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Meet John Doe
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




SWING VOTE (A-3, PG-13): On election day in Texaco, New Mexico, 12-year-old Molly (Madeline Carroll) reminds her divorced, slacker, alcoholic dad, Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner, The Upside of Anger), that he has to vote and that she registered for him as an independent.

Bud promises to meet Molly at the polls but he never makes it. Just before the polls close, Molly sneaks in to vote for her dad, but the ballot gets stuck and the vote doesnít count.

Meanwhile, everything halts when half the ballots in New Mexico go to Republican President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer, Frasier) and half to his Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper). Five electoral votes, and the next president of the United States, hinge on Budís vote, which he has the right to cast again.

The media, both insipid candidates and their rather spineless staffs (headed by Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane) descend on Bud and Molly.

Through the mature girl, the film teaches the audience about what it means to be an independent voter, that is, one who stands for the ordinary people that the two-party system has failed.

It is unfortunate, however, that the premise of the film is built on the decision by Molly, Bud and a sympathetic reporter to lie about Budís initial voting attempt. It is also regrettable that Molly, at 12, gives voice to a pro-choice stance. While some politicians may hold the mistaken view that pro-life means only anti-abortion, people of goodwill know that being pro-life embraces a consistent ethic of human life, from conception to natural death.

At a presidential debate, Bud delivers an opening speech with the dignityóand humilityóof his newly discovered respect for his role as a citizen. He wonders why, in this great nation, people go hungry and cannot get work or health care. Budís inquiry justly challenges the candidates, both in the film and in real life. Perhaps if people had employment, health care and enough to eat, abortion and loser lifestyles like Budís would not be viable options in a society that often seems to have leveled all life values into a smorgasbord.

Swing Vote is a congenial and mildly satirical political commentary reminiscent of Frank Capraís 1941 Meet John Doe. (In Capraís film, Gary Cooper played a Depression-era everyman whom a fascist-style presidential candidate and his staff try to manipulate, only the plan backfires.) Swing Vote isnít as idealistic or as memorable.

But this flawed film is an appeal to citizens that it matters to vote, and for public servants to remember that the democratic political process of our government is by the people, of the people, for the peopleónot the other way around, as everyone knows. Crude language, profanity.



BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (A-3, PG- 13): During World War II, Captain Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, Match Point) finds himself at Brideshead Castle, a place he knew as a young man. He recalls that while at Oxford a decade before, he had met Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw, Iím Not There), a troubled young man who drank too much. Charles is flattered when Sebastian invites him to visit.

Charles, who says he belongs to the Church of England but is an atheist, gets entangled in the Catholic culture of the Flyte family. He falls in love with Julia (Hayley Atwell, Cassandraís Dream). But her mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson, Stranger Than Fiction) insists Julia can marry only a Catholic. Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter films) lives in Venice with his mistress, Cara (Greta Scacchi, Emma).

This stylish period drama is based on the 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), a Catholic convert and friend of Graham Greene. It was made into a much-acclaimed British TV miniseries in 1981, also admired by American PBS audiences.

Writers Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) and Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) have done an excellent job at adapting the novel in this new film. And director Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane) has managed to tell a complex, absorbing tale with sensitivity.

Sebastian, conflicted about his sexual orientation, seems attracted to Charles. Charles, who reciprocates with friendship, is very attracted to the familyís status and Julia. Everyone struggles with the consequences of their choices.

Though the filmmakers necessarily condense and adapt the story, I think the film stays true to what Waugh said about his novel: It deals with grace, that gratuitous gift of God. And in this story, grace wins. Mature themes, problem language.

FIREPROOF (A-2, PG): Lt. Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron, Growing Pains) is a dedicated firefighter who is willing to sacrifice his life for his partner. Caleb and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea, Facing the Giants), have marriage problems. His dad suggests Caleb try doing something selfless and loving every day for Catherine.

Fireproof comes from the same Christian writing team (Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick) that gave us the 2006 evangelistic sermon, Facing the Giants. The production company, Provident Films/Sherwood Films, is a moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.

The writers have upped the ante this time by writing an engaging, hopeful, well-constructed screenplay that deals with the devastating effects of pornography on a marriage. The filmmakers (Alex Kendrick also directed) employ the light touch of a loving father, both human and divine.

As with Facing the Giants, this filmís emphasis is on message over art, so it may attract few outside of faith communities. The cast is almost all amateurs, but Kirk Cameron leads with a convincing, if not outstanding, performance.

Pornography is the elephant in the living room, an insidious problem that people joke about on late-night television, and a topic most homilists and preachers avoid. In 1989, the Vatican issued a prophetic document entitled Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media: A Pastoral Response. The document notes that pornography is so accessible and destructive that professional communicators, parents, educators and clergy are called to respond through good teaching and example about the sacredness and dignity of the human body and sexuality. The Internet has only increased the pervasiveness and accessibility of pornography.

Although itís a low-budget film, Fireproof courageously offers a starting point to converse about authentic marriage and family life, parenting, love and sexuality, the theology of the body, the dangers of pornography on human and moral development, and relationships. Mature themes.

SHOWTIME AT THE APOLLO (syndicated, check local listings): Several years ago I discovered Showtime at the Apollo during a bout of MS-induced insomnia at 2 on a Sunday morning. Following a tradition that goes back to the theater in 1930s Harlem, this is an energetic, amateur talent/variety show that has been on television since 1987. Singing, dancing, R&B, hip-hop, comedy and lots of attitude and heart round out an eveningís entertainment that has launched many careers, especially from the African-American community.

X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (A-3, PG-13): This second big-screen version of the popular TV series has Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) deciphering the visions of a convicted but repentant pedophile priest. The subplot (experimental treatment of a young patient) reinforces the idea that the film is about the contest between merely human faith and religious faith. It worked for me. Dark but thoughtful drama; action violence, medical gore, problem language.

STEP BROTHERS (O, R): Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play immature men who quarrel after their single parents marry. Itís directed and co-written by Adam McKay, who gave us the same disgusting duo in the slightly more mature Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Yet some parents may be grateful if it encourages their 40-somethings to get a life. Pervasive scatological humor, drug and pornography references, problem language.

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (A-2, PG-13): Brendan Fraser is back as Rick OíConnell, the mummy slayer, in this third installment in the series. Rick, his wife (Maria Bello) and son (Luke Ford) must stop a resurrected emperor and his warriors from taking over. Far-fetched but engaging popcorn flick; fantasy violence.

A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS (not rated): Director Wayne Wang enters an almost nonverbal relationship between a Chinese father and his adult daughter. This is a study of family dynamics and a quiet journey of the heart. Mature themes.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

The USCCBís Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See

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