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A Certified Life
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

SUNSHINE CLEANING
THE SONG OF SPARROWS
DUPLICITY
FRANZ JÄGERSTÄTTER: A MAN OF CONSCIENCE
THE FINAL INCH
GREY GARDENS
STRANDED: THE ANDES PLANE CRASH SURVIVORS
PLANET GREEN
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



SUNSHINE CLEANING

SUNSHINE CLEANING (not yet rated, R): Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams, Doubt) is a single mother who cleans houses. The former cheerleader is having an affair with the former quarterback, Mac (Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn), now a married detective.

Mac suggests to Rose that she could make more money cleaning up crime scenes than houses. After her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack, Fever Pitch), is expelled, Rose starts her own business so she can afford private school for him.

She enlists her reluctant and shiftless sister, Norah (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada), to help with the business. And Rose gets her dad, Joe (Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine), to watch Oscar. Norah barely remembers their deceased mother, who died when they were young. But Rose tells her about a movie their mother appeared in.

Rose and Norah learn the rules and regulations of biohazard disposal and the cleanup business from the kindly one-armed owner of a supply company, Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr., Capote). Things seem to be going along fairly well until Norah accidentally causes a crisis.

This story by novice screenwriter Megan Holley and director Christine Jeffs (Sylvia) is a meditation on the meaning and fragility of life tempered by resilience of spirit. Rose and Norah are down, but never out.

What begins as a job dealing with the remains of violent death becomes a way to make a small difference in people’s lives, and their own. Through their encounters with death, the sisters learn to face their own existential questions about God and the afterlife.

This independent film reminds me of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer. Norah especially is like Percy’s character Binx Bolling. Both are alienated from their own lives. Binx believes that a person’s place, or neighborhood, is not “certified” until it appears in a film. For Norah, life becomes real when she finally sees her now-deceased mother in the movie scene. Her spirit is freed and life is now worth living.

The film’s cast gives believable performances about a side of life few of us ever see. Sunshine Cleaning is thoughtful, funny, reverent and quirky enough to make the most cynical smile. Graphic death scenes, off-screen suicides, problem sexuality, mature themes.

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THE SONG OF SPARROWS

THE SONG OF SPARROWS (AVAZE GONJESHK-HA) (not yet rated, PG): Karim (Reza Naji) works on an ostrich farm in rural Iran to support his wife and three children. He’s fired when an ostrich escapes.

When Karim rides his motorbike into the city to have his eldest daughter’s hearing aid repaired, someone asks him for a ride, mistaking Karim for a taxi driver. Thus begins a new means for Karim to earn some money.

When Karim breaks his leg and becomes homebound, he observes life from a new perspective, noticing such things as a sparrow struggling to be free.

This is a gentle, humorous and warm human film from acclaimed Iranian director Majid Majidi, who has received worldwide recognition for other films (Children of Heaven and The Color of Paradise). Reza Naji won the Silver Bear for best actor at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The Song of Sparrows contemplates life through the eyes of the spirit and falls into the category of a cinematic poem. Though the narrative travels hither and yon, it ends up at home again, lessons learned and love shared. Majidi uses the harsh natural landscape and littered cityscape—as well as Karim’s own pile of junk—to contrast a family’s struggle for basic necessities and possessions with the sacrifices that a person makes for loved ones. (In Farsi, with English subtitles.) Some problem language.

DUPLICITY (A-3, PG-13): Ray Koval (Clive Owen, Children of Men) is a British MI6 agent and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson’s War) works for the CIA. They both resign their jobs and agree to become industrial spies for competing companies, one led by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton) and the other by Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man) so they can pull off the ultimate con.

Written and directed by Oscar nominee Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Duplicity sparkles, at first, with on-scene chemistry between Owen and Roberts. The film also looks very good.

But Duplicity failed to impress on other levels. First, the story was so convoluted that by the end I didn’t care that the two main characters, and others, got their just deserts or who outsmarted whom. Second, the film probably falls into the heist genre but seemed derivative. Third, if it was supposed to be a romance, the lead characters talked themselves out of any meaningful relationship by refusing, and refuting, trust. Finally, in today’s social and economic climate, a film about attractive con artists and industrial greed simply has little appeal. Crass language, some problem sexuality.

FRANZ JÄGERSTÄTTER: A MAN OF CONSCIENCE: Franz, a devout Catholic and loving husband and father of four children, refused to serve in Hitler’s army for reasons of conscience. He was martyred in 1943 when he was 36. The documentary features interviews with his wife and children in their family home where the wife still lives. Franz was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Narrated by Martin Sheen, it’s available from www.MaryknollSocietyMall.org.

THE FINAL INCH (HBO, check local listings): Fifty years after the development of the Sabin oral polio vaccine, an army of local volunteers works in India’s two most unsanitary and impoverished states to eliminate the disease finally through education and immunization. They urge the government to provide clean water. This inspiring and informative program includes interviews with people in the United States who survived the 1950s epidemic.

GREY GARDENS (HBO, check local listings): This drama spans four decades in the lives of two eccentric recluses, “Big Edie” and her daughter, “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, who were the subjects of a 1973 documentary. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore portray these charming relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

STRANDED: THE ANDES PLANE CRASH SURVIVORS (PBS, check local listings): This award-winning documentary on Independent Lens focuses on rugby players from a Catholic high school in Uruguay who survive a 1972 plane crash in the Andes. Survivors comment on their physical and spiritual experiences and their lives since then.

PLANET GREEN: In 2008, the Discovery Channel launched its green cable channel. A year later, it recycles its 17 original programs quite a bit, but the message of stewardship for the earth is well-presented. Shows include Emeril Green (healthy cooking), Renovation Nation (green construction) and Living With Ed (actor/environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr., and his green adventures). There is even a show on cleaning out your garage responsibly. The Web site has much green information as well as Chef Emeril’s recipes (www.planetgreen.discovery.com/tv).

SIN NOMBRE (not yet rated, R): This Sundance winner focuses on Willy (Edgar Flores), a Mexican teen gang member who is on the run. He takes refuge atop a freight train with dozens of other people trying to get to the U.S., including Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran girl who is with her father and uncle. The film’s title means “nameless.” It looks into the tragic and harsh realities of undocumented immigrants, touched by possibilities, where few make it. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.) Extreme gang and sexual violence.

CROSSING OVER (not yet rated, R): Harrison Ford plays Max Brogan, a sympathetic U.S. immigration agent, in a film about people trying to enter the United States illegally. Once here, they try to find a way to stay. This film wants to be like Oscar-winner Crash, but fails to pull it off. The subtle message of the film seems to be that current immigration policies are outdated and in need of reform: That is as just and humane as is Ford’s character. Problem language, sex and violence.

GOODBYE SOLO (not yet rated): I saw this moving film at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the International Critic’s prize. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is an immigrant from Senegal who drives a taxi to support his little family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He becomes friends with William (Red West), a depressed older man. Over the next few weeks, the hopeful Solo tries to convince William that life is worth living. 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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