The Interpreter

In a small African country named Matobo, two men are ambushed and killed when they seek out the dead bodies of citizens who have been killed by government forces. A photographer named Philippe manages to escape.

 

At the UN Headquarters in New York the Security Council demands that President Zuwani (Earl Cameron) of Matobo be tried at The Hague for the crimes he has committed against his people. The president’s men argue that he has the right to defend himself and his actions to the UN General Assembly. Plans are made for him to come within a few days.

 

One of the UN interpreters is a lovely young woman named Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman.) She speaks Ku, the language of Matobo because she was actually born there. She speaks other languages as well. There is a security evacuation one afternoon, and she leaves a bag in one of the booths. When she returns for it later she overhears a whispered conversation in Ku. A man’s voice says that there will be an attempt on President Zuwani’s life when he comes to give his speech.

 

Silvia doesn’t report the threat until the next morning. By the time the Secret Service task force arrives, headed by Agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), he already doubts her story because she didn’t call it in immediately. They end up distrusting each other. Him, because he interprets her facial expression as hiding something; she because he insists on playing with the meanings of words.

 

Other characters come into play to make sure we don’t guess the outcome in this fast-moving political thriller skillfully directed, as usual,  by Sydney Pollack.

 

The Interpreter is all about communication and how we make meaning from words, gestures, and expressions. Sometimes we may be right; but often we misinterpret what the other person means. The fact that the film takes place at the United Nations where representatives of almost 200 countries and dozens of languages meet to consider peace in a world where there are 35 wars going on today, is not lost on the mindful viewer.

 

The Interpreter is the first film to ever be shot in the United Nations Building in Manhattan. I heard Roger Ebert say on his TV show last night that Alfred Hitchcock asked permission forty years ago to use the UN in a film and he was turned down. Perhaps the timing of The Interpreter, that draws our attention to communication, is more important now than ever. Negotiation is the only way to peace.

 

I enjoyed the film very much. It’s true I did kind of figure it out at a certain point, but it didn’t stop me from staying with it just to be sure. Sean Penn is his soulful best as Keller because he is in mourning for his wife who died recently. Nicole Kidman, as always, is excellent as Silvia, who has her own reasons for deep sadness. They work well together. This is an intelligent, engrossing and entertaining movie. Go for it.

Joan of Arcadia

Joan of Arcadia (CBS, Friday, 8/7PM) is one of the most unique shows on television today. It is winding up its second season this coming Friday, April 22. Be sure to tune in.

The cast of Joan of ArcadiaAs you may know, Joan has a special relationship with God. It could be characterized as a begrudging one on Joan’s part. She first “saw” God as a “hot” young guy in the season pilot in 2003. God lost no time in telling Joan that her reason for being on earth was to fulfill her true nature as a human being. She continued to see God at least every week as a man, woman, old, young, and from many races.

Joan had an experience of the “dark night of the soul” at the end of the first season; this year she has had to deal with the death of a friend, growing up, telling the truth, her boyfriend’s infidelity, and the weaknesses of kids she goes to school with. Her family, nominally Catholic, has issues, too, from a brother who has to use a wheel chair to get around (the result of a car accident) to her dad being harassed by his boss and her mom having to face the man who raped her many years before.

God challenges Joan, and Joan challenges God. At the main convent of the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston, where young women study to become sisters, a large group of the sisters watch the show together every week; the postulants (the newest members) usually bake cookies for refreshments during the conversation that always follows the show. You can count on there being a lot to talk about.

The first season of Joan of Arcadia will be out on DVD in May.

Barbara Hall is the creator of this original show that if full of ordinary teens, theology, science, and the ingredients for boy/girl relationships. You can read an interview I had with Barbara, on this web site for St. Anthony Messenger magazine; it appeared in the March 2005 issue.

