Mormons promote our movie reviews

In the category of shameless self promotion, we were pleased to see that the Mormon-owned daily newspaper the Deseret News in Salt Lake City last week gave a plug to our movie reviews as a “unique voice in a noisy lobby” and published some sample capsule reviews. The article plugging us began:

The Roman Catholic Church has been reviewing movies in the United States since 1936.

Almost three-quarters of a century later, the Catholics’ perspective on film still stands apart — even in a media landscape well-populated with Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert and a staggering variety of opinions.

We were then doubly pleased yesterday that the media blog of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had an entry titled Latter-day Saints Promote Catholic News Service Movie Reviews, noting that, though Catholics and Mormons differ significantly in their theologies, they hold much in common in the area of family values.

Our review of the new "Wall Street" movie said Michael Douglas' performance was "magnetic" but said the film's central romantic relationship "puts the sexual cart before the marital horse."

Our movie reviews have a long and rich history, beginning with the Legion of Decency, then the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, and more recently the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting. Earlier this year, with the reorganization of the USCCB Communications Department, we inherited the office’s functions, meaning that office director John Mulderig is now part of CNS, though he remains in New York City. (It made sense for film and broadcasting to become a CNS function since for years we’ve been the primary distributor of the office’s materials to the Catholic press.)

As the Deseret News noted, the media landscape is crowded with film reviewers, especially since the birth of the Internet. Yet we feel we offer a unique combination that looks at movies based on both artistic considerations and as a guide to parents wondering whether a film is appropriate for toddlers or pre-teens or only for adolescents in a way that goes beyond the traditional ratings of G, PG, PG-13 etc.

We’re glad that the Deseret News agrees.

Vatican to boycott — or not?

angels-book-cover1ROME  — That is the question vexing many Hollywood film reporters these days: What will the Vatican do now that the prequel to the controversial “The Da Vinci Code” is set to hit theaters next month?

Headlines here and there have been claiming either the Vatican was calling for a worldwide boycott or was cautioning against a boycott over fears it would just boost publicity for the up-coming “Angels and Demons” movie.

But who needs an actual boycott when just speculating whether the Vatican or church officials would call on Catholics to stay away seems to be enough?

The problem with the stories that claim the Vatican is against the film or has disapproved of it is the source they cite is Avvenire. Contrary to some reports, it’s not “the Vatican’s official newspaper,” but is a daily Catholic newspaper sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference.

But more importantly the March 20 article they claim their headlines were based on doesn’t exist in the archives and an Italian journalist who works at Avvenire said he can’t recall the paper publishing anything either for or against the movie.

Confusion probably sprang from a March 20 article in the Italian daily La Stampa which quoted a theologian who writes for Avvenire. La Stampa said (presumably based on an interview with him) that the Italian theologian invited Catholics to ignore the “Angels and Demons” movie. He said filmmakers were “exploiting the church in order to boost sales at the box office.”

Another Italian, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, told La Stampa that people should be cautious about “the boomerang effect” of calling for a boycott because it could translate into unintended publicity for the movie.

He said the Vatican is not worried about people of faith falling for the book and movie’s anti-Christian inventions. The Vatican “believes Christians are strong — inoculated by centuries of persecution and testimonials of faith,” he said.

Back to exorcism class

The National Catholic Register blog takes notice of a recent Time magazine article on exorcism and praises the piece for covering a Catholic topic in a way that “neither ridicules nor sensationalizes the subject.” The blog includes a picture of Linda Blair from “The Exorcist.”

The Time magazine article is an interview with journalist Matt Baglio, who recently wrote ‘The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.”

The book  recounts the experiences of an American priest, Father Gary Thomas, who took an exorcism class at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum, run by the Legionaries of Christ.

The three-month class, “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation,” is not something new. It’s been around since 2005. Catholic News Service reported on it when the class was first announced and again when classes began.

Father Paolo Scarafoni, a member of the Legionaries of Christ and rector of the university, told reporters at the time that course was designed to “give priests the information they need for initial discernment and referral.”

He noted that generally 85 percent to 90 percent of people who say they are possessed by the devil simply “need someone to listen. They need a prayer. They need a long walk and a glass of water.”

Baglio, who joined the class when it was initially open to journalists, told Time what he learned from the course material and from talking with Father Thomas and others.

He said most priests don’t like to talk about the rite and what takes place during them is often low-key. Only rarely is it the dramatic stuff of movies.

Film prof’s take on ‘Slumdog’

By the time I got hold of  David Schaefer, a communication arts professor for the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, it was 11:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time — but 12:15 a.m. Singapore local time on Tuesday the 24th.  Schaefer has been examining India’s films since 2002, and his examinations take him close to the source of the “Bollywood” industry.

Schaefer enjoyed “Slumdog Millionaire,” which captured eight Oscars, including statuettes for best picture, best director, best song (competing against itself!) and best original score. “Jai Ho,” the song winner, “is a great song,” Schaefer told CNS, while he was admittedly rubbing his eyes as he worked on his laptop not long after the clock had struck 12.

He noted how English director Danny Boyle had taken some flak from Indians about portraying only the slum life of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in “Slumdog” — which is not how the Bollywood directors would have treated it. Still, the English are probably better than Americans at depicting Indian life because of “greater long-term interest,” according to Schaefer, but “better than Indian directors? Not a chance.”

The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting had classified “Slumdog” A-III — adults for various thematic elements, including crude language. Non-Hindi speakers wouldn’t know the half of it. The first word uttered in the movie is the Hindi equivalent of the F-word, Schaefer said, and it’s repeated often — “not all of it subtitled,” he adds.

