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New York Noel
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

NOEL (not rated, PG): In a hospital room in New York City on Christmas Eve, lonely Rose (Susan Sarandon) cares for her elderly mother and shows kindness to another patient.

Across town, a gender-confused elderly man named Artie (Alan Arkin) has a heart attack outside the apartment of Mike, a policeman. Thus, Mike accompanies Artie to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Mike’s beautiful fiancée, Nina (Penélope Cruz), wants him to trust her more. Also in the picture is Jules (Marcus Thomas), a street kid who commits a desperate act in an effort to have a happy Christmas.

The hospital is a symbolic artery of love and humanity for the characters and the angels who dwell among them.

When I interviewed the multitalented actor/director Chazz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale, Analyze This, The Usual Suspects), he said the film is the “story of five lonely people whose lives cross on Christmas Eve. Due to incredible circumstances, miracles happen and their lives change forever.” He said the film “has a message of hope that, no matter how bad things are, your life can turn around.

“This movie is about how God can intervene and change your life in a heartbeat,” he continued. “Besides, New York is America’s Christmas city. When a movie conveys that a person is lonely in New York at Christmas, the audience can identify with that, as they can with the miracles that happen there.”

Although the film seems to lose its pace in the middle and the conflict is a little too easily resolved, Noel explores how people who are searching for redemption can find it in the Christmas mystery. (Sister Marie Paul Curley and Sister Hosea Marie Rupprecht also contributed to this review.)

This low-budget film was scheduled to open in November in some theaters and air on TNT once. At the same time, disposable DVDs will be sold through Amazon.com for $4.99. Thematic elements, some sensuality and problem language; a gritty and honest film for mature audiences about finding love and companionship in the midst of loneliness.

CHRISTMAS FAMILY FILM FEST Many families watch a favorite holiday movie together during Advent or the Christmas season. These films can make us laugh and cry, and help us reflect on the meaning of Christ’s birth today.

Choose three movies from the list that follows or other favorites. Watch them together and discuss the films. Give an award to the best one, based on the following elements: the story, how well the filmmaker tells it and your values. (You can even vote on the film at www.imdb.com.) I recommend screening these films before watching them with your family to judge if they are appropriate.

Select a quote from the Scriptures that reminds you of the film. Make a Christmas movie journal or scrapbook together that you can add to each year.

Unless noted, the following films are available on both video and DVD. Many will air on TV; check your local listings for a schedule. Some are not rated (nr).

For the entire family:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, nr): Charlie Brown gets tired of the superficiality of his friends at Christmas. He asks, “Isn’t there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” The answer Linus gives at the end makes this film a family classic. It’s a movie for anyone who has ever had a scrawny Christmas tree.

Heidi (1937, A-1, G): I have always loved the Shirley Temple version that highlights Heidi’s Christmas away from her grandfather and her desire for hearth and home, rather than comfort and riches.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, A-1, G): This witty version of Charles Dickens’s timeless story is told in true Muppet style with broad appeal.

For families with pre-teens:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983, nr, VHS only): This comedy, based on the novel by Barbara Robinson, is for anyone who has ever tried to put on a Christmas play. Starring Loretta Swit, it’s about the true meaning of Christmas.

A Christmas Story (1983, A-2, PG): Based on Jean Shepherd’s memoirs, this classic is about an Indiana family in the 1940s: Mom (Melinda Dillon), Dad (Darren McGavin), sons Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and Randy (Ian Petrella). Ralphie wants a Red Ryder 200-shot carbine-action BB gun for Christmas. Although I don’t like showcasing a film that might seem to promote firearms of any kind in today’s gun culture, this movie has so much heart that parents will help kids understand the real meaning. There’s some vulgar language and mild sexual innuendo.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966, nr): I like the animated version of the Dr. Seuss yuletide classic more than the high-concept 2000 adaptation with Jim Carrey (A-2, PG). Both tell the story of a lonely creature who seeks to destroy Christmas joy but who is ultimately transformed by the innocence of the Whos of Whoville.