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Mar2005/Feature1.asp

A friend of mine, Teresa Blythe, writes an excellent study guide for each episode of Joan of Arcadia. You can access it by visiting the website of Presbyterians Today; the guide is ecumenical and interreligious. Check it out.

http://pcusa.org/today/joan/index.htm

If you like shows that are about family, sometimes nerdy teens, and what it’s like to have a relationship with God, be sure to tune in to Joan of Arcadia this coming Friday.

This show is one of the good ones. Frankly, the ratings are not as strong as the network would like. If more people watch Joan of Arcadia this week it will help assure that it comes back in the fall.

Know anyone who has ever complained about the media? Get them to watch Joan of Arcadia, too. If this show is not renewed and goes off the air, I will never again listen to anyone complain about the media again. This is a show with high production qualities, a great cast and a completely original storyline that is infused with God and does theology that believers can relish. It helps us do theology, too, in our everyday lives.

I don’t usually endorse any movie or TV show unless it’s a total winner in all ways – and Joan of Arcadia, in my opinion, is the one show on TV you need to be watching.

 

Revelations NBC Mini-series

Hi everyone,

 

I wrote this for The Tidings and for the Pauline.org web site. Although it is television, I thought you might be interested

 

         Revelations: Christ-centered or Christ-haunted?

 

                          

 

       Flannery O’Connor, the Catholic novelist from Georgia once wrote, “I thinkit is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted” (From “Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose”, 1961).

 

If the many religious apocalyptic films and novels produced and consumed by audiences around the time of our entry into the 21st century, such as Omega Code (1999), End of Days (1999), the Left Behind series (1996), and even Stephen King’s analogous end-of-humanity tale The Stand (1978; 1991), are any indication, some might say that O’Connor’s observation can now be applied to a larger geographic area – the television audience.

 

On April 13th NBC television is giving us a new version of the end of the world called Revelations. It is a six-part mini-series that will air at with the possibility of further episodes or even a series, if it is successful. Revelations is Catholic-looking, complete with nuns in habits, a priest, and a Cardinal at the Vatican, but judging from the first episode, the only one available to reviewers, its overall theology is confused and uninformed from a Catholic perspective

 

The production qualities of the series are excellent and the cast impressive. But are Armageddon, a generous budget and Bill Pullman, Natascha McElhone (The Truman Show; Solaris), and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) enough to attract viewers in the religious entertainment era ushered in by last year’s Passion of the Christ? They just might be.

 

Armageddon 2005

 

Mysterious and disastrous signs that signal the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelation are everywhere. An organization hires a nun, Sister Josepha Montefiore (Natascha McElhone), to track, record, and analyze the episodes of religious phenomena. So far, the data indicates that Armageddon is immanent. Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman) is a Harvard astrophysicist and atheist whose daughter has been brutally murdered. Sister Josepha convinces him to help her verify that the end is really coming, and if so, to finda way to stop it. At the same time Sr. Josepha and the Sisters she lives with believe that Jesus is coming again and they must find him and save him from the devil. The mother superior informs Dr. Massey that they operateindependently of the Vatican and interpret scripture as they see fit. Meanwhile, a comatose young girl writes mysterious symbols that Sr. Josepha and a priest try to interpret.

 

        Revelations is written by David Selzer  (Dragonfly; The Omen.) In an interview in March, Selzer told reporters that he has not seen or read any of the books and films about the apocalypse and that Revelations is a completely original treatment. Revelations is not aboutthe Tribulation and Rapture approach to the end times, he said, but “is a story that is character driven about two people who form an alliance in their exploration of the end times as described in the Book of Revelation, even though they disagree along the way.”

        The idea that anyone can stop the end of days as initiated by God is theological hubris at best. But Selzer happens to think there is something to the fact that there are “currently 35 wars going on in the world and that at any moment any one of them can become a nuclear flash point.”  This indeed falls within the power of humanity to stop. Just how this human reality and the theology of the end times mesh is unclear from the first episode.

