LEVITY (A-3, R): "Is it possible for a great number of good acts to make up for
a single really bad one?" asks independent film writer and first-time film director
Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Charlie's Angels) in Levity.
This film explores the consequences of a bad choice and the possibilities for
redemption and hope.
Levity was coproduced by Morgan Freeman's company, Revelations
Entertainment. Freeman stars as Miles, an enigmatic parking-lot preacher.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Manual, a paroled prisoner who cannot let
go of the picture of a boy (Geoffrey Wigdor) whom he killed 23 years before.
He returns to the town and scene of his crime. Miles gives him a
place to stay and a job. When Manual says he does not believe in God, Miles
laughs, "So why are you so afraid of someone you don't believe in?"
In prison, Manual read a self-help book about forgiveness: Acknowledge
your bad deed, have remorse, apologize to your neighbor and make restitution,
tell God you are sorry and, finally, if you could do it all over again, choose
to do it right. But he has a problem getting beyond step two.
Filmmaker Ed Solomon says he never intended this to be a religious
film. He explains that these five steps are from the writings of the 12th-century
Jewish philosopher-theologian Maimonides, whose work influenced that of St.
Thomas Aquinas. No wonder the themes of the film resonate so well with Christian
Levity was inspired by a true story. While doing prison outreach
as a university student, Solomon met a remorseful man who had killed another
and kept the victim's picture.
It's not a pretty film, despite the presence of Holly Hunter as
Abner's sister, Adele, and the somewhat artificial character Sofia, played by
This is a film for all seasons because all of us have done something
we regret, and it offers us a way to find reconciliation. In addition, it's
a film worth talking about, especially with young people, so we can all learn
to reflect and consider the consequences of our actions and do the right thing.
Manual teaches us about forgiveness, redemption and lightness of
being. This is a de profundis film that evokes reflection, conversation
and forgiveness. Some problem language; for mature teens and adults who appreciate
the efforts of independent filmmakers to explore life from different perspectives.
HOLES (A-2, PG): Stanley Yelnats (Stanley spelled
backward, played by Shia LaBeouf) is a good kid who gets
a bad rap. One day while Stanley is walking home, a pair
of tennis shoes drops down from the highway overpass. They
fit so he puts them on—and gets caught. These smelly shoes
belong to a famous ballplayer and were to be raffled for
The judge sends Stanley to Camp Green Lake, a facility for juvenile
offenders. It's not a camp, it's not green, there's no lake and it's just not
fair. It's in the middle of Texas, the distance between "hell and Houston,"
as one of the guards puts it.
The Yelnats family is used to this, though. Their family was cursed
generations ago when their Latvian ancestor failed to keep a promise to a fortune-teller
The boys are ordered to dig large holes "to build character." If
they find anything, they must report it to their keepers, played by Jon Voight
(Mission Impossible) and Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?).
The boys are warned not to upset "The Warden," played to menacing perfection
by Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Map of the World).
Most of the adults are caricatures, except Kate Barlow's (Patricia
Arquette) love interest, Sam (Dulé Hill, who plays Charlie on television's The
The holes are wonderful metaphors in this humorous, surreal tale
that wants to know if the sins of the fathers really are visited on their children.
At first I thought that Holes, a circle-within-circles fable,
was a boy's film version of Roald Dahl's Matilda. I am always uncomfortable
when I see adults being mean to kids in movies, even in imaginary tales like
The viewer will care about the children, especially Zero (Khleo
Thomas). All the boys have expressive nicknames—images of how they view themselves
and how the guards see them.
Water is a strong symbol: the lack of it, how it cleanses, purifies
and leads to redemption. The environment can also be a metaphor for salvation,
because Stanley and Zero cross through the desert to get to the outcrop called
"God's Thumb," the holy land where salvation awaits this tribe of outcasts.
You'll just have to see this pastiche (French for "mess")
of a film, if you want to know how everything fits. Holes reestablishes
justice and doing the right thing in this imaginary world created by author/screenwriter
Louis Sachar. Fun for young adolescents to adults; filled with themes to
talk about (especially human dignity).
MANNA FROM HEAVEN
MANNA FROM HEAVEN (A-2, PG) is a low-budget, independent comedy with a great cast that includes
Shelley Duvall, Shirley Jones, Jill Eikenberry, Cloris Leachman, Louise Fletcher
(Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), three of the filmmakers
themselves and, the best of all, Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me).
One day, $30,000 in cash floats into a working-class neighborhood.
The eccentric family that finds it divides up the cash. But Theresa, who goes
to parochial school, says the money is to help them become better people and
Fast-forward 20 years to Ash Wednesday. Theresa is now a nun, recently
returned from the tropics because she gave away too many of the convent's belongings.
She has to pay the money back by Easter and calls her somewhat dysfunctional,
though lovable, family together. They plan a scheme to raise the money. The
payoff is in the last scene, so stay with it.
What made me laugh most is that this film takes place in Buffalo,
New York. When was the last time you saw a film about Buffalo (not Niagara Falls)?
Wendie Malick gets most of the laughs with the deadpan way she delivers her
This isn't a great film, but a notable and courageous first feature-film
effort by Five Sisters Productions (that also made Temps and Just
Friends, currently airing on WE and AMC). The young Catholic filmmakers
are real sisters: Gabrielle, Ursula, Maria, Jennifer and Charity Burton.
Their mom, novelist Gabrielle B. Burton, wrote the screenplay. Three of the
sisters have degrees in film and work in the entertainment industry. Keep an
eye on Five Sisters Productions. Some mild profanity; an enjoyable matinee
with a spiritual theme.
REGULAR JOE (ABC, Fridays): This new sitcom (created
by executive producer and co-creator of The King
of Queens David Litt) is built on an old premise: Widower
Joe Binder (Daniel Stern) runs a hardware store with his
son, Grant (John Francis Daley, from the critically acclaimed
series Freaks and Geeks), and mischievous Indian
immigrant Sitvar (Brian George) while dealing with single-mom
daughter, Joanie (Kelly Karbasz), and grandpa, Baxter (Judd
They say in England that the difference between British
and American sitcoms is that American comedies always have
a moral, but the British ones just let the credits roll.
Regular Joe is typically American because Joe never
gives up and remains a steady family man. I hope Sitvar's
character will be developed so he's not a stereotype.