Weather Man, The

David Spritz (Nicholas Cage) is the depressed 40-ish Chicago television weatherman in search of his soul in this peculiar film that seems like it might be a comedy, but in reality is a serious enough drama. David is divorced from his wife Noreen (Hope Davis) and has two troubled children, Mike (Nicholas Hoult) who is being seduced by his court-appointed counselor, and the over-weight Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) who seems bored with life. David’s father, Robert (Michael Caine), is concerned for his son and grandchildren. This deepens when he discovers he is dying of cancer. “You never stop worrying about your children.” He encourages David to take special care of his Shelly who dresses in clothing that is unflattering and much too tight for her. He makes an effort to interest her in something and they take up archery. Her interest fizzles, but as David realizes there’s more to life than doing nothing to try and be happy, he takes up the sport aggressively.


As David walks the streets of Chicago people continually throw fast food at him and he takes the abuse philosophically because he is the Weather Man. He also thinks he is like the fast food. He is in the throes of burnout caused by immaturity and can only express himself by using the f-word. Only his ex-wife uses it a little less frequently.


David is being courted by a New York television station. He takes Shelly with him for the interview and while there he buys her flattering, new clothes. Robert goes as well to see a specialist. The news is grim.


But he never stops encouraging his son. He tells David, “Do you know that the harder thing to do, and the right thing to do, are usually the same thing? “Easy” doesn’t enter into grown-up life… to get anything of value, you have to sacrifice.”


David decides to take the job in New York, that is, he decides to grow up


Without being preachy, The Weather Man is a dark, interesting film, full of angst and redemption by directed by Gore Virbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III). The film’s existential nature recalls Pope John Paul’s doctoral thesis: The Acting Person : A Contribution to Phenomenological Anthropology (Analecta Husserliana) by Karol Wojtyla. Here, the man who would become pope asserts that God is pure act, and that we are in the image and likeness of God when we are “acting persons”, who live in freedom and responsibility.


Some of the interesting aspects of the film for me were the metaphors -perhaps there were even too many of them. But the fast food, archery, shooting arrows at still statues of animals in a park, the f-word, and so forth, made sense to me, given the disposable culture, the sense of entitlement that can force us into an immature inertia as we wait to be saved, and the refusal to reflect before entering into commitments that will effect so many other lives (I thought David and Noreen both too immature at 40 to be married with children now going through their own troubles), and the ensuing frustration that does not provoke creativity but only the f-word, over and over. But doesn’t this sound like much of our culture? Or the consequences of it?


There is one part when David realizes his daughter has an inner life. When he gently asks her if she knows the meaning of the suggestive name the other kids call her because of how she wears her clothes (camel hoof or something like that), she responds (in these or similar words), “It means I am tough, and I can survive and accomplish things.” I think this is the moment in the film when David begins to change, because he and his daughter were finally able to communicate; they realize they can communicate. And he stops using the f-word


There is much more to this film than what I unpacked here, and I notice that it is already gone from theaters. Too bad. This is just the kind of film you want to see in a group and then talk about. It’s not a comfort film, but it is a human one.

Left Behind: World at War

Scripture, rapture and Apocalypse:
‘Left Behind: World at War’

As one year ends and another begins in the church’s liturgical cycle, the Scripture readings remind us that Christ has died, he has risen, and he will come again in glory, at a time we do not know, to judge the living and the dead.

This apocalyptic theme often appears in both literature and cinema. On the weekend of Oct. 22, “Left Behind: World at War” opened in 3,200 Protestant churches around the country with a simultaneous release on DVD. It is the third film in a series based on the best-selling “Left Behind” novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.

There is a difference in how Catholic and some Protestant theologies view the end times.

Like its predecessors, “Left Behind: World at War” has a clear message firmly rooted in a form of Protestant theology that believes that the end time, bringing with it death, destruction and fear, really is upon us because the anti-Christ is trying to take over the world. All you need to survive is to accept Jesus once and for all and read the Bible.

Catholic theology invites us to accept Jesus and read the Scriptures as well, and the Advent liturgy reminds us that we are to await Christ’s coming in continual conversion and faithful anticipation.

