BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (A-1, PG): One summer morning 10-year-old Opal Buloni (AnnaSophia Robb) rides her bike to the Winn-Dixie supermarket in the small Florida town where she and her preacher father have settled. As she shops, a stray dog wreaks havoc on the store. When the manager wants to call the dog pound, Opal claims the mutt, which she names after the store.
Opal convinces her lonely father (Jeff Daniels) to keep the dog, even though the owner of the trailer park (B.J. Hopper) says dogs are not allowed. Winn-Dixie and Opal make friends with many people, including a nearly blind old woman, Gloria (Cicely Tyson), the manager of the pet store (Dave Matthews) and an aging librarian, Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint).
Miss Franny tells Opal and another girl, Amanda (Courtney Jines), about an ancestor who built a now-abandoned candy factory after the Civil War. She shares the candy with the children, who share it with others. They all taste the sweetness and the sadness of life.
This film is based closely on Kate DiCamillo’s popular novel of the same title, which was named a 2001 Newberry honor book. The deeply human and spiritual story deals with loss, longing, sin, repentance and hope.
The dog is a means of grace as well as a literary device that leads the characters through the long, hot, rural, Southern summer of loneliness to become a community of outcasts, one that we already know from reading the Gospels. The candy plays a significant theological role as well because of its special qualities. A film about kids and for kids, with a gentle message for grown-ups, too.
MILLIONS (A-2, PG): In England, nine-year-old Anthony Cunningham (Lewis McGibbon) and his brother, seven-year-old Damien (Alex Etel), imagine what their new home will look like, even though their mom, Maureen, won’t be there because she has died.
When the boys move into the house with their dad, Ronnie (James Nesbitt), Damien uses the boxes from the new appliances to build his own house near the railway. He has visions of saints, including St. Francis of Assisi. He knows who they are, the dates they lived and what they are patrons of.
One day, a canvas bag full of money crashes into Damien’s cardboard house. He wants to turn the money in, but Anthony won’t let him. This occurs when the deadline for changing pounds into euros is only days away.
When Damien starts giving the money away to help the poor, his saint friends continue to offer positive reinforcement. But when a scary man comes searching for the money, the action really heats up.
Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting; 28 Days Later) and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Welcome to Sarajevo), Millions engages, inspires and is just quirky enough to be charming. Damien’s familiarity with the saints and his recitation of their biographies is accurate and very funny, though St. Clare’s habits may surprise you. The children’s accents might take a little getting used to.
Millions speaks strongly to the Christian’s commitment to the poor. There is much obvious product placement in the film, which always distracts me. Since most of the story takes place at Christmas; I predict this film will become a holiday classic. Peril and mild sensuality; a delightful film about how a small child uses fantasy and faith to make sense out of his life.
HITCH (A-3, PG-13): Hitch (Will Smith) is a New York “date doctor,” who helps men get dates. Sara (Eva Mendes) is a New York gossip columnist who is watching a rich heiress, Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), for signs of romance while counseling her friend Casey (Julie Ann Emery) to avoid dating a man who shows early signs of infidelity.
Hitch declines to work for Vance (Jeffrey Donovan), a rich financier who disrespects women. But Hitch takes on hapless accountant Albert (Kevin James), who is in love with Allegra. Meanwhile, Hitch and Sara’s universes merge and then collide as this lighthearted romantic comedy twists and turns to its inevitable conclusion.
My younger sister very articulately said that Hitch is refreshing for its lack of clichés and is entertaining despite its predictability. Additionally, this film comfortably celebrates cultural diversity. This Andy Tennant-directed comedy (Sweet Home Alabama, Ever After) is a notch above last year’s romantic hit Along Came Polly, which was one-dimensional and flat-lined. Hitch’s principal characters grow, change and give up something for others. Some problem language and strong sexual situations; reaffirms our culture’s belief in romance and lets us see that unlikely relationships are full of possibilities.
FAREWELL TO RAYMOND AND NYPD Since 1996 we have been entertained by New York sportswriter Ray Barone (Ray Romano) and his family: wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) and their three kids; brother Robert (Brad Garrett) and his new wife, Amy (Monica Horan); parents Marie (Doris Roberts) and Frank (Peter Boyle). (Marie is my favorite character.)
The Barones took sibling rivalry, parent-child favoritism, mother-in-law issues and interfering to such high levels that we may only see these treated so humorously again in the show’s syndication. Raymond had a Catholic dimension as well, from the parish priest to Debra’s sister, a missionary nun.
Viewers voted on their favorite episodes of Raymond. The five episodes receiving the most votes were scheduled to be broadcast again, starting February 28, with the most favorite airing on March 28. The series finale is May 16.
This popular series has been nominated and won more industry and viewer awards than we can list here. In 2001, it won the coveted Humanitas Prize for screenwriting that inspires and uplifts the human spirit. Indeed, everybody does love Raymond.
Also retiring into syndication is NYPD Blue, Steven Bochco and David Milch’s often controversial depiction of a New York City police unit. Story lines that included partial nudity and raw language, complicated relationships and human frailty, combined with gritty camera work and sharp dialogue, garnered awards year after year since its first appearance in 1993. Many will miss this series, which some call the best on television, but there are a variety of new ones in line to take its place.
NUMB3RS (CBS, Fridays) What Numb3rs, which debuted in January, lacks in controversy, it makes up with cerebral gymnastics. Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) plays F.B.I. agent Don Eppes, whose younger brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), is a brilliant professor of mathematics. They solve crimes and mysteries by using higher mathematics and police work.
With Emmy Award-winning executive producer and film director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men) behind the project, as well as Emmy winners Peter MacNicol and Judd Hirsch as cast members, it's hard to say who the audience is, especially to those of us who are mathematically challenged. As the series progresses, the cast has become more diverse and the stories more interesting. The show asks: What is the function of numbers in nature and society? What do they mean?