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Just saw it in Herndon, VA; a small but enthusiastic audience. Masterful stage film enhanced by the use of the original orchestrations from the seventies plus an appropriate inclusion of "Marry me a little". "Getting married today" brings down the house while "Another hundred people" received only a warm ovation even though Anika Noni Rose performed it brilliantly. Stephen Colbert shines in his section, and Martha Plimpton does wonders as Barbara Barrie did almost 40 years ago: a great performer like her father Keith Carradine. The real surprise is Neal Patrick Harris, who even though is too Generation X to play Robert, does provide insight and credibility to what originally should be a shallow character. And Patti LuPone delivers the best "The ladies who lunch" since Elaine Stritch did in 1970!
El crimen del Padre Amaro (2002)
The two sides of prejudice
Tom Clancy, the renowned spy-thriller writer, recently declared to Time Magazine that "being anti-catholic is one of the few acceptable prejudices today". If this film dealt with a pro-choice activist suddenly becoming disenchanted because of the politics of the issue, this film would've been condemned. If this film portrayed a young jewish soldier who fights against the PLO only to discover that the israeli army can commit atrocities too, several would've labeled this picture as racist. Or if it had starred Will Smith as a preacher who trades civil liberties for money to have his televangelist channel (and swaping Halle Berry for Charlize Theron), it would've been undoubtedly blasted. But ...
But since this film deals with a young priest who decides to have sex with an underage catechist who's "more beautiful than the Virgin Mary" under her image, then, that's art, that's the truth, and that's what should be discussed as "the reason" for which to see this movie. After watching this movie, one finally asks "why did these psychos chose to become priests, anyway?". Amazingly, a film which deal with priesthood doesn't analyze at all on where it's supposed to be founded: a strong spiritual life, the commitment to be faithful to a calling from God, the purpose to live human virtues like humility and willingness, and enough trust to forgive himself, to learn from his mistakes and restart. But no! These guys are so totally mixed up that one starts questionning what in the hell did they learn as seminarists.
But the worst thing about it is its narrowness: there's no single sane religious character: they're either fanatics, superstitious or depraved, but none seem to explain the reality of faith. What's the other side of the story, where are the Mother Teresa's who devote thier lives to serve the poor freely?, where the Jerzy Popieluzko's that give their life to free their country from totalitarianism? where the Oscar Romero's who shed their blood for denouncing death squads? where the ordinary married couple looking for coherence in their daily lives by raising their kids as good human beings in a culture where the message is "you're smarter than your parents, so obey your instincts and be cool"?
It's perfectly understandable that a juicy story might come from the tragedy of self-degradation. But I wonder if the writer of a story about a struggling priest who finds the meaning of his life by being loyal to the implications of the vocation would find the backing this film had. I think it would be discarded for being naive and sectarian, and finally uncommercial ("Where's the sex scene a la Thorn Birds?" the potential producer would yell). George Bernanos and Graham Greene would have no place, films like "A man for all seasons" and "The mission" would've not been made, and Bing Crosby and Jennifer Jones would have won no oscars.
If you look for a relly good film on this issue, try Buñuel's "Nazarin", Zinnemann's "The nun's story", Powell's "Black Narcissus" or Pialat's "Sous le soleil de Satan". And they did it with no sex or cat-eating-holy communion-previously spit by false parishioner at all!
The Truth About Jane (2000)
The truth? Wish I had known it
How can some film makers possibly title a film with the word "the truth" to have one of the characters saying "Sometimes it's best not to tell the truth, don't be so hard on yourself"?
The truth is that this "lifetime" movie goes beyond absurdity. The characters are such cartoons with the goodies being the ones who say "follow your feelings" and the villains those who dare to say what's right and what's not. Yet perhaps the most insulting thing this film has is its narrow approach to the subject. These parents really deserve to go through this hell because of their ignorance and their incontrollable eagerness to be approved (and loved) by their daughter, which is precisely what this character penalizes. Do they try to study and learn more about homosexuality, how it is developed or it finally becomes a deliberate choice and not naively a genetic definition? NO!, They just react like some bigots who are magically changed by their obsession with their girl's acceptance, And believe me, this teen-age is years-light more mature than her folks, more conscious, tolerant and balanced, She even lectures her father that a lesbian and a tomboy girl are not the same and sends her mother to some sort of AA meeting for parents who are sick because they can't rejoice at the fact that their breed are queer. The point is not merely to portray homosexuals as victims (which of course they do) but as the real saviors of the American family. This film becomes so manipulative and so predictable that its failure is that it precisely lacks what it preaches: how to deal as individuals and as a family on the painful issue of self-discovery that teen-age is about. But when you overrate teen-age, simplistic and frivolous focus is what you get.
Ignorance dressed as scandal
All the while I was watching this movie I kept asking myself, Do the authors of this mediocrity understand what being catholic is all about? There's, of course, the modern "socially-concerned-Hollywood", which depicts the Catholic Church as a decadent, senile and misoginous group of eunuchs and frigids, emotionally frail and codependant, obsessed with sex and rites, completely ignorant of the true meaning of human dignity and who do not understand that this church has to accomodate its ideas into the most common idiosincresies in order to take its place where it belongs: equal to and along all other churches, because they're all alike and none holds the absolute truth. So they make films like "Catholics", "Priest" and "Stigmata" to denounce how truly hipocryt this church really is, and how courageous are the ones who defy it.
