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Divine Comedy
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

GHOST TOWN
BURN AFTER READING
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
THE DUCHESS
RELIGULOUS
THE MENTALIST
IN PLAIN SIGHT
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



 

GHOST TOWN (A-3, PG-13): Uptight and selfish Dr. Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) dies during a medical procedure, comes back to life and is able to see dead people, including Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear). These good but somewhat flawed souls want Pincus to help them make things right with their loved ones.

Frank badgers the unwilling Pincus to make friends with Frank’s wife, Gwen (Téa Leoni), and prevent her from marrying again. But Pincus and Gwen fall in love.

Ghost Town is deliciously funny and, for the most part, avoids the extremes of contemporary lowbrow comedies that can offend cultural sensibilities. It doesn’t retread old material, although aspects reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Sixth Sense and CBS’s series The Ghost Whisperer.

Ghost Town retains its originality because it is so funny and because Pincus needs to be transformed as a human being, before he really dies. He has no significant relationships, and his antisocial self-centered behavior is killing him spiritually. He is challenged by his partner in the dental practice to start helping others because that is the only way to live a meaningful life.

While the film does not speak explicitly of heaven, hell or purgatory, it can be interpreted as an allegory of the afterlife, similar to the “Purgatorio” section of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. Ghost Town, however, has a heart of humor that will make you smile, thanks to clever writing, directing and Gervais’s consummate comedic talent. Some problem language and sexual humor.

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BURN AFTER READING

BURN AFTER READING (L, R): Joel and Ethan Coen’s convoluted sketch opened the Venice International Film Festival in August to great acclaim by the Italian press. The plot involves Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), an unhappily married C.I.A. agent, who gets fired and begins to write his memoirs. The CD of the unfinished manuscript falls into the hands of two gym trainers, Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt). Pitt is hilarious.

Cox’s wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), is having an affair with Harry (George Clooney), a paranoid, hypochondriac ex-Secret Service agent. Via an online dating service, Harry meets Linda, who needs money for plastic surgery.

The story increases in complexity and hilarity when Linda and Chad think Cox’s CD contains state secrets: They decide to sell it to the Russians. But neither the head of the C.I.A. (played by J.K. Simmons), nor the Russians, take these two numbskulls seriously.

The cast also includes Richard Jenkins as Ted, the gym owner who loves Linda. His performance in The Visitor earlier this year may gain him an Oscar nod.

The political “ideology” (if it can be called that) of Burn After Reading is that government, spies and the public in general are mostly idiots—though highly entertaining ones at that. George Clooney’s performance alone proves this.

If there is a subtext, perhaps it is saying that random chaos may help us see political reality more clearly but, then again, maybe not. Everyone breaks all the rules, and there is a reckoning of sorts. True to the filmmaking legacy of the Coen brothers (Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Burn After Reading is very funny, irreverent and smart. The Coens are laughing all the way to the bank with their low-effort, low-budget cash cow, and no one is burning anything. Some gross sexual references, served with a bit of brief, intense and unexpected violence (with very little, if any, socially redeeming value).

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (not yet rated, R): Kym (Anne Hathaway), who has been in and out of rehab since she was 16, comes home for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Their divorced parents, Paul (Bill Irwin) and Abby (Debra Winger), have new spouses.

Although Paul is thrilled to see his beautiful, mouthy, chain-smoking daughter, Rachel is hesitant to have the toxic Kym around. Paul does everything he can to keep peace in the house. The high point comes when Kym confronts her mother over the past.

Director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) has taken a snappy script about a dysfunctional family by Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney Lumet) and made what he hopes will be the “best home-wedding video” ever. He uses a handheld technique that does provide a cinema verité feel, but it is not restful viewing.

Hathaway proves that she can really act and her efforts here may rightly garner Oscar attention. The multicultural texture of the film felt a little forced to me, but the family at the heart of the story seemed real enough. This is one movie about someone in a 12-step program that avoids clichés, provides insight and has the potential to spark authentic conversations. Some problem language and sex.

