CHARLOTTE’S WEB (not yet
rated, G): With the exception
of Charlotte’s Web, all the films
reviewed this month are based on true
stories and historical events. This new
film version of E. B. White’s Newbery
Honor-winning tale is charming,
humorous, fanciful and inspiring.
Wilbur (voice of Dominic Scott Kay)
is an ordinary pig who grows up in
an ordinary barn on an ordinary farm.
But he has some extraordinary
friends, including a little girl
named Fern (Dakota Fanning).
She rescues Wilbur, the runt of
the litter, by promising to care
for him. Later, Fern saves a spider
named Charlotte (voice of Julia
Roberts), who acts to keep Wilbur
from the ordinary fate of pigs:
becoming Christmas dinner.
The other animals ignore Wilbur
because he has no future. But
Charlotte, with her many eyes,
sees Wilbur for what he is. With
the help of a rat named Templeton
(voice of Steve Buscemi),
Charlotte spins words into her web:
This gets the attention of Fern and
Fern’s mother, Mrs. Arable (Essie
Davis), visits the family doctor (Beau
Bridges) to express her concern over
Fern’s involvement with a pig and the
strange writing in the spider’s web. Dr.
Dorian responds about the miracles of
nature that surround us.
Charlotte’s Web teaches us to see the
world with new eyes: the cycle of birth
and death, and the good there is in
every creature. Other themes include
keeping promises, dignity, friendship,
relationships and respect.
Charlotte’s Web is the best-selling
children’s paperback of all time. The
1973 animated film was by Hanna-Barbera. One viewer described the characters
in the new live-action version
as “superior automatronics.” Soon to
come are computer games for PCs,
Game Boy and Nintendo.
The movie plods on a bit, but the
ubiquitous Dakota Fanning, who was in
five films in 2005, is as precocious as
ever. A film for children and adults to
ponder, treasure and discuss.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (not yet
rated, PG-13): Chris Gardner (Will
Smith, Hitch) lives in a low-rent walk-up
apartment in San Francisco in the
early 1980s with his girlfriend, Linda
(Thandie Newton, Crash), and their
son, Christopher (Jaden Smith, the real-life
son of Will Smith). Gardner has
invested all his money in medical scanners
that he tries to sell at a profit. But
things don’t go well.
When he drops his son at the day
care in Chinatown every morning,
Gardner sees the word “happiness” misspelled.
He reflects on the Declaration
of Independence, which assures him
that he has a right to “life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness.”
He pursues that promise of happiness.
For example, after his equipment
is stolen, he pursues the thieves. When
his situation is desperate, he and his son
go to a homeless shelter. At one point,
Chris Gardner breaks down and cries.
This film is based on a true
story. Therefore, every employed
person and every person of good
will needs to see this explicit
immersion into abject homelessness.
Pursuit shows the inability of
some people to possess the pot
of gold at the end of the proverbial
American rainbow, no matter
how hard they try.
Hopefully, watching this film
will motivate us to do something
for homeless people as well as the
working poor. But the ending is
unsatisfactory: I wanted to know
more about how Chris Gardner
and his son are doing today. Emotionally
draining and unforgettable; problem
language; mature themes.
WE ARE MARSHALL (not yet rated, PG): In
1970, an airplane crash killed 36 members
of Marshall University’s (Huntington,
West Virginia) football team, in
addition to 39 family members and
prominent citizens of the community.
Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn),
the president of the university, is almost
convinced by Paul Griffin (Ian
McShane), the father of one of the dead
players and a member of the university’s
board, to discontinue the football
program out of respect for the
deceased. But Nate Ruffin (Anthony
Mackie, Million Dollar Baby), a player
who survived because he was not on
the plane, wants football to continue.
A small-town coach from Ohio, Jack
Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey),
becomes the new coach. He tells President Dedmon that the thought of losing
even one of his children is so
unimaginable that he can only wonder
how a small town and a school can
survive the loss of so many.
Lengyel brings back Red Dawson
(Matthew Fox), an assistant coach who
missed the fatal flight. Dawson and
Ruffin are ridden with survivor’s guilt.
This true story about death, grief and
the phoenix that rises from the ashes is
more than just another football film.
Like The Pursuit of Happyness, We Are
Marshall is about dimensions of the
male experience in America.
Marshall shows us how we can keep
going and living, one step in front of
the other. We are thwarted at times by
those who do things they regret because
of their grief, and bolstered up by
strangers who care.
It is directed by McG (Charlie’s
Angels), who takes us back almost to the
year he was born (1968), including
plaid, polyester fashions. The actors
come together as a team in this film
about a team. Be warned that the movie
has a BK rating (bring Kleenex). Inspiring;
mature themes and a plane crash.
CAUTIVA (Captive) (not rated): In 1978,
when Argentina is winning the World
Cup for soccer, a young girl is born to
a prisoner. A government official gives
the baby to a federal police officer and
his wife to raise.
Sixteen years later, the girl learns
what happened and meets her real family.
She discovers that, between 1975
and 1983, 30,000 people disappeared
for resisting the country’s oppressive
This chilling, heartbreaking political
thriller dramatizes an era when children
were stolen in Argentina. The
people there still feel the impact today.
Although there is implied peril, this film
does not contain problematic language,
sex or violence. (Spanish, with English
SAINT OF 9/11: An icon of September
11, 2001, is the image
of Father Mychal Judge being
carried by firefighters and rescue workers
from the World Trade Center to St.
Peter’s Church nearby. The Franciscan
friar and New York City Fire Department
chaplain was the first official
recorded victim of the attacks.
This deeply moving feature-length
documentary, narrated by two-time
Academy Award-nominated actor Sir
Ian McKellan, tells of Father Judge’s
love for New York, his ministry to AIDS
victims and homeless people, and his
vocation to the priesthood. As a recovering
alcoholic, Father Judge struggled
with depression, doubt and fear. (He
died on the 23rd anniversary of his
sobriety.) Father Judge was also gay,
something very few people knew
because he never wanted this fact to
interfere with his pastoral ministry.
One of his friends said, “He loved the
hell out of us.” Father Judge used to tell
people, “Be about the people you love
and put your own needs second.”
Saint of 9/11 is a beautifully told, artfully
edited two-hour religious experience.
(Available from www.Amazon.com and www.Netflicks.com.)
LIVES FOR SALE (PBS, check local
listings): Why are people willing
to risk everything for the
American dream? This film explores
several responses to this question as it
focuses on the terrible fate of undocumented
immigrants. Many die on their
journey, or are captured, tricked and
sold into human trafficking for sex.
Like the upcoming feature film Trade (to
be released in April), audiences are
shown the facts about what motivates
desperate people to immigrate.
Lives for Sale, by Maryknoll Productions,
shows community programs that
provide work in Guatemala and Mexico
in order to build up local towns
and economies. For example, the Just
Coffee cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico,
enables growers to sell their coffee
directly, which keeps more profits in
their community. This important documentary
reflects Catholic social teaching;
appropriate for high schoolers and