A new world order under the leadership of Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie) is practically accomplished as a result of the rapture (millions of people disappeared in an instant) and his campaign for global peace through food control. Following the adventures of the same key characters in “Left Behind” (2000) and “Left Behind II: Tribulation Force” (2002) we first encounter two new ones: the President of the United States, Gerald Fitzhugh (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and his vice president John Mallory (Charles Martin Smith).

They confer about the state of affairs as they shoot skeet, away from any listening devices. The President is confused about Nicolae because he seems benevolent but there are contradictory signs that he may not be as good as he seems. The men are also concerned about the militia. As Fitzhugh and Mallory return to the White House, their convoy is attacked and Mallory killed. Fitzhugh is rescued by two mysterious, masked people riding motor bikes.

In Chicago, the Reverend Bruce Barnes (Arnold Pinnock) presides over a Christian marriage ceremony held in secret between Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson), who lost his wife in “the rapture” event, and Carolyn Miller (Jessica Steen). Ray’s daughter Chloe (Janaya Stephens) and journalist Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron) are also married in the same ceremony. Together they hope to face the coming confrontation with the Anti-Christ with their faith and the Bible.

Ray has become Nicolae’s personal pilot, and a former girlfriend, Hattie (Chelsea Noble), who now works for Nicolae, knows Ray is now a Christian. As Ray and Carolyn are about to board a flight, Hattie threatens to expose Carolyn who hides a Bible in her baggage. Nicolae attributes all the world’s ills to human failures such as crop failures, food shortages and religious conflict, but this small group of Christians knows better; they know he is the Anti-Christ. They believe that all the events they are experiencing are explicitly foretold in the Scriptures, so it is God’s war they are fighting.

Fitzhugh discovers that a weapon of mass destruction is going to be released in the United States. He turns to Nicolae for help but becomes aware that Nicolae really is sinister and wants world dominion at any cost. When sickness breaks out, Chloe goes to Chicago to help victims, while Buck stays in Washington to help the president. He also discovers that the mysterious disease that is killing so many has been caused by Nicolae who had bacteria placed in shipments of Bibles sent all over the country.

As the drama reaches its climax the President is urged to repent and accept Jesus (though it is unclear what he is guilty of other than naiveté) by Buck and his companions. He then decides that to save the world, he must destroy Nicolae. He goes to Nicolae’s headquarters (he has taken over the United Nations to serve his interests) and detonates a bomb that kills himself and Nicolae, the Anti-Christ.

The cinematic quality of the “Left Behind” franchise has improved with each film, and more explosions, violence and a somewhat convoluted plot up the ante as they strive to make sense to a contemporary audience.

But the simplistic way the films have the characters, especially Buck, explicitly preach conversion to Christ (and the audience) as a one-time event and the possession of a Bible as a kind of miraculous shield, make it difficult to take the films seriously. Despite Kirk Cameron’s appeal to his television fans from the ’80s and ’90s, the real star in all three films is Gordon Currie as the slimy, cool, Russian-accented devil Nicolae, or the Anti-Christ.

It is difficult to pin down the politics of the “Left Behind” films, but having the Anti-Christ/Nicolae take over the United Nations seems to be a determination that the usefulness of this organization founded after World War II, is finished. I was particularly disturbed, however, by President Fitzhugh in this newest film, solving the problem of the Anti-Christ by becoming in actuality a suicide bomber.

The theology of the films is decidedly based on this literal interpretation of certain passages in the Bible (especially Daniel and 1 Thessalonians) referring to what is known as “the rapture.” This scriptural theory is played out very clearly in the “Left Behind” series: as the end times unfold, those who are taken up to heaven in an instant are the ones who have professed faith in Jesus Christ. Those who are left behind must profess their faith in Jesus in the post-rapture times. They have seven years to do so before the Second Coming of Jesus.