THE DUCHESS (A-3, PG-13): Based on real events, Keira Knightley is brilliant as young Georgiana Spencer-Cavendish, who marries the much-older Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes).

The film follows Georgiana (pronounced George-ayna) from innocent naiveté to her husband’s affair with her best friend. There is no morality in this social universe but cultural standards that pass as such. A woman cannot transgress these except at her peril.

Georgiana lived during the same period of which Jane Austen wrote. There was much similarity in the lives of these aristocratic English women. Knightley’s nuanced performance deserves Oscar attention. Strong sexual content and non-graphic rape scene.

RELIGULOUS (O, R): Late-night HBO comedian Bill Maher (Real Time With Bill Maher) has made a true “mockumentary,” a film that takes issue with organized religion: Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam.

Maher, sounding skeptical rather than angry, is convinced that faith in religion is a neurological disorder. With the exception of two Catholic priests and one or two others, Maher has found the most uninformed members of each religion; many are, indeed, ridiculous. Though well-intentioned, these folks are either unable to articulate the reasons for their faith or offer absurd explanations. Thus, Maher’s conviction that religion is poison is confirmed.

The way the filmmakers juxtapose some images with the interviews makes most of the people look pretty stupid. Some of the images are obscene and offensive. Maher sees only the negative side of religion; he never acknowledges the great good that is done in the world in the name of God.

Maher, raised a Catholic, has dumped everything he knows about these religions into a frustrating stew. He makes solid points about the need for believers to ask questions. Some good laughs but, above all, a challenge to believers to explain the faith within.

THE MENTALIST (CBS, Tuesdays): Simon Baker (The Guardian) is back on prime-time TV as Patrick Jane, a former TV psychic turned independent investigator who incites people to tell the truth. The show is billed as an “antiprocedural [police] procedural” in the continually burgeoning police state of prime-time TV.

Why are we so fascinated with this genre that studios keep rehashing? Is it solving mysteries, fighting for truth and justice and winning that attract viewers, or is it a fascination with the role of cops and criminals in our culture? It’s something to think about during the commercials.

IN PLAIN SIGHT (USA) was launched this past summer and is scheduled to return in 2009 (check listings for repeats). The series is a twist on the police/criminal/ legal procedural.

Mary McCormack stars as a lapsed Catholic agent. Cristián de la Fuente plays her erstwhile boyfriend. It follows the struggle to keep people in the Witness Protection Program. Although the series is probably not award-worthy, it’s watchable enough.

APPALOOSA (A-3, PG-13): Ed Harris’s second directorial effort places him and Viggo Mortensen in New Mexico in the late 1800s as gunslingers hired to protect townspeople from a malevolent rancher (Jeremy Irons). Renée Zellweger plays a widow seeking security. Harris also co-wrote the script. Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker (Spenser), this western is a commentary on the society it portrays and the lasting influence of the mystic genre on American life. It also has some laugh-out-loud moments. Vigilante justice, profanity and violence.

MORNING LIGHT (not yet rated, PG): This documentary focuses on 15 young people who race the 52-foot Morning Light in the TRANSPAC competition, from California to Hawaii. The film chronicles the crew’s training and shows the importance of being a team player, both on land and on sea. An exciting story and beautiful film; some problem language.

MAN ON WIRE (not yet rated, PG-13): In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit walked and danced across a cable between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. It was easy for Petit and his team to bring a half ton of equipment into the buildings undetected. He was no saint but he is awe-inspiring. This riveting docudrama (some action is recreated or improvised) by British filmmaker James Marsh won the grand-jury prize for world-cinema documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The remarkable footage made me feel sad because the Twin Towers no longer exist. Problem sexuality and drug references.

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

The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm.

Find reviews by Sister Rose and others at www.CatholicMovieReviews.org.

 


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