INNOCENT VOICES (A-3, not
rated): In 1981 in El Salvador,
farmers have organized into a
guerrilla force and civil war is in full
swing. The United States has sent in
military advisers to assist the Salvadoran
Eleven-year-old Chava (Carlos
Padilla) lives on the outskirts of a small
town with his mother, Kella (Leonor
Varela), a dressmaker, his older sister
and younger brother. The family is
poor, like their neighbors. Chava
is the man of the house since his
father deserted the family for the
United States. Battles happen
almost every night in the town,
which lies between the guerrilla
stronghold and the regular army.
One day when Chava and his
sister are at school, soldiers come
to force young boys into the regular
army. The parish priest tries to
help when the army takes the
boys and kidnaps local women.
When Chava’s Uncle Beto (José
María Yazpik) wants to take the
boy instead of waiting for the soldiers
to conscript him, Kella
refuses to let her son go.
Meanwhile, life for the children
goes on, even with the gunfire and the
continual threat of violence. The soldiers
return again and again, looking for the boys.
The turning point of the film happens
when Chava and two other boys
decide to join the guerrillas. How
Chava and his family survive is an
amazing testament to the strength and
resilience of the human spirit.
Oscar Orlando Torres wrote this
haunting autobiographical screenplay
with director Luis Mandoki (Message
in a Bottle, When a Man Loves a Woman).
The events he so poignantly describes
take place just after Archbishop Oscar
Romero was assassinated in El Salvador and offer a child’s version of the story
told in the 1989 Paulist film Romero.
Carlos Padilla is appealing and
authentic as the scrappy Chava, but I
think the film belongs to Leonor Varela
as his mother.
There are more than 300,000 child
soldiers active in the 36 armed conflicts and wars currently being fought
today. Who and what will these children turn out to be if they even survive?
This award-worthy true story gives
audiences a visceral look into the traumatic
effect of war on children and the
recruitment of child soldiers. Graphic
and intense battlefield violence; Spanish
with English subtitles.
WAR OF THE WORLDS
WAR OF THE WORLDS (L, PG-13): Ray
Ferrier’s (Tom Cruise) kids, Rachel
(Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin
Chatwin), arrive to spend the weekend
with their dad in New Jersey. Ray’s ex-wife,
Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), admonishes
him to take care of the
children while she heads to Boston
with her new husband.
When there are cosmic disturbances,
Ray doesn’t react at first. But he pays
attention when something plunges to
earth nearby. Ray and the kids flee
for Boston amidst ensuing chaos
when gigantic tripod sci-fi creatures
The creatures have been buried
in the earth for millions of years,
waiting to be called forth by the
arrival of their relatives from outer
space. They invade the farmhouse
where Ray and Rachel take shelter
after Robbie goes off with some
soldiers to try to fight the aliens.
The house is inhabited by a creepy
man named Harlan Ogilvy (Tim
Steven Spielberg’s high-concept
and expensive remake of the 1953
film based on the original 1898
novel by H.G. Wells is a good
watch. Fans will note similarities
between Close Encounters of the Third
Kind, E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial (a term
H.G. Wells seems to have coined) and
Spielberg’s recurring theme of lonely
children having to face their difficulties
alone or with inadequate parents.
Everyone knows about the 1939 radio
broadcast by Orson Welles, which frightened
a nation already feeling threatened
by the possibility of a world war
and invasion by foreigners. Spielberg’s
film, co-written by Josh Friedman and
David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man),
has some elements of the Welles radio
script but it follows the original novel
War of the Worlds is strong on special
effects but weak on story and character development. The only one we really
care about is Rachel, played with feeling
and maturity by Dakota Fanning.
Intense science-fiction violence.
BATMAN BEGINS (A-3, PG-13): Young
Bruce Wayne falls into a hole on his
parents’ estate and calls to his friend
Rachel for help. He is terrified by the
bats that inhabit the cave.
His parents have used their wealth to
renew the city of Gotham. When they
are murdered by criminals, Bruce is
cared for by the family butler, Alfred
(Michael Caine). Bruce is constantly tormented by the senseless deaths of
When Bruce (Christian Bale) is older,
he learns everything he can about the criminal mind. A mysterious warrior
named Ducard (Liam Neeson) tries to teach him how to fight evil with
evil. But Bruce believes in good and
attracts the wrath of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken
Watanabe), the leader of the criminals
who rule Gotham.
Eventually, Rachel (Katie Holmes) becomes
an assistant D.A.
who battles the criminal
element of Gotham.
Bruce works for the company
his father founded,
in addition to his underground
work, where he
is helped by Lucius
(Morgan Freeman), who
has invented the Batmobile
and other useful
Batman Begins, based
on the 1939 comic-book hero, revives
the Batman franchise that fizzled out
after four films (two directed by Tim
Burton and two by Joel Schumacher).
I liked the philosophy the film delivered
through dialogue between
Batman and Ducard about the existential
nature of good and evil, and
between Batman and Alfred about truth
and goodness. The film’s only defect
was that it didn’t know where or how
to end regarding Rachel.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
(Insomnia, Memento) and written by
David S. Goyer (the Blade franchise), Batman Begins stands out among the
summer’s films for its art, intelligence
and dignity: Bring on the sequel.
BEN-HUR: A completely remastered
version of this 1959 epic,
which won 11 Oscars, will be
released on September 13 by Warner
Home Video in a new four-disc collector’s
edition DVD, with a Bible-study
guide by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller
The film is based on the 1880 novel
by Lew Wallace. Extras include the original
1925 silent film (with musical score
by Carl Davis), a new documentary on
the film’s influence (including filmmakers
Ridley Scott and George Lucas)
and scene-specific commentary by star
Charlton Heston, who portrays the epic
hero. ($29.95 at http://whv.warnerbros.com).
A MAN WHO BECAME POPE (Hallmark Channel, airing in
August and September): This
four-hour original movie on the life
of Pope John Paul II was seen in its
entirety by him before his death
and then by Pope Benedict XVI on
“The film presents scenes and episodes that, in their severity, awaken in the viewers an instinctive ‘turning away’ in horror,
and stimulates them to consider the abyss of iniquity
that can be hidden in the human
soul,” said Pope Benedict.“At the same time, calling to
the fore such aberrations revives in every right-minded
person the duty to do what he
or she can so that such inhuman barbarism
never happens again.”
Presented by Faith & Values Media, it was filmed in Krakow, Poland, and Vatican City.