Posted by: sisterhosea | June 25, 2010

The Karate Kid

I’ve seen movie remakes before but was never able to compare them to the old ones, the “original,” because I hadn’t seen the originals, made in the 50’s and 60’s, a blackout period for me. So I was excited to see the new “Karate Kid” movie. It would be a new experience seeing a remake of an original that I really enjoyed and was very familiar with. Besides the fact that in 1984 when the original came out, every teenage girl, including myself, was gaga over how gorgeous Ralph Macchio was. How would this movie be different? Would the story change? What about my favorite parts? Would they still be there? These questions were in my mind as I went to see the new Karate Kid.

 This movie is really worth the watch. Young Jaden Smith as Dre Parker shows his remarkable ability to convey a wide range of emotion. Portraying a 12-year-old, even though he doesn’t turn 12 until July, he’s young enough to be vulnerable but old enough to be determined.

 Dre Parker is forced to move to China when his Mom’s job takes her there. He’s already unhappy and out of place, a perfect target for the school bully, Cheng, who also happens to be a student at a top Kung Fu school where the Master’s mantra is ‘no weakness, no mercy.’ When Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) rescues Dre after a beating from Cheng and his pals, Dre realizes he’s more than just the apartment complex’s maintenance man.

 Mr. Han and Master Li agree that the feud between Dre and Cheng will play out in the upcoming Kung Fu tournament. As Dre begins learning about true Kung Fu from Mr. Han, the kind that requires as much focus from the mind as from the body, he yearns to cast off his fears and be like the woman with the cobra.

 Just as Mr. Han becomes the closest thing Dre has to a father, so Dre becomes like Mr. Han’s son. The compassion they share through each other’s sorrows is a wonderful example of caring for another. My favorite scene is what I call the “shadow sequence.” Dre takes the bamboo poles Mr. Han has been training him with and puts the loops around Han’s wrists. Thus Dre guides Mr. Han through his own sorrow.

 The Karate Kid offers much food for thought for the attentive moviegoer. Themes such as compassion, respect, kindness and overcoming fear can provide good topics for conversation especially between parents and children.

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Posted by: sisterhosea | June 12, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I saw the previews and debated on whether or not to wait for DVD on this one. I am a big fan of Jerry Bruckheimer productions but movies based on video games rarely have a compelling plot line.

 Then, my colleague, Sr. Rose, and I had a meeting in Orange County earlier this week and rather than get stuck in LA freeway traffic, we decided to go down early and catch a movie. The one that fit with our time schedule was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. So to the movie we went.

 As we were sitting in the theater, I thought of people like my brother, George, who love movies with way cool visual effects, even though the story leaves something to be desired. He will probably love this movie. I enjoyed it but was not gushing with praise at the end.

 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time follows Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a street urchin adept at getting into trouble and then outwitting the guards who chase after him. One day King Sharaman of Persia (Ronald Pickup) sees his antics and decides to adopt him into the royal family. He grows up with the king’s two sons, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell).

 When the trio, under Tus’s leadership, successfully attacks the Holy City of Alamut, the King comes to join the victory celebration. A dagger is given to Dastan as a gift but he has no idea where that gift will lead him. The king dies under mysterious circumstances and Dastan is accused. He escapes with the dagger and the lovely Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and sets off on a journey to clear his name.

 The movie has more twists and turns than a M. Night Shyamalan film, leaving the viewer wondering if it will ever end. Eventually it does, thank goodness.

 Jake Gyllenhaal spent some time in the gym preparing for this role and he does a good job being the action hero. Even his slight accent isn’t too bad. But Alfred Molina takes the cake with his comedic turn as the ostrich-racing Sheik Amar.

 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a fun movie, full of the effects and action that summer movie goers love, if a little short on depth. If you want to take something away from the film, think on what greed for power can do to a person, and not only that person, but on the society around him.

Posted by: sisterhosea | June 11, 2010

Agora Film Review

Not your typical summer blockbuster, Agora tells the story of Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), an astronomer and mathematician in 4th century Alexandria, Egypt. She’s a remarkable woman, a prominent teacher despite the fact that women in the Roman Empire didn’t usually rise to such stations. It helped that her father was the keeper of the famed Library of Alexandria.