The Catholic Church and other mainstream Christian churches do not interpret apocalyptic scriptural texts in a literal way. Instead, the Church teaches that there will be a general resurrection at the end of the world, when Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Rapture theology became an interesting theory after the Protestant Reformation (mid 16th-mid 17th centuries) but received its main impetus from the teachings of the Anglo-Irish evangelist and member of the Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby in the 1800s. Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world based on their interpretation of Scripture many times, but we are still here. Like the Y2K scare of the year 2000, this kind of theology is the imaginative playground of conspiracy theorists, and people who want to frighten others into belief and good behavior.

While some Catholics find the “Left Behind” films entertaining, it is good to watch them and talk about them through the lens of our faith by recalling a few things that Catholics believe:

—The Catholic Church is the sole interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Tradition

—Our personal end time encounter with Jesus will occur when we die,

—God’s invitation to believe is founded in love and trust, not fear,

—Conversion, which is growing in holiness, is an on-going process because sin, both personal and societal, is a daily reality, as is God’s grace.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The “Revelation” of “what must soon take place,” the Apocolypse, is borne along by the songs of the heavenly liturgy but also by the intercession of the “witnesses” (martyrs). The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of him who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb. In communion with them, the Church on earth also sings these songs with faith in the midst of trial. By means of petition and intercession, faith hopes against all hope and gives thanks to the “Father of lights,” from whom “every perfect gift” comes down. Thus faith is pure praise. (par. 2642).

For more information on the Catholic view of the end times by Bishop Kenneth E. Untener, visit .

Yours, Mine, and Ours

        Coast Guard Admiral Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid), a widower with eight kids, is in the process of moving his family to New London, CT. His new assignment is to head up the Coast Guard Academy. An old friend sets him up with a blind date and at the restaurant he meets an old high school flame, Helen (Renee Russo). Soon after they meet at their high school reunion and old sparks are rekindled.

         Helen North is a widow with ten children, four biological and six adopted. She lives a kind of bohemian lifestyle and works at home designing handbags for New York department stores. Once she and Frank get past admitting how many kids they each have, things move very quickly.

       All of a sudden they are moving all their kids, a colorful pet pig and the Beardsley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Munion (Linda Hunt) into a rundown lighthouse along the shore.

        Different parenting styles become evident immediately. Frank posts bathroom schedules while Helen is into group-hugs.


 The kids, aged about three to seventeen, don’t get along and they act out accordingly – well, as this kind of comedy does. However, they are smart enough to realize that uniting against a common enemy is in their best interest to get things back the way they were.

        The kids annoy the Admiral by destroying his charts and discourage Helen by cleaning up and putting her disorderly studio in order. Things go from bad to worse, the parents unaware they are being played by the kids. Finally, Helen and Frank decide to separate, realizing they moved too quickly. But the kids have become friends now and they decide to act quickly before it’s too late.

        This is the second film version of Yours, Mine, and Ours to be made. The first starred Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and was released in 1968. Both are based on the 1965 book Who gets the Drumstick? by Helen Beardsley (which is out-of-print). Frank and Helen were married in 1961; they adopted each other’s children, and went on to have two children of their own. They actually lived in Carmel, CA, and were practicing Catholics (if you “google” Who gets the Drumstick? on the Internet you can find photos and information about the original family. For example, they didn’t buy a lighthouse; everyone moved into the Beardsley home and they added on to the house extensively.)

        This present film doesn’t offer any explicit religious perspective; it is even unclear if Helen and Frank even marry before they move in the lighthouse. But family values are front and center, including fostering and adopting children from various cultures and backgrounds, learning to get along, caring for one another, tolerance, to look for the good in everyone, and that family is the light of our lives.

         This 2005 version of Yours, Mine and Ours is directed by Raja Gosnell (Mrs. Doubtfire) and it has a few genuinely funny moments, and a lot of slapstick of last year’s Cheaper by the Dozen variety. The timeline of events are not realistic (nobody brings 18 kids together under one roof that fast!), but young children probably won’t notice. Linda Hunt’s role (Kindergarten Cop) as the housekeeper could have been better developed because she’s a wonderful comic actress, but I got the sense they had to cut a lot out of the film to bring the time down (or something). It was too disjointed. I would have expected more depth and finesse (even if boisterous) from Raja Gosnell.