       The series’ ecclesiology and representation of religious life may irritate some Catholic viewers. Selzer has structured the conflict between Sr. Josepha, the nuns and the Vatican in a way that rejects the divine authority of the Church to interpret the Scriptures, yet he hopes viewers will focus more on the characters, their journey and their relationships. Selzer told reporters that he does not have a problem with the fact that Sister Josepha is a “wild card who is deemed blasphemous by the Vatican because for him, she is on a journey of discovery.

          Further, while Sr. Josepha is presented as a highly educated nun she gives credence to a vague image of Jesus that appears on the side of a mountain in Mexico. This sequence was a distraction to me.

                 

           

Revelations is a personal project of Selzer who acknowledges that he is on a personal journey, that the production is more about questions than answers. From the interview, it seems that he is trying to make sense of the terrible things that are happening on earth today and God’s presence and action in the world by exploring the Book of Revelation. This may explain much of the theological blurring because this aspect is not expressed so clearly through the drama and horror of the first episode that emphasizes strange, mysterious, and religious phenomena.

 

        Revelations is good television, but will remain to be seen if it is really “faith-based”. One way to tell would be to ask: what is the image of the human person that emerges in the story? What is the image of God that is presented? Is the image of God benevolent and loving or is God distant or full of hellfire and damnation?

 

Is the worldview of Revelations Christ-centered or, as Flannery O’Connor noted, Christ-haunted? And if so, what might this really mean?

 

What the the Catholic Church teaches

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses Catholic teaching on the end times in several places, especially when explaining the Lord’s Prayer (pp. 2816 – 2820). It also says that Christ’s resurrection and our final resurrection at the end of the world are linked (cf. Paragraphs 998-1001): This information can assist viewers as they view Revelations.

 

 

Guess Who

See, I have this theory: whenever there are more than two writers involved in a project, beware. They probably had to save it. There are six writers involved in Guess Who.

 

Guess Who is, of course, based on the classic civil rights era (1967) original, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, written by William Rose and directed by Stanley Kramer.. It won an Oscar for William Rose and one for Kathryn Hepburn as the mother. Guess Who inverts the races: instead of a white girl bringing home a black man to meet the parents, it’s an African American girl, Theresa Jones (Zoe Saldana) who brings home her white Wall Street broker boyfriend, Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher) to meet her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott).

 

Guess Who follows the awkward get-acquainted weekend that Theresa insists will make Simon a part of the family. They want to announce their engagement during her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary party. Simon, however, has just quit his job, but Percy, who has run a credit check on him and is satisfied that he can support his daughter, doesn’t know this. And he doesn’t know, or even imagine, that Simon is white. 

 

The first obstacle the young couple faces is the shock and reaction of Theresa’s parents (especially her dad) when Simon is introduced. Then, to make sure that the couple does not sleep together, Percy tries to put him in a hotel. When that doesn’t work, he lets Simon sleep on the pull-out in the basement – and Percy joins him to keep guard.

 

I could go on and tell you more of the story line, but it’s not rocket science. Guess Who is, however, a nice film (which some industry people would consider a kiss-of-death compliment) with some humor and a predictable ending. Bernie Mac is funny, and Zoe Soldana is lovely and an actress with a career to watch. During the movie I kept thinking, “Ashton Kutcher? Isn’t he with Demi?” (Sometimes, there is such a thing as too much publicity.) Kutcher, however, acts like a mature twenty-something professional rather than a dufus. (Sometimes it is hard to break the mold.)

 

Guess Who, like its venerable precursor, addresses the issue of inter-racial marriage in the United States in very direct ways. It takes place among people who are financially well-off in Manhattan and suburban New Jersey. I thought the part where Simon tells “black jokes” especially telling because it is known that racism is perpetuated through cheap humor. Percy begs Simon to tell the jokes, laughs at a couple of them but almost runs Simon out of the house for the others.