 The film’s title describes the place in Greek and Roman culture where people gathered to trade not just products such as cloth and food, but ideas as well. The Agora of a multi-cultural city like Alexandria would have been a place for intellectual exchange of ideas and scholarly debate.

 Hypatia’s passion for learning and science lead her to reject the two men who are in love with her, Orestes (Oscar Isaac), her student, and Davus (Max Minghella), her personal slave. Her understanding also helps her to quell the stirrings of religious intolerance among her disciples, who include both pagans and Christians.

 Christianity has only recently become legal in the Roman Empire and the Christians are vocal in Alexandria’s Agora. But tensions rise, and over the next few years escalate into violence. Each group, the pagans, Christians, and Jews take their turns being the instigators.

 While Hypatia’s story is what ties the film together, modern Christians, especially Catholics, may feel uncomfortable with the depiction of religious intolerance, especially from the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril (Sami Samir), his historical counterpart being a canonized saint of the Catholic Church. If this is what Christianity is supposed to look like, I’m not sure if I want a part of it. However, he is balanced by Synesius (Rupert Evans), a Christian disciple of Hypatia’s who later becomes bishop of one of the eastern provinces. When Cyril begins a persecution of the Jews because he figures they are the Christ-killers, Synesius returns to Alexandria to aid Orestes, the now-Christian prefect of the city, in obtaining peace.

 Meanwhile, Hypatia continues questioning the universe she observes. If the earth is not the center of the universe, like most ancients believed, maybe it is orbiting the sun. But if the sun is farther away from the earth at different times of year, then how can its orbit be circular, the circle being the perfect shape? It is amazing to watch Rachel Weisz’s performance of Hypatia come to the conclusion of an elliptical orbit centuries before Kepler and Copernicus, but her status and theories cause Cyril to denounce her as a corrupt influence on prominent Christians, especially Orestes.

 The movie made me think of the bumper sticker I have seen around recently which says “Coexist” using the symbols of the major world religions. A parallel can definitely be drawn between the representation of Cyril and people like Osama Bin Laden who take their religion’s teachings and use them to sanction whatever suits their purpose. True Christianity, like true Islam, teaches peace and respect for everyone, no matter who they are or what they think.

 Hypatia, a pagan philosopher and scientist, taught this to her students centuries ago, and lived it herself, and paid the ultimate price.

 

Posted by: sisterhosea | May 26, 2010

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood

I’ve always been a Robin Hood fan. One of my favorite movies as a kid was the 1938 Errol Flynn version, The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. In my family, we watched it over and over, transfixed as the irreverent, cocky outlaw and his friends defeated the gloriously evil, Prince John in the name of justice. Another favorite Robin Hood movie of mine is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, with Kevin Costner. OK, so it’s not the best movie ever made and Costner’s British accent is horrible but I still liked it.

 Recently, I finished reading a series of books by author, Stephen Lawhead, called the Raven King Trilogy, another take on the Robin Hood mythology. This time, Robin was a Welsh prince deprived of his rule by French Norman invaders, who took over his land and misused his people. As I finished each book, I couldn’t get the next one out from the library fast enough.

 This legendary man, stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor, has held a place in literary and movie-going hearts for years. The latest addition to the wealth of perspectives on Robin Hood is Ridley Scott’s film, Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe as the beloved outlaw.

 The film claimed to be a new take on the myth and it delivered on its promise. In this film we are introduced to Robin Longstride (Crowe), as he fights the French with King Richard and his army returning from the Crusades. Robin is one of the many archers in the king’s ranks. But even as a lowly archer, he is a leader who commands the respect and love of his men, honestly speaking his mind, even if its not what the King wants to hear.

 Upon returning to England, Robin takes on the persona of dead Sir Robert Loxley, delivering to the royal household news of King Richard’s death. Prince John, Richard’s self-indulgent, no-good brother, takes the crown and Robin sets off to fulfill his promise to Loxley, returning the knight’s sword to his father.