Even though “Slumdog” had garnered more than $98 million in U.S. box office through the weekend of Feb. 20-22, the multiple-Oscar wins will prompt many more to see it. And therein lies another cautionary note from Schaefer: “The young boys have to overcome being exploited by gangsters masquerading as operators of an orphanage,” he says. “These are tough scenes to watch — not for children. Deliberate maiming, suggested child prostitution, etc.”

But some of the best-loved movies have happy endings, and “Slumdog Millionaire” is no different, according to Schaefer: “The ending is still emotionally satisfying, and I think that’s what audiences seem to be taking away from the film. There is a sense of social justice with Jamal’s (the lead character) outcome.”

New movie “respects Christianity”

Renee Zellweger and Siobhan Fallon Hogan star in a scene from the movie "New in Town." (CNS/Lionsgate)

Renee Zellweger and Siobhan Fallon Hogan star in a scene from the movie "New in Town." (CNS/Lionsgate)

There’s a new movie out called “New in Town” featuring Renee Zellweger that by all reports might be worth seeing. The National Catholic Register posted a blog item about it earlier this week headlined “New Film Respects Christianity.” You can read the review of the movie here from the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting, plus we had a story this week about one of the co-stars, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, the mother of three children in a Catholic school in New Jersey.

“Benjamin Button” pro-life and pro-death, but in a good way?

I’ve been catching up on movies lately.

Mostly I’ve been renting films that I missed last year (“The Visitor,” “Dark Knight,” “In the Valley of Elah” — all definitely worth the rental, though a bit depressing to watch in close sequence). In theaters, I appreciated “Frost/Nixon” for the entertaining back story on the first political scandal I followed in the news, and I am anxious for more friends to see “Doubt” to be able to discuss it.

So I was interested in this take on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” that I saw in the Catholic New World, the Chicago archdiocesan newspaper, by Sister Helena Burns, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a pro-death movie. Let me explain. We’re all terminal. We’re all dying. And “CCBB” says that’s OK. Death isn’t glorified or dressed up pretty (because, as one of the Fathers of the Church said, “death is a cosmic obscenity”). Death is just is what it is, a member of the human family. Not banished, not locked up, not thrown in the river. Death has its place at the table of life and is mentioned, talked of, thought of, expected, accepted.

“CCBB” is also a pro-life fairy tale. The characters are in each other’s keep. They take care of each other whether they’re white or black, young or old, healthy or deformed. Irregular babies and messy old people all belong and are loved by someone.

She goes on to flesh out those points, making the film sound like I’ll move it from “maybe” to the “must see” list.

‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ review now posted

Ben Barnes and Warwick Davis in a scene from the movie. (CNS/Disney)The review of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting is now posted in our movie review section. You’ll see that, for rather obvious reasons, the film is classified A-II — adults and adolescents.

Charlton Heston’s other ‘holy’ roles

Charlton Heston, portraying Moses, holds up the Ten Commandments in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic. (CNS file photo)Just about everyone familiar with cinema knows that Charlton Heston, who died April 5 at age 84, played Moses in the 1956 Hollywood classic “The Ten Commandments.”

But it would take a real film buff to remember the other “holy” roles Heston played, including St. Thomas More in a 1988 TV remake of “A Man for All Seasons,” St. John the Baptist in 1965’s “The Greatest Story Ever told,” Sistine Ceiling painter Michelangelo in “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (also made in 1965), Cardinal Richelieu in the 1973 film version of “The Three Musketeers,” and Judah Ben-Hur in 1959’s “Ben-Hur,” for which he won the Oscar for best actor.

But he topped all of those characters by playing God in an uncredited appearance in the 1990 movie “Almost an Angel.”

In an interview with Catholic News Service to promote the movie, Heston said he told Paramount Pictures, which produced the film, that he didn’t want any billing: “It really is ridiculous to say ‘God — Charlton Heston.'”

In negotiating with studio execs, Heston added, he told them, “God doesn’t need billing.” Heston said the studio replied, “God doesn’t need to be paid either.” Ultimately, Heston and Paramount worked out a deal in which the studio didn’t have to pay the actor an almighty sum.

Harry Forbes interviewed on “Golden Compass” controversy

Harry Forbes (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)If you have been following the controversy over the review of “The Golden Compass” by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting, you’ll likely be interested in reading this story in the Fairfield County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. Headlined “Film office under fire for doing its job,” the story interviews director Harry Forbes about the controversial review and its subsequent withdrawal, the difference between “The Golden Compass” and “The Da Vinci Code,” how the office’s review process works, the earlier controversy over the review of “Brokeback Mountain,” and the separate controversy over how New Line Cinema used the “Golden Compass” review in its advertising.

USCCB withdraws review of “The Golden Compass”

Today the U.S. bishops withdrew the review of the film “The Golden Compass,” which opened in theaters in the United States Dec. 7. The review was written by Harry Forbes and John Mulderig, the director and staff reviewer respectively of the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The review was released and posted on the CNS Web site Nov. 29. The USCCB gave no reason for withdrawing the review.

Since CNS is a distributor of media reviews of the OFB, it must respect the office’s withdrawal of its review. Effective Dec. 10, the review of “The Golden Compass” will not be available on the CNS Web site. It will not be included in subsequent listings of USCCB film reviews and classifications.

CNS stories about the film remain available to clients. These include:

Author of book behind ‘Golden Compass’ criticized as anti-Christian

Critics debate merits of ‘The Golden Compass’ movie

Nun-critic offers media literacy guide for ‘The Golden Compass’

“The Golden Compass” as seen in the Catholic press

Also, since our last post on the CNS News Hub, there’s also this item of interest: ‘Compass': Challenging believers to articulate faith, values, by Sister Rose Pacatte.

UPDATE on Dec. 11: Comments on the review of “The Golden Compass” or its withdrawal by the USCCB can be sent to


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