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Dubious Devils
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

ANGELS & DEMONS
THE STONING OF SORAYA M.
THE HURT LOCKER
IN TREATMENT
THE ALZHEIMER'S PROJECT
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



ANGELS & DEMONS

ANGELS & DEMONS (L, PG-13): Director Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons reworks Dan Brown’s 2000 novel rather well, turning it into a post-doctrinal, post-The Da Vinci Code (2006) action flick that barely mentions God.

Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a famed Harvard symbologist, is asked by the Vatican to help figure out the meaning of an ominous sign bearing the word Illuminati. This sign is linked to the kidnapping of four popular cardinals who are about to begin the conclave to elect a new pope.

Langdon is wary of the Vatican’s interest, given the events recounted in The Da Vinci Code, but he agrees. By the time Langdon arrives in Rome, a canister with a highly combustible particle of “anti matter” stolen from a laboratory in Switzerland is placed somewhere in the Vatican.

Langdon, with a beautiful scientist named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer, Munich), and a mixed cadre of papal guards (Roman carabinieri) and Vatican police, headed by Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård, Mamma Mia!), have until midnight to save the four missing cardinals before the detonation of the particle of antimatter.

Langdon figures out signs and lectures about the meaning of the Illuminati as the rescue mission crisscrosses Rome at breakneck speed.

The plot turns on the outdated premise that faith and science are opposed but that the Church seems too interested in science. The characters to watch are the deceased pope’s angelic camerlengo, Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor, Miss Potter) and the ambitious Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine), a kind of devil’s advocate. But things are not as they seem.

The Illuminati, as presented in the film, is, in reality, a fictitious organization. A group, however, did exist in Germany in the 1700s for about a decade. Angels & Demons is about faith versus science, the material versus the spiritual, matter versus antimatter, belief in God versus unbelief. The film is predicated on what will happen when these seemingly opposing ideas or realities collide. The finale of this action-packed, intensely violent film is a gentle, humble, inspiring surprise.

This film is not going to win an Academy Award unless it is for art direction: The replication of artworks and churches is most impressive.

Howard and screenwriters Akiva Goldsman (The Da Vinci Code) and David Koepp (Ghost Town) have honed their skills since The Da Vinci Code. They stay away from doctrine per se and give us heroes that the previous film lacked. The acting is satisfactory, though Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal Strauss is a credible churchman.

This film is a conventional action thriller that may entertain if this is your preferred genre. It is helpful to recall that it’s a work of fiction. Intense action and violence, peril.

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THE STONING OF SORAYA M.

THE STONING OF SORAYA M. (L, R): Freidoune Sahebjam (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ), an Iranian journalist living and working in France in 1987, is working undercover in Iran. As Freidoune drives toward the border, his car breaks down in a small village. The mechanic, Hashem (Parviz Sayyad), is too tired to repair Sahebjam’s car, but an older woman, Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog), shames him into it.

While the journalist sips tea and reviews his notes, Zahra beckons him to her home where she tells him a tale of terrible events that have just taken place in the village. He records her story.

The village mullah (Ali Pourtash) and Mayor Ebrahim (David Diaan) had asked Zahra’s niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marnò, Charlie Wilson’s War), to assist Hashem and his handicapped son with housework and cooking when the man’s wife dies. Soraya’s husband, Ali (Navid Negahban, Charlie Wilson’s War), encouraged her and she agreed to do so.

Ali falls in love with a teenage girl and starts a rumor that Soraya and Hashem are involved as a pretext to rid himself of a wife, even a divorced wife that he would have to support. Quickly, the village gossips take up the refrain. The people become a mob and decide to carry out the unthinkable.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is based on the true story recounted by Sahebjam in a 1990 book of the same title. When I screened the film, I was impressed that there was not one positive male character, so I read the book. Sadly, the film is, indeed, very close to the original story. The men are cruel or weak or both.