 There he meets Lady Marion Loxley, Sir Robert’s wife. Spectacularly played by Cate Blanchett, Marion is one of my favorite characters of the film. She’s been through a lot in her husband’s absence and seeing her bent over, milking the cows, getting dirty like the people who depend on her, immediately made me think of Scarlett O’Hara, planting potatoes at Tara, only Marion’s attitude is one of quietly suffering with her people. She also looks after Sir Robert’s old, blind father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), who convinces Robin to continue to stand in for Sir Robert, much to Marion’ chagrin.

 When Prince John (Oscar Isaac, The Nativity Story), now the King, begins demanding unjust taxes from the townspeople, rebellion stirs among the barons and King John sets out to meet them. Robin’s experience of life at the Loxley’s has made him understand what policies John needs to put in place in order to save his people from starvation and death. He approaches John to reason with him, eventually eliciting a promise from John to institute the proposed policies.

 Oscar Isaac plays John with the same underhanded subtlety as Claude Rains did in the 1938 version of Robin Hood. Isaac’s eyes are telling and as John hatches his evil plots, his eyes reflect the depravity of John’s soul.

 Filled with wonderful performances from all the major players, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is an addition to the myth, you won’t want to miss. The parting words, “The legend begins,” begs a sequel. I sure hope they do one.

Posted by: sisterhosea | May 7, 2010

Babies — Affirmation of Life

                In advertising it’s said that nothing sells like animals and babies. They are universal and always so cute! After watching Babies, a new film from award-winning French director, Thomas Balmes, based on the original idea of producer, Alain Chabat, I am even more convinced it’s true.

                Babies follows the lives of four children from birth to the moment they take their first steps. The film is not easily classified. It is certainly not fiction but neither does it conform to documentary style. The film simply puts before the audience the beauty and simplicity of babies. There is no commentary offered, no critique of parenting methods, no bias, just the simple joy of watching the child interacting with his or her parents, siblings, animals, and environment.

                The families were chosen even before the babies were born. Chabat explains the simple criteria: “I wanted families who wanted a child and would give love to her or him. The result was four babies from all over the world. Ponijao is from Namibia, Bayarjargal lives in Mongolia, Mari hails from Tokyo, Japan, and Hattie represents the United States from San Francisco, California.

                Doctors say that laughing out loud makes people feel better. The audience at the screening I attended should have felt great by the end. I laughed so hard at times I cried at the utter cuteness of these kids. No matter how much or how little stuff their families owned, how dire or blessed their respective situations, babies are babies no matter what. They transcend culture, race, and gender. While watching these kids for 79 minutes, I forgot the conflicts, injustices, and hardships that plague our planet and reveled in the beauty that is human life at its most basic. What do babies do? During these first months of life on Earth, they learn from what they see, hear, and experience. And for a few short minutes during this film, we are transformed into their world and reminded of the joy life can be.

                Babies releases in theaters on May 7th.

Posted by: sisterhosea | May 4, 2010

Preacher’s Kid

Home. We each have something or someone that reminds us of home. For some, they don’t realize what home means until it’s out of their grasp. And for those who await their return, anguish and soul-searching take over. The same happens to Angie (Letoya Luckett of Destiny’s Child), a small-town girl with the stigma of being the PK, Preacher’s Kid.

                Angie dreamt of being a singing star and cutting her own record all her life. Right now, she’s just the star of the church choir. When a traveling gospel musical comes to town, she leaves home with the show, much to her father’s (Gregory Alan Williams) chagrin. During the confrontation he tells her that once she walks out, she’s not welcome back. Ever.

                And so begins a journey of discovery for both father and daughter. Angie’s journey is literal. As she goes from place to place with the show, she’s drawn into a relationship with the wrong kind of guy who promises to get her in on his record deal. Her naiveté blinds her to his lies. Meanwhile, preacher dad, preparing a sermon on Luke 15, comes to his own realization that he’s failed to let her live her own life and make her own mistakes. Will there be a coming home for either of them?

                Christians will recognize the parallel between Preacher’s Kid and the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke in this moving coming-of-age story from first-time director, Stan Foster. The voices of Letoya Luckett and Durrell “Tank” Babbs delight the ears. If you’ve ever experienced the power of gospel music, the faith from which it stems, or the arms of the Loving Father opened wide for you, chances are you’ll enjoy Preacher’s Kid.

                Preacher’s Kid releases in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack with digital copy to stores on May 4th.