         Yours, Mine and Ours is unexceptional and deserved a much better treatment. But it’s an OK family film. 

Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Although the film will not be released until December 9th, here is a feature article I wrote for St. Anthony Messenger on background for the film, the life of C.S. Lewis and issues that the filmmakers had to face, such as fidelity to the text, the ratings, Christian representation and educational dimensons.

I saw the film this past week and my review will appear here on December 8th.

Walk the Line

The men at Folsom Prison are clapping their hands and stomping their feet in anticipation of Johnny Cash’s (Joaquin Phoenix) highly anticipated performance. But Johnny is in one of the workshops, touching the blade of a saw, remembering.




He and his brother Tommy are young again, working the family’s cotton fields during the Depression in Arkansas, talking together. Tommy wants to be a preacher, and has memorized the Scriptures. Johnny wonders why Tommy is so good, while Tommy praises Johnny’s ability to sing and memorize all the church hymns. When Tommy dies in an accident soon after, life becomes harder for Johnny whose alcoholic father, Ray (Robert Patrick) is very hard on him.


Johnny leaves home to join the Air Force as soon as he can. He is stationed in Germany and buys his first guitar there. When he comes home in 1954 he marries Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) and they begin a family in Memphis. He gets a job as a door-to-door salesman and cannot sell a thing. While on his route he comes across Sam Phillips’ (Dallas Roberts) storefront recording studio with the label that launched Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton), Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne) and Carl Perkins (Johnny Holiday.) John  and his two band members manage to get an audition. But Phillips is not impressed with Johnny’s run-of-the-mill Gospel singing. He doesn’t think Johnny means it and tells him:


        “If you was hit by a truck

and you was lyin’ out there in that gutter dying

and you had time to sing one song,

one song thatwould let God know

what you felt about how you spent your time here on 


one song that would sum you up,

That’s the kind of song that truly saves people.



Johnny takes his advice to heart and the rest is history.




While on tour with other singers who went on to great fame, he meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and is smitten. June is soon divorced from her husband and turns down Johnny’s attention because she doesn’t want the same for him. Meanwhile, Vivian is increasingly unhappy with Johnny who starts to drink and take drugs, ends up in jail for possession, and is seldom home. Eventually, John and June marry (though Johnny, as we know, continued to battle addiction.) 




The film has a solid faith theme running through the film, and though both John and June’s first marriages were disappointments on both human and faith levels, we aren’t here to judge, but to take in how they tried to change, grow and make things right. Johnny and June were no saints, but they seemed to try their best. June had more personal insight than John; that was a hard lesson he took years to learn from her.


Walk the Line (read: walk the straight and narrow) is a remarkable film that could have just kept to the contemporary musician’s biopic formula: hardlife, gets into music, descends into alcohol and drugs, is unfaithful and/or faces personal demons, and then recovers in one way or another last year’s Ray, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980, Loretta Lynn story where Sissy Spacek sang all the songs, too), Sweet Dreams (1985, Patsy Cline story), etc. I love all these films, but Walk the Line stands out because of the astonishing and intense performances of Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.


Their chemistry on stage is beyond convincing and their singing, playing the guitar and auto-harp make it seem like we are watching live performances because they are so authentic. Well, that’s because they are.


As we all know by now, Phoenix and Witherspoon had to take voice lessons and learn to play their instruments for the film and perform in front of live audiences. Not so easy if you listen to their accounts of the making of the film.


And now I cannot imagine what these two golden performers will do for an encore.


If I were an Academy member I would nominate Walk the Line for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress, Best Score, and Best Editing and Best Screenplay. It is so obvious that the cast and crew worked very hard on this film. As I watched it, I kept asking myself: howdid they do that? How many hours practicing, working, and so forth, to get a great rendition of  “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash.”


The only flaw in the film for me is that it is about 20 minutes too long. Other than that, Walk the Line is a solid example of cinema Americana that you won’t want to miss.

Millions – for Christmas

In case you didn’t know, MILLIONS was released on DVD on November 1. If you are looking for a wonderful Christmas film with human and spiritual values, this is a movie you’ll want to own and watch during the Christmas season.

