Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
Two popular movies reviewed: ‘Man on Fire,’ ‘Mean Girls’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 20, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

The fine actor Denzel Washington is in the new Tony Scott film, Man on Fire. He’s joined by the enchanting child actress Dakota Fanning. After anxiety-causing opening credits, there is around an hour of very well-done storytelling of a burned-out bodyguard by the name of John Creasy (Washington) whose life is worth living again as he grows to love his 10-year-old charge (Fanning).

Creasy had previously been a part of secret Rambo-like military operations throughout the world. He is addicted to Jack Daniels as he reads his Bible every night. Rayburn (Christopher Walken), an old buddy, gets Creasy a child protection job with an upscale family in Mexico City. It is great to see Walken play a good guy.

Pita slowly brings Creasy out of his depression by her life-giving personality and concern for him. Creasy helps coach Pita to a win in a swimming meet. Pita’s own folks, played by Marc Anthony and Radha Mitchell, seem to be gone most of the time. Pita counts more and more on Creasy for a father-like relationship.

But eventually Pita is kidnapped by a brutal group of thugs tightly connected to the Mexican law enforcement world. In the process Creasy is severely wounded trying to save his beloved charge.

Parents attempt a $10 million payoff that goes awry. Creasy recovers. He then begins his cruel vengeance on anyone who had anything to do with Pita’s abduction and death. This part of the film is as brutal as anything you have seen. The theme of the film becomes: the rule of law is too slow and corrupt. Only by sadistic torture and overwhelming violence that can endanger the innocent can you right the scales of justice for the death of a child who was like your own. Creasy tortures suspects before he kills them. He destroys fingers and ears and cuts necks. He sadistically uses a bomb within a human being.

And yet director Tony Scott has the gall to place all of this wanton violence within the context of the religious symbols of the Bible, of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and of St. Jude.

Fairly early on in the film Pita gives Creasy the gift of a St. Jude medal. He wears it throughout the movie. St. Jude is the patron of lost causes. Tony Scott milks this symbol for all it’s worth as he encircles the icon with vengeful violence that won’t stop. Religious piety is totally misused by Scott to try to justify the horrendous violence he wants us to buy in to.

To top it off, after making a group of mainly Mexican people the most ruthless possible villains the world has ever seen, Scott at the end of the film thanks the people of Mexico City for their wonderful hospitality. The people of Mexico City are now the world’s worst bad guys, since we don’t have the Russians to demonize anymore. Scott’s thanks come across as phony and condescending.

If over-the-top violence doesn’t bother you, then enjoy. Dakota Fanning is incredibly good as the precocious child. She carries the first part of the movie. Denzel Washington is excellent in his role as the killer. But the people of Mexico ought to take out a lawsuit against this film.

Man on Fire is rated R – under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian – by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film has brutal violence that won’t stop and obscenities in Spanish and English. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Man on Fire as O – morally offensive.


Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live has written the new teenage film on a young girl’s coming of age in high school, Mean Girls.

Lindsay Lohan plays a new student who is not familiar with the mores of high school life. Lohan plays Cady Heron who, at 16, has been home-schooled in Africa, where her scientist parents have been doing research. Cady finds herself at a high school in the Evanston, Ill. area when her mom has a position at Northwestern University. The place of the film reminds the filmgoer of the teen movies of John Hughes, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, back in the ’80s.

As Cady begins her first day of school, with her parents apprehensive, she narrates that her home-schooling was different from whiz kids at spelling bees and those home-schooled for religious reasons. This is visually done in SNL skit style.

Cady does not know the “rules of the game” at an American high school. She finds she is not welcome at any of the tables of cliques in the lunchroom. Cady sadly eats lunch alone in a stall in the women’s rest room.

Eventually she makes friends with some of the students on the margins. She meets Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) who dresses in the Goth style, and Damian (Daniel Franzese), Janis’s gay friend.

About the same time, the reigning power group of the school, the “Plastics,” surprisingly take an interest in Cady. Janis and Damian ask Cady to make friends with them and then come and tell them all the gossip. Cady agrees. She then finds herself rising in power among the Plastics. Cady begins to like the attention and the power of her newfound position. She begins to forget her original friends. Cady finds that by being light on the truth and even occasionally lying she can rise even higher in her ranking over others.

Cady cruelly tells the leader of the Plastics, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), that she lose a few pounds by eating Swedish power bars that are designed to put weigh on athletes. Many cruel jokes revolve around Regina gaining weight and losing prestige among her peers.

Regina eventually gets back by publicly releasing to the students of the high school all the cruel and sometimes untruthful statements that the Plastics have made about students and faculty.

Particularly poignant is Cady’s refusal to own up to the fact that she lied in saying her math teacher, Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey), was selling drugs.

In the end, Mean Girls becomes a morality play as we see the damage that hurtful speech can cause others.

Lindsay Lohan plays Cady with an original innocence that turns to a plastic sophistication. She is a fine young actress.

Tina Fey is excellent as the math teacher with a wounded wisdom. The supporting actors, some from Saturday Night Live, bring humor throughout.

Mean Girls is an especially enjoyable film for high school age girls and their mothers. The comparison between high schoolers and African pack animals is intriguingly presented by director Mark Waters.

Mean Girls is rated PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned – by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is mild language, high school misbehavior, and partying.

The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rates Mean Girls 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 frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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