggressive atheistic movement (e.g. Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.), a perfectly ‘valid option” is to “just say no” to the movie version of his  book.


For the same reason I have ensured that Pullman’s books are not on the shelves of our school library. It’s like boycotting Chinese goods to protest the oppression of Tibet. This is non-violent resistance entirely in line with the social teaching of the Church. A sad day has dawned if we have ‘empowered” the media to such an extent that every Hollywood production is a must-see.


Rev. Norbert J. Wood, O.Praem.

Rector, St. John the Baptist School

Costa Mesa



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Diving Bell and the Butterfly the Movie

Le Scaphandre et le papillon or, in English, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, has also just made my top ten list for 2007.

Directed by a biopic master (and artist) Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls) this current film is all about Schnabel's ability to create perspective and communicate texture of life. It is sacramental in this way because it is an external manifestation of an inner reality comprised of a man's memory and imagination.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (here played by Mathieu Amalric; Munich) was an editor/journilist for Elle magazine when in 1995 at the age of 43, he had a massive stroke that completely impaired his brain stem leaving him with "locked in syndrome".

Schnabel has interpreted Bauby's memoirs (dictated by blinking his left eye when the person taking the dictation would say the correct letter) in a way that makes the audience feel Bauby drowning in a sea of unknowing, navigating a life trapped within, and soar with him as his imagination breaks free.

Bauby died about ten days after his memoir was published in 1997.

Bauby was no saint before his stroke. Was he after? It will depend on your definition of holiness. There are many aspects of this film that I love, but the moment Bauby chooses to live, even locked in as he was, touched me profoundly. Isn't it one of life's lessons: to change the things you can (and he did), to accept the things you cannot (and he did) and to have the wisdom to know the difference - and this he certainly learned.

Would that we all reach Bauby's serenity the way Julian Schnabel presents it through the film. Awesome.

Another top ten film for 2007.

Juno the Movie

The writer and director of last year's off-beat comedy Thank You for Smoking, Jason Reitman has given me one of my top-ten films of 2007: Juno. It is funny, life-affirming, quirky and charming in an edgy, loving kind of way. Writer Diablo Cody (a woman) is right up there with Aaron Sorkin and David Kelly in terms of sharp, rapid-fire dialogue, imbued with humor and deeply-felt life.


Juno (played by Ellen Page; X-Men: the Last Stand) has blurry intercourse with her boyfriend (played by Michael Cera) because she is bored (we find out later; her step-mother, played by Allison Janney, provides this rationale) and, at 16, becomes pregnant. She considers an abortion but as she enters a clinic, a friend who is picketing yells after her: "Your baby has fingernails!" This idea ultimately convinces Juno to have the baby and give him or her up for adoption.

She finds a couple who have advertised in the  local Penny Saver. She and her dad go to visit and the adoption process is underway. Complications ensue amidst some underplayed hilarity and commentary by the precocious Juno and her clueless, but generous and good-hearted parents. Juno is is so much smarter than they are, and she knows it, yet their relationship is so beautifully portrayed, as parents and child, that this remains one of the strongest - and most touching - aspects of the film.

Juno is playing in art house theaters here in LA but it deserves a general theatrical release; maybe the Golden Globe nomination will give this life-affirming film the attention it deserves.

At first I wondered what on earth people were going on about regarding the film (because of the opening sequence), but after five or ten minutes I was hooked.

If you love movies, you won't want to miss this one.

If you are tentative about movies, try this one and be surprised. Talk about heart.

Others have probably said this but Juno feels like a girl's version of Napoleon Dynamite. Both Juno and the father of her baby dwell in high school borderlands; neither one really fits in. Juno has a girl as its hero, the main character, and it is very life-affirming, as is the film Waitress.

This film deserves a study guide; another film that could launch a thousand conversations - good conversations about things that matter.

This isn't a romance; it is a coming of age film about all kinds of love and understanding what authentic love is.


Alvin and the Chipmunks Movie

Alvin and the Chipmunks has its moments as an animation/live action combo because it targets our cuteness meter. Trying to tell the story of the famous song group (to those of us growing up 50 years ago) founded by Ross Bagdasarian in 1958, kidvid director Tim Hill does his best with a story that suffers from too many writers (three) who don't know what they want to say - at least it seems that way.


The film also depends on blatant and un-funny product placement and predictable gags and trying to force a family friendly message out of good animation. I felt like the filmmakers were ticking off a list of all the usual elements without really letting their creativity do something exceptional.

