RAY (A-3, PG-13): This major Oscar contender focuses on Ray Charles, who assisted with this film project prior to his death in June 2004. His childhood in Florida shows his young mother (Sharon Warren) doing laundry during the Depression to support herself and her two young sons, Ray (C. J. Sanders) and George (Terrone Bell). A piano player at a local bar teaches Ray to play the piano.
When Ray is seven, he watches, stunned, as his brother drowns while playing in his mother’s washtub. A few months later, Ray becomes blind, and his wise mother sends him to a school for the blind.
As a young man, Ray (Jamie Foxx) heads for Seattle. His career takes off when he is signed by Atlantic Records. By the late 1950s, he finds his own distinctive voice and his recordings become hits. Amid the brilliance of his music—R&B with gospel, country and pop—drug addiction threatens to destroy him as well as his growing family. The drug scenes are explicit and Ray’s withdrawal harrowing.
Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) is nominated for an Oscar for his skillful direction of this absorbing musical biopic. (At press time, the Oscars have not been awarded.) Jamie Foxx, who lip-syncs songs recorded by Ray Charles, gives an amazing performance that has won him a Golden Globe Award (best actor, musical or comedy) and an Oscar nomination. In addition, the film is competing for an Oscar in the best-picture category against The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby and Sideways.
Ray reveals a unique musical genius, an American treasure who was challenged by race, physical limitations and weakness. Some profanity, drug use and discreet sexual situations.
MILLION DOLLAR BABY
MILLION DOLLAR BABY (O, PG-13): At age 31, Maggie (Hilary Swank) moves from rural Missouri to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a champion boxer. She wants to be trained by Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), who is resistant at first.
Frankie, who is Catholic, goes to daily Mass. Although he has trained many champions, he always seems to lack the faith needed to let them go to the highest level. He is afraid they will lose or, worse, get hurt.
Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a former boxer who manages the gym for Frankie, gives Maggie boxing advice. Eventually, Frankie agrees to train her.
The film takes an unexpected tragic turn that makes mercy killing look like a good thing. Although the priest gives Frankie sound advice, the screenplay writer, Paul Haggis, does not give the moral dilemma enough breadth. The lack of discussion about suffering and options oversimplifies the complexity of life issues and ignores ethics. It is one thing to let someone die naturally without resorting to extraordinary means; it is entirely another thing to kill someone.
For its minimalist acting and directing, this evocative, gut-wrenching film ranks high in cinema craft. Some crudeness, intense sports violence and euthanasia; this film offers the faith community an opportunity to converse with intelligence, empathy and relevance about the ethical and moral dimensions of all life issues.
IN GOOD COMPANY (A-3, PG-13): Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is an advertising executive for a major sports magazine. When GlobeCom, a multinational media corporation, buys out the magazine, Dan, 51, is demoted.
Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a 26-year-old corporate hotshot who specializes in promoting cell phones, becomes Dan’s boss. Although Dan wants to leave with those who are fired, he remains because he needs the money: His wife (Marg Helgenberger) is pregnant, and one of his two daughters transfers to New York University.
Carter is so busy succeeding that his wife, Kimberly (Selma Blair), divorces him. When Dan invites Carter to his house for dinner, Carter, who is starving for the comfort of a family, is attracted to Dan’s older daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson).
This first-rate film, directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie), uses human relationships and family to parallel contemporary corporate culture and show where it lacks in humanity. It seems like an updated comedic version of the 1987 drama Wall Street, but instead of greedy Michael Douglas, we have Malcolm McDowell playing a mogul named Teddy-K.
Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson all give warm, convincing performances. Permissive view of premarital sex and some crudeness; an entertaining and thoughtful film about taking the next best step toward living a meaningful life.
MEDIUM (NBC, Mondays) According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to consult a medium is to “conceal a desire for power over time, history and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (#2116).
It is not clear if real-life Arizona medium Allison Dubois believes this, but, according to recent interviews accompanying the launch of this new series inspired by her, she has a code of ethics that she lives by regarding how she uses her gift of prescience and communicating with the dead.
Patricia Arquette plays the seemingly reluctant medium who struggles to balance raising a family with working to solve violent crimes. She works as a consultant to Phoenix’s district attorney Manuel Devalos (Miguel Sandoval). Like the film The Sixth Sense, the whole idea of communicating with souls in an in-between world fascinates some of us as we try to reconcile the reality of the gift with God’s love and law.
The Catechism offers a somewhat ambiguous response to guide us, however, and it recalls the struggle Joan of Arc had to authenticate her voices as well: “God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility” (#2115). I think it means that we, and Allison Dubois, are to live in prayerful discernment.
JOAN OF ARC: CHILD OF WAR, SOLDIER OF GOD (Hallmark Channel, March 21). Anna Paquin is the voice of Joan in this Holy Week documentary, a fine presentation of the last four years of St. Joan’s life. The film is enhanced by excellent production qualities, brief comments by experts in medieval history as well as Barbara Hall, executive producer of Joan of Arcadia.
JOSEPH: THE SILENT SAINT (The History Channel, March 24): George Del Hoyo narrates this rare and informed Holy Thursday docudrama by Paulist Productions. The thought-provoking program explores the life of a saint who never said a word that was recorded in the Bible. It uses Scripture, apocrypha, artistic and historical sources, as well as a variety of academic and theological interviews.
VISIONS OF MARY (The History Channel, March 27): George Del Hoyo also narrates this Paulist Production, airing on Easter. It is certainly one of the most contemporary, informed, reverent and comprehensive investigations into the history of Marian apparitions in the Catholic Church, from the fourth century to Medjugorje. I have a special affection for Lourdes, and I think the program does, too. Commentaries are by Sally Cunneen, Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., and others.
The former longtime president of the University of Notre Dame shares reflections and insights. Available in DVD and VHS (www.ndcatalog.com; phone 800-647-4641).