Posted by: sisterhosea | April 24, 2010

The Joneses

The Jones family—Steve, Kate, Mick, and Jen—move into a new home in an upscale neighborhood. From the outside, they seem like the perfect family. They’re loving toward each other and they have everything anyone could possibly need. Steve makes quick friends with Larry, the next door neighbor who introduces him to all the guys at the golf course.

 In the meantime, Kate is busy getting to know the owner of the local salon. The kids seem to fit right in at their new high school. The family’s new friends are introduced to the stuff that makes the Joneses happy and successful: the latest golf clubs, a really cool walking outfit, the best lipstick, and the awesome hand-held video games. Soon everyone looks like the Joneses, acts like the Joneses, plays like the Joneses, and drives like the Joneses.

 But the Joneses are not like any other family. They are employees posing as a family in order to sell, not just products, but a lifestyle. When their 30-day evaluation comes around, Steve hasn’t sold enough and needs to improve. Kate, his boss, gives him some pointers on how to get the “ripple effect.” Sell to one person, and they love it so much, they sell it to someone else.

 The Joneses is an entertaining movie, funny at times, and tragic at others. It reminds us that the ‘perfect family’ does not exist. For all they had, the Joneses were not free to be themselves. Keeping the act up 24/7 had its repercussions.

 From a media literacy perspective, this movie is fantastic. It creatively shows how advertisers are not just about selling products, but the feelings, lifestyle, and status that go along with products. And what about ethics? Is there a right or wrong way to advertise? If the goal of manipulation in advertising is to get people to buy, what are the responsibilities of advertisers if people go into debt? No one forces people to buy, it is a choice. How are you affected by ads? Do you sometimes give in to their manipulation? What is a Christian to do in the advertising world?

 Greed is another theme brought out in this film. Keeping up with the Joneses has serious consequences for some of the characters in the film. What does it mean to be happy? Can we buy happiness? What happens when we try?

 The film does have a few morality issues, but those aside, this film will serve as a great conversation starter about what matters most and making choices that reflect human and Gospel values.

Posted by: sisterhosea | March 29, 2010

The Ghost Writer — A Review

"The Ghost Writer" starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan

After a two month hiatus, I’m back with a movie review – finally! Thanks for everyone’s prayers as I was working hard to finish the manuscript of the book I’ve been working on. It’s tentatively titled Watching Movies with Your Kids: A Catholic Approach for Parents. It’s due to be published by April of 2011. Keep a watch out.

So I finally made it to the movie theater for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t really feel like doing any heavy thinking so I chose to see The Ghost Writer starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, directed by Roman Polanski. Yes, I do enjoy the mindless action thriller every so often.

There’s nothing super spectacular about The Ghost Writer. I was drawn to it because I am a writer and have studied a bit of journalism. It was clear from the start that “The Ghost,” as the McGregor character is called, is not a journalist at all but truly a ghost writer for books.

He’s hired by a publishing firm to spruce up the memoirs of Adam Lang (Brosnan), a former British Prime Minister who now lives on an isolated island in the United States, written with a former aid, who was found washed up on the island, dead, presumably from jumping off the ferry and drowning.  The manuscript is kept under lock and key. There is only one copy and only a few people have access to it.

But the Ghost soon finds his life in danger as Adam Lang is embroiled in scandal. He has his suspicions that the aid’s death may not have been suicide and he turns into the investigative journalist he’s vehemently declared that he’s not.

His secret investigation takes him to some unexpected places but it all keeps coming back to the original manuscript.

This movie speaks to the difficulties of political life, living always in the limelight and under intense scrutiny. It’s really a wonder that anyone would want to be a politician in these days. I sure wouldn’t. But I also think it’s good to remember that many politicians are in it because they want to be of service to the public in their community. Not all politicians are corrupt despite what television and movies might make seem true.

Enjoy The Ghost Writer for what it is, a suspense thriller with a decent plot and some sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat twists.

Posted by: sisterhosea | March 29, 2010

A New Appreciation–Foreign Films

Over the last year I’ve slowly been gaining a new appreciation for foreign language films. In the past, I’d seen the more popular ones like Life Is Beautiful from Italy and Babette’s Feast from Denmark. Since I’m a fan of the fast-paced narrative film, foreign films never really appealed to me.

