October Sky

It's October 1957, and the United States is enthralled by the launch of Sputnik, the first spaceship to circle the globe. Particularly intrigued by the Russian craft is Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal), the teen-age son of John, a tough West Virginia mine superintendent (Chris Cooper) and Elsie (Natalie Canerday), his loving but practical wife. Homer and his three high-school buddies (Chris Owen, William Lee Scott and Chad Lindberg) decide to build their own rocket and are encouraged in their highly technical experiments by Miss Riley (Laura Dern), a supportive science teacher. John isn't thrilled by his son's rocket obsession and desire to leave West Virginia; he wants his boy to follow him into the mines. John's disapproval sets up a series of conflicts between father and son that nearly leads to tragedy. October Sky, based on an autobiography called Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam Jr., is one of those rare feel-good movies that delivers a thoroughly inspirational tale. It's also a bittersweet musing on a seemingly more simple time.

U.S. Catholic Conference: adults and adolescents

Cry of the White Wolf: White Wolves III

Although Cry of the White Wolf: White Wolves III has a fairly time-worn plot, the film's execution, its gorgeous locations and the characterization of its teen leads, add up to a surprisingly engrossing action-adventure. The movie opens up in Hollywood as Jack (Mick Cain) tempts fate by swiping a compact disc. After the cops bust the teen, a judge sentences him to 30 days at a wilderness survival camp. His mother (Margaret Howell) drops him off at a tiny airport where Jack meets his stoic Native-American pilot, Quentin (Rodney A. Grant) and his spoiled fellow teen passenger, Pamela (Mercedes McNab). The small plane develops engine trouble and crashes into a lake. The battered trio emerge onto shore only to find they're off course and deep inside a wilderness area. Their only hope of survival is a 200-mile trek to a ranger station before winter sets in. Some lessons in Indian lore and a series of adventures, some highly dangerous, force Jack and Pamela to discard their bad attitudes and mature into responsible near adults.

Death by Design

When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek looked at an onion skin through a microscope in 1673, he saw chambers that reminded him of monks' cells; so he named the chambers cells. In the centuries since his discovery, many other researchers have tried to comprehend these most basic units of life; and they have found that the more they learn, the more there is to learn. That's one of the main themes running through Death by Design, a documentary about cells and the scientific research that's being done on them and their functioning.

The film interweaves footage of cells in action, clips from old movies that provide metaphors of cell behavior, and interviews with cell biologists from top academic and scientific institutions in Europe and the United States.

All of the biologists' comment on the importance of programmed cell death, describing various ways that cellular death impacts the development of both individual cells and cellular communities such as plants and animals. Although the documentary raises some complex questions, it's relatively easy to follow and thoroughly fascinating.

The Education of Little Tree

Based on a novel by Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree kicks off in 1935 Tennessee, the day after Little Tree's mother has died. Because the boy's father has passed on, Little Tree's paternal grandparents (James Cromwell and Tantoo Cardinal) step in to rear the 8-year-old (Joseph Ashton) over the objections of his maternal Aunt Martha (Leni Parker). She wants to keep the boy out of the hands of those whom she identifies as “white Indians.” Although Little Tree's grandfather is Scottish by descent, he has assumed many of the beliefs and much of the behavior of his Cherokee wife's people. The elderly couple lives high on a Tennessee mountain, happy in their remoteness and delighted by their grandson's presence. They begin educating him in the ways of the Cherokee and the mountain folk, but the outside world soon disturbs their idyll. Although The Education of Little Tree makes several valid points about the oppression of indigenous peoples, it offers overly simplistic conclusions about the relationship between two not so disparate races.

Loretta G. Seyer is editor of Catholic Faith … Family.