The total lack of a learning curve for the chipmunks as they transisted from the forest to the city and making the little guys seem like they had at least made it through th 8th grade of pop culture junior high in terms of lingo, demonstrated that the filmmakers wanted to reach a broad audience age-range, but it was only so-so for me.

Having said this, the film does show the down-side of the recording industry for young artists - but it doesn't mean it will keep studios from trying to discover and create the latest hit wonder.

Although this review may sound a tad unpositive, the only objectionable things are noted here. I saw it with my two nephews ages 6 & 9 and it was the second time for them. The younger one did say after about a half hour that it was funnier the first time through....

And if you stay for the credits you'll here Alvin and the Chipmunks sing a Christmas carol and get a little history about their albums. My nephews made me wait so I could see the one that they have (on CD).


Sunday, December 16, 2007

August Rush the Movie

If you like sweet films where you have to suspend your disbelief (as my sister Libby says) when the film seems more like a choppy fable than reality, you'll enjoy August Rush

Keri Russell plays Lyla, a classical musician trying to escape her father's control, who meets up with Louis, a rock singer played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. They spend a night together on a roof top bench in New York. Her father refuses to let her meet the young man the next day. Alas, she falls pregnant. She insists on having the baby although her father disapproves. When she has the baby her father lets her understand that the baby dies, and she believes him. Evan grows up in a Long Island orphanage/boys home and doesn't want to be adopted. He believes he can find his parents and runs away to New york to begin the journey.

You have to know how this is going to end...

Directed by Kirsten Sheridan, daughter of director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot; In America), the film struggles with the storyline and quality of writing. It also suffers from Robin Williams as the Fagin character to orphan Freddie Highmore's Evan aka August Rush in an Oliver Twist scenario. Mixing the Harlem church with the preacher and his daughter is a nice touch but the minister is kind of left at the end like a dangling modifer.

I think Terrence Howard is terrific in any role and he plays his social worker character well here - but his is another role that the film fails to carry through.

Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are fine, but they deserved more screen time. The writers needed to find a way to take care of Evan while he was in the city but mixing in Dickens created the film's fatal flaw.

While the film won't make my top ten list for 2007, I liked it well enough.

What does work is Highmore's music and the enthusiasm with which he embraces it. The film may draw a tear or two at the end (it did for me...) when everyone is reunited at a concert - even though it is hyper-predictable. The film has heart.

Smile. This is a life-affirming film.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Kite Runner the Movie

Director Marc Forster's (Finding Neverland) interpretation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel is warm and faithful, the LA Times and NY Times notwithstanding.

The child actors (relocated for their own safely because of the implicit male rape scene and later, child abuse which does not reflect well on Islamic cultures) are fresh and authentic. Any awards, however, should go to Homayoun Ershadi who plays Baba, the father of Amir. He centers the film and carries it because his action, after all, was the catalyst of everything that followed.

The plot of the story can be found at and my longer review for St. Anthony Messenger here:

For me, the words, "There is a chance to do good again" drive the entire picture. I loved the way the grown Amir not only reconciles with the wrong he did as a child to his friend (not unlike Briony in Atonement) by risking his own life, but how he reconciles with God as well. This gives the story/movie a dimension that people of all faiths can appreciate.

Kite running is a favorite "sport" among Afghanistan boys; it's a kite war really, and it is around what should have been carefree recreation, that the drama, tragedy, and atonement unfold.

Friendship, regret, goodness, atonement, forgiveness, are just some of the themes of a sensitive, powerful, and inspiring story made into a film. There is a way to do good again, and to finally be free. Every social ill of the world can be talked about in terms of this film, from the mistreatment of women and children, to war, greed, the abuse of power, etc. At it's heart it is a universal tale.

Cinematography is gorgeous, though stark.


Atonement the Movie

This  period drama, based on the book by Ian McEwan, is as tragic as it is beautiful. I haven't read the book so I cannot compare them, but if you have ever done something that hurt a loved one or a friend and came to regret, this may be an opportunity for you to do penance, assuage the guilt, and find a way to make restitution.

The basic story is that a very precocious and rigid young English girl, who thinks she knows more than she does, puts her nose where she shouldn't, misinterprets what she sees and then lies. Her lies send an innocent young man to jail and ruins his romance with her older sister. He finally gets out of jail be agreeing to go to war (WWII)....

The film takes its time getting to London where the young soldier (James McAvoy) and his inamorata (Kiera Knightley) meet up for a short time - or do they?