I interviewed producer Stephen McEveety (The Passion of the Christ), Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jim Caviezel about their involvement in the film. All said they decided to be part of this film because it is about human rights.

I told McEveety that Soraya’s story reminded me of the passion and death of Christ—not the movie but the reality. McEveety said there is a parallel because “the passion of Christ continues today in the suffering of people in the world, as does grace that can change people.”

Jim Caviezel said that “the story really touched me. I saw it as a Good Samaritan story where I asked myself, ‘What can I do about this kind of injustice in today’s world?’”

Shohreh Aghdashloo said that she has been waiting 20 years for a film like this to be made, ever since she saw a film of a real stoning that made her physically ill. She has a message for people of faith who see this film: “We see human beings; we can serve the God in them,” she said. “Take your kindness to the people of God. Treat them the same way you will treat your God.”

Stoning is illegal but not banned in Iran. It is still carried out in five countries. In this film, the village elders follow the law of shariah (Islamic religious law).

This is a tragic film about mob rule and destructive gossip, with almost no transcendent or theological understanding of God. The male-dominated rural Iranian culture still makes its own rules. The acting, especially by Aghdashloo and Marnò, is deeply felt. Caviezel speaks his lines in Persian. Graphic stoning sequence, peril.

THE HURT LOCKER (not yet rated, R): In 2004 journalist Mark Boal wrote an article entitled “Death and Dishonor,” which formed the basis of Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah, the SIGNIS and Catholics in Media award-winning film about the consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq. Now, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Boal, who worked as an embedded journalist in Iraq, have teamed together to tell another side of the story in The Hurt Locker.

An elite group of U.S. soldiers (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty and Justin Campbell, with cameos by Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse) head out into the streets of Baghdad and beyond to defuse roadside bombs. They engage in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), unexploded ordnance (UXO) and improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD). Some are heroic, others are careless.

The Hurt Locker draws the audience in as if we are embedded with this unit. We can almost feel the heat, sand and discomfort. It is not about the war; it is the war. We feel the fear and heroism. We sense the danger. It is “reality fiction,” not unlike the film Capote.

This is not comfortable viewing, but it leads to empathy and understanding. Jeremy Renner’s performance as the unit’s leader is outstanding. Intense battle conflict, war violence, peril.

IN TREATMENT (HBO, check local listings): Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos) lets us look at a patient from the analyst’s perspective. We watch both in fascinating exchanges between the frail and the vulnerable.

Gabriel Byrne is Dr. Paul Weston, a psychotherapist who listens, cares and is in need of his own analyst. Each 25-minute segment concerns Paul’s interaction with one patient, his own doctor (Dianne Wiest) or his lawyer.

It is fascinating to sit in on therapy sessions and learn to listen, project, transfer, get angry, gain personal insight, learn empathy, grow up and be entertained. The show, in its second season, is adapted from an Israeli drama. Season One is available on DVD. There’s no word at press time if the series will be renewed.

THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT (HBO, check local listings): This four-part series is a personal look at the full spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Maria Shriver, one of the executive producers, hosts part two and describes her relationship with her father, Sargent Shriver (born in 1915), who has Alzheimer’s.

The series is informative, compassionate and hopeful for families and caregivers. There is also an extended segment on the University of Minnesota’s The Nun Study, first recounted in David Snowdon, Ph.D’s, 2001 book Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier and More Meaningful Lives.

STAR TREK (A-3, PG-13) is a witty and enjoyable addition to the growing Star Trek franchise, now in its 43rd year and 11th cinematic incarnation. It tells the back story of Spock, Captain Kirk and crew with some side trips traveling through time. Peril.

THE SOLOIST (A-3, PG-13): Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) true story about his friendship with a homeless musical genius, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), is realistic and inspiring. Excellent performances. This could be an award contender.

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (A-3, PG-13): Hugh Jackman returns to tell the pre-story of mutant humans with special powers. Exciting and a rather serious character study in Marvel comic-book style. Peril, comic-book 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 www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm.

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

 


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