 

Although Guess Who will never match the cultural impact of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, it treats universal themes such as relationships between men and women and marriage in positive ways.

 

I think there were too many writers on this project; it’s not a very smart film and it struggles to hang together; it also falls back on clichés. However, it has heart and I think they did manage to save it. Enjoy.

Sin City

Writer/director/composer/producer Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, etc. and the Spy Kids franchise, etc) and writer/comic creator/graphic artist Frank Miller (Batman, Daredevil, X-Men and other comics for D.C. and Marvel) have joined together to produce three of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels into one slick motion picture. (Quentin Tarantino was a guest-director; from much of the press about the film Rodriguez has broken many Hollywood standards by crowding the credit lines and breaking lots of other standards, too).

 

The Japanese actually have the corner on graphic novels (check out any Barnes & Noble or Borders). They are comic books published in paperback form and follow the super-hero storyline, good vs. evil. For U.S and English-speaking comic book aficionados and devotees, however, Frank Miller is a publishing and now cinematic phenomenon for his regular fans, and has perhaps gained some new ones along the way.

 

Sin City the film tells the story of a good cop (Bruce Willis) in Basin city (looks like Gotham…) who rescues a little girl from the son of a corrupt senator (Nick Stahl is the son and Powers Booth is the senator); the good cop, Hartigan, gets shot and ends in jail for 8 years. Skip to Marv (Mickey Rourke). Goldie, a prostitute, is killed while in bed with Marv who is sleeping. He has mental problems but heroic inclinations. He seeks her murderer and revenge among the clients of the hookers who run the red light district of Sin City. As he tracks down the perp, he finds that the Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer) is in league with a strange killer played by Elijah Wood. The Cardinal doesn’t do anything that most fiction has the clergy doing, but it is very gross.

 

And so on and so forth. Thefilm is two hours and six minutes long. I started looking at my watch an hour into it.

 

Here’s what I would say about Sin City:

 

It’s stylish in a comic-book kind of way. Rodriguez uses Miller’s film noir approach completely; from the one volume I have (Sin City: the Hard Good-bye), he practically copied the scenes from the book.

 

Did I like it? No, not really. While I enjoy most comic books made-into-movies, I think that Sin City is over-the-top for its goriness, violence, and crime-horror. However, a fervent filmgoer, which I am, has to respect the art and originality of the film. Also, among much sin, there is also self-sacrifice and goodness for others, even though everything is exaggerated. It’s not believable, but then what comic books are? There are also parts that … make you laugh because its so extreme. It also raises a question: what’s the difference between sin and evil?

 

When I was buying the book (just yesterday) I chatted with the sales assistant at Barnes and Noble – an art/film major who has just finished school. He was a goldmine of information and insight.

 

I said: I bet females don’t like the movie much.

 

He said: I went with my girlfriend and she really liked it; you’d be surprised.  

 

I said: It made me uncomfortable.

 

He said: It’s because there was so much, too much really, repetition of the violent scenes.

 

I said: Why did he (Miller) have to put a Catholic priest (he’s mixed up in the mystery, too) and a Cardinal in the story? Was he picking on the Church?

 

He said: In graphic novels the super-hero is always going up against institutional or some kind of power, like the government or the Church. Here, there’s a dirty cop and a dirty senator, too.

 

I said: In an ocean of movies that all fit some kind of existing genre, Sin City stands out as smart, slick and completely different – even if it was hard to follow, hard to watch and I didn’t get a lot of it.

 

He said: that’s for sure.

 

Who should see this film? Well, probably not your grandmother.

 

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

FBI Agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is just getting back into the swing of things after saving Miss USA (as recounted in Miss Congeniality). However, her relationship with Agent Matthews (played by Benjamin Bratt in the first film) is over and she is taking it hard. Then her cover is blown during an undercover op when a woman recognizes her. Hart’s boss, McDonald (Ernie Hudson) offers her the option of becoming the new face of the FBI. When Hart realizes this is her only choice, she goes for it.

