FINDING NEVERLAND (A-2, PG): After the unsuccessful opening of his play Little
Mary in London in 1903, Scottish playwright James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp) goes
off with his Newfoundland dog to write a new play in nearby Kensington Gardens. There
he becomes friends with a family of four fatherless boys and their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn
Davies (Kate Winslet).
Though the boys like James, young Peter still grieves for his recently deceased father
and remains distant. James gives the boy a journal so he can use his imagination and write.
The playwright often meets the Davies family in the park, where he entertains them by
playacting, telling stories and teaching them to fly kites. His wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell),
invites the family and their grandmother, Mrs. Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie), for dinner.
But the Barries’ marriage is already strained, and Mary is irritated by all the time
her husband spends with the Davies family. She begins to see another man.
Meanwhile, rumors begin to circulate about the relationship James has with Sylvia and
the boys. James, genuinely shocked, asserts that they are only friends.
During this time, he is writing a new play filled with pirates, lost boys, a girl and
her two brothers, a ticking crocodile and a boy named Peter Pan who flies through the air
This outstanding film is based on the play by Allan Knee. The fine actors led by Johnny
Depp (sure to receive another Oscar nod) inhabit their characters and give believable,
strong—yet subtle—performances. Young Freddie Highmore is perfect as Peter
and may get some Academy attention as well. (He will be seen next in Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory.) The direction by Marc Forster deftly blends the story of a lonely
man, his imaginative incarnation as Peter Pan and the children who inspired him: Don’t
forget to bring tissues.
My favorite Peter Pan so far, this creative fiction adds to the myth surrounding
Sir J.M. Barrie (1860-1937). Themes of marital discord, illness and death.
RACING STRIPES (not rated, PG): In the mode of Babe, this film focuses on a zebra
named Stripes (voice of Frankie Muniz). Rancher and former horse-trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce
Greenwood) rescues the zebra when it falls off a circus truck in rural Kentucky. After
Walsh’s wife is killed in a horse-racing accident, he becomes an overprotective father
who refuses to let his daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere), get on a horse.
When Channing gets a flat tire while riding a motorbike to work at the local racetrack,
she rides Stripes to her job. The zebra takes to the bridle and saddle easily and soon
starts conversing with the horses in the next pasture.
Stripes has always raced the mail truck. When he realizes his neighbors are thoroughbreds,
he wants to run at the track, too. He is encouraged by other animals in the barn (voices
of Mandy Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Dustin Hoffman, Jeff Foxworthy). Goose (voice of Joe Pantoliano),
is a deranged pelican on the run from the Jersey Shore’s winged mob. Rapper horseflies
Buzz (voice of Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (David Spade) round out the wannabe-racer’s
Nolan is urged to train Stripes when Woodzie (M. Emmet Walsh), a friend from the track,
realizes how fast the zebra can run. But Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick) wants Nolan to
return to her stables as a trainer.
This charming film is thematically reminiscent of Seabiscuit because the zebra’s
challenges are similar. Fun for the whole family and a delightful way to start the New
Year at the movies.
I AM DAVID (not rated, PG): In 1952 12-year-old David (Ben Tibber) is urged to
escape from the Communist labor camp where he has lived since he was very young. His friend
and mentor Johannes (Jim Caviezel) teaches him that, despite the terrible experiences in
the camp, good people do exist and life is worth living.
David spends his last night in the camp using his shoes as a pillow, dreaming of his mother.
The boy is told where to find a bag with food and a compass. In addition, he is given a
letter to take to the authorities in Denmark.
He escapes, makes his way to the Greek coast and sneaks aboard a ship bound for Italy.
With the help of strangers and his own wits, David survives many close calls.
One day he meets an artist named Sophie (Joan Plowright) near the Swiss border. Fascinated
by such old-looking eyes on such a youngster, she asks to paint his portrait. The momentous
final leg of David’s journey is set in motion by Sophie’s great kindness.
We know little about the experiences of political prisoners who opposed Communism during
the Cold War and were sentenced to the gulags of Eastern Europe. This film is a reminder
of the consequences of totalitarianism and political oppression, as well as the transcendence
of faith, the courage of hope and the genuine kindness of strangers told through the eyes
of a boy.
Based on North to Freedom, Anne Holm’s award-winning novel for young people, this
story was intricately written for the screen and skillfully directed by Paul Feig (Freeks
and Geeks). I was intrigued, saddened and gently surprised by this film. Thematic
elements and some violent content; inspiring for high schoolers and older.
CATHOLIC TELEVISION? Someone once said Jesus never told any true stories but that
he told stories that were full of truth.
For the viewing audience, television is an immediate source of information and entertainment.
Network prime-time television entertainment, however, is largely fictional and factual
storytelling through comedy, soap opera, drama and documentaries.
One thing is for certain: Television shows are always teaching us something by
engaging our Catholic imagination and conscience. Sometimes, these programs are specifically
Catholic, refer to Catholicism or treat issues that are of concern to people of good will.
Critical Catholic viewers question the stories they choose to watch in order to discern
the difference between factual and fictional stories that contain moral and/or factual
truth. When we recognize our own experiences (or those of others) and values reflected
in the way dilemmas are resolved on television, then our viewing enjoyment can be enhanced,
in addition to our moral and spiritual growth.
This is because we are never mentally passive in front of the television. Once images
enter our consciousness, we reflect on them and make decisions about them.
American Dreams, now in its third season, appeals to Catholic audiences on two
levels. Emotionally, it evokes nostalgia through the popular music and cultural upheaval
of the 1960s. The show works on the faith level because challenging moral issues (race,
poverty, war and popular culture) are experienced by a Catholic family that struggles to
do the right thing and sometimes fails, as we all do.
The fifth season of The West Wing continues to deal with moral and po-litical issues
through a Catholic lens because the fictional president (Martin Sheen) and his wife (Stockard
Channing) are Catholics.
Joan of Arcadia invites us into the home of the Girardi family, Catholics who do
not practice their religion. The show, in its second season, is rooted in all the possibilities
that being open to spirituality provides.
Other TV programs with explicit Catholic characters, themes or images include Grounded
for Life, American Family and the now-retired Life With Bonnie.
I don't think a TV show has to be explicitly Catholic to engage us on the level of our
faith and be meaningful. It's the stories a program tells, the symbols it uses, the questions
it raises, the answers it provides and the conversations it initiates.