Most of the films reviewed
this month are either based
on books, about writers or
seem literary. All are interesting, uplifting
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
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
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 www.hcfmstore.org 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
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.