 

Gracie gets her own entourage: a gay personal make-over artist, Joel (Dietrich Bader), a hair dresser, and make-up person. She also gets a body-guard, Agent Sam Fuller (Regina King). Fuller is in New York from Chicago to get an attitude adjustment: anger-management FBI style. It’s not going very well. When Gracie becomes obnoxious, Sam quits the detail. Gracie even writes a book, does book signings on the book store circuit– and gives advice to a young admirer on her grooming.

 

Then the action starts. Miss New York, Pam (Leslie Ann Grossman), and pageant host Stan Fields (William Shatner) are kidnapped in Las Vegas. The Bureau sends Hart, her entourage, and Fuller to Vegas to be the public face of the Agency, while the local field office, headed by Collins (Treat Williams), goes after the bad guys.

 

But Hart goes off on her own to save her pal Miss USA and the expected escapades commence.

 

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous is an OK film. I don’t think it’s as good as the first one; it’s a little too slow on the uptake. Should have been edited better and maybe less focused on teaching us something. It’s full of good morals, though, for its youthful female audience, with a subtle anti-violence message. Friendship, self-esteem, where true beauty lies, and anger control are also on the list. Oh, and world peace. Seriously.

 

While I hope there will not be Miss Congeniality 3 unless there is a script someone would want to give an award to, Agent Fuller’s imitation of Tina Turner is quite good (Regina King is an excellent actress) and the ending works pretty well when Gracie visits the school of her young friend from the book signing.

 

You know how they put all the good scenes in the trailers to entice us to see the movie? If they had edited this film as well as they edited the trailer, Miss Congeniality 2 would have been better for it.

 

The Upside of Anger

When suburban Detroit housewife Terry Wolfmeyer’s (Joan Allen) husband Grey goes missing with just his wallet, Terry suspects that he has run off with his Swedish secretary – to Sweden. She’s understandably angry and just to prove it, she hits the bottle, the hard stuff. A neighbor, a retired big league baseball player turned radio host Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) comes calling. He wants to speak with Grey about the new housing development deal they are working on with their extra land. He’s stoned and carrying a can of beer. Over a three year period he and Terry become drinking buddies, friends, and lovers.

 

Terry’s four daughters, Hadley (Alicia Witt), Emily (Kerri Russell), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), seem, on the surface, to deal with their father’s disappearance stoically and for Popeye, philosophically. However, Hadley rushes into marriage right after college graduation. Andy refuses to go to college and Denny gets her a job at his radio station; she starts an inappropriate relationship with Shep (Mike Bender), a producer. Emily ends up in the hospital with stomach problems, probably caused by stress. And Popeye keeps a journal.

 

Writer/director and actor Mike Bender has created a fine movie that examines the nature of human anger under a cinematic microscope. It’s pretty ugly. It’s an invitation for audiences to take a good look at our own internal violence.

 

As I thought about the film, it reminded me of what a very honest, non-romantic version of Little Women might look like today. A mother with four lovely daughters who struggle without the husband and father. The war is not on the outside, however, as the Civil War was for the March family in Louisa May Alcott’s classic. Rather it rages and takes its toll on the interior landscape of the characters’ souls and is made manifest in their relationships and life choices.

 

But change is possible.

 

To Mike Bender’s lasting credit, this is not a chick flick (I really dislike that term; to me it’s derogatory) because it never caricatures the women. Anger is an equal opportunity, universal sin for all people and an occasion for transformation good for all seasons.

 

Kevin Costner gives a credible performance in this film; he plays a well-off bum really well. He is a perfect counter-point to Joan Allen’s uptight, liquored, and angry persona. I have never seen Joan Allen in a role she did not accomplish to perfection, and here she does not disappoint.

 

The Upside of Anger is a de profundis movie. It is not until the characters hit the depths that they can rise.