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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Doing the Right Thing

Q U I C K S C A N

LEVITY
HOLES
MANNA FROM HEAVEN
REGULAR JOE
FILM CAPSULES
TO INTRODUCE MYSELF



LEVITY

LEVITY (A-3, R): "Is it possible for a great number of good acts to make up for a single really bad one?" asks independent film writer and first-time film director Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Charlie's Angels) in Levity. This film explores the consequences of a bad choice and the possibilities for redemption and hope.

Levity was coproduced by Morgan Freeman's company, Revelations Entertainment. Freeman stars as Miles, an enigmatic parking-lot preacher.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Manual, a paroled prisoner who cannot let go of the picture of a boy (Geoffrey Wigdor) whom he killed 23 years before.

He returns to the town and scene of his crime. Miles gives him a place to stay and a job. When Manual says he does not believe in God, Miles laughs, "So why are you so afraid of someone you don't believe in?"

In prison, Manual read a self-help book about forgiveness: Acknowledge your bad deed, have remorse, apologize to your neighbor and make restitution, tell God you are sorry and, finally, if you could do it all over again, choose to do it right. But he has a problem getting beyond step two.

Filmmaker Ed Solomon says he never intended this to be a religious film. He explains that these five steps are from the writings of the 12th-century Jewish philosopher-theologian Maimonides, whose work influenced that of St. Thomas Aquinas. No wonder the themes of the film resonate so well with Christian spirituality.

Levity was inspired by a true story. While doing prison outreach as a university student, Solomon met a remorseful man who had killed another and kept the victim's picture.

It's not a pretty film, despite the presence of Holly Hunter as Abner's sister, Adele, and the somewhat artificial character Sofia, played by Kirsten Dunst.

This is a film for all seasons because all of us have done something we regret, and it offers us a way to find reconciliation. In addition, it's a film worth talking about, especially with young people, so we can all learn to reflect and consider the consequences of our actions and do the right thing.

Manual teaches us about forgiveness, redemption and lightness of being. This is a de profundis film that evokes reflection, conversation and forgiveness. Some problem language; for mature teens and adults who appreciate the efforts of independent filmmakers to explore life from different perspectives.

HOLES

HOLES (A-2, PG): Stanley Yelnats (Stanley spelled backward, played by Shia LaBeouf) is a good kid who gets a bad rap. One day while Stanley is walking home, a pair of tennis shoes drops down from the highway overpass. They fit so he puts them on—and gets caught. These smelly shoes belong to a famous ballplayer and were to be raffled for charity.

The judge sends Stanley to Camp Green Lake, a facility for juvenile offenders. It's not a camp, it's not green, there's no lake and it's just not fair. It's in the middle of Texas, the distance between "hell and Houston," as one of the guards puts it.

The Yelnats family is used to this, though. Their family was cursed generations ago when their Latvian ancestor failed to keep a promise to a fortune-teller (Eartha Kitt).

The boys are ordered to dig large holes "to build character." If they find anything, they must report it to their keepers, played by Jon Voight (Mission Impossible) and Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). The boys are warned not to upset "The Warden," played to menacing perfection by Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Map of the World).

Most of the adults are caricatures, except Kate Barlow's (Patricia Arquette) love interest, Sam (Dulé Hill, who plays Charlie on television's The West Wing.)

The holes are wonderful metaphors in this humorous, surreal tale that wants to know if the sins of the fathers really are visited on their children.

At first I thought that Holes, a circle-within-circles fable, was a boy's film version of Roald Dahl's Matilda. I am always uncomfortable when I see adults being mean to kids in movies, even in imaginary tales like this.

The viewer will care about the children, especially Zero (Khleo Thomas). All the boys have expressive nicknames—images of how they view themselves and how the guards see them.

Water is a strong symbol: the lack of it, how it cleanses, purifies and leads to redemption. The environment can also be a metaphor for salvation, because Stanley and Zero cross through the desert to get to the outcrop called "God's Thumb," the holy land where salvation awaits this tribe of outcasts.