Here is my review from March 2005 when the film was released:

Tuesday, March 8, 2005
1:54:00 PM PST


                             When Fantasy, Fortune and Blessing Meet  


On a brilliant summer day in the north of England, two young lads race across a field that will soon become a housing development. As they roll in the grass, they imagine what their new home will be like, for the Cunningham family is moving. The boys’ mother, Maureen (Jane Horgath), has died, and their dad, Ronnie, (James Nesbitt) wants to move them from the city to get on with their lives.

When moving day arrives, seven-year old Damien (Alex Etel) collects the packing boxes from all the new appliances and carries them off to build his own cardboard house near the train tracks. Damien talks to his friends, the saints, who appear to him. He always asks them if they have met his mom, St. Maureen.

One day as he is playing, a large duffle bag crashes into his cardboard dwelling. It is full of money (British pounds). Damien thinks it is a gift from God. He runs to tell his olderbrother, nine-year old Anthony (Lewis McGibbon). They think the bag holds millions, but it’s more like a few hundred thousand pounds. Damien wants to tell their dad, but Anthony, the shrewd junior economist, insists that they hide it. Little by little, Anthony spends it on cell phones and the like, but Damien wants to give it away to help the poor because he is convinced that God sent the money. He stuffs it in the mail box of some young missionary Mormons who live nearby and he takes homeless people to a restaurant to feed them, much to Anthony’s chagrin. There are only afew days for the boys to dispose of the money before the country changes over to the Euro standard.

Damien’s saints continue to visit him. One day he sees a large group of African men working and he realizes they are the 45 Ugandan Martyrs (dd.1885-1887). One of them tells Damien they don’t want all the things that money can buy, just a little bit so they can have a well. Pure, clean water is their most precious treasure and greatest need.

As Christmas draws closer, a young woman named Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) comes to the children’s school, All Saints, to collect coins from the out-going currency to help the poor in developing countries dig wells. Damien is inspired by Dorothy and drops a thousand pounds into the bin. The boys’ secret is out and their dad is called in for a conference.

Meanwhile, a menacing stranger visits Damien in his hut, looking for the money, the saints continue to reinforce Damien’s faith and generosity, and as the currency deadline looms, things get very complicated indeed.

The Saints

The most original aspect of Millions is the litany of saints who appear to Damien, from St. Peter (“First century but date of death unknown”), to St. Nicholas of Smyrna, to St. Francis and St. Clare (who tells us how she came to be the patroness of television), to the Ugandan Martyrs who were canonized in 1964 – and some others in between.

Damien has an encyclopedic familiarity with the lives of the saints and a teacher helps the school children think of contemporary heroes who are helping people today, such as Nelson Mandela. This link between the past and the future is an important theme in the film as Damien tries to do what he thinks God wants with the money.

The Beatitudes and Social Action

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of Discipleship (1937) that the Beatitudes (Mt 5: 3-12) only make sense when considered as a response to the call to follow Christ. In Millions, Damien seems to have an innate sense of the call by God to help the poor. He believes that the appearance of the money is a miracle to help the poor, not to squander. “Are you poor?” he asks people over and over and gives them money for food and necessities. Of course, a lot of the humor in the film comes from Damien’s innocent lack of awareness of adult double-speak, but he doesn’t care. He only wants to help others.

It is in the realm of the spiritual that Damien tries to make sense of his mother’s death and the seeming miraculous appearance of the money – delivered directly to him. He can only understand these events when he connects them to realities that only he can see and we can imagine.

Millions is a film about childhood, family, the commandments and beatitudes, social awareness, character, holiness, loss, grief, and belief in life after death, as God has promised.

The dominant biblical and sacramental sign in the film is of water, the joyous source of life. Millions is clearly drawing our attention to the need for clean water for the world’s poorest people today by showcasing an organization: Water Aid ( This is a new take on product placement, one that can influence people positively – to think locally and act globally to promote ecology for the benefit of the human family.

In addition to the Beatitudes there is another Gospel passage that Millions evokes to bring us along in our Lenten journey:

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:12