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Bringing Down the House
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

YOUNG@HEART
21
STOP-LOSS
ARMY WIVES
INDEPENDENT LENS: WRIT WRITER
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



YOUNG@HEART (A-3, PG) is a documentary about a chorus made up of 24 people who are aging gracefully and proud of it. Their median age is 80. Baby-boomer Bob Cilman is the music director. The chorus members are funny, smart, sassy, talented and living each day to the fullest. And some of them are dying.

Their hip repertoire includes Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Coldplay’s “Fix You” and Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can.”

The film includes music videos featuring these likable people. As Cilman says, “They don’t hide their age; they make you listen to the words.”

This low-budget documentary proves that everyone can make a difference, no matter how old, and that filmmakers can make art despite—or maybe because of— limitations. The film offers endless themes to talk about because it is a foot-stomping joyous testament to life, music, art, community, fidelity, perseverance, commitment, dying well, faith, hope and love.

I’d give it an Oscar today if I could. The film earned my BK rating (bring Kleenex). Authentic, pure and moving; some problem language and innuendo.

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21

21 (A-3, PG-13): Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess, The Other Boleyn Girl) is a math whiz on track to graduate at the head of his class from M.I.T. He has already been accepted into Harvard Medical School, although he lacks the tuition.

His math professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns), invites Ben to join an exclusive money-making team of students who “count cards” at casinos and win against the house (casino). Rosa directs the team and collects a large percentage of the winnings. He no longer plays blackjack (known as “21”), because Vegas casino-security personnel know him and will not let him play.

Reluctant at first because it feels wrong to him, Ben learns blackjack and how to count and hits Las Vegas with the team. Winning and losing, he runs afoul of casino security, led by Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne, Akeelah and the Bee), and ultimately of Micky Rosa.

This film is based on Ben Mezrich’s 2002 best-selling book, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Mezrich changed some details for his book, and screenwriters Peter Steinfeld (Analyze That) and Allan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire) massage and complicate the story even more.

Card counting (keeping track of six decks of cards and calculating the odds of when the dealer will draw the right combination) is nothing new to the Vegas gambling scene. It is not illegal because it does not change the outcome of the game.

Before his death in 2002, the Rev. Joseph R. Fahey, S.J., won thousands of dollars counting cards and donated the money to his Jesuit community. An M.I.T. graduate and economics professor at Boston College, he taught a class in card counting.

This entertaining drama elicits audience sympathy for Ben and the team. While it doesn’t exactly glorify gambling, I would bet that books on card counting are selling briskly. The message is clear that there are consequences for the team’s choices and, by extension, the world and culture of gambling.

The film presents families with an opportunity to talk about the distinctions between legality and morality. At first, Ben is a student in need. But the casinos are favored to win. Greed, legal or not, is still one of the deadly sins; strip-club scenes, violence and innuendo.

STOP-LOSS (L, R): After a harrowing and heroic tour of duty in Iraq, Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe, Breach) and his buddies return to the United States to a hometown parade and honors from U.S. Senator Worrell (Josef Sommer, X-Men: The Last Stand).

Brandon’s enlistment is up, but his best friend, Steve (Channing Tatum, She’s the Man), decides to reenlist and become a sniper.

When Brandon turns in his gear, he discovers that he has been stop-lossed (involuntary extension of active-duty service). He must return to Iraq because there are not enough fresh, trained recruits to take the place of veterans.

Senator Worrell had told Brandon to contact him if he ever needed anything, so the young man goes AWOL and heads for Washington, D.C. Steve’s girlfriend, Michelle (Abbie Cornish, Elizabeth: The Golden Age), drives the getaway car. Along the way, they meet other veterans on the run and a badly wounded member of Brandon’s unit.

This film joins In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs and others that endeavor, through cinema art, to raise awareness about the Iraq war’s moral ambiguities. It is a pro-soldier film that elicits empathy for the heartbreaking psychological and physical damage to our military men and women during combat and after.