The point is that such perception has nothing to do with what being Catholic really means and what the Catholic Church is in fact. Their conrnerstones are Faith, Hope and Charity, and it's precisely because all faithful are united through Christ where its meaning relies on. A film that argues that the Church might enforce the abolishness of Mass based on obedience is absurd precisely because such obedience is based in the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, such argument is exactly the one some protestant churches and sects sustain: that you alone can be the judge of your relation with God regardless of the means He established to grant His grace.
Any writing on the future of the church should recall perhaps how early christianity was like: people who gathered and grew in their faith regardless of its mainstream social acceptance, and who knew that they should not trade its teachings for social popularity.
Pope John Paul II (1984)
The Pope as a real man
I saw this film more than 15 years ago, yet it has kept within my memory ever since. Not only for Finney's performance (captivating and chamaleonic as usual), but rather for its portrayal of Karol Wojtyla as a strong, committed and cheerful man who finds joy, purpose and projection in his calling into priesthood. The Wojtyla pictured here is far from the intriguing cardinals ("The Body", "Stigmata") or frivolous and manipulative clerics ("Priest", "The third miracle") of recent "religious" films. It's rather more in the great tradition of Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy in "Boys Town"), Father Barry (Karl Malden in "On the waterfront"), and a clear predecessor of Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons in "The Mission") and slained-in-reality Bishop Romero (Raul Julia in "Romero). We can see a man willing to love his people and ready to fight for them, not merely for political reasons but for evangelic and apostolic purposes. A man who sports and camps, and cares for others, and prays. A man who confronts his feelings under the guidance of wisdom, reason and faith, and a man who finally accepts tough challenges and responsibilities with humility and trust. Fortunately for us, since those descriptions are quite close to the real Wojtyla, and the film does a very good job in portraying them to make us realize the real man John Paul II is.
The House of Mirth (2000)
House of Blues
Tragical?, Cynical? The word I'd use would be disappointing. Upper crust hypocrisy revealed? We know that's not what we really expect of an adaptation from an Edith Wharton novel since that's the context of her whole work but rather how a character copes with or uses it. On that premise, I expected a grand tragic figure out of Lily Bart, willing to sacrifice her own social position and even her life for the man she loves and her own principles and dignity.
What we have in Terence Davies's precious and exquisite vision, is a plain dumb and vain socialité who never actually makes a commitment or is willing to work hard for what's best for her. Some examples:
1) Wants a rich husband but deliberately misses all her chances to please a suitable candidate. 2) Would like to marry the man she loves but never really becomes serious about it, she'd rather keep the flirtation game but doesn't even play it well. 3) Is aware of a "friend's" betraying practices but never realizes she could be framed. 4) Needs money but never really develops useful skills or work for someone willing to help her. 5) Likes to gamble and to smoke but is to afraid to become a rebel. 6) Would love to inherit the money from her aunt but seldom pleases her.
DOES SHE EXPECT THAT ALL FAVORS COME FROM HEAVEN JUST BECAUSE SHE EXISTS?
I know we all could be somewhat fools and fall into subtle traps as the ones presented in the film, but watching her so stupidly fall into them is despairing. The best moral we can get from this film would not be "beware of believing social appearences" but rather "if your a fool, at least be aware of it".
The Body (2001)
Where's the beef?
Dogma, Stigmata, The Third Miracle, and now, The Body. It seems that the Catholic church has replaced jihad warriors and found their place along with blind communists (that dear old evil empire) and nazi concentration camp officers as Hollywood new favorite villain. Get real! I mean, even the priests depicted in those pictures wear roman collars when most hip-clerics nowadays try to look as secular as they can: Is it possible to have a real, serious film about faith and church? This picture didn't even get megaplex treatment. I wouldn't be surprised to see "The Mummy III: Meeting Torquemada", where Brendan Fraser is joined by Antonio Banderas and Sinéad O'Connor to battle Imhotep and Pius XII, who forged an alliance to kill jews, feminists and other politically incorrect victims. If you really want to see a decent film on people's quest for the trascendental, look for "The Apostle", "Left Luggage", "Thérèse", "Il vangelo secondo Matteo" ... or go to Bluckbuster and rent "The Mission".
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
One of the films that made me a movie buff
I must have been not older than 12 when I got into this old and enormous movie theater and suddenly catch Albert Finney and Martin Balsam on the screen and experience a rapture. And by the time the cast boards the train I was in absolute awe. Not only is this film perfect in every sense, but it planted in me a love for Agatha Christie, Sidney Lumet, all-star casts, Geoffrey Unsworth, Richard Rodney Bennett and films in every sense. Together with "Mary Poppins" and "That's Entertainment!" it made me realize where my place was.
That's Entertainment! (1974)
The movie that changed my life
I was 11 years old when I saw this film for the first time. We got late, so the film had already started, and I caught Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald singing "Indian Love": I was mesmerized. And then I met all the people I had never heard of but would adore for the rest of my life: Eleanor Powell, Fred Astaire, and the whole gang. I've been in love with musicals since and became the man I am because of this experience.