The Littlest Angel (1969, nr): I fell in love with an animated version of this film when I was in elementary school in the 1950s. The 1969 version, with Johnny Whitaker, Fred Gwynne and E.G. Marshall, is based on Charles Tazewell’s book about a shepherd boy from biblical times who arrives in heaven and doesn’t understand where he is.

Miracle at Moreaux (1986, nr): This true story is based on the book Twenty and Ten by Claire Hutchet Bishop. A French boarding school during World War II takes in some Jewish children. The students’ reaction when the Nazis arrive at Christmas is brave and moving.

For families with adolescents:

The Bishop’s Wife (1947, A-2, nr): This amusing story focuses on a busy Episcopalian bishop (David Niven) who neglects his lovely wife (Loretta Young) at Christmastime. An angel (Cary Grant) befriends her. The film was remade as The Preacher’s Wife (1996, A-2, PG), featuring gospel music and starring Courtney B. Vance as a Baptist minister, Whitney Houston as his wife and Denzel Washington as the angel.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1987, nr, VHS only): This appealing and endearing story about a boy and his grandfather is based on a poem by Dylan Thomas. It’s fine for adults but too slow for kids.

Elf (2003, A-2, PG): This comedy stars Will Ferrell as an orphaned human brought up as an elf who seeks his real father at Christmas. Themes of identity, belonging and family are couched in some adolescent humor.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, A-2, nr): Frank Capra directed this feel-good classic. When George (Jimmy Stewart) is suicidal, his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows him that his life is worth living because “one man’s life touches so many others; when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.”

Little Women (1949, A-3, nr): My favorite version of this story is the movie with June Allyson. Christmas figures prominently in this Louisa May Alcott tale of a mother and her four daughters living in Massachusetts during the Civil War.

Scrooged (1988, A-4, PG-13): Director Richard Donner’s funny film has heart, as well as an edgy rendition of the three ghosts and a man headed for reform. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a modern version of Charles Dickens’s Scrooge. The new Frank says tearfully at the end: “It’s Christmas Eve....For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” There’s some crude language, sexual innuendo and rough action.

Stepmom (A-3, PG-13): When a divorced mom (Susan Sarandon) learns she is dying, the new stepmom of her kids sacrifices her own interests and makes Christmas special for everyone. It can be consoling to those who have lost a parent through divorce or death.

While You Were Sleeping (1995, A-3, PG): Lonely Lucy (Sandra Bullock) rescues a man on Christmas Eve. His family thinks she is his fiancée. There’s some mild sexual innuendo.

Friends added their favorite Christmas films to my list, in some cases indicating specific versions. An American Christmas Carol, The Christmas Box, The Christmas Coal Mine Miracle, The Christmas Gift, Christmas in Connecticut (1945 version), A Christmas to Remember, The Christmas Tree, Christmas Vacation, The Christmas Wish, Come to the Stable, The Crippled Lamb (based on Max Lucado's book), Frosty the Snowman, The Gift of the Magi, Holiday Inn, Home Alone, Miracle Down Under, Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994), The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Santa Clause, Santa and Pete, We're No Angels (1955 Bogart version), White Christmas.

 

VANITY FAIR (A-3, PG-13): This rich drama, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, is about a poor British girl who manipulates her way into proper society. I thought the film ended too quickly, without letting us see the arc of Becky Sharp’s (Reese Witherspoon) character development. A literary social commentary that is worth the watch; some sensuality.

WIMBLEDON (A-3, PG-13): The first part of this romantic comedy is all about sex, but the second part gets interesting when tennis becomes a metaphor for relationships and maturity. Disappointing; never reaches its potential.

SUSPECT ZERO (O, R): This crime thriller tries to examine a supposed government conspiracy to program F.B.I. agents into search-and-destroy machines. Harsh and violent viewing.

 

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, www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm

At www.CatholicMovieReviews.org, readers can search Sister Rose's and hundreds of other film reviews.

 


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