THE BUCKET LIST (A-3, PG-13): Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson, The Departed),
owner of a hospital chain, has cancer. He is arrogant, demanding, thrice divorced and has
an estranged daughter. His hospital roommate is Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman, Evan
Almighty), a happily married mechanic.
The well-adjusted Chambers has written a list of things he wants to do before he “kicks
the bucket.” They are noble, ordinary and altruistic items. Cole adds pleasurable pursuits.
They begin a journey to accomplish as many things on the bucket list as they can before
the inevitable happens.
Directed by Rob Reiner, this film has been dismissed as formulaic by some critics. But
the real problem is that it was promoted as a comedy when it is, in fact, a dramatic road
movie with comic moments. It tends to be a bit preachy, but the conversation the men have
about faith and family seemed very real to me. This is also the moment when Cole reveals
the state of his soul.
The fifth-century priest John Cassian identified eight deadly faults in his writings.
Later, Pope St. Gregory the Great pared the list to seven sins and merged the sin of acedia (spiritual
apathy or sadness) with sloth. Acedia is a spiritual term, not a psychological one,
that describes a person who is too lazy to engage in the spiritual life.
Cole, who epitomizes spiritual laziness, has spent his adult life refusing to make a spiritual
assessment. Actually, he is afraid of what he will find and is too lazy to change.
When Chambers resists temptation, Cole begins to understand that the fidelity and sacrifices
his friend did for his family made Chambers a genuinely good man, ready for the next life.
It may not be a great film but this inspiring film is excellent for retreats and enjoyable
enough to watch on its own merits. It speaks frankly about death and dying, topics our
culture goes to extremes to avoid. It’s about redemption and two unlikely buddies who learn
profound and life-changing lessons on their journey. A vulgar gesture and one implied
VANTAGE POINT (A-3, PG-13): Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid, In
Good Company) returns to President Ashton’s (William Hurt, A History of Violence)
detail after taking a bullet for him. Barnes is anxious as he waits for the president
to arrive for a summit gathering in Salamanca, Spain.
Just as his partner, Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox, Lost), checks out some movement,
shots are fired, the president is hit and a bomb goes off. Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker, The
Last King of Scotland) is an American tourist who records the event with his camera,
as does a U.S. news network.
The film sends a message to audiences that America will prevail in the fight against terrorism. Vantage
Point shows a president who resists manipulation by his aides and questions a policy
This film emphasizes loyalty, friendship, homespun American kindness, courage and generosity
abroad. The way TV news reporters decide what to tape and broadcast and what to leave out
makes for an important conversation from a media-literacy perspective.
But everything is from a male character’s point of view: The female characters are killed,
killers or in need of rescue. Why the filmmakers would cast an A-list actress like Sigourney
Weaver as the news director and then never weave that particular thread into the ending
left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Intense action violence.
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED (unrated, PG): When Charles Darwin published On
the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, it was immediately controversial
because it challenged the then-accepted explanations for the origin of life. Today, according
to this compelling documentary, co-written and narrated by former presidential speechwriter,
TV host and actor Ben Stein (Win Ben Stein’s Money), Darwin’s theories for the
origins of life are so entrenched in the U.S. scientific community that to question them
is academic suicide.
Stein travels across the United States and Europe to interview scientists who have lost
research grants, professorships and tenure at universities because they suggest that the
scientific evidence for intelligent design is stronger than the evidence for the origin
of species provided by Darwin and his subsequent adherents.
Stein interviews Richard Dawkins, a proponent of Darwinian atheism, who is unable to sustain
a logical argument to support his uninformed views about God.
To most of the academics, scientists and observers in the film, Darwin’s theories of evolution
(and the origin of species and their negative influence on the scientific and social policies
of governments and the world) have failed. The debate, the filmmakers say, will be settled
by the scientific evidence, if scientists are allowed to question Darwinism in their research
and if teachers may question it in schools.
This film wants to spur audiences to question Darwin’s theories but never acknowledges
that intelligent design is a philosophical argument for the existence of God (from Aristotle
to St. Thomas Aquinas) rather than a scientific one. This is an important distinction that
Vatican scientists have urged those engaged in the creation/evolution debate to keep in
mind—a clear voice the film could have used.
Ben Stein’s humor engages, but Expelled may appeal more to creationists than scientists,
though it protests that the dogma of Darwinism is an issue of free speech—not a religious
one. Mature themes and disturbing images.
CONSTANTINE’S SWORD (unrated): James Carroll, a writer and former Catholic priest,
documents how the cross became a sword of war from the fourth century, through centuries
of the Church’s role in anti-Semitism, to recent efforts at the U.S. Air Force Academy
to allow cadets to evangelize and convert fellow students to fundamentalist Christianity
and promoting anti-Semitism. A rather one-dimensional mix of autobiography, history, religion
and polemic, this documentary is based on Carroll’s 2001 book of the same title. May
irritate as much as it provokes audiences to question the role, reality and influence of
religion, war and politics in American culture today.
UNNATURAL CAUSES: IS INEQUALITY MAKING US SICK? (PBS, beginning March 27, check
local listings): Universal health care is one of the most debated issues in the United
States today. This six-part documentary series breaks new ground by raising questions and
identifying the inequalities in our social systems that determine America’s health: economics,
education, housing and subtle racism.
The series challenges us either to react to health-care crises or revise the systems that
make us sick. As one expert states, revising these systems can benefit everyone because
it is the right thing to do—and because good health is good economics.
The content correlates well with the principles of Catholic social teaching and can be
integrated into courses on social justice for high school and above. Available on DVD from www.pbs.org.
TYLER’S RIDE (Paulist Productions) is due to launch an innovative faith-based series
this month of 12 “webisodes,” each three to five minutes long, on www.tylersride.com.
It stars Grant Alan (Cold Case) and the popular Christian singer Jeremy Camp.
When Tyler’s father kicks him out of the house to grow up, the young man has to make big
decisions about life, work, family and relationships. It focuses on topics teens, parents
and youth ministers can talk about.