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 strong recommendations: ‘The Dish,’ ‘Two Family House’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

In theaters

At a recent workshop I participated in this summer, the final meal developed into citizens of each country present singing their own national anthem. The two Australians present, who we all knew were very fine singers, had a very tough time singing the official national anthem of Australia.

In the wonderful Australian movie The Dish the local high school band in Parkes, New South Wales, Australia plays a surprising United States “national anthem” when the United States’ Ambassador visits their off-the-beaten-track town. The occasion is the July 20 moon walk of Neil Armstrong in 1969. Parkes, Australia is one of only two radio-telescopes that may be the transmitter of the television pictures from the moon.

The delightful film The Dish is one of those rare realities — a family film that can appeal to all ages. Even the PG rating seems too strong. Maybe there are some coarse Australian words that will pass most Americans by.

In August The Dish played to appreciative audiences for several weeks at the Newport Theaters north of Spokane. U.S.A. Today recently reported that the film is now out on video.

Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill) is the 52-year-old head of the radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. With two Australian technicians and NASA representative Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton), there is some clash of cultures as the two sides seek to work together.

Their task is to make sure that their telescope is ready if needed to bring the television pictures of the 1969 moon walk to over 600 million viewers around the world. Well, as you might imagine, things do go wrong, including a loss of power at a very crucial time and a major wind storm that threatens to push the telescope beyond the force it is known to withstand.

Parkes is filled with colorful characters excited about their possible moment of fame. Mayor McIntyre (Roy Billing) is particularly proud because he fought long and hard to make sure that the radio-telescope was built in his town in the middle of a sheep ranch. He and his wife Maisie (Genevieve Mody) find themselves hosting the U.S. Ambassador and the Australian Prime Minister as people around the world gather at their television sets to see a moment of history.

There are lots of small-town characters in this story who some might argue are playing their parts way over-the-top. But if you go with the flow you will be laughing out loud many a time.

Sam Neill shows himself to be one of the great Australian actors of our time as he plays, in a low-key way, the telescope director who finds himself a part of history. Patrick Warburton, who is known in this country for his appearances on Seinfeld, plays his NASA administrator role with all-about-business seriousness. But after some hilarious conflicts with the Australian technicians he develops lots of understanding.

Sure, this is a small, quirky film. But it is also a film that recalls a momentous occasion for those alive in July of 1969. And yet as a story with lots of lively characters of all ages, The Dish can appeal to those not yet born when Armstrong first walked on the moon.

The film is rated PG for language. There may be one or two coarse words in the film, but it is hard to catch them. If this isn’t a family film, I don’t know what is.

*****

On video

Every now and then someone asks if I would review something I really like that is out on video. Well, nine months ago or so I with two or three other people attended a showing of Raymond De Felitta’s Two Family House. The film was in the Spokane area with no advertising for two weeks. I would guess it played to very small audiences.

I have a bias for fine acting and an interesting story that has overtones of our daily lives. So I can honestly say that Two Family House is the best film I’ve seen in the last six months.

The reason the movie appeals to me so strongly is because of a poignant story about an Italian couple living in Staten Island, New York in the mid-1950s. The family and their friends struggle with love, racism, community, and freedom to dream.

Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli) when he was in the service sang in a show where the TV entertainer Arthur Godfrey was present. Godfrey invited him to come for an audition at a later time. Buddy’s all-business fiancee, Estelle (Katherine Narducci) demands he set aside his silly dreams if he wants to marry her. He marries Estelle and always wonders if he might have been discovered and become as famous as the singer Julius LaRosa.

For 10 years the Visalos live with Estelle’s folks. Buddy tries a number of small business efforts, from pizza delivery to house painting. All his efforts fail. Finally he buys an old home where he hopes to live with Estelle in the upstairs apartment and make the main floor into a bar where he will be able to entertain customers with his singing.

An early complication is that the Irish couple who live upstairs will not move. A Mr. O’Neary (Kevin Conway) is drunk most of the time and has many an unkind word about Italians. His wife Mary (Kelly MacDonald) is very pregnant. As Buddy tries to force them out, Mary has her baby in the apartment with Estelle’s help. Mr. O’Neary leaves Mary when he discovers the child has African-American heritage. In the end, without Estelle’s knowledge, Buddy gets a small apartment for Mary and the baby to stay in until her sister is able to help them. These events set up a situation that makes for a fascinating plot where the viewer is not sure what will happen next.

Two Family House is a wonderful piece of ensemble work. The acting is extraordinary. Michael Rispoli plays Buddy with a sweet innocence that struggles with the prejudice against Mary and her child. Katherine Narducci may “drive you up the wall”, the way she treats Buddy. But she powerfully plays a woman trying to live within a rigid society. She is not a stereotypical antagonist. She comes across as wounded human being just like all the other characters.

Kelly MacDonald is stunning as Mary. She is a beauty with a hard side. By the end of the film you well understand why characters make the choices they make. Kevin Conway is brilliant as the Irish drunk.

There is a large cast of friends and neighbors who make this film a small-movie masterpiece.

Tired of special-effects spectaculars? Want a movie that asks tough questions about life? Head immediately to your favorite video store and rent Two Family House.

Two Family House is rated R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian). The film has some strong language and sexual situations.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)


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