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Greed Is Not Good
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC
THE INTERNATIONAL
GOMORRAH
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT
SESAME STREET: BEING GREEN
THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER
KINGS
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



In filmmaker Oliver Stone’s 1987 Oscar-winning film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) plays a ruthless financier who tells stockholders, “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper [a fictitious company], but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.”

Current events and three recent films (one a romantic comedy, one an action film and the other a kind of fictionalized documentary) demonstrate that the opposite is true: Greed, one of the seven deadly sins, is not good; it is never good. Consumerism as a lifestyle cannot endure. It makes life and authentic relationships difficult— if not impossible—because consumerism transforms human persons into objects.

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CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (A-3, PG): Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers) is a young New York journalist who needs to work to support her shopping addiction.

Instead of her dream job with a major fashion magazine, she is hired by a firm’s smaller magazine that counsels ordinary people about financial management. Her editor is a British expat named Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy, Ella Enchanted).

Rebecca manages to be successful, despite her ditziness. Her roommate, Suze (Krysten Ritter, 27 Dresses), gets fed up with Rebecca’s refusal to take financial responsibility. Eventually, Rebecca is forced to face the consequences.

This film is pretty funny. Isla Fisher, who is genuinely comedic and reminds me of Lucille Ball, has great timing and can pull off physical comedy in a way that is rare.

Confessions is based on the first of a very successful series of five novels (so far) by Sophie Kinsella. I liked the book better than the film because the humor is more subtle and the muddles Rebecca creates are more complex.

Rebecca’s sessions at Shopaholics Anonymous would be hilarious if her final insights about why she shops weren’t so sad and true. This is an excellent film for discerning the difference between wants and needs. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., talks about this topic as the virtue of “enoughness.” In the face of consumerism-run-wild suddenly checked by a very real economic crisis, it pays to ask: “Do I need that?” or “Do I already have enough?”

The book and the film say that there’s more to living than shopping as a lifestyle. A film sequel is likely. Mild problem language.

THE INTERNATIONAL (A-3, R): Louis Salinger (Clive Owen, Children of Men) is an analyst for Interpol. After he sees an agent killed, Louis flees and calls Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts, The Painted Veil), his contact in the New York district attorney’s office.

They have been searching for enough evidence to close down a gigantic international bank that has been double dealing in weapons. This fictional story is as elliptical as the circular stairways of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where a violent gun battle takes place. But as the duplicitous banker Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl, The Third Miracle) tells Salinger, “Fiction has to make sense; reality does not.”

Director Tom Tykwer’s 1998 film Run, Lola, Run was clever, fast-paced and extremely cool. But in The International, he has taken novice screenwriter Eric Singer’s script and created a convoluted, if conventional, film. Salinger, however, is vulnerable, as are all people who struggle to do the right thing under great duress, even when banks and governments let them down.

The film makes it clear that this bank isn’t about making a profit; it’s about owning as much of the debt of nations as possible in order to control world events. Arms dealing and money laundering are means to an end. There is no honor where greed infests the conscience of individuals and the organizations they control.

The film is as interesting as it is violent. While we deplore excessive and gratuitous violence in media, here it is analogous to the disastrous consequences of greed on real people. The final scene is either the most ironic or the most cynical I have ever seen: For such a serious film, it made me guffaw. Action violence, some problem language.

GOMORRAH (not yet rated, R): In 2006, young Italian journalist Roberto Saviano wrote Gomorrah, a best-selling explosive exposé about the Camorra, the mafia of Naples. Saviano is now in hiding, protected by the Italian version of the witness-protection program.

The film is about the violence of hopelessness. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) is a timid middleman who collects rent and distributes cash to former mob enforcers. Totò (Salvatore Abruzzese) is a young boy drawn into collaborating with a mob hit. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) works at a waste-management company, unaware of the mob connections as he helps his boss buy farmland to dump toxic waste. Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) is an underpaid tailor who teaches Chinese dressmakers the craft on the sly because his mobster boss treats him like a slave. Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) are mafia wannabes.

The film’s title is quite apt: In the Book of Genesis (18), Abraham begs God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if even 10 just people live there. God agrees to this but does not find 10 good people. In this film about the seven deadly sins, helmed by greed, only one person walks away because of conscience.

For this being a film about Italy, the absence of Christianity or the Church, except for three brief images, is jarring. According to author Saviano, the Camorra is responsible for 10,000 deaths in the last 30 years and runs a 150-billion-euro business empire, including investments in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

Gomorrah won awards, including the Gran Prix at Cannes. Although this long film with no plot will probably not interest the general public, students of history, current events, crime, anthropology, sociology and, hopefully, theology will be intrigued. (Italian with English subtitles.) Extreme violence and brutality.

THE VELVETEEN RABBIT: Michael Landon, Jr., directs a new version of Margery Williams’s timeless children’s story. Using live-action and animation, it stars Matthew Harbour, Jane Seymour, Tom Skerritt and Ellen Burstyn. Although nicely filmed, it seems a bit long at nearly 90 minutes. Themes include unconditional love, growing up, friendship, betrayal, sacrifice, death and resurrection.

SESAME STREET: BEING GREEN: In this direct-to-DVD 45-minute program released in time for Earth Day, Mr. Earth (Paul Rudd) uses songs and images to teach Elmo and Abby to recycle, reuse and conserve.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER (ABC Family, Mondays): Now in its second season, this series revolves around Amy (Shailene Woodley), a pregnant teen, and the effects of her situation on her family and friends. Created by Brenda Hampton (7th Heaven), the series deals frankly (some might say too frankly) with the consequences of teen sex.

Hampton does not apologize for dealing with the subject. Mark Derwin, who plays Amy’s father, told me in an interview that people write the show, saying it provides teens and parents with a way to talk about sexuality.

KINGS (NBC, Sundays): This new series is a contemporary look at the David and Goliath story. David (Christopher Egan, Eragon) is a brave soldier embroiled in politics in the Kingdom of Gilboa. My friend Sister Hosea Rupprecht says, “It will be fascinating to see where this series goes.”

FROZEN RIVER (A-3, R): Two needy women (one Mohawk and the other white) in upstate New York smuggle people illegally into the United States from Canada by crossing a frozen river. This independent film exposes a complex moral universe: men who desert women, women who break the law to survive, human trafficking and the cycle of victimhood. At the same time, it reveals the heart of humanity through mothers who want to take care of their children more than anything. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it was nominated for two Oscars: best actress (Melissa Leo) and best writing (Courtney Hunt). Mature themes.

EVERLASTING MOMENTS (not yet rated): In the early 1900s in Sweden, a young woman with seven children and an alcoholic, abusive husband wins a camera. Throughout her difficult life, she takes photos and learns to see the world, and eventually herself, through new eyes. This good but difficult film based on a true story was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Strong domestic violence and mature themes.

HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU (L, PG-13): Based on the best-selling book by Sex and the City authors Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the film follows a group of young adults in Baltimore. It’s a star-studded cast, but the interaction of Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) and Justin Long (Idiocracy) forms the centerpiece of a film that questions the meaning of marriage and lifelong commitment in a very secular culture. Problem language and sexuality.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm.

Find reviews by Sister Rose and others at www.CatholicMovieReviews.org.

 


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