Fireproof the Movie

As many of you know, FIREPROOF opened this past weekend. My review is available at the St. Anthony Messenger website:

Kirk Cameron in FIREPROOF

I have seen several other reviews and the emphasis is on how the film deals with a Christian marriage on the brink of divorce and the causes: lack of communication, selfishness, etc. But the strength of this film is its willingness to look at the impact of pornography on a marriage. No one wants to consider the influence of this social virus on the souls of individuals, marriages, and relationships.

I say “kudos” to the filmmakers for finally talking about the invisible elephant in the living room of “good” families.

Watch how the Cameron character treats his mother and his wife. He has no respect for anyone except his buddies at the fire station. Thank goodness his own father is willing to persevere and work with his son – before it is too late.

The film does preference “message” over “art” but because the theme is such an important issue, I recommend the film to begin a conversation about pornography in the faith community and beyond.


Burn After Reading the Movie

Here’s my theory about the film that opened the Venice International Film Festival in late August (I posted something about this film earlier).

The Coen Brothers were sitting around one day, shooting the breeze, basking in the impending glow of an Oscar after working so hard on NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, thinking of the political landscape and wondering what kind of mischief they might make between the US, its citizens and Russia before the election – with as little money – and effort – as possible. Another Cold War? Remember, the Coens thought of it first.

What they came up with is an ensemble cast of actors making crazy with a very funny convoluted script and a low budget. You can look up the actors on


But let me mention a few….

Brad Pitt as a 40-something acting like a 20-something airhead gym trainer is hilarious.

Frances McDormand, as Brad Pitt’s co-conspirator, is wry, distsy, and pretty much an idiot along with most of the cast.

Tilda Swinton, the unhappy ice queen, is still the ice queen. Brrr. Scary.

John Malkovich, for once more or less innocent, gets pay back for all the bad guys he ever played. When he is fired from his top level job at the CIA, a disk with his resume and ongoing jobs is lost, McDormand and Pitt find it, and almost like a McGuffin, that misplaced disk gets things rolling. 

Richard Jenkins, the well-deserved flavor of the month actor, or year, rather, is very good as the gym manager who loves the McDormand character – and loses.

Alas, she’s too busy manufacturing a spy conspiracy, to notice.

George Clooney, back on his most familiar K Street in DC, said this is the third idiot movie he has made for the Coens. OK. Not his best (O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU is, in my opinion), but he’ll do.

There is some graphic violence and other distasteful aspects that will make some viewers uncomfortable. But as a funny, improbable film, it’ll do.

Does the film make a political statement? Oh yes. Cynicism and metaphorical satire in the hands of the Coen Brothers. Well, you know what they’re like.

I hope these guys leavetheir brains to science. Or somebody, take an MRI.


The Italians loved the movie. And you have to ask ‘why’?


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Full details and a registration form are available at or you can obtain a form at the Pauline Book & Media Center, 3908 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA. 90230.

Since 2007 more than 30 catechists, teachers, and pastoral ministers have been certified. This certification is recognized by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of Orange and San Diego. Please see for more information.

The deadline for registration is September 15th.


Please feel free to forward this notice. Thank you!

HURT LOCKER wins Catholic Jury Prize at 65th Venice Film Festival


The SIGNIS Jury has awarded its Grand Prize  to Kathryn Bigelow’s anti-war film THE HURT LOCKER. According to the jury’s statement, the motivation for this choice is the filmmaker’s uncompromising approach to the Iraq war and its consequences seen through the experience of the bomb diffusion specialists for whom war is an addiction rather than a cause. “The film challenges the audience’s view of war in general and the current war in particular because it demonstrates the struggle between violence to the body and psychological alienation.”


The SIGNIS jury also gave one commendation to VEGAS: BASED ON A TRUE STORY, a small budget film that is an allegory about futile obsession and greed of a marginalized family on the periphery of Las Vegas and another commendation to TEZA, a film that highlights the conflict between ideology and the personal life of an Ethiopian intellectual.


This year is the 60th anniversary of the Catholic jury at the Venice Film Festival coordinated by SIGNIS, the world Catholic association for communication based in Brussels. The members of the international jury are Rose Pacatte, president of the jury (United States, researcher and film critic), Sergio Joel Ascencio Casillas (Mexico, researcher and film critic), Raffaella Giancristofaro (Italy, journalist and film critic), Peter Malone (Australia, journalist and film critic), Charles Martig (Switzerland, journalist and film critic), , Federico Pontiggia (Italy, journalist and film critic), Freddy Sartor, Belgium, journalist and film critic).

WRESTLER and the last day at the festival!