The acting is superb by all, especially by Saoirse Ronan who plays the young Briony at age 13 (and who will be in the upcoming The Lovely Bones).

What is so interesting to me is the form Briony's atonement took and who it mattered to; this film could launch a thousand conversations.

The cinematography and direction are flawless.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Online Course Church and Communuication

One of the best kept secret treasures of the Catholic Church is its body of teaching on communication and media.

For those of you who want to know more about the Church's teaching, theology, and spirituality of communications and media, may I invite you to consider this online course from the University of Dayton's Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation.

The website is:

The Church and Communciation course is described by clicking on this link:

If your diocese is a partner member, your fee is $40.00; if not, the fee is $80.00.

The course begins on January 6, 2008 and runs for five weeks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will be facilitating this course and I welcome you to join us.

People of all faith communities are welcome.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Invention of Hugo Cabret, The

Earlier this year I read

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznic (2007; Scholastic). It is an imaginative – and magical – story of Georges Méliès (1861-1938) , one of the first filmmakers who specialized in fantasy. He made over 500 films during his life of which 80 are still in existence. His A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la Lune is available on DVD.


What this book does is use drawings to tell the story between pages of written narrative. It’s like watching a silent film. It relies on our gestalt, and uses ellipsis. It’s over 500 pages long and takes no more than two hours to read but it deserves more time because the pictures are important. I suppose we might think of the use of the drawings as a kind of storyboard, but the silent film analogy works better. There I was reading along, and all of a sudden there are pictures without words. Something went silent – in a different way. My brain changed gears as I looked at the pictures and turned the pages. Words and pictures are all visual, but it was like Méliès’ space ship leaving the earth … the technique led my imagination into another world.


This book is not only interesting and fun, it’s a new genre! It’s playful and very smart.


What does this have to do with media literacy? Film history, how the imagination works with image and words, narrative, etc. I am going to recommend it to my media literacy students when we study film.


The sad thing about Méliès’ films is that people didn’t appreciate fantasy in the early days of cinema; audiences wanted the Lumiere’s reality cinema, with the train coming right at them from the screen (this is also in the novel). Méliès was a magician, and cinema was like making his dreams real.


What a wonderful way to study the history of film and the inner life of a dream-catcher, a natural story-teller. I enjoyed the book as an adult film-lover but it is written for the younger reader. the book would make an excellent Christmas gift for any youngster who loves to read and likes movies as well.


 Here is a link to; if you scroll down you can get several reviews, beginning with Publisher's Weekly.




Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas Letter 2007 Part I

Christmas 2007

Part I


Welcome to my annual Christmas Letter.  If you are reading this it may be because you received a postcard inviting you to visit, a small effort to save some trees. I hope 2007 has been a good year for you and that 2008 will be filled with joy and blessings for you and yours. This is in two parts, so keep reading!



Highlights at the Pauline Center for Media Studies (PCMS)


In June eight catechists and teachers received their Master Teacher in Media Literacy Certificate, the first group to do so. All eight were from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Congratulations and it was a wonderful year!




In September, nine more catechists and teachers began the Master Teacher in Media Literacy Certificate course; six are from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, two from the Diocese of Orange, and one from San Diego. All three dioceses recognize the certificate for recertification, certification, or specialization. For more information, visit


In June, the first ever meeting of the new Daughter of St. Paul PCMS team met here and included Sr. Hosea Rupprecht from Toronto, Sr Nancy Usselmann from New York, and Sr Helena Burns from Chicago.




On July we hosted the eighth annual National Film Retreat. About 30 people came from as far away as Connecticut, Virginia, Massachusetts and Ohio. Our theme was: The City: A State of Mind and Sacred Space. Check out for the 2008 National Film Retreat. It will be held July 4-5-6 here at the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City. We are thinking about a cruise retreat but possibly for 2009.


All this is in addition to our monthly Movie Bible Nights (the 2nd Saturday of each month) in conjunction with our Pauline Book & Media Center, and in May, a one-day seminar on How to Read a Film.


The letter continues below ...

Christmas Letter 2007 Part II

Christmas Letter Part II


Activities of the Director (PCMS)


In March, St. Mary’s Press published Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith and Media written by Sr. Gretchen Hailer, RSHM, and I (


In October, Pauline Books & Media ( published Into Great Silence: A Film Study Guide that Fr. Ron Schmidt, SJ and I wrote.


