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The Joker is Wild
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

THE DARK KNIGHT
MAMA MIA!
THE INCREDIBLE HULK
WHEN I FIND THE OCEAN
THE PRICE OF SUGAR
POLITICAL ADVERTISING
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



 

THE DARK KNIGHT (A-3, PG-13): Gotham City has made great strides against the mob since Batman Begins (2005), thanks to Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich), the new district attorney, who has Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mona Lisa Smile) at his side. Rachel, an assistant district attorney, is the former girlfriend of Bruce Wayne.

As Batman (Christian Bale, Batman Begins), Bruce has been secretly assisting Police Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman, Batman Begins). The mob has been dealing with a crooked Hong Kong businessman named Lau (Chin Han).

Batman brings Lau back to Gotham to testify against mob boss Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts, Phat Girlz). The mob hires The Joker (Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain) to thwart the authorities. The showdown will be of tragic, violent proportions.

Heath Ledger, who died in January at age 29 of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, plays the artificially smiling Joker with depth, startling credibility and an intensity that is almost painful. His disquieting performance overshadows that of otherwise fine performances by the rest of the cast. The film belongs to The Joker, and Ledger deserves an Oscar nod.

The Joker, scarred inside and out, hidden behind a grotesque mask, is possessed by a brilliant madness. He is a symbol of the powerless victim becoming the victimizer in a doomed quest for justice. The Joker, Dent and the hooded Batman form a trio that externalizes some of the realities and struggles of our complicated humanity.

This film is genuinely sinister. It is often pessimistic, yet moves beyond the limits of its comic-book origins to confront human hubris, the consequences of child abuse and the possibilities for authentic goodness.

The film examines the artifice of creating mythic heroes with feet of clay to respond to our need for a superman, a guardian, a savior. Directed and coscripted by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Insomnia), the film offers social, political and even spiritual commentary. It conjures up conversations about virtue as counterpoint to human weakness. Intense action violence.

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MAMA MIA!

MAMA MIA! (L, PG-13): Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, Big Love) has grown up on a gorgeous Greek isle with her single mother, Donna (Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada), a former 1960s flower child.

While reading through her mother’s diaries, Sophie discovers three of her mother’s long-ago boyfriends, one of whom may be her father: Bill (Stellan Skarsgård, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), Harry (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan, Seraphim Falls). She invites all three of them to her wedding, unbeknownst to her doting mother.

Things become complicated when Sophie asks each of the men, plus her mother, to give her away. A funny thing happens on the way to church.

Mama Mia! originated as a 1999 London musical showcasing ABBA, the pop Swedish sensation from the ’70s. It is the 17th-longest-running Broadway show. Over 30 million people are estimated to have seen it worldwide.

The story is an implausible fantasy and the lipsynch is way off, but the music and dancing are exhilarating. Some will be turned off by the film’s summer of love (1967) lifestyle, lack of appreciation for marriage and the sometimes crass gestures.

What remains with me, though, is Donna’s sadness when she recounts how her Catholic mother told her, when she got pregnant, not to bother coming home again. What would have happened if her mother had welcomed Donna, rather than rejected her?

This film is not great art, and the story is very thin. But it does set a joyful table for us to gather round and talk about how to live the values we hold dear. Brief rear nudity.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (A-3, PG-13): During an experiment dealing with gamma rays, physicist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, The Painted Veil) is exposed to potent emissions. Now, when he experiences intense emotions—usually anger—he turns into a gigantic, green, raging hulk.

General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, The Good Shepherd) wants to co-opt Bruce’s reaction as a weapon to create super soldiers. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), the general’s daughter, is Bruce’s co-worker and love interest.

To escape the general, Bruce goes to Brazil and works in a hot, dirty factory. After hours, he practices breathing methods to manage his emotions and seeks to find a cure for gamma poisoning.

