Category Archives: Archived Movies

THIRD MIRACLE, THE






Films that take religious issues seriously are so rare that one
has to be tolerant even of those that are deeply flawed. It’s
easy, on the one hand, to dismiss a travesty like “Stigmata”
for the trash that it is. On the other, one can’t be blinded
the obvious sincerity of “The Third Miracle” into ignoring the
fact that it has some serious problems, too.

The plot is concerned with an investigation by the Catholic
Church of the possible sanctity of a recently-deceased Chicago
housekeeper; the probe is carried out by a priest (Ed Harris)
on behalf of the local diocese, and his positive finding is in
time challenged by a Vatican archbishop who takes the role of
“devil’s advocate” opposing the proposed canonization.

This central element of “The Third Miracle” is handled very
well. The treatment of the parish where the marvels attributed
to the candidate are occurring is nicely shaded, with the
pastor and the believers portrayed without the crude
exaggeration one often finds in such circumstances. The
seriousness of the process, moreover, is expertly caught.

But once all that is said, the fact remains that what might
have been a powerfully moving film has unfortunately been
compromised by recourse to some very obvious and unconvincing
dramaturgy. First, the investigating priest, or postulator in
the ecclesiastical lexicon, is saddled with a seemingly
inevitable “crisis of faith” which leads him into a romantic
entanglement with the agnostic daughter of the candidate for
canonization. This is frankly a lazy and rather offensive
device to insert some conflict into the larger story, and it’s
completely unnecessary, too. Happily the performance of Ed
Harris, as the troubled priest, is so elementally strong that
it allows the picture to get past this difficulty less maimed
than one might have expected. As the daughter, on the other
hand, Anne Heche is barely tolerable, overemoting dreadfully;
but then, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have dealt
successfully with so thinly-constructed a characer.

A second major flaw lies in the figure of the Vatican bishop
sent to dispute the postulator’s finding. He’s written as so
smug and officious–you can tell he’s a worldly, false-hearted
prelate, it seems, from the fact that he likes good food and
listens to classical music–that he becomes a caricature of
churchly imperfection. And he’s played by Armin Mueller-Stahl
with such venomous snideness that you’d think he was
auditioning for the role of Snake in the Garden of Eden.

There are other difficulties, too, mostly arising from the
very literary quality of the material, which probably worked
better on the page than it does on the screen (the final
revelation involving a flashback to World War II Europe, for
instance, makes sense, but can’t help seeming artificial in
cinematic terms, though in a novel it might work perfectly
well). But on the whole director Agnieszka Holland has
managed to play to the script’s strengths while concealing its
weaknesses as much as possible. Holland has had a varied
career, with works ranging from the superb “Europa Europa” and
“The Secret Garden” to the unjustly neglected 1997 version of
“Washington Square” to the abominable “Total Eclipse.” Here
she’s managed to create a film which, while imperfect, at least
tries to deal with important themes in an honest and symathetic
way.

“The Third Miracle” has its faults, therefore, but its basic
integrity of vision makes it one of the few pictures on a
religious theme that one can take seriously. It neither offers
easy answers nor cops out at the end, and so becomes a rare
thing, an admirable if flawed cinematic attempt to consider
the possibility of divine intervention in human affairs.

SNOW DAY






Though not as awful as it might have been, this Nickelodeon
Movies production is a slight, formulaic comedy of the sort
that one might expect to find on the kiddie cable channel.
It’s a junior-league John Hughes movie about the events that
befall the members of a Syracuse, New York family on the day
of a near-miraculous surprise blizzard which closes down
schools and businesses. Daughter Natalie (Zena Grey) and her
buddies Wayne (Josh Peck) and Chet (Jade Yorker) foil the
efforts of oddball snowplower Chris Elliott to sweep the
streets clean to allow school to reopen the next day; dad Tom
(Chevy Chase), an older-style TV weatherman, one-ups his hated
rival, slick Chad Symoonz (John Scheider); workaholic mom
Laura (Jean Smart), forced to remain at home, bonds with her
youngest child (Connor Matgeus); and older bro Hal (Mark
Webber), smitten with highschool beauty Claire (Emmanuelle
Chriqui), is threatened by her bullying ex-boyfriend (David
Paetkau), only to learn, in a truly Hughesian lesson, that his
real soulmate is his long-time pal, tomboyish Lane (Schuyler
Fisk).

There are occasional bright moments in the episodic script, but
they’re few and far between, and entirely too many flatulence
bits and clumsy slapstick are present for the picture to have
much appeal to anyone beyond the age of twelve or thirteen. It
has to be said, however, that the adolescent members of the
cast are generally winning and personable, and Chase and
Elliott don’t seem overly embarrassed at the indignities their
roles force upon them.

Natalie’s refrain throughout the movie is that “Anything can
happen on a snow day.” The unhappy truth, however, is that the
occurrences during this one prove just too pat and predictable
to afford any surprise or much amusement.