THE DARK KNIGHT (A-3, PG-13):
Gotham City has made great
strides against the mob since
Batman Begins (2005), thanks to Harvey
Dent (Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich),
the new district attorney, who has
Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mona
Lisa Smile) at his side. Rachel, an assistant
district attorney, is the former girlfriend
of Bruce Wayne.
As Batman (Christian Bale, Batman
Begins), Bruce has been secretly assisting
Police Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman, Batman Begins). The mob has been dealing
with a crooked Hong Kong businessman
named Lau (Chin Han).
Batman brings Lau back to Gotham
to testify against mob boss Salvatore
Maroni (Eric Roberts, Phat Girlz). The
mob hires The Joker (Heath Ledger,
Brokeback Mountain) to thwart the
authorities. The showdown will be of
tragic, violent proportions.
Heath Ledger, who died in January at
age 29 of an accidental overdose of prescription
drugs, plays the artificially
smiling Joker with depth, startling credibility
and an intensity that is almost
painful. His disquieting performance
overshadows that of otherwise fine performances
by the rest of the cast. The
film belongs to The Joker, and Ledger
deserves an Oscar nod.
The Joker, scarred inside and out,
hidden behind a grotesque mask, is
possessed by a brilliant madness. He is
a symbol of the powerless victim
becoming the victimizer in a doomed
quest for justice. The Joker, Dent and
the hooded Batman form a trio that
externalizes some of the realities and
struggles of our complicated humanity.
This film is genuinely sinister. It is
often pessimistic, yet moves beyond
the limits of its comic-book origins to
confront human hubris, the consequences
of child abuse and the possibilities
for authentic goodness.
The film examines the artifice of creating
mythic heroes with feet of clay to
respond to our need for a superman, a
guardian, a savior. Directed and coscripted
by Christopher Nolan (Batman
Begins, Insomnia), the film offers social,
political and even spiritual commentary.
It conjures up conversations about
virtue as counterpoint to human weakness.
Intense action violence.
MAMA MIA! (L, PG-13): Sophie (Amanda
Seyfried, Big Love) has grown up on a gorgeous
Greek isle with her single mother,
Donna (Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears
Prada), a former 1960s flower child.
While reading through her mother’s
diaries, Sophie discovers three of her
mother’s long-ago boyfriends, one of
whom may be her father: Bill (Stellan
Skarsgård, Pirates of the Caribbean: At
World’s End), Harry (Colin Firth, Bridget
Jones: The Edge of Reason) and Sam
(Pierce Brosnan, Seraphim Falls). She
invites all three of them to her wedding,
unbeknownst to her doting mother.
Things become complicated when
Sophie asks each of the men, plus her
mother, to give her away. A funny thing
happens on the way to church.
Mama Mia! originated as a 1999 London
musical showcasing ABBA, the
pop Swedish sensation from the ’70s. It
is the 17th-longest-running Broadway
show. Over 30 million people are estimated
to have seen it worldwide.
The story is an implausible fantasy
and the lipsynch is way off, but the
music and dancing are exhilarating.
Some will be turned off by the film’s
summer of love (1967) lifestyle, lack
of appreciation for marriage and the
sometimes crass gestures.
What remains with me, though, is
Donna’s sadness when she recounts
how her Catholic mother told her,
when she got pregnant, not to bother
coming home again. What would have
happened if her mother had welcomed
Donna, rather than rejected her?
This film is not great art, and the
story is very thin. But it does set a joyful
table for us to gather round and
talk about how to live the values we
hold dear. Brief rear nudity.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (A-3, PG-13): During
an experiment dealing with gamma
rays, physicist Bruce Banner (Edward
Norton, The Painted Veil) is exposed to
potent emissions. Now, when he experiences
anger—he turns into a gigantic, green,
General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt”
Ross (William Hurt, The Good Shepherd)
wants to co-opt Bruce’s reaction as a weapon to create super soldiers. Betty
Ross (Liv Tyler, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), the general’s daughter, is
Bruce’s co-worker and love interest.
To escape the general, Bruce goes to
Brazil and works in a hot, dirty factory.
After hours, he practices breathing methods
to manage his emotions and seeks
to find a cure for gamma poisoning.
General Ross tracks down Bruce with
the help of a cold-blooded British soldier
named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth,
Planet of the Apes). Blonsky gets an injection
of the gamma formula, and the
inevitable confrontation is set up.
In Ang Lee’s 2003 version of the Marvel
comics character created by Stan
Lee and Jack Kirby, the emphasis was on
the consequences of tampering with
human biology. In this new, less compelling
version that spends too much
time blowing things up, the focus nods
to genetic manipulation. But it zeros in
on how the U.S. military wants to harvest
scientific research for war.
In 2011 we can look forward to the
reunion of a cinematic super team of
The Avengers that will include, at the
very least, the Hulk, Iron Man, Nick
Fury (a C.I.A. agent) and Captain America.
It will be interesting to look at how
the story and a cast of testosteroneladen
superheroes will interplay with
current world events. Will they do the
right thing within the Marvel universe
as a way to teach us, or come under the
influence of U.S. military advisors, as
they did for Iron Man?
Read “The Iraq War Movie: Military
Hopes to Shape Genre” in the Los Angeles
Times (www.latimes.com) for a list
of the Hollywood films the military
has officially influenced.
Although Edward Norton is always
good, this film doesn’t work so well
because it relies too much on action
over story. From a media-literacy perspective,
it’s an ideal film to analyze for
the worldview it projects and to discern
if it is one we can accept, not only as
American citizens but also as faithful
citizens of the world. Stylized violence,
explicit medical procedures.
WHEN I FIND THE OCEAN (not
rated, PG): An 11-year-old
Alabama girl strikes out on
her own to find the ocean that her
deceased father loved so much. The
film moves at a slow pace but has won
the KIDS First! endorsement and the
Dove Seal of Approval. It deals with
child abuse and racism in 1965 Alabama,
and stars Lee Majors, Diane Ladd
and Graham Greene. Some racial slurs
and problem language.
THE PRICE OF SUGAR (not rated, A-2):
Reviewed in October 2007, this documentary
about a priest working among
undocumented Haitian sugarcane workers
in the Dominican Republic has been
chosen for a Gabriel Award. Excellent
study of Catholic social teaching; graphic
images of disease.
two main purposes of advertising
that have emerged in democratic
societies are to inform and to
persuade us to buy or do something.
Often the creative approaches used are
less than transparent.
Sometimes, political ads are negative
and clearly on the attack. Not only is it
up to politicians and their campaign
people to pursue responsibility in advertising,
but it is also up to the audience
to question and evaluate the message.
The Vatican released guidelines in a
1997 document titled Ethics in Advertising (Pontifical Council for Social Communication).
The main criteria are:
1. People have a right to the truth;
therefore, truthfulness in advertising
is always called for.
2. People are often exploited through
advertising; therefore, the dignity of
the human person at all points of the
advertising spectrum is to be upheld.
3. Social responsibility must characterize
all aspects of advertising.
Truth, human dignity and social
responsibility form a fine lens for people
of goodwill to access, evaluate and
judge such advertising. Analyzing with
family and friends according to the
above norms is also a way of being