BRUCE ALMIGHTY (A-3, PG-13): In what seems like Hollywood’s ongoing
effort to revive Lake Erie, Bruce Almighty takes place in Buffalo. (The
2002 independent Manna from Heaven was also filmed in Buffalo, and this
year’s View From the Top, with Gwyneth Paltrow, was largely situated
“After all,” explains director Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar, Patch Adams,
Dragonfly), “Buffalo is a city that gets no respect and neither does Bruce.
Buffalo is a city that needs reinvigorating, and so does Bruce Nolan.”
Bruce (Jim Carrey) is a local television reporter who is given all the leftover
stories to cover, like the baking of Buffalo’s biggest (10’ 4”) cookie. He’s
almost 40, his hopes for a promotion to news anchor are slim, and he seems to
live Murphy’s Law. Even when he tries to help a homeless man, he gets beat up
by thugs. His sweet, live-in girlfriend of five years, Grace (Jennifer Aniston),
hopes for a proposal, but Bruce misses the signs. He’s self-centered and, though
he believes in God, his level of faith development is still juvenile. Bruce
is angry at God because nothing is going right in his life and he is sure God
hates him. He blames God for everything because if God is so all-powerful, why
won’t he help?
Just when his life seems to be at its lowest point, his pager goes off over
and over again. He calls and a man tells him to come to an address for a job.
The man turns out to be God (Morgan Freeman), working as a janitor in a warehouse.
Bruce learns that God knows everything about him in a comedic scene perhaps
borrowed from an I Love Lucy episode. They have a conversation about
the dignity of work and this leads to God’s decision to endow Bruce with his
divine job and his powers. (Morgan Freeman is excellent and plays God just right.)
But Bruce is not allowed to tell anyone he is now “God” and he cannot mess
with free will. Bruce learns very quickly that you cannot force people to love
From this point on, Bruce is a comedy/ fantasy parable with a little
romance. It takes almost the entire film for Bruce to finally grow up, as a
human being and a believer.
Naturally, in a Carrey-Shadyac partnership there is some crass adolescent
bathroom and body-part humor. But when it comes to the relationship between
God and people, the truth that God does care shines forth.
Both director Tom Shadyac and actor Jim Carrey have matured as artists. Shadyac,
a practicing Catholic, says that Bruce Almighty is not a catechism, but
I disagree. I think that those who can go beyond the surface will see God’s
attributes (though Shadyac admits he has to work on the feminine perspective
in his work), that the Creator is a personal God who is present and cares about
us—and who can laugh just as much as we can. Laugh-out-loud funny; some problem
language; full of reverence and insight about the nature of the fatherhood of
God, who exists for people of all faiths and no faith.
THE MATRIX: RELOADED
THE MATRIX: RELOADED (A-4, R): The long-awaited sequel to the Wachowski brothers’
stunning 1999 sci-fi, high-concept extravaganza The Matrix has finally
arrived. (The word matrix is related to womb or mother,
therefore, life-giver.) In the original film, humans created and perfected technology
to such a degree that it takes control of the earth, reality, human activity
and freedom. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is identified by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne)
as a Redeemer-figure who will overcome the machine and reestablish the primacy
of human beings in the scheme of creation.
The story, themes and questions from the first film continue in The Matrix:
Reloaded, only now Morpheus realizes that he and his crew have just 72 hours
until the minions of the Matrix destroy the remaining humans in Zion. The mystery
of the human person, reality, God, philosophy, religion, mythology, literature,
science, technology and theology are all in the film, presented within the context
of a city or civilization close to extinction and fighting to survive. A dose
of romance and some sexuality have been added to The Matrix: Reloaded,
as well as some humor.
There is, as with all superhero comic-book tales, a built-in contradiction:
Will the hero who overcomes evil and gains power be tempted to keep the cycle
going to a meaningless conclusion anyway?
This science-fiction film is straight out of a comic-book mentality and sensibility.
I did not find either of the Matrix films that much different from The
Lord of the Rings trilogy, in its battle between good and evil or, for that
matter, the recent war with Iraq that was brought to our living rooms by some
networks as if we were watching a football game.
One pastoral approach to the film is to recall that sci-fi audiences find
the genre a meaningful way to explore life’s deeper questions in this “other”
zone or “head space.” They understand the cultural references of this genre.
The Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions
(to be released later this year) are worth the watch so we can talk about them
with credibility, relevance and a faith perspective. André Bazin, the famous
French film essayist, once wrote, “Cinema has always been interested in God.”
The Matrix: Reloaded continues the tradition. A thinking person’s
movie, with choreographed violence and special effects that are both awesome
and probably over-the-top for most mature viewers.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (A-2, PG-13): This intelligent and funny film
has emerged from across the pond with the power to entertain a wide variety
Jess (Parminder K. Nagra) is a lovely 18-year-old, the
daughter of parents who immigrated to Britain from India.
Jess has just taken the equivalent of U.S. high school final
exams and is awaiting her marks. Her sister, Pinky (Archie
Panjabi), is engaged to be married and everything is focused
on this event. To her mother’s dismay, Jess loves to play
soccer in the park with the guys. Her bedroom is covered
with posters and memorabilia of Manchester United star David
Beckham. One afternoon, a girl named Jules (Keira Knightley)
scouts Jess for the local girls’ soccer team.
Jules’s mother, played by the always excellent Juliet Stevenson, doesn’t forbid
Jules to play. But she doesn’t understand soccer, thinks it’s inappropriate
for her daughter and wants her to be more feminine. As the summer progresses,
Jess and Jules become friends and both fall for their handsome coach, Joe (Jonathan
Jess’s mother only wants her to learn to cook Indian food and find a suitable
husband. But Jess lies about playing soccer and sneaks out at every opportunity
to play. At a party following a match in Germany, Jess drinks a little too much
and makes a pass at Joe. Her friendship with Jules disintegrates over a misunderstanding.
There are many misunderstandings in this romantic and family comedy about
culture and what parents want for their children and what the children want
for themselves. Over and over, characters think they see something and jump
to conclusions. Indeed, this is what keeps the film moving along to its inevitable
The British accent is somewhat challenging in the beginning of the movie,
but Beckham is worthwhile because it explores issues with so much charm
and humor: race, bigotry, understanding, the Fourth Commandment, reconciliation,
body image, gender identity, tolerance, ethnic culture and so forth. It also
helps if you like soccer. Mild problem language and sexual references; recommended
for teens and adults.
TOUCHED BY ANGELS
TOUCHED BY ANGELS: Summer is a time for catching
up on reruns of our favorite shows while hoping for some
new series worth watching when the fall season begins. Although
we don’t mourn many of the programs that were canceled,
we bid a respectful adieu to Touched by an Angel.
This successful CBS series inspired audiences and often
beat out the competition for ratings during its remarkable
Week after week, the angels and the people they accompanied
showed us what God's love and forgiveness are like and that
it is possible to live in reconciliation and hope. The angels
taught us to be angels. Thank you, angelsboth those
on the screen and those behind it.