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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
DOUBT
TWILIGHT
ELEVENTH HOUR
TRUE BLOOD
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



 

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (A-3, R): In the late 1970s, Jamal (Dev Patel) and his older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), become orphans in India when their mother is killed by anti-Muslim Hindus. The boys allow an orphan girl named Latika (Freida Pinto) to stay with them.

The children survive by digging in one of Mumbai’s huge landfills until a man takes them to an orphanage, where they are exploited to beg for money and worse. When the boys escape, Jamal is heartbroken that Latika is left behind. The brothers spend years scamming tourists at the Taj Mahal.

Back in Mumbai, Jamal searches for Latika, finds her and then loses her to a powerful crime lord for whom Salim works. Years later, Jamal becomes a contestant on the Indian version of TV’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The brilliant British director/writer Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) has re-created Oliver Twist, one of Charles Dickens’s signature tales, in the landscape of the economic and social extremes of contemporary India. Boyle moves back and forth between Jamal’s grim life-learning experiences and the questions that the quiz show’s demeaning host, Prem (Anil Kapoor), asks. These sequences reveal how Jamal knows the answers. His character as a man is constantly tested.

A tale of hope and goodness that brings Hollywood and Bollywood together, Slumdog Millionaire is a formulaic romance that comes off as completely original. Dev Patel’s performance as the “slumdog” Jamal is quietly heroic and full of strength.

The film backlights the consequences of unguided globalization, religious intolerance, poverty, sexual exploitation and violence on real people. Educators and students will revel in Jamal’s many ways of learning.

This film shows the triumph of the human spirit. One of the best films of 2008, it is sure to be an award contender. Mature themes, violence, torture and problem language.

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DOUBT

DOUBT (A-3, PG-13): The setting of John Patrick Shanley’s new film is a winter day in 1964 at St. Nicholas, a working-class Bronx parish where the Sisters of Charity teach. The Second Vatican Council is still in session.

At the parish, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) preaches about doubt in his Sunday homily. Sister James (Amy Adams, Enchanted) is a young, naive new teacher. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia!) is the stern principal.

Donald Muller (Joseph Foster), the only African-American student at the school, becomes an altar boy. Father Flynn takes an interest in him.

Sister James becomes suspicious when Donald acts strangely after returning from a meeting with Father Flynn in the rectory. She tells Sister Aloysius, who becomes convinced that the priest has made advances toward the boy. Sister Aloysius puts the priest on notice and sets out to expose him.

I attended a screening in November, followed by a Q&A with the director and key cast members. Director John Patrick Shanley, who adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the screen, explained that he wrote Doubt because “there was an atmosphere of certainty in the country a few years ago and I didn’t share that certainty....I remember the certainty of my parochial-school education. But even then, I could hear a change coming in the distance, for better or for worse. I remember doubt was always considered a weakness, but I saw it as wisdom, judiciousness....”

The film is certainly about the clergy sex-abuse scandal. Father Flynn’s actions and words read like a laundry list of the warning signs: giving a child gifts, isolating a child. There is a razor-thin edge, however, between doubt and certainty when there is only suspicion and no evidence, not even the testimony of the child. Is Flynn innocent or guilty? Only you can judge.

The film is more complex than this, however, because doubt and certainty extend to faith in God and the Church, as well as between peers and in families. Doubt also raises issues about race, domestic violence, intolerance, religious authority and what people are willing to do—or not do—to survive.

In addition to the suspected abuse, Sister Aloysius’ hubris and troubling methods of finding the truth increase the moral intensity of the drama.

Watching Doubt was like experiencing a master class on acting by two of today’s consummate performers. Streep gives a steely performance and Hoffman is brilliant.

At first, Amy Adams seems a weak choice to play the person caught in the middle and who actually suffers because of her uncertainty, but she ultimately convinces. All the actors defy stereotype, certainly due to the input of Sister Margaret McEntee, S.C., who served as a consultant for the film. Formerly known as Sister James, she was Shanley’s first-grade teacher.

Doubt is a psychological-spiritual drama that challenges certainty by questioning it. The film’s strength—and weakness—is in the discomfort of its ambivalence. Doubt is not a feel-good emotion, nor is the film named for it. The film is intelligent, stark, literary and humbling but somehow its wintry universe left me cold: Perhaps it was meant to. Mature themes.

TWILIGHT (A-2, PG-13): When 17-year-old Bella’s mother remarries, Bella (Kristen Stewart, Into the Wild) decides to live with her father, Charlie, the police chief of Forks, Washington. At her new school, Bella is attracted to an otherworldly, handsome young man named Edward (Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), who seems repelled by the girl.

When Edward leaps across a crowded parking lot to save Bella from being hit by a car, she is stunned. She traces an Indian legend that leads her to a discovery: Edward and his foster parents and preppy foster siblings are vampires who have deliberately chosen to exist on animal (rather than human) blood. These vampires range in age from a hundred to several hundred years old; they cannot tolerate daylight and have preternatural powers.

By the time Bella confronts Edward, they are deeply in love. There are vampire rules, however, and Edward must exercise restraint to protect Bella from himself and a bloodthirsty vampire who wants to consume Bella, literally.

Director Catherine Hardwicke (The Nativity Story) continues her exploration of the adolescent female psyche and experience in this beautifully crafted and visually rich film. Twilight is an intense, contemporary gothic tale about unrequited teenage love that acknowledges adolescent awkwardness, difficulty fitting in, infatuation, temptation, sensuality and commitment.

The narrative becomes about unconditional love that transcends personal satisfaction for the good of the other. Bella is willing to lay down her life for those she loves. Like science fiction, this satisfying vampire story allows the moral imagination to consider the meaning of free will, the choices we make and their consequences. Brief violence, mature themes, peril.

ELEVENTH HOUR (CBS, Thursdays) is producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s newest offering, based on a TV series in the United Kingdom. This series confronts scientific criminals and their nefarious deeds, as well as moral issues, bioethics and the manipulation of science for weapons.

Rufus Sewell (John Adams) plays Jacob Hood, a biophysicist. Marley Shelton (W., Sin City) portrays Rachel Young, the F.B.I. agent assigned to protect Hood. Nominated for a People’s Choice Award, the show got off to a slow start but seems to have found its footing.

TRUE BLOOD (HBO, Sundays): This graphic and explicit series is based on the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. Even though the whole world knows that artificial blood now satiates vampires, citizens of a small fictional Louisiana town are still afraid of them. A telepathic cocktail waitress, played by Anna Paquin (The Piano), learns what it means to be an outsider when she falls in love with a vampire. This series will not be everyone’s beverage. Problem language, sex and violence.

THE BOY IN STRIPED PAJAMAS (A-2, PG-13): Based on the award-winning novel by Irish author John Boyne, this story is about German complicity in the Holocaust under the cover of a fable of childhood friendship. The young son of an extermination-camp commandant befriends an imprisoned Jewish boy. Thought-provoking and artfully filmed with fine performances, this is a story for conscientious citizens, but it’s not for children. Mature themes.

W. (A-3, PG-13): At first glance, director Oliver Stone’s latest presidential biography (J.F.K., Nixon) seems to be a mild, superficial look at President George W. Bush. The speculative film externalizes the president’s inner life by framing it with his desire to please his father. At the same time, the film subtly motivates the audience to reflect on its role in the younger Bush’s presidency. Some problem language.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (A-3, PG-13): This 22nd installment in the James Bond franchise is an unfulfilled promise. In Casino Royale we got closer to knowing Bond than ever before. Now we get a conventional action-packed tale of revenge and betrayal. Why are the filmmakers trying to turn Bond into a formulaic action hero? Action violence, 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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