The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ is Mel Gibson’s long-awaited, highly-promoted film about the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus.

It is without doubt a masterpiece, but it is violent, graphic, and in my opinion, it belongs in the horror genre. Why? Because it is about chaos in one’s personal universe, the cosmos, and loss. Gibson uses all kinds of cinematic devises related to the genre as well. These are intense and at times shocking. The vicious violence of this film made it a very difficult watch for me.

There will be many opinions about this film; no one will be neutral. Please see it before getting into any heavy discussions. As a Rabbi on MSNBC’s Deborah Norville show said, let us use this film as a teachable moment so we can understand our faith traditions more in mutual respect.

I will be posting my essay at in a few days; my official review will be published in St. Anthony Messenger magazine for April ( )

21 Grams

21 Grams is supposed to be how much weight a body loses when it dies. It’s a great title and premise for a movie, but this complex, non-linear film isn’t really about that. It’s about death, dying, mistakes, despair, sorrow in a totally non-linear moral universe. The lives of three people converge in very harsh ways. One man kills another in a hit and run, the dead man’s heart is transplanted into the third man’s, and that man gets involved with the dead man’s wife.

Sean Penn is even more brilliant in this film than Mystic River. Naomi Watts is the new Meryl Street. Benicio Del Toro is consistently a sure bet for every role he plays.

But this is a confusing movie and not so easy to watch.

You Got Served

This is amateur writing and acting and fabulous hip hop. The dance “battles” are amazing. Wait for the last twenty minutes. Just when you are thinking what a non-story this is, the contest begins. I think it gave me a respect for hip hop as an urban art form – and the film’s explicit message is: use dance not violence to solve differences.

That’s a good message.


Monster is not named for the woman who became the first serial killer in America, but for the ferris wheel she wanted to ride as a child. Charlize Theron will win the Academy Award for best actress I think. This is a new Hilary Swank – and for a film that is similar in many respects to Boys Don’t Cry.

This is not a pretty story; read the reviews at because all I can tell you is that it’s very hard to watch. But killers like this don’t come along for no reason. Children are so often won or lost at an early age. This character, “Lee” was abused from about the age of eight. She dreamed so many dreams that would never come true because she didn’t know how to fulfill them except in the wrong way.



Osama ought to be a contender for the Academy Awards next year. This small movie about a young Afghan girl who is sent out by her mother and grandmother dressed as a boy so she can earn money and buy food, is hearbreaking, credible, well-constructed and raw. It happens during the time of the Taliban and its finale is desperately sad. I keep asking: how did the US ever support this regime?

Middle-eastern filmmaking is brilliant.



Miracle is a satisfying sports movie but perhaps too locked into its historical period to have the emotional impact it might have had if it were produced before 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The film tries to make up for this lacuna by creating some emotional conflict between Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) and his wife Patty (Patricia Clarkson) and between the goalie and his father.

It works well enough. I don’t even like hockey but the game between the USA and the Russians is riveting.

I liked the focus on “team” over individuality. True, some may say this is what all sports films are about, but it came across very well – and to individualistic Americans, it’s a message we need to hear. Community is what it’s all about.

Hoosiers is still my all time favorite sports movie… Then Remember the Titans. Golf movies? I’d rather watch water boil (and I hear there is one coming up this year!)

50 First Dates

50 First Dates is Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore taking up where they left off with The Wedding Singer. He forgets the women he dates and walks away from, she forgets because she has lost her short term memory in an accident. Like Groundhog Day, she begins every day like the one of the accident. Its cutsie, with the expected yuckie humor by Ron Schneider. At least it’s not The Waterboy.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is the first in a series about a detective agency in Botswana founded by Precious Ramotswe. She is a woman of about forty of “traditional” size, widowed and alone. Her beloved father has died and with her inheritance has bought a new home an office and decided to be a private detective.

She hires a secretary because you need one to be respectable.

Mma. Ramotswe is fortunate because she has hired a woman who is intelligent and ambitious to be a good secretary. Soon they have their first case. With wisdom and common sense and a book about how to be a detective, Mma. Ramotswe and her secretary begin their careers.

Tears of the Giraffe and Morality for Beautiful Girls are the second and third volumes of this absolutely charming and engaging series of books. The author is Alexander McCall Smith “a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. He was born in what is now Zimbabwe and taught law at the Unviersity of Botswana.”

I enjoyed these easy reads because they are filled with interesting characters, straight talking, humor, heart and humanity – my recipe for good books and good movies. I think adolescent girls would like them, too.

Even if a man wrote them!