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‘The Way’

A-III - adults


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Sheen and his son (not Charlie) team up for a thoughtful journey

A thinking person’s road movie, “The Way” (Producers Distribution Agency /ARC) follows a quartet of central characters along the ancient pilgrimage route from France to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela, even as it conducts viewers through a reflective, and ultimately rewarding, exploration of elemental themes.

Writer-director Emilio Estevez’s drama challenges materialistic values and treats faith with refreshing respect. But its focus – like the varied motivations of the contemporary pilgrims it portrays – is more broadly spiritual than specifically religious. Thus Catholicism is treated as something the onscreen travelers encounter rather than fully embrace.

So moviegoers on the lookout for a full-blown conversion story will be disappointed. And parents will want to keep in mind that some aspects of the dialogue and behavior on display, including one character's fondness for marijuana, make this meditative offering unsuitable for kids.

On the other hand, the subject of abortion is handled well, with a divorced female character lamenting the loss of her child which she aborted because of her abusive husband.

In an echo of reality, Estevez and his real-life dad, Martin Sheen, play a father and son, though the fictional duo’s temperamental differences have left them semi-estranged. Estevez’s Daniel is hungry is a globetrotter, while Sheen’s Tom, a prosperous California ophthalmologist and widower, is content to divide his time between his office and the golf course.

When Tom gets the shocking news that Daniel has been killed in a freak storm while pursuing his latest adventure – hiking the mountainous path to Santiago first blazed by medieval pilgrims – he flies immediately to France to claim Daniel’s body and effects. He then resolves to complete the journey his son had begun as a means of honoring his memory.

As he follows the Camino (Spanish for “the way”) through the lush landscape of the Basque Country, Tom meets three fellow sojourners: Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), a tart-tongued Canadian divorcee out to quit smoking; Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a merrily gormandizing Dutchman who hopes to lose weight, and Jack (James Nesbitt) a garrulous Irish author struggling with writer’s block.

Despite some initial resistance, Tom’s newfound friends gradually break down both his self-imposed isolation and the mild orneriness by which he enforces it. A kindly priest, meanwhile, gives Tom, a self-identified lapsed Catholic, a set of rosary beads. A later scene shows Tom acknowledging that the use of them has proved helpful.

The privations they all endure – long days of walking are followed by nights in primitive dormitories – and the simple but pleasant hospitality offered by the locals drive home the point that happiness and meaning are not to be found in the blind pursuit of wealth.

“The Way” most closely approaches an explicit endorsement of faith during a climactic scene at the shrine itself. Catholic viewers will especially appreciate the influence that ancient structure exerts on Jack, whose previous sense of alienation from the church he attributes to the clerical scandals in his Irish homeland.

Less welcome is the recurring sight of Tom leaving portions of Daniel’s ashes at various spots along the trail; Christian reverence for the body of a departed person – and the faithful expectation of that body’s resurrection – require, rather, that cremated remains be buried together.

The film contains brief partial rear nudity, drug use, a couple of instances of profanity and of crass language as well as references to abortion and sexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III (adults). The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)

‘The Ides of March’

L – limited adult audience


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Politics, Corruption and Abortion

As recounted in the classic Shakespearean play that bears his name, the soon-to-be-assassinated Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” In the case of director and co-writer George Clooney’s savvy yet raw political drama, “The Ides of March” (Columbia), that’s good advice for all but the gamest adults.

While fundamentally moral in most respects, this study in the corrupting effects of power is studded with mature subject matter and machismo-driven vulgarities that call for a well-formed conscience – and a thick skin – on the part of viewers.

Testosterone levels are high and the verbal “F-bombs” get dropped lightly and often at the campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (also Clooney). A liberal Democrat, Morris has won the heartfelt allegiance of his up-and-coming press spokesman Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as well as the unshakable – though strictly professional – loyalty of Stephen’s boss, veteran campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As the Morris forces work feverishly to win the crucial Ohio primary – slated for March 15 – Stephen has two experiences that suddenly change his whole outlook on the race. The first is a secret meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), Paul’s opposite number in the camp of Morris’s sole remaining rival. The second is a casual fling with Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), a young but sexually forward intern from his own office. Via the latter liaison, Stephen accidentally uncovers a seamy secret that leaves his idealism tottering.

The plot is tight and well-told, yet marital infidelity, a situation that potentially amounts to unintentional statutory rape and, above all, the destruction of an unborn life set this far apart from casual entertainment.

Candidate Morris, who has rejected not only the Catholic faith in which he was raised but Christianity itself, and publicly expresses uncertainty as to our fate after death, is unapologetically “pro-choice.” Yet – with wild but not, alas, unrealistic inconsistency – he immediately follows this up by basing his opposition to capital punishment on the grounds that “our society should be better than that.”

Still, Morris’s stand on any given issue – he also voices support for single-sex “marriage” – is not the point of the movie, which is really about the electoral process and behind-the-scenes personal ethics. As for the onscreen visit to an abortion mill, the grimness and lingering remorse engendered by such a descent into the darkness – though not, of course, the full horror of it – are effectively conveyed.

The film contains brief semi-graphic nonmarital – and possibly underage – sexual activity, abortion and adultery themes, a suicide, an instance of blasphemy, profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)

‘The Wizard of Oz’

Audience: A-II – adults and adolescents
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The Wicked Witch and Toto, too

On the Vatican’s Top 45 list, this classic may scare the little ones while teaching the wholesome lesson that “there’s no place like home.” Dorothy rides her cyclone to the magic land over the rainbow in director Victor Fleming’s classic that skyrocketed Judy Garland’s career and has given generations of families prime entertainment again and again. The 50th anniversary edition has 17 minutes of material not included in the original release. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G – general audiences. (MGM/UA, $24.98)