Last Day at the Venice Film Festival


Well, almost the last day. It is Friday afternoon. There was to have been a screening last night … The Seed of Disconent … an Italian sex comedy, but the print didn,t arrive on time for the 7pm screening, so I missed it as there was no way I was going to a 10.30pm screening. The other members of the jury who did go told me the film didn-t meet our criteria anyway. Then this morning we saw THE WRESTLER.


Then our jury met at the Excellsior Hotel in the room provided by a Catholic film group from Rome, and we discerned which film would receive our prize.


The award ceremony is tomorrow afternoon in the Press Conference Room here at the Casino. Then the jury was given some tickets for the awards ceremony and the dinner after. I am not a night person as many of you know so I didn-t volunteer. Alas, as the president of the jury it seems good for me to go, though we are small fish in a very large ocean over here. Will report on this once I get back to LA.


The days here have been warm and last night there was a thunder storm, but other than that, heavenly. Blue sky and sun. OK, some humidity and annoying beatialini … bugs. Cigarette smoke like you wouldn,t believe, and if there was a visual motif that ran through all the films at the festival, it was cigarette smoking. I took some photos of the cigarette displays in one of the shops. You wouldn,t believe the warnings they have on the packs over here. But do the warnings work… are you kidding … the punctuation on this keyboard has been re/programmed so please correct as you go along.




THE WRESTLER  … Stars Mickey Rourke as Randy the Ram, a professional wrestler on his last legs. He cannot pay his rent at the trailer park where he lives in New Jersey … Rahway I think, there is no wife in the picture, but a friendly stripper, and he is alienated from his daughter. He still wrestles on the weekends but works in the back of a supermarket wekedays. He also takes steroids and sells traffics in pills on the side. But he-s got a good heart and he still has his fans…. some anyway. Then he has a heart attack and is told he has to stop wrestling. It is not so easy…. I thought Rourke did an excellent job in this role. It is a very sad film, however, and filled with loneliness.




Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER


And this, my friends, is my last film of the festival! Thanks for reading along….


Blessings. I will post photos or a link to Shutterfly as soon as I can.



Rachel Getting Married, Nuit de Chien, Hurt Locker, Gabbla (Inland)

Nuit de chien


This stylistic theatrical (as on the stage) film is a walk on the dark side of politics where everyone must make a choice. And everyone dies, the point is when. The theme is political manipulation in a an imagined fascist state. For me, it was not so easy to watch. But then I had the pleasure of meeting one of the executive producers who came to the ecumenical round-table yesterday on the human and spiritual values of contemporary Chinese film (how’s that for a topic?). We got to talking and found that she is a Catholic and went to a Catholic boarding school growing up. We had breakfast together at the hotel this morning; what a wonderful lady. There is a chance the film may win an award here ….


The Sky Crawlers


For all you anime lovers! Warner Bros. has distribution so I imagine this Japanese film will come to the US. This very long film is for older teens and young adults. Don’t let the animation fool you. The film is a sci-fi fusion of animation styles… and not one computer is to be seen throughout. The story follows a very youthful looking pilot, one of the  ‘Kildren’ , a by-product of genetic manipulation that clones people who never grow up…. And can only die if they are killed in war. No problem… the wars are manufactured and continual and carried out by companies who exist to fight wars to give people the illusion of peace. Because you only know what peace is if there is a war going on, right? The film is actually an existential conversation between characters about whether or not living is relevant and if walking along a country road each day with the possibility to  notice something new makes life worth living. Although this genre is not my favourite, I must admit that it launched many conversations among us jurors. It took way too long to get into the story (as did many of the films at Venice this year….). If you like thoughtful films, you may want to check this one out. It is based on a best-selling Japanese novel.


Rachel Getting Married


This Jonathan Demme film stars Anne Hathaway as Kym, the sister of Rachel, who gets out of rehab just in time for Rachel’s wedding. This is a film that works the 12-step program through and through, and to good effect, I thought. It’s also done with a hand-held camera (as were several films at Venice this year) and according to Demme, he wanted it to be the best home movie ever. It probably achieved that. I really like cultural inclusivity in film, but I thought this pushed a good thing into pure pastiche. Having said this, I think this is an interesting and even important film about family relations and healing. Also, Anne Hathaway proves she has acting chops … she is not just a pretty face… Screenplay by Jenny Lumet… daughter of Sidney.



Anne Hathaway as Kym and Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel.



Gabbla (Inland)


An Algerian surveyor must go into the outback to re-map an area in order to bring in electrical lines to remote villages. He is part of a kind of coffee house intelligentsia/anti-intelligensia group as well that is pushing for a revolution. Once he gets to the village, he meets with hostile local officials who don’t seem to want government interference. At the same time, Africans from other countries are sneaking into Algeria to escape persecution in their own countries and the main character discovers a woman in his poor trailer one day….


