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Confronting Ducks
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

JULIE & JULIA
DISTRICT 9
FUNNY PEOPLE
DROP DEAD DIVA
COUGAR TOWN and EASTWICK
THE BOARD
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



JULIE & JULIA

JULIE & JULIA (A-3, PG-13): After World War II, the famous chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep, Doubt) and her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, The Devil Wears Prada), move to Paris. Paul works for the U.S. Embassy and Julia has nothing to do. As the couple contemplates this situation, Paul asks, “What is it you really like to do?” Julia responds with her mouth full and a large chuckle, “Eat!”

More than 50 years later, an unpublished young writer and unappreciated post-9/11 Manhattan office worker, Julie Powell (Amy Adams, Doubt), and her husband, Eric (Chris Messina), move into a tiny apartment in Queens. Julie decides to prepare all the recipes in Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), within a year. Eric suggests that she blog about her experiences. It soon becomes a hit.

Writer/director Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) has concocted a charming film, a delicious cinematic treat that is warm and respectful of its subjects: Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and writer, Julia Child; and the Julia Child-trained cook and writer, Julie Powell. The film is a blend of past and present biographies that works extremely well. The audience is never lost, only charmed and entertained.

Someone once said that Julia Child was inimitable. Meryl Streep once again nails the personification of a character so vividly that I believe that Streep, too, is inimitable.

There are some wonderful lines in the film. One that impressed me as embracing the essential meaning of the film is when Julia Child directs her television viewers, when preparing duck, to first of all “Confront the duck!”

The thing about food movies—and Julie & Julia certainly fits into the genre—is that they are always spiritual because they are about life, relationships, creativity, nourishment, love and transformation.

At the end of the film, when Julie Powell discovers that the now-elderly Julia Child disapproves of her efforts and her blog, we know Julie has changed. She is disappointed, of course, but she has learned that she can complete something, even a most challenging task, and do it well. Julie has confronted her ducks—and so can we. One crude word.

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DISTRICT 9

DISTRICT 9 (L, R): One day a gigantic extraterrestrial spaceship moves in over the South African city of Johannesburg and hovers there. When no creatures are forthcoming, the South African military attacks the ship and brings the alien creatures to earth. The aliens, derisively called “prawns” because they resemble crustaceans, are made to live in ghettos that resemble impoverished South African townships.

Two decades pass. The government wants to evict them from their hovels as a “humanitarian” effort and move them to a huge fenced tent city that looks like a concentration camp. The legality of this is questionable, so a rather naďve bureaucratic office hack, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copely, Alive in Joburg), is “promoted” and assigned to obtain the aliens’ signatures on consent forms by any means possible. Wikus is actually a pawn in the hands of the government, its military and scientific contractors, as well as the media.

The simple Wikus discovers that the aliens are hoarding illegal weapons and doing chemical experiments. After a life-altering experience, he begins to discover the “humanity” of the aliens. All this action is, of course, quite gory and violent. But it is authentic science fiction because it incessantly asks the question: What does it mean to be human?

District 9 suggests commentary on social, political and even theological themes. It is not for the fainthearted, but it is a haunting example of how good low-budget independent filmmaking can be as it explores man’s inhumanity to man. Violence, disturbing images.

FUNNY PEOPLE (L, R): I was of two minds about seeing writer/director Judd Apatow’s latest foray into the world of young-adult manhood in America. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) and Knocked Up (2007) had redeeming finales, but the path to get there was littered with crude language and adolescent jokes about body parts and functions. Funny People started with an interesting premise that promised more than it delivered.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler, Bedtime Stories) is a lonely, burned-out stand-up comedian in Los Angeles who finds out he is dying of cancer. He hires an aspiring comedian, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen, Pineapple Express), to be his assistant and companion and write jokes for him as he faces death.

George makes appearances at comedy clubs but Ira outshines him. George finally seeks out his old girlfriend Laura (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up) to apologize for his past behavior. Things get complicated when George and Ira go to visit Laura while her husband, Clarke (Eric Bana, The Time Traveler’s Wife), is away and returns unexpectedly.

Funny People could have been so much more. Instead, it confirms that there is a crisis in comic creativity in the United States, stand-up or otherwise. I asked Craig Detweiler, Ph.D., a filmmaker, theologian and associate professor of communications at Pepperdine University, for his thoughts on Apatow’s films.

“Oftentimes, these films are a form of bait and switch. They appeal to the puerile or juvenile instincts, but then deliver a more mature lesson,” he said. “It is as old as Cecil B. DeMille—using sexual titillation to sell a Bible story. But this technique of taking the low road in order to challenge people to take the high road shows a lack of faith in the audience. I don’t think it really works.”

Evidently, Judd Apatow knows only one tune about masculinity and it’s not funny anymore, if it ever was. Funny People is just a sad waste of cinematic talent and offensive on so many levels. Adultery and pervasive, crude language.

DROP DEAD DIVA: Lifetime’s original series is about a gorgeous model who dies but wakes up in the body of a smart, plus-size lawyer, Jane (Brooke Elliott). Drop Dead Diva is smart, interesting, funny and good-hearted. Let’s hope it continues this way.

COUGAR TOWN and EASTWICK (ABC, check local listings): New in September, both of these shows seem like dressed-up but poor cousins to Desperate Housewives: dysfunctional women in search of fulfillment, primarily through sex.

Cougar Town stars Courteney Cox as a recently divorced real-estate agent facing loneliness. She takes up with a younger man, as do some of her friends. I wonder where this plot is heading.

Eastwick is another attempt at making the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick into a television series (a pilot was made in 1992 but not picked up). Three women acquire supernatural powers after a mysterious man moves into their New England town.

Of the two, Eastwick has more potential. It is hard to tell after viewing only the pilots, but if these shows match the depth, humanity and humor of Desperate Housewives, it will be a ratings coup for ABC. If the shows do not, they will be off the air by the time you read this review.

THE BOARD: In an attempt to emulate the success of films like Fireproof, the Bethesda Baptist Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, has released a 35-minute sermon, The Board. The premise is creative: Each board member characterizes a dimension of the human person involved in making leadership decisions, like conscience, mind, heart, will, etc.

The production qualities are high, but the board includes only white males and deals with issues that appeal largely to a male audience. As the board considers the moral issues, the only woman is presented as a source of temptation. There is no Christian joy in this meeting of The Board. For more information: www.boardmovie.com.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (A-3, PG-13): Based on Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling novel, the film could be seen as a new take on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) because it is a love story about a man who time-travels. Or it can be interpreted as a meditation on the eternity of love. The film is beautifully made. Actually, the story is not so much about the wife, played by Rachel McAdams. Its focus is on Henry, played with depth and feeling by Australian actor Eric Bana. Some language, non-graphic sexuality.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (not yet rated, PG-13): An earnest young man, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), falls in love with a friendly young woman named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). But she doesn’t love him—the chemistry is not there. This is a sweet story, a bit on the quirky side, about looking for love and never giving up. This is a seasonal film. There may be more to come. Language, mild sexual themes.

THE BURNING PLAIN (not yet rated, R): This is another strong showing from director Guillermo Arriaga (Babel) that was in competition at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. A mother (Oscar-winner Kim Basinger) has an affair that ends in tragedy. Her young daughter, Mariana (played by amazing young actress Jennifer Lawrence), is devastated. Years later, a lonely young woman (Oscar-winner Charlize Theron) lives a self-destructive lifestyle because of a secret. Arriaga’s sleight-of-hand technique once again tells a powerful story of redemption. Violence, sexuality, language.

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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