Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



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:
‘Stepford’ a ‘$90 million trifle,’ but new, darker Potter ‘stands out’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 1, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

The Stepford Wives is a remake of the 1975 film of the same name, in turn based on the dark novel of Ira Levin. The early buzz on the film was that there was lots of conflict on the set during its making. The film, directed by Frank Oz, is definitely not a complete disaster. It is a modest summer film with several belly laughs. The question is, why would anyone spend $90 million dollars on a remake that in the end is a trifle?

The Stepford Wives starts with a montage of beautifully dressed women in the 1950s showing major appliances, as was done live by Betty Furness on CBS television’s Studio One, for then-powerful appliance maker Westinghouse. From the beginning we know the film is some kind of satire about women being perfect homemakers.

Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is the head of a major television network called EBS which specializes in “reality” television. One participant goes ballistic and endangers many people. As a result, Joanna loses her very powerful position. Her nerd-tike husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) quits his less-important position at the company. Walter helps nurse Joanna back from a mental breakdown. They both decide to move with their two children to a idyllic suburb in Connecticut.

As they enter the gated community of Stepford, everything seems too good to be true. Real estate agent Claire Wellington (Glenn Close) welcomes them to their new home with a plastic smile and a cheerleader style that is obnoxious.

Walter is invited to the Men’s Association, where Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken) acts as dynamic chairmen to a very happy group of dweebs who all have extraordinarily beautiful wives. The wives, always dressed in cheery, flowery colors, seem ready at every beckon and command of the men.

Soon Joanna makes a friend who seems different from the rest, Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), whose home is a total mess. She is a writer with an in-your-face style that very unusual in Stepford.

But eventually, after a meeting at the Men’s Association, Bobbie becomes the super-homemaker of Stepford. By this time Joanna if really worried something rather diabolical is going on in this perfect New England town. She panics and seeks to take the children back to Manhattan, whether her husband wants to come or not.

This leads to a conclusion it would be very unfair to reveal. Just let’s say that it is really hard to know who the “bad guys” are in this until the very end. The ending is filled with jokes against companies like Microsoft, Apple and Disney. I didn’t hear mention of Viacom, the vast media conglomerate which owns Paramount Pictures which, in turn, is releasing The Stepford Wives.

If you like the actors or enjoy a dark comedy that is not too biting, you will enjoy The Stepford Wives. The standout actress is Bette Midler. Nicole Kidman is certainly a woman of many faces. The hero who brings freedom for the women robots in the end is a pleasant surprise.

This film doesn’t have the violence of A Clockwork Orange but it is certainly in that tradition: the importance of free will against mind control and perfect robot efficiency.

The Stepford Wives is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. It has some sexual references and strong language. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Stepford Wives A-II – adults and adolescents.

*****

Harry Potter is back. The new Warner Bros. production Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the most intriguing and satisfying of the three Potter films so far.

The Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron has taken over from Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films. Cuaron’s style is more darkly colored.

The vast majority of the audience at an early show one Friday at the AMC theater in Spokane were well familiar with the Potter stories. As an outsider who has not read them, I’m sometimes not sure of all the meanings in the new language of the Potter adventures. But if you give yourself some time patiently watching, you begin to make sense of words and themes that enable you to follow the film with enjoyment.

As is tradition, the film opens with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) living with a Muggle family, the Dursleys. A visiting aunt is treated rather cruelly by Harry as he pulls a magic trick on her that turns her into a giant balloon that flows high into the sky.

Harry immediately leaves on a magical three-decker London bus. He eventually meets many of his old buddies and gets on the steam train at Kings’ Cross for magic school at Hogwarts.

On his way back to school Harry finds out that a criminal who has escaped from Azkaban prison is Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). Black is believed to have conspired in the death of Harry’s parents.

Back at school Harry begins taking classes with his buddies Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Everyone seems to have grown a foot or so since the last film.

New teachers at Hogwarts include Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) for Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Professor of Divination Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson).

Lupin appears to like Harry and seeks to teach him new magic tricks to protect him from the impeding danger of the escaped Sirus Black. Trelawney, with her very thick glasses and expressive tea leaves, is a unique teacher of divination.

With the death of the charismatic actor Richard Harris, Harry’s famous mentor, Professor Dumbledore, is now played fairly seamlessly by Michael Gambon.

The plot gets moving when the giant, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), now promoted from grounds-keeper to a teaching position, introduces his students to a Hippogriff, a cross between a giant bird and a horse. The soaring ride of Harry on the big bird is a cinematic success.

The plot then gets very complicated and it is fairly hard for the uninitiated to know who the good guys and the bad guys are. A “going-back-in-time” section toward the end ties up the loose ends. There are lots of scenes in darkened forests with a magic tree or two. The crew of Harry, Ron, and Hermione are often gathered behind trees or boulders watching events take place, as was common in early silent films and the Flash Gordon serials.

The teen actors do a good job playing the Hogwarts’ students. David Thewlis is excellent as a sympathetic teacher with a dark side. The special effects continue to be impressive. The director Cuaron puts his unique stamp on the third film of the series.

The scenes filmed in the Highlands of Scotland are particularly beautiful. The theme of human woundedness with a possibility for redemption stands out.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is well worth seeing.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban PG, for some scary scenes. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting classification is A-II – adults and adolescents.

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


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