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Childhood of the World
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




THE GOLDEN COMPASS (A-2, PG-13): Twelve-year-old orphan Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) lives at Jordan College in Oxford, England, while her uncle and guardian, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale), is exploring the north. Lyra’s friends include Roger (Ben Walker), Billy Costa (Charlie Rowe) and other urchins who run wild through the city streets. Roger and other poor children start disappearing, taken by Gobblers.

When Lyra’s uncle returns, after discovering a mysterious matter called dust, the girl thwarts an attempt on his life, aided by her animal-shaped spirit daemon, Pan (voice of Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland).

Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman, The Hours), a beautiful scholar, invites Lyra to go to London to help her prepare for a voyage to an experimental science station in the north. The master of Jordan College (Jack Shepherd) secretly presents Lyra with an Alethiometer (a golden compass), which she must keep in her possession and learn how to read because it will always tell her the truth.

Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is part of the Government Oblation Board (GOB), an office of the controlling Magisterium. The GOB wants to get hold of the golden compass.

Lyra flees Mrs. Coulter and is rescued by the friendly Gyptians, who take her to the north to find her missing friends. Lyra enlists the help of Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott, We Were Soldiers), an aeronaut from Texas, and Iorek (voice of Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings), an armored polar bear. They are accompanied by benevolent witches, led by Serefina (Eva Green, Kingdom of Heaven).

Lyra and company go into action when they discover that the GOB is trying to separate the children’s daemons from them surgically so that they will no longer be able to think for themselves and will then do whatever they are told.

The Golden Compass is a faithful cinematic interpretation of the first of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, inspired by John Milton’s epic theological/scriptural poem, Paradise Lost. Since Book I, The Golden Compass, was first published in 1995, it has won numerous awards and simultaneously caused a broad range of debate.

Some of this controversy is due not only to the author’s professed atheism but also to how some understand the worldview of Pullman’s fantasy to target the Catholic Church, especially use of the term Magisterium (used almost exclusively by Catholics to describe the teaching authority of the Church) and the seeming killing of God in Book III, The Amber Spyglass.

The seamless and spectacular animation and special effects in this film are sure to garner awards. Talented newcomer Dakota Blue Richards is winning as the brave and strong Lyra. Nicole Kidman is frighteningly chilling as Mrs. Coulter.

The mysterious dust is self-awareness or consciousness; the daemons are the outward manifestation of the soul that makes people human. The film deemphasizes the role of religion found in the books (only once do we see a building adorned with icons) and proposes that the contest is between the exercise of free will and an all-powerful, totalitarian organization or person who abuses power.

It is an exciting and intelligent film that thoughtful parents may want to see with their young teens so that they can talk about these issues together.

Will youngsters want to read the books if they see the film? Perhaps, which is why parents who are engaged in their children’s media world will take this opportunity to experience the books and film together: Ask questions and talk together about the meaning and use of history, literature and theology in the narratives. That’s not an easy assignment, but just saying no is not a valid educational option in the age of mass-mediated storytelling. Some intense fantasy violence.



LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (A-2, PG-13): Lars (Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson) moves back into his family home in Minnesota with his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider, Elizabethtown), and Gus’s pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer, 30 Rock). Lars lives in the garage and cannot stand to be touched: His mother died giving birth to him and his father never overcame his grief.

A co-worker shows Lars a porn Web site where he can order an anatomically correct life-sized doll. When the doll arrives, Lars names her Bianca. He introduces Bianca to Gus and Karin as a Brazilian-Danish missionary who doesn’t speak much English and is confined to a wheelchair. The churchgoing Lars tells them that it would not be proper for his female friend to stay with him in the garage. Karin, with wisdom and kindness, decides to play along and moves Bianca into the guest room.

Gus is embarrassed by his brother’s delusional behavior and Karin is concerned. They convince Lars to bring Bianca to Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent). As an excuse for her and Lars to talk, Dr. Dagmar says that Bianca has a condition and sets up weekly treatments.

The entire community goes along with Lars’s make-believe because they recognize his fragility. They include Bianca, and therefore Lars, in everything. When Bianca is elected to the school board, things begin to change.

This film can be read on so many levels, especially that of family relationships, forgiveness and healing, fear, human, spiritual and social development, empathy and generosity. It is also about the function of play in our lives and how we learn to integrate our lives by exercising our moral imaginations.

In what could have easily been a farce of a film, director Craig Gillespie (Mr. Woodcock) and writer Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) show us that as Lars learns to live, so do we. A loving celebration of community; my favorite film of the year, so far.

AMERICAN GANGSTER (L, R): In the 1970s, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington, The Manchurian Candidate) takes over as the drug lord of Harlem. He demolishes the competition by setting up shipments of heroin directly from Southeast Asia through military flights, cutting out the middlemen and selling directly on the street. Frank is brutal and kills competitors without remorse.

Meanwhile, the very honest Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man) heads a task force to identify, find and convict the source of this new brand of drugs.

Based on the true story, this film is ably directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator). This strong biopic is extremely violent, showing consequences on everyone involved, which makes the world of Frank Lucas exceedingly unappealing—as it should. It falters at the end, however, when the narrative logic gives way to the Hollywood celebrity: Instead of the criminal Lucas, we see the likable Denzel Washington. Graphic criminal violence and some problem sexuality.

THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT (HBO, check local listings): In 1984, Darryl Hunt, a young, homeless black youth in Raleigh, North Carolina, was arrested and convicted of the rape and murder of a young newspaper woman. Over 20 years and several trials later, the efforts of his attorneys, The Innocence Project and both white and black members of the community paid off: The real perpetrator was found. He confessed and was convicted, and the exonerated Hunt was freed.

This fascinating documentary about one man’s journey to freedom reveals the systematic presence of racism and flaws in police procedure and the justice system. It happens far too often in our society. Some graphic images.

BEE MOVIE (A-1, PG): Honeybee Barry B. Benson (voice of Jerry Seinfeld) flies off to explore his options beyond the hive and ends up suing humans for eating the honey that bees work so hard to produce. There’s excellent voice acting by Renée Zellweger, Kathy Bates, Chris Rock and others. Sweet pro-environment animated entertainment for the young set, but I was stung to discover that it wasn’t nearly as funny as all the buzz would have us believe.

LIONS FOR LAMBS (L, R): An arrogant, ambitious senator (Tom Cruise) plants a story with a veteran journalist (Meryl Streep) about a new military strategy in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a political-science professor (Robert Redford) tries to convince a student to live a meaningful life. More rhetoric than entertainment; an unsettling commentary on the reinforcing dynamic between the news media and politics; intense battle scenes.

THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK (not rated): In 2004, former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle photographs events in the Sudan for the African Union. Steidle goes to Darfur, where the Janjaweed, a militia branch of the Muslim Arabic-run Sudanese military, are destroying villages and wiping out Christian and animist black-African populations. Oil exports to China and the struggle for land and water, as well as religious conflict, contribute to the tragedy. Steidle returns to the U.S. to lobby for protection of the people of Darfur. This bold and heartbreaking documentary is a call to action to prevent another mass genocide, as happened in Rwanda. Graphic war images.

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

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222,

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