You'll just have to see this pastiche (French for "mess") of a film, if you want to know how everything fits. Holes reestablishes justice and doing the right thing in this imaginary world created by author/screenwriter Louis Sachar. Fun for young adolescents to adults; filled with themes to talk about (especially human dignity).

MANNA FROM HEAVEN

MANNA FROM HEAVEN (A-2, PG) is a low-budget, independent comedy with a great cast that includes Shelley Duvall, Shirley Jones, Jill Eikenberry, Cloris Leachman, Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), three of the filmmakers themselves and, the best of all, Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me).

One day, $30,000 in cash floats into a working-class neighborhood. The eccentric family that finds it divides up the cash. But Theresa, who goes to parochial school, says the money is to help them become better people and help others.

Fast-forward 20 years to Ash Wednesday. Theresa is now a nun, recently returned from the tropics because she gave away too many of the convent's belongings. She has to pay the money back by Easter and calls her somewhat dysfunctional, though lovable, family together. They plan a scheme to raise the money. The payoff is in the last scene, so stay with it.

What made me laugh most is that this film takes place in Buffalo, New York. When was the last time you saw a film about Buffalo (not Niagara Falls)? Wendie Malick gets most of the laughs with the deadpan way she delivers her one-liners.

This isn't a great film, but a notable and courageous first feature-film effort by Five Sisters Productions (that also made Temps and Just Friends, currently airing on WE and AMC). The young Catholic filmmakers are real sisters: Gabrielle, Ursula, Maria, Jennifer and Charity Burton. Their mom, novelist Gabrielle B. Burton, wrote the screenplay. Three of the sisters have degrees in film and work in the entertainment industry. Keep an eye on Five Sisters Productions. Some mild profanity; an enjoyable matinee with a spiritual theme.

REGULAR JOE

REGULAR JOE (ABC, Fridays): This new sitcom (created by executive producer and co-creator of The King of Queens David Litt) is built on an old premise: Widower Joe Binder (Daniel Stern) runs a hardware store with his son, Grant (John Francis Daley, from the critically acclaimed series Freaks and Geeks), and mischievous Indian immigrant Sitvar (Brian George) while dealing with single-mom daughter, Joanie (Kelly Karbasz), and grandpa, Baxter (Judd Hirsch).

They say in England that the difference between British and American sitcoms is that American comedies always have a moral, but the British ones just let the credits roll. Regular Joe is typically American because Joe never gives up and remains a steady family man. I hope Sitvar's character will be developed so he's not a stereotype.

 

Film Capsules

DREAMCATCHER (A-4, R) A gory horror sci-fi with theological dimensions. Interesting for older teens and adults who like the Stephen King genre.

WHAT A GIRL WANTS (A-2, PG) Modern fairy tale with a strong pro-family theme and a delightful sense of humor that manages to cover issues of race, social status and tolerance in a positive way. Fun.

BONHOEFFER, reviewed here very positively (March), opens in theaters June 20.

To Introduce Myself

By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

I am very happy to begin as the film and television columnist. For almost 40 years James Arnold has led the way in seeing arts and entertainment in new ways for Catholics. I hope to continue his legacy as we search for meaning in our popular culture.

My perspective is influenced by my belief, following that of Pope John Paul II, that the dignity of the human person is at the heart of culture, communication and faith formation.

I am a media literacy education specialist. I have an M.A. in education in media studies from the University of London, United Kingdom, a certificate in pastoral communications from the University of Dayton (where I will teach again this summer) and a diploma in catechetics.

I am a frequent public speaker in faith communities on media education. In addition, I was a jurist at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 and, most recently, at the International Berlin Film Festival in February. I have always loved storytelling through movies and television.

Writing about these media fits both my vocation of communicating the gospel as a Daughter of St. Paul and the mission of St. Anthony Messenger. (For more information about Sister Rose, visit www.paulinecenterformediastudies.org.)

 


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