Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Media Watch: Theaters feature movies for people who have given up on movies
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 21, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
In mid-summer I joined a group of adults and children to finally see Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Yes, Finding Nemo deserves its great reviews and fabulous word of mouth. It is one of the best movies of the summer and well deserves its $300-million-plus gross in the United States.
Animated features aren’t my favorite kind of movie. But I well have to admit that from a creative and technical point of view, Finding Nemo is a great film. What it also has that most movies this summer have lacked is a great story well told by the voices of excellent comedians and actors.
Nemo (voiced by 9-year-old Alex Gould), a baby clown fish, is born after the tragic death of his mother. His Dad, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), is so traumatized by this family tragedy that he becomes excessively anxious in raising his son.
The story really gets moving as it is the first day for Nemo at school. His Dad is overly protective. Pushing for more independence, little Nemo goes off the coral reef near northern Australia to see what is like out in the gigantic ocean. Nemo is captured by a dentist from Sydney who takes Nemo to his office aquarium, where he eventually plans to give the little fish to his spoilt nephew who usually ends up destroying the fish he is given.
Marlin has numerous anxiety attacks as he seeks to follow the boat that has taken his son away. He is helped by a blue tang fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short-term memory loss a la Memento. The two of them face impossible odds, including sharks, jellyfish, deserted submarines, whales, and hungry sea gulls.
The journey of Marlin and Dory all the way from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney Harbor has moments of joy also. The scenes with the 150-year-old sea turtles and their children help Marlin learn that you have to let your children take some risks if they are to grow to adulthood. The journey of the two fish is the journey of all of us through life, especially those who are parents with children.
The relationship with the neurotic Marlin and the rather ditzy Dory is also a key feature of the story. Marlin slowly learns that he needs Dory to find Nemo, no matter how klutzy she is. In the end he learns that true friendship is one of the most important components of our lives. He also learns there is a community out there that often is able to help us even when things look the darkest.
The digital drawings of Finding Nemo are extraordinary. They carry on the Pixar tradition to new heights.
The voices of the characters particularly stand out. Albert Brooks hangs out all of his anxiety in an almost obsessive-compulsive way. Ellen DeGeneres is perfect in her memory woundedness. Two others that particularly stood out were Willem Dafoe as the tough old fish who is the leader of the aquarium fish, and director Andrew Stanton as Crash, the leader of the turtles. He may use the words “dude” and “awesome” too much, but he is wise old turtle with whom we can well identify. He is a very good parent.
There is a wonderful visual joke at the end of the credits. I will admit it takes about 10 minutes to get to it. The theater manager cleaning up and I had a good laugh. And I would assume the manager has seen the joke several times already.
Finding Nemo is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I — general patronage.
Recently on a phone call to my sister Patty in Minnesota, she told me that she had just finished reading the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. She enjoyed it so much that she planned to see the new film right after work on its opening day. Then she said, “You know, the main race took place on Nov. 1, 1938, a month after our folks got married.” Then she wondered, “Wouldn’t it have been great to talk to them about their memories of that race?” Our parents died about five years ago. In a sense, a personal perspective was added to the new film that forces me to confess that I don’t ever remember tearing up in a movie as much as I did during Seabiscuit.
Gary Ross has taken Laura Hillenbrand’s epic narrative of a horse and a nation caught in the Great Depression and made it into a beautiful story of the human spirit. The cinematography of this story that spans 30-plus years is as good as it gets. The filming of the racing scenes is exhilarating. The acting is first class. Seabiscuit is the best movie of the year so far.
The film begins with a narration by historian David McCullough, with still photos of the introduction of the auto assembly by Henry Ford. We then immediately meet Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), who eventually becomes a successful Buick dealer in San Francisco. Jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) grows up loving to ride horses in Alberta. Horse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) travels a changing West as a cowboy.
These three men, whom we see are wounded in their own lives, eventually come together around a horse that everyone said was too small and did not have the heart and mind to be a race horse. Their story is filled with lots of pain and emotion. It is the human journey. Many times along the way things might have turned out differently. But the three main characters with lots of help from others are able to pull off a memorable achievement that they could not have done alone.
Tobey Maguire as the angry literate jockey shows us what a young 26-year-old actor can do. He is outstanding. Jeff Bridges plays the role of the salesman who sells the horse, Seabiscuit, to a hurting nation with class and heart. Chris Cooper underplays brilliantly the horse trainer who is more comfortable around horses than around people. He proves again he is an extraordinary actor. Elizabeth Banks as Charles’s second wife Marcela is perfect. William H. Macy adds a comic element as the radio horse race reporter Tick-Tock McGlaughlin. For my taste, he eats up the scenery too dramatically in such a noble film. Gary Stevens, the real-life jockey, plays Pollard’s rival and friend George Woolf. He seems a little wooden to me. But this is just a spare-time job.
Seabiscuit is especially a film for those who say Hollywood does not make movies like it used to in the “good old days.” Yes, it occasionally does. Seabiscuit is a film for those who have given up on movies.
The film is appropriate for families with teens. This is a film they can see together and talk about.
I really don’t know if a horse named Seabiscuit had as much effect on our country as this film suggests. Still, it is a great story, wonderfully told, in some of the most beautiful scenes you will ever see.
At times Seabiscuit may seem very slow moving. At other times events are condensed to the point of unbelievable rapidity. Hey, it’s a wounded picture too. Maybe that helps make it such a wonderful summer gift.
Seabiscuit is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There are some sexual overtones and racetrack violence. The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Seabiscuit A-III – adults.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)