This extremely long film took almost 90 minutes to get to the action.  It is a true art house style of filmmaking that invites contemplation rather than the expectation of cause-effect narrative.




The Hurt Locker


This Kathryn Bigelow film will go down in cinema history as part of the Iraqi war film genre. It follows three soldiers through their last month as a team that diffuses roadside bombs. The premise of the film is that war is addictive. It is relentless in its pursuit of getting the audience to experience even a little of what these soldiers, all male, go through and how once one of them gets home, he cannot settle. He has to go back to find meaning on his life. This film will not be commercially viable but in a few years it will be seen as an important investigation into the psyche of soldiering for a war with no reason, and into the banality of the military’s attempt as assuaging the impending tragedy of the lives of these soldiers. Hand-held camera…. Visceral.




Teza, Pranza di Ferragosto, Paper Soldier

Tuesday, September 2




This is the first film I have ever seen by an Ethiopian filmmaker. It tells the story of a young man, Teza, who is caught up in the Marxist revolution that replaced Haile Selassie around 1970. He is sent to study medicine in East Germany, and then returns in 1980 and finally in 1990. It is a very long film (it could have used a better editor) and for the most part, artfully made. Although the people are Coptic Christians (and religion plays a big, though not very influential part in the film), tribal customs are still strong. Teza’s ideology is severely challenged  when he returns to Ethiopia in 1980 to see his mother and family. He takes a job at a research hospital but a friend is killed and he never gets to see his mother. He flees back to East Germany when the revolution turns bad then after the fall of the Berlin Wall, another reversal of ideology that allows racism, sends him home, finally, maimed in body and soul. (The film also focuses son the Italian colonization of Ethiopia as well….) A film that preferences narrative over plot, but interesting.


Paper Soldier (Bumazhny soldat) 


In 1961 the Soviets were preparing to send up the first cosmonaut intospace. Paper Soldier follows the angst of a medical doctor who helps train the young men, one of whom is chosen for the flight. His wife, also a doctor, is in Moscow and wants to have a child; he has a mistress back in Kazakhstan. He also has visions of his dead parents, and he and his colleagues all have existential questions about life and death. It was like a Woody Allen film without the humor.


However, Paper Soldier is an interesting film as far as contemporary Russian filmmaking goes. Most of the action takes place in Kazakhstan and the cold landscape is a principle character in the the history the film describes.


Mid-August Lunch  (Pranzo di Ferragosto)




Gianni is a good-hearted middle-aged man who lives with his elderly mother in Rome. He shops for them and adds to his accounts in the shops. He is way behind in his maintenance payments to his condo association and way, way behind on his electrical bill. His super arrives for the accounting and then says he will take care of everything if Gianni will look after his own elderly mother for the August holiday. Gianni knows a good thing when he sees it even though he is reluctant. The super arrives later with his elderly mother … and an elderly aunt in tow. Another old lady arrives and this is a set up for a genuinely entertaining 75 minute film. The film is directed by Gianni Di Gregorio, writtenby him and he decided to play the main role …. Because this actually happened tohim. Well, several years ago he was asked to take care of someone’s mother and he said ‘no’. But he got an idea for the film and it stayed with him.What might have happened had he said yes? He admits it is a small film but it is also a quietly brilliant film that I think would do well in the US.




Venice Film Festival Photos

This is the official logo or graphic of the festival this year and I couldn’t find it on google images (!) so I took a photo of a billboard… 🙂 They are big on piracy issues this year here. Digital cinema is also a hot topic.

Here are some photos I have taken from the festival so far… No, there aren’t any of anyone famous (yet). I haven’t been going to the press conferences and the journalists have finally figured out which door the celebs enter and exit from (in 2000 there were only two of us hanging around and that’s how we got to meet Ed Harris…)

Anyway, these may or may not be in any order, but here goes!

Freddie Sartor, a SIGNIS (Catholic) Jury member from Belgium on the left and Fr. Peter Malone, MSH, who heads the SIGNIS chair for cinema and is a jury member as well.

This was opening night… waiting for George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Coen Brothers…

The Excellsior Hotel, Lido

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea; Vegas: Based on a True Story; Sut – Milk; The Birdwatchers


Monday at the Venice Film Festival September 1


Today is quite warm and humid – but it’s Venice and there is water, water everywhere! I don’t think I mentioned the mosquito mutants that come out at dusk here. They are like flying chiggers and they attack as a mob. Bring OFF if you ever come to Venice (or any part of Italy for that matter….)


