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Bend It Like Beckham

'Bend It Like Beckham' is this year's 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' It's about a girl growing up in a very ethnic family, and how she struggles to honor her roots and yet find some independence. She's not perfect, but she's likable because she's so passionate. And she tries so hard. And while she cannot bend the world to her point of view, she can at least decide what to embrace and what to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3), and in the process discover something of who she is.

There are several refreshing elements to this film for the American moviegoer. First, it does not adhere to some of the silly Hollywood rules about what is glamorous. The lead character, 'Jess' Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), is neither tall nor skinny nor blonde nor blue-eyed; though her friend, Jules Paxton (Keira Knightly), is all those things. What the two girls have in common is a gift for soccer. Jess has just been playing 'football' with (guy) friends in the public park near her house. Jules is playing on a women's team. When she spots Jess' skill, she invites Jess to be on the women's team, as well. The coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), is skeptical until he sees Jess play. And then he is ecstatic. And so is she, because she didn't realize how good she was until now.

Gods and Generals

Actually, it seems more like 'God and Generals' because there is a whole lot of Scripture quoting, praying, conversing about the mysterious will of the Almighty in a reverential tone and, on deathbeds, the literal assurance of Heaven. It's not often a Hollywood movie is so very religious. But it is also very violent.

'Gods and Generals' is the adaptation of Jeff Shaara's Civil War historical novel about the early part of the war, when the Confederates were consistently victorious. Lee and Jackson looked invincible, while the Union suffered with a series of hesitant commanders who were either intimidated, afraid to make a mistake, paralyzed into inactivity, or all three.

The Invisible Child: On Reading and Writing Books for Children

By Katherine Paterson
Dutton. 2001. 266 pp. $24.99. ISBN 0-525-46482-4

— Review by Freda Gardner, Princeton, N.J.

The subtitle could be: What Makes Katherine Tick? What are the thoughts, experiences, loves, concerns that make this author so prolific, so admired around the world; so ready to speak to and with children and to care about them with a passion that marks the decades of her life? Who are the people that called forth that passion and keep it burning today? And what of God, who continues to call Katherine Paterson to many ministries, to the use of the gifts that are hers?

Head of State and The Good Thief

Both movies rely heavily on the star power of the leading male, but make sure to feature a young, attractive woman. Both expect the viewers to accept an unlikely plot line long enough to be charmed by the skill and ingenuity of the main character. Both develop the main character as someone not ordinarily thought to be important, but who enjoys tremendous success, and we root for them both because they represent the 'anti-hero,' the one who plays against type.

In 'Head Of State,' Chris Rock plays a lowly town alderman, Mays Gilliam, who is caught on the national news doing a dramatic rescue, just because he happened to be nearby at the time. This catches the attention of the Democratic Party's kingmakers, who have a problem. Their presidential candidate and his running mate have died in a plane crash. They need to find a sacrificial lamb quickly, because the opposition is the well-known Republican who has been the vice president for eight years. Nobody wants to run against him. And so they choose Gilliam, the unknown, the 'man of the people,' and try to garner some goodwill for the next election.

Jesus of Nazareth

By Dorothee Soëlle and Luise Schottroff
WJKP. 2002. 160 pp. Pb. $14.95. 0-664-22500-4

— Review by Gary Collins, Newport Beach, Calif.

Jesus of Nazareth by German theologians Dorothee Soëlle and Luise Schottroff provides a fine introduction to the feminist/liberationist view of Jesus, as well as fresh insights for those who have already had that introduction. Twenty-four gritty poems — nine from Soëlle — are spread through the text to inject into the scholarly narrative the authors' deep concern for the Earth's overlooked and exploited ones.

The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need

By Peter Gomes
Harper. 2002. 388 pp. Pb. $23.95. ISBN 0-06-000075-9

— Review by Lewis F. Galloway, Columbia, S.C.

The Good Life by Peter Gomes is a fresh presentation of the challenge to live a good life by practicing virtue. His book will give rise to much discussion about the crisis of purpose in North American higher education, the meaning of virtue and the nature of the good life.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Chuck Barris' life has been so bizarre that when they made a movie of it, you still can't tell what's real, what's fantasy, what's fiction, and what's such a whopper of a tale that it could very well be the truth.

Abraham: A Journey into the Heart of Three Faiths

By Bruce Feiler
William Morrow. 2002. 224 pp. $23.95. ISBN 0380977761

— Review by James H. Gailey, Brevard, N.C.

Bruce Feiler's Abraham is not an attempt to solve the political problems of the Near East. Instead it is the personal journey of a sensitive Jew seeking understanding of the spiritual ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Feiler has literally walked over significant sites in the Holy Land, and he realized that no physical traces of Abraham could be found.

Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love

Marvin M. Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith, eds.
Pilgrim. 2003. 393 pp. Pb. $21.

Review by Isabel Rogers, Richmond, Va.

"Despite decades of debate, conflict over human sexuality continues to persist unabated in the church." So begins the last chapter in a book that has grown out of that long debate, Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice/Love.

When Religion Becomes Evil

By Charles Kimball
HarperSanFrancisco. 2002. 256 pp. Pb. $21.95. ISBN 0-06-050653-9

— Review by Gerald A. Butler, Eureka, Ill.

Religion can nurture and lead people closer to God. It can also destroy body and soul. Charles Kimball deals with that paradox in this book, which is timely, informative and easy to read.