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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
THE INFORMANT!
AMREEKA
THOU SHALT LAUGH 4
GLEE
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (A-2, PG): The main industry on the Atlantic island of Swallow Falls is the sardine cannery. When all other food supplies run out, everyone has to eat sardines—and only sardines. In school, Flint (voice of Bill Hader) wanted to be a scientist and kids always made fun of him. His now-deceased mom (voice of Lauren Graham) supported him, but his quiet dad (voice of James Caan) just wants him to run the family bait and tackle shop.

But Flint created a secret laboratory (accessible only by going through a portable toilet) and he became an inventor. During the food crisis he builds a computer and programs it to modify food genetically. He launches it into orbit and then sends it menus. Prepared food rains down on the people, to the joy of all.

A national weather channel sends a female reporter, Sam (voice of Anna Faris), to cover the sardine situation. The boss chooses Sam because it doesn't seem like an important story. She arrives just as ready-made hamburgers fall from the sky. She meets Flint and realizes she is onto a big story.

Soon the town is turned into an ice cream and candy haven for the birthday of the son of the local cop, Officer Devereaux (voice of Mr. T). At each meal the food gets bigger and bigger. All the leftovers are piled and hidden away so no one has to look at them (with disastrous results). The mayor is thrilled with the change on the island and decides to reopen it as a tourist attraction. He notifies all the cruise lines and orders spaghetti and meatballs for the celebration.

Flint is smart enough to know that mutating food can be risky but doesn't notice when the control meter signals "danger."

More than a comedy, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is an intelligent, creative, entertaining story filled with important themes such as father-son relationships, bullying, gluttony, the superficiality of the media and how some news stories get buried, the ethics of bioengineering and the consequences of messing with the food supply. It seems to be a fairy tale but it portends a nightmare. The weak aspect of the film is that the themes are not integrated well enough to make the story as smooth as it could be.

Flint discovers that, once you interfere with nature to get what you want, you can lose control very quickly. Based on the 1981 children's book by Judi Barrett, Meatballs is a delightful 3-D movie, the best I have seen. It's not just for kids—we older folks would do well to pay attention, too. Some cartoon peril.

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THE INFORMANT!

THE INFORMANT! (A-3, R): Director Steven Soderbergh (Che) is a filmmaker with an acute sense of social issues. In this review, some plot details must unfortunately be revealed.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum) is a highly paid executive at Archer Daniels Midland known as ADM—one of the largest agribusinesses in the world. Whitacre is married to Ginger (Melanie Lynskey, Away We Go), has three children and a doctorate in bioengineering, but has moved from the laboratory to the business side of ADM. It is the mid-1990s and the family lives and works in Decatur, Illinois.

Whitacre realizes that the company executives are involved in an international price-fixing scheme for lysine, an enzyme food additive. He contacts the F.B.I. and discloses the fraud, but they have a hard time believing him because he is implicating himself as well. They ask him to wear a wire. Whitacre does so for more than two years and provides the F.B.I. with the evidence they need to investigate and raid ADM.

The Informant!, based on the 2000 nonfiction book by Kurt Eichenwald, is a funny film. Whitacre narrates his comings and goings for the F.B.I. and brags about being Agent 0014 because he is twice as smart as 007. He recalls news stories he has read that are totally unrelated to the matter at hand. Whitacre is a rather lovable character but, as his wife eventually points out to him, his thinking is illogical.

There are dark themes in the film. Although Whitacre is an entertaining character, it gradually becomes obvious that he is showing signs of mental illness. It is not clear if he caused the price-fixing conspiracy, if he was truly an informant or both. That the film can tell this almost unbelievable story convincingly while eliciting sympathy from the audience is a tribute to the skill of the filmmakers.

Another reason for the film's darkness is the light it sheds on the nature of global agribusiness. Although ADM named new management as a result of the scandal, the issue of the bioengineering of plant and animal foods has huge, ongoing moral and ethical implications.

Matt Damon is outstanding and convincing in the role of the most highly placed executive in U.S. history ever to turn informant. This is one of the best films of the year so far. Problem language.

AMREEKA (not yet rated, PG-13): Muna (Nisreen Faour) is a divorced bank employee in Palestine. She makes sacrifices so her son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), can go to a private school. They both suffer humiliation at the checkpoints as they cross in and out of the Palestine territories.

Muna's request to immigrate to the United States comes through long after she submitted her application. She and her son decide to join relatives near Chicago, leaving behind Muna's brother and mother.

The process of becoming American is not easy. Muna and Fadi must share a room in the home of her sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass, The Nativity Story) and family. Raghda's husband, Nabeel (Yussuf Abu-Warda), is a medical doctor, but his patients are leaving his practice because of anti-Arab sentiment. Muna wants to work but no bank will hire her. She gets a job at White Castle but, embarrassed, she hides the information from the family. Things come to a head when Fadi runs into trouble at school.

Amreeka, the Palestinian pronunciation for "America," is a charming film about newcomers finding their way in a new land. Nisreen Faour, as Muna, is a revelation, manifesting a mother's heart and angst for her child and family in a situation that is tense and totally foreign.

Amreeka, written and directed by Cherien Dabis, is not a political film but rather the story of a family on a journey and the people who welcome them. Among the bigoted and fearful are genuine souls willing to be generous. This film is sure to attract attention when award season begins, and deservedly so. Brief drug use, some language.

THOU SHALT LAUGH 4: Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond), Tim Conway (The Carol Burnett Show) and Sinbad (Jingle All the Way) have hosted segments. Now John Tesh, former co-host of Entertainment Tonight, hosts the fourth in the series of Christian stand-up comedy, Thou Shalt Laugh.

Although I think the episode hosted by Tim Conway remains the best, Thou Shalt Laugh 4 features hilarious comedian Joe Wong and brings back the entertainment dynamo Taylor Mason. If your endorphins are in need of a jump start, this series is worth it. Available from Christian bookstores and at www.thoushaltlaugh.com.

GLEE (Fox, Wednesdays): A high school teacher volunteers to resurrect the school's glee club. This brings out the wrath of the cheerleaders and their coach. Already nominated for a Teen Choice Award, the show is a musical comedy filled with talent and moral issues that create a singing, dancing soap opera. With good reviews and Fox ordering a season's worth of episodes, Glee's originality might appeal to the ever-ambivalent television audience.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (L, R): Quentin Tarantino's brilliant, ultraviolent and off-center re-imagining of the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. Brad Pitt leads a team of Jews with the sole purpose of bringing back the scalps of 100 Nazis. There's more to the film than meets the eye, but what meets the eye may be too much for many audiences. This will probably garner some awards. War violence, torture.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (not yet rated, PG-13): This is a most interesting documentary about Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, and the magazine's famous September 2007 issue (its biggest ever). If you enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and appreciate fashion as an art form and big business, you may like this film. Another awards contender, I think. Brief language.

OH MY GOD (not yet rated): Filmmaker Peter Rodger sets out on a thoughtful, beautiful global journey to explore why and how the idea of God has become politicized. Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) narrates. Though Rodger interviews many ordinary people and celebrities from every major religion about their concept of God, why is there hardly a female voice or opinion to be heard?

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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