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A Good Man is Hard to Find
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen)
ZODIAC
OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORT DOCUMENTARIES
INDEPENDENT LENS: KNOCKING
POPE JOHN PAUL II: BASED ON THE POWERFUL TRUE STORY
THE SECRET
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen)

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen) (A-3, R): This Oscar-winning German movie by director-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is a political thriller set in East Berlin in 1984. It evolves through the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), the minister of culture, asks Lt. Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace) to spy on a playwright named Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, famous actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck, The Good Shepherd). Hempf wants Sieland for himself.

Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is the ruthless interrogator for the secret police (the Stasi) who carries out the surveillance. He has a change of heart because of what he hears.

This film is a complex, intense and compelling tale of a man who finds his humanity and conscience through the discovery of art. The filmmaking is stark and cold, the symbol of East Germany’s soulless “social Communism.”

The actors give strong performances, especially Mühe: His acting is unconventional. We are drawn to his inner odyssey through close-ups.

The ending is a quiet tour de force that makes this the best film I have seen in more than a year. Perhaps a good man is not so hard to find after all. (German with English subtitles.) Some problem sexuality.

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ZODIAC

ZODIAC (A-3, R) is a fictionalized account of murders committed in the San Francisco area during the late 1960s. The film is based on Robert Graysmith’s book of the same title and stays close to the true story of his voluntary involvement in the case.

Encrypted letters claiming responsibility for the murders begin arriving at the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle. The writer identifies himself as the “Zodiac killer.” Reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) becomes obsessed with tracking down the perpetrator.

The newspaper’s comic artist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain), is fascinated by the code and identifies symbols no one else can. Inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, All the King’s Men) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards, ER) work to link their cases with murders in other counties and to identify a suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch, Close to Home). But they are unable to prove his guilt.

The case was closed in 2004 but reopened by the San Francisco Police Department in 2007. It remains open in other counties where the same killer is believed to have operated. Zodiac is an intense crime thriller with excellent production values, directed by David Fincher, no stranger to the human psyche’s penchant for violence (Se7en, Fight Club). Fans of this genre will appreciate the film’s intelligence but may be left asking why they made a true-story film that never had an ending in the first place. Some intense, graphic violence and problem language.

OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORT DOCUMENTARIES (unrated): All of these inspiring films are excellent for reflection and conversation about social issues and the arts. (Check www.apollocinema.com for showings in your area or to order DVDs.)

The Blood of Yingzhou District won the Oscar this year for best short documentary. It is a heartbreaking story about orphaned children of parents who died of AIDS: Donated blood was mingled together, the platelets removed and then returned to the donors. Hope arrives when a foster-care program is begun.

Recycled Life: Many Third World cities have huge toxic dumps (“landfills”) that thousands call home. After a methane gas cloud emanated from a dump in Guatemala City in 2005, growing social awareness and activism led to change. People can no longer live at this dump and can only dig through the trash (to find sellable items) during certain hours. Children must be educated and cannot root through the garbage until they are 14.

Rehearsing a Dream: Talented high school students in the United States, some of them considered misfits because they don’t play sports, get the chance to study and practice their arts with their peers and mentors.

Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story is an inspirational account of a concert pianist who lost the use of one hand and had to learn to play again.

(PBS, May 22, check local listings): Terrence Howard hosts this documentary about Jehovah’s Witnesses. In addition to knocking on many doors uninvited, they have advanced the cause of civil liberties in the United States and elsewhere. (They are banned from 28 countries.) They spoke out against Hitler and Nazism and are advancing bloodless surgery in hospitals throughout the United States.

Filmmaker Joel P. Engardio, who was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness but never joined, shows us a Holocaust survivor who converted from Judaism to the Witnesses because of their steadfastness in the concentration camps. In addition, we see a young man who needs a liver transplant but refuses to set aside his own blood for transfusions, if needed.

The program was interesting enough, but I wanted to know if there are any charitable or educational programs that benefit non-members. I wanted more historical information and an explanation of the authority behind their beliefs.

POPE JOHN PAUL II: BASED ON THE POWERFUL TRUE STORY was a lavishly produced four-hour miniseries on CBS. Cary Elwes portrays Karol Wojtyla as a young priest and Oscar-winner Jon Voight takes over the role when Wojtyla becomes pope.

THE SECRET: This best-selling DVD, book and author were recently featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The Da Vinci Code-esque contention is that the Church, politicians and business leaders have kept something hidden for thousands of years, an idea wrapped in mystery and concealed by clandestine conspiracy.

According to Rhonda Byrne, the book’s Australian author and visionary, the “law of attraction” is the most essential law of the universe. It is not about romantic relationships, though these are included. The law of attraction rules everything, including God.

Rhonda Byrne and her team of expert philosophers, metaphysicians, marketing and money-making experts, authors and a “trainer in the field of mind potential” witness to the law of attraction as that magnetism of creating reality just by thinking it. If you envision yourself as being rich, you will become rich. If you stand in front of a jewelry store and think about possessing a necklace, the necklace will be yours.

They have interpreted the law and packaged it as a motivational get-rich-quick scheme based on a hodgepodge of Buddhism, psychology, philosophic psychobabble, with some New Age teaching.

The Secret is a blend of Gnosticism, nihilism and pantheism. Some of what the author promotes has Christian parallels, such as “visioning ourselves” (a way of prayer that St. Ignatius proposed), as well as some valid psychology (changing negative patterns of thought to positive ones).

The experts have taken Norman Vincent Peale’s theme of “the power of positive thinking” and upgraded it for those who seek resolution to their problems in the nontraditional pop arena, rather than in more proven and conventional means.

One of its principles is: “The only thing you need to do is feel good now.” Another is: “Whatever you choose is right. The power is all yours.” The DVD pays lip service to a “higher power,” but even the “higher power” is submissive to this law of attraction. Thus, the concept implicitly denies the omnipotence of God.

Byrne, who had been in the depths of depression when she heard of the law of attraction, researched it.

But there is no attempt to explain how the millions of poor and oppressed people in the world will benefit from The Secret. It’s all about “me.” It seems very much a message for the upwardly mobile middle class in First World countries who have the luxury to chase after the latest fad to pay their maxed-out credit-card bills.

 

WILD HOGS (A-3, PG-13): Four guys going through midlife crisis go on a biker’s road trip to rediscover themselves. It’s typical adolescent-guy humor, with a hint of Borat. (William H. Macy plays the eccentric Dudley, who is preoccupied with his excrement.) There’s a somewhat wooden performance by Marisa Tomei and a cameo by Peter Fonda (Easy Rider). Good-hearted but predictable; crude language and sexual innuendo.

EAST OF HAVANA (unrated) was coproduced by Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron. It focuses on the underground development of Cuban hip-hop and rap as art. The three rappers featured tell of hardship and hope, and their great desire to share their music with the world beyond Cuba. (Spanish with English subtitles.) A documentary that seemed too long.

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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