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: Sci-fi and fantasy stand out at the box office

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 17, 2002 edition of the Inland Register

A few weeks back on Charlie Rose Tom Cruise told the story of how one night he watched a showing of Alejandro Amenabar’s film Abre Los Ojos. He was so excited about this Spanish story that he called Cameron Crowe to come right over at 1 a.m. to watch the film with him. After showing director Crowe the film, Cruise asked him to film the story in English with himself as the central character. So began a journey that has resulted in the new film Vanilla Sky.

Vanilla Sky is made up of several genres. In the beginning the film plays like a realistic drama. Then it becomes a Hitchcockian thriller. The last third moves big-time into science fiction. It is in the science fiction part that may appeal to many that I got lost. If this is a film about redemption, I sure missed the redemption of the Tom Cruise character. With all the dream sequences that are hard to sort out, haven’t we come dangerously close to the “Dallas Syndrome,” where you throw up your arms in frustration and feel terribly cheated?

David Aames (Tom Cruise), as the head of a magazine company, is master of his world. His apartment in the Dakota complex in New York is much larger than most stand-alone homes. He can have any woman he wants. His most recent conquest is Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz). With money, power, and sexual playmates, the tough problem he faces at age 33 is the one grey hair he finds in his scalp.

Julie Gianni does not want to be treated as disposable sexual object, so she goes to David’s 33rd birthday party uninvited. There she see him fall for the beautiful Spanish dancer Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). David spends the night rather innocently with Sofia. He describes her as “the last guileless woman in New York.”

Leaving Sofia’s small apartment he finds Julie waiting for him. She offers to drive him wherever he is going. Somewhat dumbfounded by what looks like Julie’s obsessive-compulsive behavior he gets into her car. As she drives towards Central Park Julie begins a dialogue with David in which she dramatically melts down in front of him, all the while increasing her erratic driving as she pushes the accelerator to increase the speed of the car. David begins to try to take control of the car as they careen off a bridge into a wall on the edge of Central Park.

Later, as David is interviewed by a psychiatrist (Kurt Russell) in a nondescript prison, we learn that Julie has died and facially-injured David is being held as a possible murderer.

The rest of the movie gets into an Elephant Man thriller that crosses heavily into science fiction. At a given point I don’t know what happened. An opening dream sequence of New York City with David running alone through a deserted Times Square is a masterpiece. Cameron Crowe, as one might imagine from the director of Almost Famous, uses contemporary music in an effective way throughout the film. He is to be thanked for not removing scenes of the Twin Towers from the New York skyline.

The best acting, hands down, is by Cameron Diaz. Penelope Cruz is beautifully convincing as the guileless dancer, but she still has trouble with some of her English lines. Tom Cruise is to be congratulated for trying something that stretches his skills.

If you like science fiction there is a good chance you would like Vanilla Sky. If science fiction is not your bag avoid Vanilla Sky at all costs. You don’t even want to wait for it on video. Be warned.

Vanilla Sky is rated R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). There are sexual situations, strong language and some violence. The U.S. Catholic Bishops classification is A-III — for adults.

*****
On a snowy winter afternoon in late December with an appreciative audience of movie-goers at Cheney’s Twenty-four Frames Cinema I saw The Lord of the Rings — The Fellowship of the Ring.

I am one of those persons who 40 years ago resolved never to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring trilogy. I remember listening for what seemed like endless hours as devotees of the story talked with rhapsodical fervor about every character and plot of the books.

In spite of my obvious bias against the trilogy I can honestly report that I thoroughly enjoyed the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book of the trilogy. It is magnificent movie making at its best. The beauty of New Zealand, added to the special effects, takes you to the great Tolkien quest whether you really want to go there or not.

Director Peter Jackson has done yeoman’s work in bringing alive an enchanting and sometimes dark world that does tell us something about what it means to be a human being.

The movie starts slowly, giving lots of voiced-over history of Middle Earth. When the quest begins to take the ring back to its place of origin the film really gets interesting.

To be honest I don’t think you have to know the names of the characters. It is pretty obvious who the good guys and the bad guys are. The powerful point of the story is that the good guys can always be tempted to want the dangerous power of the ring.

Frodo (Elijah Wood), who carries the ring of overwhelming powers, is injured fairly early in the film. We are told that the wound will remain all of his life. Even the seemingly most heroic character in the story exhibits the wound of the human condition.

Frodo, a hobbit, receives the iconic ring from his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm). This places Frodo at the center of an intense struggle for the future of the world. A wizard named Gandalf (Ian McKellen) appears on the scene to help Frodo and three hobbit friends take the ring, which possesses almost unimaginable power, to the Pits of Mordor. The plan is to throw the ring into the fire from whence it originally came and save the world.

The journey to the Pits of Mordor is one cliff-hanger after another. In fact, the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) reminds me of Ming the Merciless of the old Flash Gordon serial films — a mainstay of early television.

The Fellowship of the Ring is basically a buddy picture. However, the two woman do stand out. Cate Blanchett is ethereally beautiful at the glorious Elf queen, Galadriel. Liv Tyler as Arwen has a brief but important role in saving Frodo at a particularly dangerous time.

Throughout the story, Frodo sees the importance of a community acting together to reach the goal of the quest. But he also takes personal responsibility in a way that shows the importance of the free choice of any individual.

Tolkien’s use of the Christian symbols of altar and baptism are merged with northern European myths. Yes, I now understand why readers and viewers of the story like to talk about the layered meanings of the Ring myth.

If you like a beautiful and expansive film tied to a constantly moving story, don’t let the three-hour running time of The Fellowship of the Ring keep you away. Fellowship shows how powerful cinema can be.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is rated PG-13 for violence and menacing creatures. Definitely not for younger children. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gives it an A-III classification — for adults.

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


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