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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




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 army.

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 (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 appear.

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 Robbins).

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 more closely.

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 his parents.

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 tools.

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. Action-adventure violence.

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 and son.

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

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 May 19.

“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.


CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (A-1, PG): I enjoyed this distinctly Tim Burton version of the novel by Roald Dahl in which Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) explores his damaged inner child with five children and their guardians, led by Charlie (Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland) and his grandfather (David Kelly, Waking Ned Devine, Greenfingers). Like all real fairy tales, and Dahl stories in particular, it’s a dark morality tale that is, perhaps, more for adults than children. Action and some mild problem language.

BEWITCHED (A-3, PG-13): Jack (Will Ferrell) recruits Isabel (Nicole Kidman) to play Samantha in the revival of the 1960s hit TV comedy Bewitched. This film is disappointing, coming from director/ writer Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) and Delia Ephron, who wrote this year’s wonderful The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. What started in full flight falls flat on its broomstick about two thirds of the way through when the story just fizzles out. Some problem language and partial nudity.

WEDDING CRASHERS (O, R): John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) play two lawyers who crash weddings to score babes. These two characters are somewhat engaging and the film is, unfortunately, funny at times. But when Will Ferrell shows up to introduce John to funeral-crashing for widows, you know it’s time to bury this film. Crass and purposefully sexually explicit.

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

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222,

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