General Ross tracks down Bruce with the help of a cold-blooded British soldier named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Planet of the Apes). Blonsky gets an injection of the gamma formula, and the inevitable confrontation is set up.

In Ang Lee’s 2003 version of the Marvel comics character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the emphasis was on the consequences of tampering with human biology. In this new, less compelling version that spends too much time blowing things up, the focus nods to genetic manipulation. But it zeros in on how the U.S. military wants to harvest scientific research for war.

In 2011 we can look forward to the reunion of a cinematic super team of The Avengers that will include, at the very least, the Hulk, Iron Man, Nick Fury (a C.I.A. agent) and Captain America. It will be interesting to look at how the story and a cast of testosteroneladen superheroes will interplay with current world events. Will they do the right thing within the Marvel universe as a way to teach us, or come under the influence of U.S. military advisors, as they did for Iron Man?

Read “The Iraq War Movie: Military Hopes to Shape Genre” in the Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com) for a list of the Hollywood films the military has officially influenced.

Although Edward Norton is always good, this film doesn’t work so well because it relies too much on action over story. From a media-literacy perspective, it’s an ideal film to analyze for the worldview it projects and to discern if it is one we can accept, not only as American citizens but also as faithful citizens of the world. Stylized violence, explicit medical procedures.

WHEN I FIND THE OCEAN (not rated, PG): An 11-year-old Alabama girl strikes out on her own to find the ocean that her deceased father loved so much. The film moves at a slow pace but has won the KIDS First! endorsement and the Dove Seal of Approval. It deals with child abuse and racism in 1965 Alabama, and stars Lee Majors, Diane Ladd and Graham Greene. Some racial slurs and problem language.

THE PRICE OF SUGAR (not rated, A-2): Reviewed in October 2007, this documentary about a priest working among undocumented Haitian sugarcane workers in the Dominican Republic has been chosen for a Gabriel Award. Excellent study of Catholic social teaching; graphic images of disease.

The two main purposes of advertising that have emerged in democratic societies are to inform and to persuade us to buy or do something. Often the creative approaches used are less than transparent.

Sometimes, political ads are negative and clearly on the attack. Not only is it up to politicians and their campaign people to pursue responsibility in advertising, but it is also up to the audience to question and evaluate the message.

The Vatican released guidelines in a 1997 document titled Ethics in Advertising (Pontifical Council for Social Communication). The main criteria are:

1. People have a right to the truth; therefore, truthfulness in advertising is always called for.

2. People are often exploited through advertising; therefore, the dignity of the human person at all points of the advertising spectrum is to be upheld.

3. Social responsibility must characterize all aspects of advertising.

Truth, human dignity and social responsibility form a fine lens for people of goodwill to access, evaluate and judge such advertising. Analyzing with family and friends according to the above norms is also a way of being faithful citizens.

KUNG FU PANDA (A-1, PG): Jack Black gives voice to Po the panda, a lazy but kindly Kung Fu wanna-be. He is unexpectedly chosen to become a Kung Fu master to save the valley from the criminal snow leopard who has escaped from prison. Dustin Hoffman is excellent as the voice of Shifu, Po’s reluctant teacher. Kung Fu Panda shows that hard work and a good heart can help change the world through the arts—martial or otherwise. Mild fantasy violence.

THE HAPPENING (A-3, R): M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is a quietly frightening parable and disturbing prophecy about what might happen if our planet can no longer sustain our abuse. Nature howls and reacts in protest. A confusingly hopeful film, although it presses on with impending doom; numerous suicides.

GET SMART (A-3, PG-13): This spin-off of the comic 1960s Cold War television spy spoof has Steve Carell as bumbling and endearing Maxwell Smart. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly good as Agent 99. It is somewhat disconcerting that the final danger the agents encounter is a threat on the president’s life as he sleeps his way through a concert at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Funny and quite competent entertainment.

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

The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm.

Find reviews by Sister Rose and others at www.CatholicMovieReviews.org.

 


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