 Then I come to Los Angeles and join Sr. Rose at the Pauline Center for Media Studies. Foreign film is something I’d never really thought of before. I think I’ve been exposed to more foreign film in the last year than in the whole rest of my life. At first, I found them boring, not because I had to read subtitles, but because most of the foreign films I’ve seen are much slower paced dramas, usually focused on character development in the narrative with the central theme of the film being more subtle than in your typical American movie.

 This year, the City of Angels Film Festival featured a number of foreign films. I decided to go with an open mind and patient heart, ready to see the films for what they were rather than wishing they were more exciting. I got to see two: Still Walking from Japan and Seraphine from France.

Screen shot from "Still Walking"

Still Walking focused on one family and the yearly coming together to mourn the death of the oldest son. The father, a retired medical doctor, was aloof from the rest of the family. The younger son was married to a widow with a young son of her own. The mother and daughter seemed to get along OK, but you could tell that tension filled the household. It was a study in how each person mourned in his or her own way. The main setting was the family home. The way the home became almost like a character in itself was fascinating, the silent witness to each person’s thoughts of the past and of the future.

 Seraphine is a biopic of artist, Seraphine Louis who painted in the early 1900’s. In the eyes of the world, she was a nobody, spending her days cleaning other people’s houses and her nights painting. A German art collector was a tenant in one of the houses she cleaned. When he noticed a painting hidden behind a chair, he wanted to know who had done it. When he found out it was the housekeeper, he was shocked. Seraphine was a woman of few words but of vivid imagination. A poor woman, she would underhandedly dip one of her little bottles in the meat pot, using blood to make red paint. She swiped candle wax from the church to mix the colors together. In the end, mental illness crept in but she continued to see the beauty even in her dreary existence.

 The simplicity of these two stories made me realize that filmmakers in other countries are out to do more that just make money, although that is still an important part of filmmaking. They aim to tell stories about human beings, human nature, and give the viewing audience a little snapshot of one way of being human. The dignity of the human person present in these two films has really opened my eyes to the delight of foreign films. It’s sometimes hard to find major theater chains in the US that show these films but they are sure worth it if you can find them.

 Try it! You might just enjoy it. Like I did!

Posted by: sisterhosea | January 28, 2010

Tooth Fairy

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in The Tooth Fairy

            Derek Thompson (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Race to Witch Mountain), a hard-hitting hockey player, earns the nickname of the Tooth Fairy from his habit of knocking out his opponent’s teeth. When a young fan tells Derek that his dream is to become a hockey player, he tells the kid to lower his expectations, “that’s how you’re going to be happy.” And that’s not all. When his girlfriend’s daughter , Tess, loses a tooth, he tells here there is no such thing as the tooth fairy. Later that evening, Derek discovers a summons to Fairyland and is sentenced to two weeks as a real tooth fairy, wings and all, for being a disseminator of disbelief and a destroyer of dreams.

            With help from the gadget-guy, a fabulously funny (uncredited) Billy Crystal, Derek gets his supply of amnesia power, shrinking spray, and Cat-Away and is ready to do his time. He hates this and it’s taking away the time he spends with his girlfriend, Carly (Ashley Judd) and hockey. This is not a job for a macho man. It’s not until he embraces the spirit of being a tooth fairy that he learns how important dreams can be.

            This is a movie that kids will enjoy. Seeing Dwayne Johnson in a pink tutu, due to a wardrobe malfunction definitely gets the laughs. When asked about the costume he said, “When you set out to make a comedy, you don’t set parameters. You check your ego at the door.”

            The film appealed to Julie Andrews because of the message. “It’s such a gorgeous message,” she said, “We shouldn’t destroy our dreams.” As Lily, the head tooth fairy, she’s delightful to watch as she tries to convince Derek that dreams are worth working towards.       

            For adults accompanying kids to the theater, the movie might seem a bit far-fetched and outrageous but the ‘wing’ jokes are worth it. There’s a bit of stereotyping, girls wear pink, guys wear blue, but overall it’s a film shows the power of dreaming and imagination can supply a positive outlook on life.

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