Tomorrow is the presentation of the Prix Bresson, a Catholic prize. I will have more information on it tomorrow or on Wednesday. Then on Wednesday, there will be an ecumenical panel. I am not sure of the theme yet but I know a couple of the folks who will be representing InterFilm, Hans Hoedel and Karsten. More after the event. Both will be held at the Excelsior (Westin) Hotel for those of you who know Venice.


On the steps outside of the Sala Perla (the Casino), a young woman asked me the time and hearing her American accent, asked where she was from: North Carolina. She is studying in Italy and is here to see what the festival is all about. I invited her to the two events this week; I hope she will come.


So here are the recent films:


Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Gake no ue no Ponyo





Another animated treat from Hayao Miyazaki  (Spirited Away; Howl’s Moving Castle) that will  enchant the very young and old alike. A princess goldfish wants to become a human. She is rescued by a five year-old boy, Sosuke. He has a cut on his hand and when she licks it, it is healed. A taste of Sosuke’s blood allows her to turn human. Sosuke and his mother, Lisa, live on an Island. Lisa works at a residence for senior citizens and Sosuke is a favorite with the ladies. Sosuke’s dad is a captain of a ship. When a great storm arises because  her mother, the Sea Queen, and her father, who used to be human, want her back. Sosuke and Ponyo have a great adventure ….


Some of the critics present think this is a film for 4 and 5 yeasr-olds, but I think it might be a tad scary for children this young. Seven and eight might be better. The animation is just lovely and the story moves right along. I would not say this has a linear story line, but who cares? It is uncomplicated and totally enjoyable. The music is very good, and the Sea Queen looks like a Disney character…. But since Miyazaki is known as Japan’s Walt Disney,  so I guess we can forgive him that. At least none of the characters here are sexualized, unlike many Disney animated female characters. I thought this might be a Japanese version of The Little Mermaid, but thankfully, it is not. It is kind of funny to see human faces on Ponyo’s species of fish, but in an animated world, everything is possible. This is a story where key the girl and boy characters are both heroes. Finally.

Vegas: Based on a True Story


This is the fifth American film from Iranian director Amir Nadiri (Manhattan by Numbers). Here he tells the story of Eddie and Tracy Parker, both recovering alcoholics and gamblers  trying to go straight (especially Tracy) and their 12 year-old son Mitch. They live in a double-wide trailor on the outskirts of Vegas. Tracy is a waitress in a diner and Eddie works at a tire repair place. Tracy treasures her garden. One day, a Marine shows up asking to buy their neat little homestead; he says he grew up on this lot and his mother now wants to live there again. He tells the Parkers they can name their price.


Tracy says no, and Eddie discovers that the Marine is really an imposter. When Eddie confronts him, the ‘marine’ tells him the ‘truth’: the Gibson gang buried a million dollars on their property in the 1960’s…. Suddenly, everything Tracy and Eddie have worked for: stability, hard work, a nice, well-kept home,  church on Sundays, is all gone as little by little they chip away at their property and dignity to take a chance that the buried money is in their yard.


The wind-blown, dirt-filled, landscape is a metaphor for the way some people fall prey to gambling, and Vegas blows right through everything they own or ever hope to be. (Did you ever hear of Reality Gambling? I had not heard of it until this film, but it is easy to see how people can be taken by it, but very sad to think that human beings would do this to others.)


This is a film every self-help and recovery group will want to see and consider. Vegas is a very strong film, though obviously low budget. It hits home.





A Turkish film, this is a kind of cinema poem about a young man in modern, rural Turkey, who wants to be a poet. Hissingle mother keeps three cows, sells milk and makes cheese. There is also a kind of medicine man who writes notes and places them in bowls of milk to extricate snakes from homes … and in the opening scene from a young woman by hanging her upside down over a fire with a pot of milk … and the note … boiling away. She coughs and out comes the snake…. I am still not sure what the notes and the snakes had to do with anything. Very interesting, however. There was little dialogue but it was easy easy enough to follow the narrative. Perhaps the milk/snake was meant to be a metaphor understood best in the Turkish culture. Don’t know….


Below Sea Level


This documentary is about aging baby-boomers, the ‘residentially challenged’ or homeless, who live in a kind of trailor park (trailor is the most beat-up sense of the word) in the desert east of San Diego and about five miles north of the US-Mexican border. They have ended up here because it is illegal to sleep in public in any town or city in the USA but no one seems to care about the desert. These folks have almost no money and are each surviving some kind of personal, health, family, or social tragedy. It reminded me of some of the characters in Into the Wild. Some of these folks are mentally and emotionally challenged as well but they form a kind of community out in the desert, living one day at a time. Interesting that they are all white people…. I wonder what keeps them going? Perhaps it is the music; they make music together. A sad-funny movie about people living at the limits in the USA.