This year I was privileged to speak at the NCEA in Baltimore, NACMP in Columbus, and at ministry gatherings for the Arch/dioceses of Philadelphia, Tyler, TX, San Diego, and Helena, MT. I received two awards this year (lovely surprises!), the “Technology Award” from the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership inColumbus, OH,


and the “Jessie McCanse Award” for contributions to media literacy, from the National Telemedia Council ( 



 My film/television review column for St. Anthony Messenger, Eye on Entertainment received a 2nd Place Award for Best Regular Column from the Catholic Press Association in May in Brooklyn, NY ( I also gave workshops on media mindfulness at the LA Relgious Ed Congress (with Sr. Gretchen Hailer, RSHM) and one at the Christian Brothers Huether Conference in St. Louis In November. In June I presented and participated in the National Media Education Conference in St. Louis. Lights, Camera, Faith: The Ten Commandments, written with Peter Malone, MSH, received an Award of Excellence from the Religious Communicators Council ( and The Nativity Story Tie-In Project ( received an Award of Excellence as well, for writing. I also enjoyed participating at the Whitehead Film Festival at the Claremont School of Theology, the City of Angels Film Festival, the Gabriel Awards and Catholics in Media.


One of the big moments was to accompany Fr. Peter Malone, MSH, and Sr. Marie-Paul Curley, FSP  when he visited LA in October to present Paul Haggis with the Venice International Film Festival's Catholic Jury SIGNIS award for “In the Valley of Elah.”



It was also good to see this film as well as The Nativity Story, Akeelah and the Bee, and Champions of Faith: Baseball awarded by CIMA and The Gabriel Awards.


In March, I was invited to be part of the SIGNIS Media Education meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa ( I stayed for part of the time with our Daughter of St. Paul community and gave a workshop at one of the Catholic schools and gave some interviews for radio, press, and web. I also met up with my good friend Denise Newfield and her family once again. Denise invited me to speak about media literacy to her teachers’ class at the University of the Witswatersrand.


Personally speaking


My wonderful nephew Sam continues to do well in high school; he and his mom, my sister Sarah, appeared recently on The Mike and Juliet Morning Show ( to talk about the choking game. Jake made his First Communion in May. Whenthe priest asked the kids after they received communion how they should be different now that they had received Jesus, one boy said “We’re not supposed to sin.” Pause. “So much.”  After the laughter died down, Jake stage-whispered his mom, “Why was that so funny?” Funniest 1st Communion I ever went to! During the October fires Emilie and Paul and kids put the dog and photo albums in the car and went to Las Vegas to escape the smoke (they forgot the parakeet!). My niece Liz and her fiancé Jason plan on getting married in May – congratulations! My sister Libby and her husband Tracy still have Harold the Donkey. Their three huge black Labs are on probation after they got into the baby chick cage and decimated the population.


1 vs 100 begins again on Friday, January 4,  NBC at 8pm. It will run for eight weeks I think and I will part of the Mob on 4 (maybe 5) of the episodes depending on how they are edited. I was on the show previously in late 2006 and in January 2007. If you caught the episodes I went out on a PacMan question and then how many states begin with “New”. You’ll have to watch and see what happens this time around! I was on an episode of Last Comic Standing in August but that was a little outside of my comfort zone. With the Writer’s Strike continuing I imagine more game/reality shows will emerge. We are all praying here that the strike will be justly resolved soon.


Our Community


In January we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Daughters of St. Paul in the United States, the 50th in California, and the 18th in Los Angeles. Sr. Mary Bernardine and Sr. Christine Virginia were in a terrible accident outside on Tucson, AZ in January. Our van was totaled, and the sisters flown by copter to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. Sr Christine was released after 4-5 days but Sr. Bernardine was in ICU for quite some time. She was flown to Boston to our Provincial house after about six weeks and then went through intensive physical therapy before she was able to return home to Culver City on June 28, the actual date of our 75th anniversary in the USA. What a wonderful that day it was! Here is Sr. Mary Bernardine (the tall sister in the middle) with our community, including our co-workers and friends.



