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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.



Most of the films reviewed this month are either based on books, about writers or seem literary. All are interesting, uplifting and/or thought-provoking.


FREEDOM WRITERS (A-2, PG-13): Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby) is an idealistic high school English teacher in Long Beach, California. Racial tensions are at a fever pitch after the riots that followed the arrest and beating of Rodney King.

Erin tells her students about the factors that led the Nazis to scapegoat Jews for problems. When she realizes these youngsters are clueless about the Holocaust, she introduces them to Anne Frank’s writing and invites Holocaust survivors to share their stories with the students.

The students write their own stories, published in a 1999 book titled The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The title is a play on words that refers to the student Freedom Riders of 1961, who defied Jim Crow laws by riding buses in the South.

Two of the teachers (played by John Benjamin Hickey and Imelda Staunton) seem almost too bad to be true. At first Hilary Swank seems overly gushy in her portrayal of Erin Gruwell, but her character development is consistent and believable.

The high point comes when the students raise funds for Miep Gies (who plays herself) to come from Holland to speak about how she hid Anne Frank and her family during World War II. Inspiring and encouraging account of one teacher’s persevering foray into public education and the changes she initiated; problem language and gang violence.



MISS POTTER (A-1, PG): As a youngster, Beatrix Potter sketched animals and told stories about them, especially rabbits. In her 30s, Beatrix (Renée Zellweger) still lives with her high-society parents (Bill Paterson and Barbara Flynn), who do not encourage their daughter when she wants to have her stories published.

But Beatrix finds a publisher, Warne and Company. Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) supervises the publication of The Tales of Peter Rabbit. One book leads to another, and soon Beatrix Potter is an author of independent means.

She grows close to Norman and becomes friends with his sister, Millie (Emily Watson). But Beatrix’s parents are against their daughter marrying a man who works for a living.

Miss Potter is a lovely period piece that spills over with charm and warm cinematography. It is skillfully directed by Chris Noonan (Babe) and written by first-timer Richard Maltby, Jr. In the most delightful parts of the film, the illustrated characters come to life.

At first I thought the film was going to promote an early 20th-century feminist agenda, but it did exactly the opposite. Themes of maturity, grief, love and making a difference weave the story together. Zellweger gives an admirable performance—as do Peter Rabbit and his friends.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (not yet rated, PG): Jesse Aaron (Josh Hutcherson) loves to draw and is a talented runner. He is crushed when Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb, Because of Winn-Dixie), a new girl at school, outruns him.

But Leslie and Jess become friends. One day they discover a nearby forest when they swing across a rope hanging from a tree. Right away Leslie sees a magical kingdom that she names Terabithia. The youngsters rebuild a treehouse as their castle where they fight off dark creatures and plot against school bullies.

This film is based on the 1978 Newbery Award-winning novel by Katherine Paterson. The American Library Association says that the novel is also one of the books parents and school boards contest the most because it deals with the death of a child.

The film deals with guilt and death, and has the children discussing their images of God, too.

Terabithia is taken from the name of the terebinth tree in the Bible (2 Samuel 18:9), a name that C. S. Lewis also co-opted for The Chronicles of Narnia. Director Gabor Csupo (The Wild Thornberries, Rugrats) imagines this story beautifully for the screen. With solid performances from the young actors, Terabithia is the best Disney-Walden Media collaboration since Narnia. Entertaining, inspiring, fills the heart as well as the mind; bullying and mature themes (death).

THE PAINTED VEIL (A-3, PG-13) is based on a novel written by British author W. Somerset Maugham. Kitty (Naomi Watts) and Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton) take us on a journey from England to China, and from the near-death of a marriage to love and life. During a cholera epidemic in China, the mother superior (Diana Rigg) of a convent speaks to Kitty of her relationship to God and tells her, “Where loyalty and love come together, there is grace.” Brilliantly filmed and acted; mature content, adultery.

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (not yet rated, PG): Billy Bob Thornton plays Charles Farmer, who once trained to be an astronaut but had to quit because of family needs. He and his family build a spaceship to fulfill his dream but run afoul of the F.B.I. and the bank. I just had to like this film. Funny, touching and, for a moment, mystical; peril and some problem language.

THE LUMINOUS MYSTERIES: COMPASSION TO SERVICE is a beautiful 28-minute presentation of the five Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary by Family Theater Productions, founded in 1947 by Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., a media pioneer and sainthood candidate. (Father Peyton is known for saying, “The family that prays together stays together.”) Family Theater Productions is a ministry of Holy Cross Family Ministries.

The rosary is recited accompanied by images and reflections by people who have put the rosary into practice through Christian service, such as Jim and Terry Orcutt, founders of a faith-based organization that helps needy people in Massachusetts.

Written by Patricia Phalen, this is the fourth and final installment in the Mysteries of the Rosary, Mysteries of Life series. Other titles in the series include “The Joyful Mysteries: Journey to Joy,” “The Sorrowful Mysteries: Grieving to Grace” and “The Glorious Mysteries: Shadows to Sunlight.” ($8.95 each, order online at or by calling 800-299-7729)

24 (Fox, Mondays): Jack Bauer (played by Emmy winner Kiefer Sutherland) is back for season six of Fox’s action thriller. This series has been a hit from literally day one.

Jack is the man of the hour who saves a presidential candidate and then Los Angeles (and by extension the United States) over and over again, from a series of near-disasters: a nuclear bomb, bacterial terrorism, a nuclear meltdown, the assassination of a president, a nerve-gas attack and the machinations of a creepy new president.

Jack fakes his own death and spends 20 months in a Chinese prison. He is released in time to save the day, retire and rise again in this season’s premiere.

Ideologically, Jack Bauer seems the self-sacrificing rugged frontiersman of mythic proportion made famous by westerns. His personal and family relationships are few and mostly tragic. Instead of fighting Native Americans, he saves Western civilization from forces within and without.

It’s a nonstop fight for Jack that, perhaps, resonates with American audiences because of the post-9/11 milieu in which we live. This series seems to reinforce the idea that if it’s not one enemy for America, it’s another.


DREAMGIRLS (A-3, PG-13): This Broadway musical-turned-film, inspired by The Supremes, shines with the Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated performances of Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. This film confirms that the music industry is as attractive as ever to young hopefuls and cutthroat business practices. Drug use and problem language.

CHILDREN OF MEN (L, R): This dark, futuristic film examines what humankind might look like by the year 2027, when the youngest person dies at age 18. Adapted from a P.D. James novel about the deterioration of civilization and intolerance, it won’t be to everyone’s liking. Evokes deep reflections about the choices we make and the consequences; crude language, violence, drug use.

PAN’S LABYRINTH (El Labertino del Fauno) (A-3, R): This dark tale, set in Spain in 1944, has its roots in Spanish culture and political consciousness. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), this film deserves the award nominations it has received. Intense and graphically violent while also powerful and moving; problem language.

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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