Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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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: Movie time: ‘Matrix Reloaded,’ ‘Diary of a City Priest’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the June 12, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

On June 24 Heartland Film Festival’s distribution arm, Truly Moving Pictures, is releasing to video stores and individuals Eugene Martin’s new film, Diary of a City Priest. The film was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival.

David Morse, fondly remembered from television’s St. Elsewhere and presently on CBS’s Hack, gives a very good performance as Father John McNamee, pastor of Philadelphia’s inner city parish, St. Malachy.

The film opens in April of 1992 as Father McNamee begins to write a diary of his daily life in a very busy, financially struggling parish of North Philadelphia. He reflects on becoming a priest 24 years ago. He has a sense of loneliness and the not unusual reality of looking back on life and wondering if his choices were really worthwhile.

The film then follows Father John’s day, from sharing food with those in need at the rectory door to trying to get a high school senior into the college he seeks. Sometimes the priest is overwhelmed by everything, from trying to help fix an old boiler to being scheduled in three places at once. We see him at times exhibit a very real tiredness, controlled anger, and aloneness.

In order to portray his inner thoughts, Diary of a City Priest uses the almost surreal technique of having Sts. Malachy, Therese, and Francis talk to Father John about his life. Personally I found this segment of the film the weakest, as it clashed so strongly with the naturalistic realism of the main body of the film.

Diary of a City Priest is a labor of love by writer-director Eugene Martin. He gives strong credit at the end of the film to the great French filmmaker Robert Bresson, who has greatly influenced his work. There is no doubt that Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest is considered by many to be a classic film.

I sadly report that Martin’s City Priest is not in the same class. It has some vignettes that do seem to speak to the soul of Father McNamee. But the script is a real problem. We never really get to know the minor characters. They seem to just be quick symbols of busy parish life. We also find ourselves jumping all over the place, sometimes confused as to what is really happening.

Sure, I readily admit telling the story of a good person is much harder than telling the story of a person committing evil actions. But the diary approach with short sections of the priest’s life breaks up what story there is. In the end the voice-over of Father McNamee tells us that we need to live more generously and patiently. True words, but this 88-minute film only begins to whet our interest.

Diary of a City Priest, for all of its weaknesses, would still be helpful for junior high and older religious education students. It also could be a good discussion catalyst for a parish film group. The DVD is $24.99 and the video $39.99. A local video store may well be willing to get a copy for rental use. The address for the video is Heartland Film Festival Video, 200 South Meridian Street, Suite 220, Indianapolis, Ind., 46225.

I find no rating on the film at this time. It would seem to be rated PG. There is a discussion of ethical choices in an imperfect world.


A couple of months ago a high school student who said he watched the film The Matrix once a week gave me a DVD of the film so I would have some competence in reviewing the second installment of the Matrix trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded.

I admit to being somewhat of an outsider to the popular Matrix phenomenon. Living in Cheney, I am well aware that there is a local connection to the film and its predecessor through the XN Technologies firm. It is my understanding that equipment from XN is used in the production of the films.

The Matrix Reloaded continues the saga of three human beings from Zion, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, fondly remembered from Memento), Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), and Neo (Keanu Reeves). They are up against a computer world of virtual reality that has taken over the world. Their task is to prevent the destruction of the last human enclave, Zion.

The film is filled with exciting special effects almost on every frame. Occasionally there are periods of five or 10 minutes when main characters get a chance to act and to philosophize. My favorite scene is the beautiful one on a park bench where Neo talks with the Oracle (Gloria Foster) and receives the message to find the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kirn). Ms. Foster plays her important role with a mesmerizing force. She gets your total attention. Sadly, Foster died after filming her important sequence. She will not be in the third film of The Matrix. She left a powerful legacy.

The Matrix is famous for its incredible bouts of kick-boxing athleticism. In Reloaded Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) even multiplies to a hundred Agent Smiths. Neo is able to put on an extraordinary defense against such overwhelming odds.

Warner Bros. built a mile-and-a-half freeway on a closed military base to film the most exciting of all car chases. Cadillac obviously paid big bucks by providing most of the SUVs and cars for the incredible and intricate film sequence.

Toward the end of the film, when we get into the philosophic discussion on the difference between cause and effect and free will, the movie seems to drag. The final discussion between Neo and the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) seems a bit tedious. But I have a feeling that to devotees these sections are the secrets to a film where you never know what reality is.

The Matrix Reloaded is directed by the Wachowski Brothers, who have given us a film that raises questions about daily life and how controlled we are. To that they add lots of symbols and names that can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. The small surprises in the film that caught my eye included the fine actor from HBO’s Oz, Harold Perrineau as Link, the one who holds things together up on spaceship Nebuchadnezzar. Also the famous African-American philosopher-teacher Cornel West appears as a member of the Zion Council. Evidently West and Brothers Wachowski are good friends.

As a person who has been very slow to adapt to the world of computers and was one of the last persons to give up a rotary phone, I should be quite a fan of The Matrix Reloaded. It is powerful movie making. I saw it once. I am satisfied. I admit to seeing the more contemporary small film Bend It Like Beckham three times. There is a film that spoke to me. But to millions of people The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded speak volumes.

The Matrix Reloaded is rated R for violence that runs throughout the film and some suggestive sexuality. The Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Matrix Reloaded A-4 – for adults, with reservations.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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