A Blessed Christmas to All

Love and prayers always

Sr. Rose

Friday, December 7, 2007

Golden Compass: More Resources

More Resources for Navigating The Golden Compass    


The Golden Compass: Download a 1 page handout guide

The Golden Compass : A Film Study Guide for Catholics With a Media Literacy Application

USCCB Review of the Golden Compass

Catholic Digest 

Catholic News Services (CNS) article by Denis Grasska

Entertainment Weekly December 4, 2007:,,20164193,00.html

My Movies: Online Blog by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

Catholic Movie Review by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

"Shedding Light on His Dark Materials," by Kurt Bruner & Jim Ware

The Christian Science Monitor

Toronto (Canada) Globe and Mail :

La Vie en Rose, Waitress, Rescue Dawn

New on DVD, these three films deserve some commentary.

"La Vie en Rose" is probably one of the most moving biopics I have seen. Directed and co-written by Olivier Dahan, it is the "extraordinary life of Edith Piaf", the French singer whose voice is the aural tradmark of Paris. Not only is her life and talent extremely well portrayed by Marion Cotillard (Marion in Big Fish), but the direction and non-linear narrative keeps the viewer online for the almost 2 1/2 drama. The cinematography is shot through with deep red hues and creates an image of Piaf's times that make the surrender of the viewer's emotions complete. This is great filmmaking and is Oscar worthy.

"Waitress", starring Keri Russell (Felicity) as Jenna, was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (who also has a role as a co-waitress). It tells the story of a young woman, married to a classic red neck named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), who discovers she is pregnant. She squirrels money away to make her escape but gets into an affair with her sympathetic OB/GYN Dr Pomatter (Nathan Fillion, now on Desperate Housewives) and her husband catches her when she does try to leave. Although she will have the baby, she doesn't have to like it. Her co-waitresses give her a diary and she starts to write to her baby. Meanwhile, a grumpy customer, who owns the pie roadside restaurant she works at, takes a liking to Jenna.

You can probably tell where this is going, but it goes in a very entertaining and brave way. I enjoyed the film very much. I liked the pie/life analogy ....

"Rescue Dawn" stars Christian Bale (Batman Begins) as a German-born member of the US Navy that gets shot down over Laos during his first assignment as part of black ops in the early years of the Vietnam war. The acting is strong but it is a very intense two hours and the ending just a little too-Hollywood. Directed and written by Werner Herzog; based on the life of Lt. Dieter Dengler.


Michael Clayton the Movie

I am probably the last film reviewer to see writer/director Tony Gilroy's (The Bourne Trilogy) Michael Clayton and I admit to seeing it at the discount theater here in Culver City. Although it reflects the creative influence of George Clooney and pal Steven Soderbergh - and a hit of last summer's legal drama Damages - Michael Clayton is a riveting look at the ethics in the legal profession within the context of globalized food production and personal morality.

Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a legal custodian whose job is to clean up after affluent clients. His inner conflict is shown by his descent into gambling, his strained family relations, his attempts to be a good father, and an upright human being.

When one of the partners in the firm, Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), has an attack of conscience and wants to switch sides and jeopardize his firm's earnings - a firm that has been making millions off of defending a multinational corporation from a class action suit that claims the company's practices harmed people - Clayton is called to rein him in. Things go terribly wrong, and Tilda Swinton as the corporation's inside attorney, Karen(this film's very evil step-mother so to speak), resorts to the worst to save her firm.

What will Clayton do as he navigates this murky world, and his own?

This is the question - and well worth the two hours. Superb acting, a little too "talky", but if you like films that deal in the morass of human selfishness and wants in a world of need, I think you'll appreciate this film.

Enchanted the Movie

Now beginning its third weekend, I finally got to see Disney's charming ENCHANTED, starring Dr. McDreamy - Patrick Dempsey of Grey's Anatomy as Robert, Amy Adams as Giselle, James Mardsen as Prince Edward, Susan Sarandon as the evil stepmother Queen Narissa, and Rachel Covey as Morgan, Robert's daughter.


Adams, Mardsen, and Sarandon all exist in all of Disney's Wonderlands collapsed together. Sarandon/Narissa doesn't want Adams to marry her step-son the Prince because she will lose her queenship as a result. So she gets sweet Giselle to fall into a deep hole that leads her through a very ironic portal - a sewage drain into the streets of New York.

Enchanted is surprisingly funny with good performances by all  - in very predictable roles. Disney's look into its own mirror is clever enough, though they just cannot get rid of the evil step-mother and the mother who deserts her child as the plot around which the story spins. Having said that, Sarandon is deliciously evil and looks like she is having a very good time (much like Anjelica Huston in Ever After). As Narissa/Narsissa morphs into a dragon at the end, the first thing that came to my mind was: Oh! Snow White meets Godzilla...