La terra degli uomini rossi


A group of modern day Guarani Indians in Brazil live on a federal reserve. The community is plagued by a series of teen suicides because they have nothing to look forward to. One leader decides to begin a movement and moves back to his ancestral land that has been in the hands of a non-Indian family for 60 years. They build a camp just outside the plantation or ranch  that caters to tourists who come to watch birds. The Indians cross the fields to get water and aggravate the landowner. More and more Indians join the original group until the inevitabile happens. This is a story about land rights, and the continuing saga of indigineous peoples who still struggle in countries formed by European colonizers. We follow the story of two young boys especially, and the hopelessness and courage that complicates family and tribal relations as well a show ranchers, police, and government treat the Guarani. A very strong film that does not exploit the audience by over-powering or graphic violence. This is a human story and it works well. Directed by Marco Bechis. I belive all the Guarani actors are non-professionals; if so, they are exceptional.


Nelson Consianda as Nhanderu, one of the boys in the film who is becoming a shaman, who dreams about the bad things that will happen.



L’autrer – The Other; Il Papa di Giovanna – Giovanna’s Father

Today is Sunday, and a bit overcast, hot and humid. Mass is this evening at the parish of Santa Maria Elisabetta right near the hotel. Fr. Dario Vigano, a priest from Rome who works with the Italian Bishops, Conference for communication, just took our jury to lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant on the far end of the Lido island. Neither Peter Malone nor I are fish-eaters so we look in awe over our mounds of prosciutto to the very beautifully arranged antipasto dishes of the others… albino crawfish! And other creatures I am unsure of…. Then they had lasagne al mare (it looked lovely actually; white lasagne with sea food) and we had gnocchi. Also, Brut seems to be the drink of preference here in the Lido… Very nice!



The Other


A 47 year old French woman, Anne-Marie has divorced her husband after 18 years of marriage and tells her co-worker, she is finally free. However, she takes up with a handsome black man, several years younger. I suppose in the US she could be called a cougar…. She wants no attachments. She breaks up with him… but cannot let him go. When she finds out he has a new girl friend, her same age, she begins to stalk the young man and tries to track down the woman.


Can you guess where this is going? No where. I think it is the mirror opposite of the Belgian film NOWHERE MAN. A mid-life crisis characterized by self-inflicted loneliness turns the woman into an obsessive quasi- predator.

The film was long and tedious, even if it is possible to have some sympathy for the woman. She has a friend her age named Lars that she calls up for companionship in her misery. To his credit, he offers her faith and grace. He receives bad news about his health a few days later and the prognosis is bleak indeed. But he is ready.


Does Anne-Marie learn anything? Well I cannot tell you that. But this one is not on my favourite film list, though the other jury members seemed to have liked it well enough. At least it was different from formulaic narratives…. I don,t mind ,different, but I do mind boring.


Il Papa di Giovanna

Giovanna,s Father


Silvio Orlando as Giovanna’s papa….



It is 1938, Rome. An art teacher counsels his 17 year old daughter, Giovanna, who is socially challenged, about how to notice boys, to make friends. The mother is beautiful and distant. She married for security, not love. She knows Giovanna is different….


Tragedy unfolds when Giovanna’s only friend, the daughter of a senator, goes after a young man, the only young man who has ever paid any attention to Giovanna. In fact, her father has encouraged both Giovanna and the youth, in his quiet though direct way. When Giovanna discovers that the young man and her friend are really together, Giovanna kills the girl.


What ensues is a trial and the determination that Giovanna is criminally insane – and the audience agrees. As World War II breaks out, Giovanna’s father, realizing his part in the tragedy, and recognizing that he did not notice how fragile his daughter really was, moves near the hospital to care for her. The mother gets a job in Rome, and then goes with a former police man friend, Giovanna’s god-father, into the country side to wait out the war. …


This is a family-psychological drama of the first order, told with depth and sympathy. Silvio Orlando as the father is brilliant. Redemption and reconciliation are at hand even amid tragedy; especially amid tragedy. The film is shot is sepia giving it a historical look. I thought the acting was mostly good. The fascist landscape, however, did not impress my co-jurors from Europe. They are tired of this director’s continual use of this historical period to tell his stories ( Pupi Avati). One of the jurors did say, however, that the fascists were unforgiving and that Avati must have been making a parallel between human relationships and politics.


Score one for Avati.