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Rebuilding a House and a Life
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.


UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (A-3, PG-13): Frances (Diane Lane) is a 35-year-old writer in San Francisco whose world collapses when she discovers her husband’s affair. After he gets the house in the divorce settlement, lesbian friends send Frances on a gay tour of Tuscany so she can relax and not have to think about a new relationship.

In the small town of Cortona, Frances sees an ad for a villa called Bramasole and buys it on a whim. She soon begins to transform the house with the help of a contractor and his Polish work crew. The townspeople she meets include an eccentric former actress-expatriate, Katherine (Lindsay Duncan).

Frances cooks for the construction crew, watches an old man bring flowers to a Madonna shrine every day, and dreams of a white dress, a wedding and a family.

One night, while she’s alone, there is a terrible storm. Frances, a fallen-away Methodist, reaches up to touch the Madonna above her bed and finally falls asleep.

While her villa is being renovated, she escapes to Rome and meets handsome Marcello (Raoul Bova). They spend a night together and Frances hopes for a future.

Needless to say, there is a white dress, a wedding and a family—though not what you might expect.

Like the best-selling book Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (which I read after seeing the film), the film is poetic, visually beautiful and filled with hope and new life. The movie has a fairy-tale quality, while the book is a tranquil narrative. But the book is in the film (storm, house, landscape and many characters).

Frances is on a journey, in the midst of rebuilding her house, her life. I loved the way the film, like the book, showed the Madonna as her safe haven and friend.

The script occasionally tries too hard to be contemporary. Thoughtful viewers will enter into this film with their moral imagination to explore the characters’ choices. Some sexuality; warm and inviting tale about sincere seekers who are in danger of not recovering from the sadness that life hands them.

MYSTIC RIVER (A-3, R): Three 11-year-old boys are playing hockey in the street of a working-class neighborhood of Boston in the 1970s. When they lose their puck, they take turns writing their names in the wet cement of the sidewalk.

A strange car comes down the street and a man, whom the boys assume is a cop, scolds them. He insists that Dave get in the car so he can take him home to the boy’s mother. The man and his partner, who wears a ring with a cross, are pedophiles. It takes Dave four days to escape, and the lives of all the boys are changed forever.

Three decades later the boys are married, with varying degrees of success, and no longer close. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con who runs a corner grocery. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a state trooper detective and Dave (Tim Robbins) is barely employed. When Jimmy’s oldest daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum), is found murdered the morning of his middle daughter’s First Communion, the men’s lives collide—with devastating results.

Director Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel is as dark and brooding as the book. The film explores the consequences of the choices the characters make, looking back with guilt to Dave’s kidnapping years before. It continually asks: What if?

The men and their wives seek redemption in antithetical sacramental signs throughout the film: the river and baptism, food and Eucharist, confession of sin and absolution, the crucifix, murder and death, marriage, and the marginal presence of the parish priest.

Pure love is doomed in Mystic River. The characters condemn themselves forever to the kingpin moral universe of a working-class neighborhood, where secrets hide sins and might makes right.

The Mystic River that runs under the bridge points to possibilities but it is really standing water—stagnant. The river borders a district where people go through the motions of religion and respecting the law, but neither makes any difference in terms of real life.

The film belongs to the exceptional ensemble of lead actors, including Laurence Fishburne, and the women who play their wives, especially Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden. If only there was a little light! Problem language and violence.

ELF (not rated, PG): Buddy’s (Will Ferrell) single mom dies and he ends up in an orphanage. When Santa Claus (Ed Asner) arrives for Buddy’s first Christmas at the orphanage, the baby somehow gets out of his crib and into Santa’s toy bag. Santa unknowingly brings him home to the North Pole. There, Buddy is adopted by a senior elf (Bob Newhart) but quickly outgrows elfdom.

Thirty years later, Buddy learns the story of who he is and sets off on a journey to find his real dad, Walter (James Caan), who never knew he had fathered Buddy.

Buddy arrives in Manhattan to discover his dad is a modern-day Scrooge. His half-brother doesn’t believe in Santa Claus and the rest of the city seems to have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. Buddy doesn’t understand that department store Santas aren’t real. His naďveté embroils him in all kinds of innocent holiday high jinks as he sets about to spread the Christmas spirit.

Elf, directed by Jon Favreau, is a goodwill ambassador kind of film that will reassure viewers that New York City is and always will be the popular Christmas capital of the United States. Some mild rudeness; not exactly a classic but there’s a feel-good quality that evokes chuckles and cheer.

FALLEN ANGEL (CBS, November 23): This Hallmark Hall of Fame holiday special, based on the 2001 novel by Don J. Snyder, begins on nine-year-old Terry’s birthday when he is given a fingerprinting set. He fingerprints the little neighbor girl, Katherine Wentworth, who is visiting nearby Serenity Cottage, a summer place in Maine, even though it is winter.

Terry’s single dad, who cares for the summer houses in the area, lets him go with the Wentworths to distribute Christmas gifts to children at a hospital. On the way home, there is an accident. A mother and her child are killed. Charles Wentworth, who was driving, disappears, unable to stand the guilt.

Fast-forward 20 years. Terry (Gary Sinise), long alienated from his father, returns home when his father dies. Katherine (Joely Richardson) comes to Serenity Cottage with her adopted daughter, who is blind.

Identities and fallen angels are discovered, secrets are revealed, families are healed and there is romance in the air at Christmas, the day of Christ’s birth. This is classic Hallmark feel-good holiday drama, though a little darker and more deliberate than usual, for the mature after-dinner audience.

ALIAS (ABC, Sundays): Now in its third season, this soapy, hi-tech spy-opera combo stars Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner. Sydney, the female undercover spy, never sleeps or eats or gets jet lag as she travels around the world at high speed. She continually changes her appearance to win the day. It’s a comic book come to life—and my guilty pleasure.

GILMORE GIRLS (WB, Tuesdays): The sugar-and-spice quasi-soap story of three generations of Gilmore women in a small New England town is in its fourth season. Lorelai (Lauren Graham) is a single mom to the almost angelic Rory (Alexis Bledel), who is entering Yale. Emily (Kelly Bishop) is the matriarch. It’s all about family, friends and relationships. The characters are high on too much caffeine, but it’s a WB success.


KILL BILL: VOL. I (O, R): Quentin Tarantino is back. Think one of Charlie’s Angels as a lone super-heroine on testosterone, out to kill Charlie and the other angels for revenge. Tarantino once said that the only violent movie is one that is not well made. Kill Bill: Vol. I is well made, but it’s a comic-book film that is all about itself. Problem language; really violent, sadistic, over-the-top storytelling.

LUTHER (A-3, PG-13): Joseph Fiennes gives a solid performance as Martin Luther. A fair look at the characters and complex issues at the heart of the Protestant Reformation.

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (A-3, R): In this film by British director Stephen Frears, immigrants prey on other immigrants by illegally harvesting and selling their organs for a chance at freedom and new life. Despair is tempered by the self-sacrifice of a love story. An Oscar contender, I think. Sexuality and some disturbing scenes.

THIRTEEN (L, R): A 13-year-old girl descends into middle school hell. A frightening wake-up call for parents to be involved in their children’s lives. Explicit sexuality, self-destructive violence and language.

INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (L, PG-13): Competent but not brilliant yarn from the Coen brothers about the cynicism surrounding marriage (for example, prenuptial agreements). George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are always a good watch. Sexual content, problem language and brief violence.


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,

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