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Renaissance Animation
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




UP (A-1, PG): To borrow a term from film critic Roger Ebert, Up belongs to the reborn genre of feature-length animated films. Up takes its place right along with other beautiful, digitally rendered films such as WALL•E (2008) and Spirited Away (2001).

As for the story line, Up is very similar to About Schmidt, Alexander Payne’s 2002 reflection on “the third age” of a man’s life that is filled with possibility and connectedness to the rest of humanity. Further, Up borrows a page from Jeff Balsmeyer’s charming live-action 2003 film Danny Deckchair by taking the main character to a faraway place via party balloons.

Growing up, Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) meets an adventurous girl, Ellie (voice of Elie Docter), who is also an admirer of discredited explorer Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer, Syriana).

Now married and unable to have children of their own, they focus all their dreams on one day traveling to Paradise Falls, after being inspired by Muntz and his adventures in Venezuela.

Two things happen after a long, artistically unique, silent sequence that ends when Ellie dies. A Wilderness Scout named Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai) importunes Carl by volunteering to help the elderly man so he can get his final scouting badge.

Then, contemplating his life and dreams, Carl hooks up his house to a gigantic bouquet of helium balloons to follow Muntz to South America. But there’s one catch: Russell. He is back to offer assistance to Carl and becomes an unwitting stowaway. Together, the two set off on an adventure.

The story is the typical white male hero’s journey for Carl, who is transformed by the opportunity to be a father figure to Russell and to make a difference in the life of a young boy. Co-directors and co-writers Pete Docter (WALL•E) and Bob Peterson (Ratatouille) have created an almost flawless film that is as endearing as it is visually imaginative. The shortage of female characters that don’t die and the lack of racially diverse characters are issues the filmmakers and Pixar need to address in upcoming films, however.

Up is the pinnacle of Pixar’s animated genius. The film has “Oscar” written all over it. A touching, animated treat.



AWAY WE GO (not yet rated, R): Burt Farlander (John Krasinski, The Office) and his pregnant girlfriend, Verona (Maya Rudolph, Saturday Night Live), move to Burt’s hometown to be near his parents, Gloria (Catherine O’Hara, Penelope) and Jerry (Jeff Daniels, State of Play), when the baby comes. Much to the couple’s surprise, Gloria and Jerry are moving to Belgium for two years.

Burt and Verona visit places where other family members, former colleagues and college pals reside in quest of a home for their family. They discover that people have weird parenting styles or are psychologically fragile, such as Lily (Allison Janney, Juno).

The most poignant moment in the film is when they go to Montreal. Their college friends Munch (Melanie Lynskey, Two and a Half Men) and Tom (Chris Messina, Made of Honor) have adopted several children after suffering miscarriages.

Away We Go is billed as a romantic comedy, but I found it an interesting assessment of marriage in the United States today with some funny moments. Verona refuses, at all costs, to marry Burt. They do exchange vows, but for Verona marriage has not worked well for most of the people she knows. There is barely a mention of religion in the film, not because the characters avoid its place in life, but because it does not even occur to them.

British director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) once again taps deeply into the American life and psyche. Aspects of this film may make some viewers uncomfortable, but for pastoral people there is much here to ponder about the existential meaning of marriage, family and children in America today and what a faith response might be. There’s lots to talk about. Sexuality and situations, problem language, mature themes.

BANDSLAM (not yet rated, PG): Sophomore Will Burton (Gaelan Connell, Chocolat) and his mom, Karen (Lisa Kudrow, Friends), move to a new town where Will hopes to make a fresh start at a new high school away from bullies. Though he seems like a nerd, Will is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the history of rock music, bands and David Bowie. The Burtons have a family secret, though, and it threatens Will’s new status.

A cool and gorgeous senior, Charlotte (Alyson Michalka, Phil of the Future), recruits Will to help at a day-care center and to manage her band. Charlotte wants to get back at her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, Ben (Scott Porter, Speed Racer), by going up against his band at the Bandslam contest.

Will becomes friends with a brooding girl named Sam (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical), and recruits her to be in his expanding band. Trouble is brewing on many fronts, however, especially when Ben starts digging into Will’s past.

Bandslam takes its cue from the High School Musical franchise and has a School of Rock flavor, but stands on its own as a gentle comedy about coming of age and music, blending rock and classical genres. The casting seems somewhat awkward because some of the actors are too old for their parts (Scott Porter, for example, is 30). Vanessa Hudgens and Gaelan Connell are convincing and entertaining.

The only sour note I detected was how the filmmakers let a one-sided attraction between a male student and Will’s mom play out. It is a minor chord and supposed to be funny, but current events about inappropriate relationships between students and teachers make it seem as though the writers didn’t do their homework.

Bandslam subtly reinforces the place of music in the curriculum. Good-hearted fun.

TESTIMONY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II: Pope John Paul II’s life is once again examined in this excellent and artistic documentary. There really isn’t much that isn’t already common knowledge, but it is a good watch and a warm tribute to the pope’s memory. Available from or your local Catholic bookstore.

NURSE JACKIE (Showtime, check local listings): Edie Falco, of The Sopranos fame, plays nurse Jackie Peyton. Her character is flawed: Jackie exchanges pain pills for sex even though she is married with children. She has no problem flushing the severed ear of a rapist with diplomatic immunity down the toilet.

If television’s role can be defined as making the invisible—or what should be invisible—visible, then Nurse Jackie succeeds. Judging from the first episode, the writing of this dark comedy and the acting are quite good, though perhaps outside of some viewers’ comfort zones.

The writers have done their theological homework, too. The show takes place in a Catholic hospital and the characters refer to Augustine, the great reformed sinner-saint, who is supposed to have said, “Lord, make me chaste, but not too soon.”

Jackie is an accomplished sinner. Only time and grace will tell if she will exercise virtue to a heroic degree and earn a “St.” before her name.

AFGHAN STAR (not yet rated): This documentary shows that, after 30 years of war, the Afghan people are ready to sing in their own version of American Idol. They choose music over guns. Over 11 million people voted for the final winner. For the younger generation, it is their first experience of democracy. Fans campaigned and even the Taliban from one region voted (as other Taliban groups threatened the show). One female contestant danced when she was voted off and has received death threats to this day. Fascinating.

PONYO (GAKE NO UE NO PONYO) (not yet rated): Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese writer/director of Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), is back with Ponyo. It is the story of a young boy who lives with his mother in a house on a cliff overlooking the sea. He meets a goldfish princess who wants to become a human. The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2008 and was nominated for the Golden Lion. Beautifully rendered but too long and meandering; some peril.

THE HANGOVER (O, R): This sometimes funny but unfortunate take on pre-matrimonial bachelor behavior is very bottom-drawer entertainment. The bride’s whacked-out brother ends up taking care of an infant after he is prohibited from being in the proximity of children or a school. If someone can explain the attraction of films like this to so many thousands of moviegoers, please write and share your insights. Creepy, gross, sexually explicit, problem language, comedic violence.

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

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