The cultural diversity in the film is interesting as well. Disney has been into cultural and racial diversity for some time now, perhaps one of the film/television studios that does it best. At the same time, it is very smart marketing.

Kudos to Rachel Covey as Morgan ( a nod to Morgan Le Fay in the King Arthur Legends/). She's bright and smart as the little girl charmed by a fairy princess.

One of the nicest things about the film is how kind it is, even when it looks like selfishness will triumph over love. This is a film that will probably not offend anyone; if so, then it succeeds as pure entertainment. Thoughtful parents, however, will find it useful to look at the commercialization/consumerism that goes along with the film. How to enjoy a film without buying the accessories and the lifestyle is always a challenge. Talking about the highpoints of the film and what each one finds most meaningful is a way to internalize the positive and pro-social values of the film.



Friday, November 30, 2007

Golden Compass Media Literacy Guide for the Faith Community

Media Mindfulness Strategy for The Golden Compass


As a media literacy education specialist I know that a media mindfulness strategy can be very helpful when analyzing books and films such as The Golden Compass.  By simply asking and answering these four questions below, families can make an informed decision about seeing the film and once they see it, talk about it in meaningful ways with young people. Catechists and religion teachers can also use this strategy as a means to talk about theology and philosophy in the greater context of the books (presuming that they will choose the wise approach and read the books and see the film before entering into dialogue.)


 Everyone can use the strategy as a point of departure for further exploring what they believe and articulating this well.


Here is the four part-strategy:


1.      What’s going on? What’s the story? How is the film’s reality created and why


2.      What’s really going on? Who is telling the story and why? (The film business; the author; the screenwriter).


3.      What difference does the film make? Is it really atheistic? Or does it evoke thoughtful conversation about things that matter?


4.      What difference can I make? What did the characters in the film learn? How did they grow and change? Did they? What, if any, light did the film shed on how I can live the Christian life is ways that respect human dignity? (See Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith and Media, Hailer/Pacatte, St. Mary’s Press, 2007, )


            The Golden Compass film challenges believing adults to articulate their faith and values and to brush up on Church history, theology, and literature and literary forms to do so - not because the film deals with these issues but because of the culture surrounding the release of the film. This film is an opportunity for us to develop our critical thinking skills: to ask questions and seek and articulate the answers: the answers to "why?"


     This is a difficult assignment for busy parents and teachers, but an excellent way to engage in our culture rationally and faithfully and with relevance. To “just say no” is not a valid option in today’s media world.  Let us respond, rather than react, to the world around us.           




The Golden Compass: To Talk About


  • What kind of a story is The Golden Compass? Do you like fiction and fantasy? Why or why not?
  • In one or two sentences only, explain what the movie is about.
  • What did the movie mean to you?
  • Who invented the Golden Compass and why?
  • Who is your favorite character in the film? Why?
  • What do you think are Lyra’s best qualities?
  • Does Lyra change and grow on the inside over the course of the film? How?
  • What did Lyra do when she was afraid?
  • If you could ask Lyra any question, what would it be? What would you ask Mrs. Coulter, or any of the characters?
  • Do you think it is a good thing to ask questions? Why?
  • Lyra is very curious in the film; what is curiosity? Do you think curiosity is a good thing? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think God gave us the ability to ask questions and seek the truth?
  • What purpose do the daemons serve in the story? What are they meant to represent?
  • What do the scholars – and Mrs. Coulter – seek in the story? What will happen if they get what they want?
  • If you read the book, how were the film and the novel the same or different? Which did you like more? Why?
  • In the film it says that if a child’s daemon is cut away, then the Oblation Board will be able to raise a generation of people that will not ask questions about anything, including about their teachers and government. What do you think would happen in the world if children (or grown-ups) stopped asking questions?
  • What do you think is the meaning of “dust”? What do you think it stand for in real life?
  • If you don’t know the meaning of the word “Magisterium”, look it up. Do you think it is used properly within the context of the story? Why or why not?
  • At the end Lyra says that “free will” is the most important thing. What does she mean by this?
  • What does “free will” mean to you as a Christian? What is free will for? How and why do humans have free will? What happens when anyone misuses their free will? Where does our free will come from?
  • How did the film make you feel? Did you like it? Why or why not?

The film opens tomorrow, December 7, and here are some links to recent articles about the film that some may find helpful:


Catholic Digest: 

United States Catholic Conference Office for Film and Broadcast:

The Christian Science Monitor: <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Toronto (Canada) Globe and Mail :