Following are recent film and VHS home videocassette reviews from the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) Office for Film and Broadcasting:
Historical dramatization of the legal battle over the fate of 53 Africans who massacre the crew of a Spanish slave ship, then are captured by an American naval vessel and put on trial for murder and piracy in a case that ultimately reaches the Supreme Court where former president John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) defends their right to freedom. Director Steven Spielberg's ambitious attempt to re-examine the contradictions of a society that proclaimed the equality of all and yet accepted slavery succeeds in dramatizing the obvious injustices done the enslaved Africans (led by Djimon Hounsou), but the legal and political issues argued in the lengthy case are treated in stiff historical tableaus that fail to touch the human dimension of what is involved. Some gory violence, brutalizing conditions of slavery, and brief frontal nudity. The USCC classification is A-III. The film is rated R.
Documentary on the life of Catholic convert Day (1897-1980), who joined with Peter Maurin to found the Catholic Worker Movement during the 1930s Depression and how her passion for social justice and commitment to nonviolence has come to be better appreciated today than it was in her own time. Directed by Father George Torok, the 28-minute program features eloquent commentary on Day's work, spirituality, and continuing influence from Catholic social activist Eileen Egan and historian David O’Brien, as well as Day's writings in the Catholic Worker newspaper and evocative period visuals. Part of the “Catholic Life in America” series, the program is appropriate for all. (Hallel Communications; 800-445-7477; $24.95)
Compelling dramatization of the early life of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day (Moira Kelly) as a young journalist whose agonizing over a failed love affair leads her to reflect on her life. In doing so, she discovers God, then meets Peter Maurin (Martin Sheen) and puts his ideas of social justice into practice during the Depression. Directed by Michael Ray Rhodes, the biographical movie depicts a woman's spiritual journey in convincing dramatic fashion, though it is largely interior, deeply religious and specifically Catholic in its sensibilities. Realistic treatment of love affairs, an abortion and a suicide as well as some coarse language. The USCC classification is A-II— adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture of America rating is PG-13. (Paulist Press; 800-218-1903; $29.95)
Animated story of Christmas Eve in Assisi, Italy, where the talking animal friends of Friar Francesco give the Christmas presents they have made for him to those who need them more, then share in the gifts brought by the townspeople and the friar's surprise for them by making the first Christmas crèche. An episode in the “Francesco's Friendly World” series, the 44-minute video mixes bland new songs with traditional carols. The animated animal characters help make up for the lack of charm in the figure of St. Francis, but the tale is told with sincerity and is simple enough for pre-schoolers to enjoy. (Lyrick Studios; 800-622-5101; $14.95)
This series of eight one-hour videos explores the art treasures housed in the Vatican Museums as well as those in St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and other Vatican locations. Produced by the Vatican Museums and directed by Luca De Matta, the English version is narrated by Bob Sommer with useful commentary on the spiritual, cultural, and historical significance of these artworks, examining each much more closely than one could do in person. The result is a rich resource of art and faith for all members of the family and certainly should be part of any parish or school video library. (Janson Video; Harrington Park, NJ 07640; boxed set of eight videos; $149.95)
- December 14-20, 1997