Directed (and co-written) by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), this is a buddy film in which the character chooses between self-preservation and self-sacrifice for his friends, leaving political ideology behind. Ryan Phillippe gives an exceptional performance as we are led into a narrative quagmire with a point instead of a plot.

Films that question the premise and function of the Iraq war are not popular with the American public, perhaps because the ideological perspectives and battle realism create uneasiness and distress in the audience.

Stop-Loss and other movies of this new subgenre of the war film expand the discourse about war, and the Iraq war in particular. Such films question the tenuous comfort created by the status quo just as they test our fundamental concepts of right and wrong, justice and injustice, integrity, morality, ethics and, above all, the common good. Mature themes, crass language; graphic, intense battlefield violence.

ARMY WIVES (Lifetime Television, Sundays): Lifetime’s highest-rated series ever is a drama drenched in soap. It stars Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue), Catherine Bell (JAG), Sally Pressman and Wendy Davis as women married to enlisted men and officers, or, in the case of Davis, a married woman in the Army.

The show’s blogosphere gives voice to women who love this series as well as real military wives who are disappointed because it does not reflect their reality. This dichotomy presents an interesting debate about all fictional television: Are the stories factual or do they tell the truth, at least to some extent? Most Army Wives bloggers seem to understand the difference—that all television is the writers’ and producers’ concept of reality—and that drama only works when the tension among temptation, sin, choices, consequences, redemption and restitution is taut and feels authentic on some level.

It’s unlike CBS’s The Unit, which shares time between the military at war and the wives and families at home, in addition to modeling proper Army-wife behavior. Instead, Army Wives focuses on women and their children, for better, for worse and in between.

INDEPENDENT LENS: WRIT WRITER (PBS, June 3, check local listings): Fred Arispe Cruz dropped out of school in the eighth grade, became a drug addict and killed his best friend in an accident. In 1960, he was arrested and convicted for a robbery he denied committing.

Sentenced to 50 years at a prison cotton farm in Texas, he became a jailhouse lawyer to appeal his conviction and those of other prisoners. This was against Texas law at the time, and prison officials used great cruelty to punish “writ writers.” With the help of a pro bono lawyer and the NAACP, he challenged the law and changed it.

This fascinating and deeply human documentary deserves to be considered within the context of the civil-rights movement. It’s introduced by Terrence Howard (Crash) and narrated by Jesse Borrego (24).

LEATHERHEADS (A-3, PG-13): George Clooney (Syriana) directs and acts in this comedic version of how professional football started in the 1920s. Renée Zellweger (Miss Potter) is the fast-talking reporter who is determined to unmask the war record of a star college athlete (John Krasinski, The Office). The film’s stab at the early regulation of profanity on the airwaves is both awkward and juvenile. Funny in parts but unevenly scripted, artfully filmed, well-acted; some crass language and profanity.

UNDER THE SAME MOON (A-3, PG- 13): After his grandmother dies, young Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) travels from Mexico to Los Angeles to join his hardworking, undocumented mother (Kate del Castillo, Trade). Carlitos is assisted by good people who help him avoid detection and the threat of human traffickers. This film about family against the backdrop of illegal immigration in a globalized world also stars Eugenio Derbez, one of Mexico’s best-known actors, who makes a huge sacrifice for Carlitos. America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) also has a role. (Mostly Spanish with English subtitles.) A touching story with occasional crass language.

A PLUMM SUMMER (not rated yet, PG): Henry Winkler (Happy Days) is Happy Herb, the host of a children’s TV show in Montana during the 1960s. When Herb’s puppet Froggy Doo is stolen, federal agents investigate. William Baldwin plays Mick Plumm, the alcoholic, job-challenged father of two boys. A no-frills, based-on-a-true-story film with a touch of nostalgia and adolescent angst.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222, www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm

At www.CatholicMovieReviews.org, readers can search Sister Rose's and hundreds of other film reviews.

 


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