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I See You
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

Avatar
The Lovely Bones
Tooth Fairy
Life Unexpected
Film Capsules
Catholic Classifications



Avatar

AVATAR (A-3, PG-13): Director/writer James Cameron (Titanic) pulls out all the stops for this nearly three-hour 3D film feast. At a cost of about $350 million, Avatar is the most expensive film ever made.

The year is 2154. Jake (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation) is a former soldier who is now paralyzed. When the government refuses to give him the treatment needed to restore his ability to walk, he volunteers for a high-paying experiment on the habitable moon Pandora. There, Jake takes the place of his deceased twin in an experiment carried out by a corporation that seeks to exploit the natural resources of Pandora.

The reason why Jake can take his brother's place is because they share the same DNA. In his avatar body, Jake's new legs work and he has a new lease on life.

By becoming one with the people, he and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for Bobby) want to convince the Na'vi to let the corporation have access to the element "unobtainium" found under their sacred tree and thus avoid genocide if they resist. Jake, Grace and several other characters take the side of the Na'vi in the inevitable conflict that follows.

Avatar is an extremely beautiful film filled with elements of myth, references to the Bible and creation accounts from world cultures, and so much more. The material is almost overwhelming. The film uses current earthly issues to drive the action, such as the destruction of natural resources and homelands for profit by an occupying corporation.

It is also a love story between Jake and a beautiful Na'vi princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek). Avatar is hardly a subtle film—its political, economic and environmental messages are there for all to see. Yet theology is evident as well. St. Augustine's idea that we can find God through beauty, truth and goodness is suggested by the Dr. Grace Augustine character. The strength of divine grace is present when people lay down their lives for others.

There is one moment in the film when Neytiri tells Jake that the "sky people," the humans who occupy Pandora, do not know how to see, or choose not to see, the reality around them. Later, after much has happened, Jake, in his transformed avatar self, tells Neytiri, "I see you." It is a moment of true communication, understanding and empathy.

In many ways the film reminded me of a science fiction retelling of Dances With Wolves (1990) and The Mission (1986). If for no other reason, Avatar deserves to be seen for its artistic and technological contributions to cinematic art and its cultural contribution to the ongoing conversation about our responsibilities as human beings and citizens. Battle violence, sensuality, problem language.

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The Lovely Bones

THE LOVELY BONES (A-3, PG-13): When I read Alice Sebold's 2002 best-selling novel a few years ago, I felt sad yet somehow hopeful. This is not what happened to me when I watched Peter Jackson's (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) interpretation for the screen.

At the age of 14, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) tells us that she had been raped and murdered by a neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia). The police never find her body. Her family is devastated. Her father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg, The Departed), has pieces of the puzzle, and her sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver), comes close to figuring it out, but they have no evidence. Susie's mother, Abigail (Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener), cannot handle Susie's death and leaves the family.

Meanwhile, Susie watches over her family and the murderer from a beautiful, in-between world where she meets other victims of Harvey. Susie continually tries to process the meaning of her death from some place beyond.

I thought The Lovely Bones was a kind of creepy, cotton-candy blend of murder and mystery. As I walked out of the theater, I chatted with a couple of ladies who expressed the same frustration. Though there is a sense of world-spirit justice in the story, it was weird and unsatisfying.

The one positive element in this unsavory visual confection was Susan Sarandon as the quirky grandmother who moves in to take Abigail's place. There are themes of life, death, the hereafter, sin and innocence in the film, but the filmmaker fails to tie them together as well as the book does. Though Susie and George Harvey's other victims form a kind of celestial sisterhood, Susie does not seem to find closure, which I believe was supposed to be the point of the story. Criminal violence, peril, some problem language.

TOOTH FAIRY (A-2, PG): Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson, Race to Witch Mountain) is known as the "Tooth Fairy" because of his rough reputation for knocking out the teeth of opposing team members when he was a pro hockey player. After an injury, he is relegated to a minor team. The crowd loves him, though his game is not what it used to be.

After he discourages the dreams of a young boy, he goes to his girlfriend Carly's (Ashley Judd, De-Lovely) house to baby-sit her children. Young Tess (Destiny Whitlock) has just lost a tooth and Derek steals her tooth money for gambling. Then, when he's caught, he denies the existence of tooth fairies.

He suddenly appears in a pink tutu, sprouts wings and receives a summons to appear before Lily, a kind of queen of tooth fairies. There, an almost seven-foot-tall tooth-fairy bureaucrat, Tracy (Stephen Merchant, BBC's The Office), explains how things are. Lily sentences Derek to a week of tooth-fairy service and orders a wardrobe change to blue.

Tooth Fairy is supposed to be about following your dreams, exploring the wonders of the imagination and, above all, not giving up. For some kids the film may work; for the adults who experience disappointment in life, the film has an encouraging message as well. But with six writers contributing to the script, the narrative is filled with some hits and several misses. Billy Crystal, in an uncredited role as a teacher of fairies, is very funny, and Julie Andrews as Lily is always elegant.

An aspect of the film that made me uncomfortable is the way it deals with gender, making sure the stereotypical and arbitrary cultural categories of pink for girls and blue for boys are reinforced—and that real men use hockey warrior gear. Puns can be funny for kids but double entendres aimed at the older audience fall flat.

For example, Derek almost calls Tracy a "fairy," slang for a male homosexual. Although Derek seems to grow in respect for both children and tooth fairies, and the film is entertaining enough, I was somewhat disappointed. Walden Media (and Twentieth Century Fox), known for its outstanding reputation for reimagining the literature of children and adolescents for film and linking literacy and entertainment, has released a movie that is perhaps commercial but of less quality than we have come to expect. Subtle innuendos.

LIFE UNEXPECTED (The CW, Mondays, 9 p.m.): Lux (Brittany Robertson) is an orphan in Portland, Oregon, who is tired of endless foster homes and decides to file for emancipation on her 16th birthday. She finds her birthfather, a bar owner, and then her mother, a radio talk show host, and learns they were in high school when she was born.

Lux's emancipation request is denied. The judge gives custody to the parents and all their lives are changed. I am not sure where the story is going, but it is warm and interesting with excellent writing that touches teen and family issues. For mature teens.

 

IT'S COMPLICATED (A-3; R): Meryl Streep is a divorced mother of three grown children who has an affair with her former husband, now remarried, played by Alec Baldwin. The film delves into issues of trust, forgiveness and the continuing effects of divorce on adult children. Complex marital situations and moral issues, skewed values.

SHERLOCK HOLMES (A-3, PG-13): Robert Downey Jr. won a Golden Globe this year for his role as the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Director Guy Ritchie, known for high-energy violent action films, has stylized the action here but sacrificed story for spectacle. Occult, action violence, sexual situations.

TO SAVE A LIFE (not yet rated, PG-13): A solid film about contemporary teen issues: friendship, betrayal, loneliness, teen suicide, guilt, school cliques, premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, pregnancy and abortion. Though obviously a message movie with an evangelical flavor, it is well-acted and moving. For more information, visit www.ToSaveALifeLeaders.com. Mature themes, some disturbing images.

BROTHERS (A-3, R): Tommy is released from prison for attempted robbery and his brother, Sam, an Army officer, husband and father, leaves for Iraq. Something terrible happens to Sam in Iraq as Tommy turns his life around at home. Both must reconsider what it means to be brothers. This is a deeply felt film about the effects of war on a family from director Jim Sheridan (In America). Intense violence, torture, problem language, mature themes.

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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