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:
‘National Treasure’: less than stellar, thoroughly enjoyable

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 16, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

The new film National Treasure has been heavily panned by national critics. Its script is a hodgepodge of rumors and legends of the Knights Templar and Freemasons that sounds like it is straight from The Da Vinci Code. The acting in the film is less than stellar and the direction is pretty ordinary.

But I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It is mindless entertainment that recalls the old Saturday serials of 50-plus years ago.

National Treasure begins in 1974 with a young teen Benjamin Franklin Gates (Hunter Gomez) listening to an exciting story about a signer of the Declaration of Independence passing on a secret of the Freemasons about the Knights Templar. Somehow through the Masons a gigantic treasure from the Egyptian pyramids was brought to America. The treasure remains hidden somewhere in America to this day.

Ben’s father, Patrick (Jon Voight), tells his son not to believe in the story that so many of his family have put their trust in through two centuries.

Thirty years later a grown Ben (Nicolas Cage) is in the Arctic searching for an old ship that he believes will lead to the treasure. The clue found on the ship that only seems to be a few feet under the snow leads to a code on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Ben’s benefactor, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), wants Ben to steal the hallowed document with him so they can find the treasure. When Ben refuses to be a part of the evil plan, Ian leaves Ben and his nerdy sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha) to die in an explosion in the Arctic.

But true to old serials, Ben and Riley survive to tell their story to investigators at the FBI – who don’t believe them. They then go to the National Archives to meet with Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and try to convince her that the Declaration is in danger. She also thinks they are a bit daft and sends them on their way.

At this point, Ben decides to save the Declaration. Now he and Riley will steal it in order to save it. The reason the treasure hunters want the Declaration is that there is a secret code written on the back of it when you apply lemon and a little heat.

It is really pretty flaky how Ben, with Riley’s help, gets into the secret restoration room of the Archives while Ian and his crew come in through underground tunnels. The point is we have two sets of people trying to grab and control the Declaration.

Eventually Dr. Chase sides with Ben and Riley as they chase up and down the historic East coast from Washington to Philadelphia to New York City.

Throughout the film there are lots of Masonic symbols and three circled images. Where is Da Vinci’s Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon when we need him?

Sure, National Treasure is a lot of blarney – to the ninth degree. Note how all the centuries’ old oil lights in one of the treasure areas burn brightly with just one match. But if you suspend belief almost completely and imagine anything is possible, National Treasure becomes a ball of fire. For this former high school American history teacher, National Treasure is a guilty pleasure.

National Treasure is rated PG – parental guidance suggested – by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is action violence and some scary images. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates National Treasure A-II, for adults and adolescents.

*****

Alexander Payne, who directed About Schmidt so wonderfully two years ago, now presents the extraordinary film Sideways.

Sideways is the story of four human beings who have goals but continually find themselves moving sideways as they attempt to reach those goals. And in a movie so thoroughly revolving around the glories of wine we remember that wine bottles, properly placed in storage, are always on their sides.

If you don’t go to movies very often and want a thought-provoking film that stays with you and resonates with a less-than-perfect life as you know it, Sideways is the December film for you.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a junior-high English teacher in San Diego who for years has told his college roommate Jack (Thomas Haden Church) that he wanted to take his friend on a tour of the wine country in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. Since Jack is scheduled to be married in 10 days or so, the two old buddies head up the coast for a week playing golf and visiting lots of small wineries.

Miles is very knowledgeable about grapes and wines. He is more than a bit of a wine snob. Jack is an ordinary guy in reference to wine. He finds all the wines he tastes very drinkable. But Jack, always a womanizer, even though he is to be soon married, seeks to find some sexual excitement on the trip. For Miles, this idea makes no sense.

Miles has been through a divorce in the last couple of years and hopes the long novel he has just finished will be finally picked up by a publisher. Jack was once a series television actor but now in his 40s is confined to voice-overs on commercials.

At the Hitching Post the first night the guys meet Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress that Miles has met from previous visits to the wine country. The next day at a small winery they meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh) upon whom Jack immediately puts the moves.

The women turn out to be good friends and a double date is arranged. The meal they have together in a nearby restaurant is dominated by the four or five bottles of vintage wines they consume. Thus begins the lusty affair of Jack and Stephanie.

She has no knowledge of Jack’s impending marriage. But shy Miles is very slow to take a risk in his growing relationship with Maya.

The film centers on the humor of the way the different characters look at reality and the situations in which they find themselves. But Sideways also takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride of the damage one’s actions can do to others and the sadness of unfulfilled dreams no matter how hard one tries to make them come true.

But always there is hope.

The ensemble cast is as good as it gets. All four actors should be up for Academy Award nominations.

Paul Giamatti plays Everyman with an unsentimental poignancy. Thomas Haden Church, who once was a co-star of TV’s Wings, is perfect as the 40-year-old charmer who has never grown up. No matter what, you can’t help liking him. Virginia Madsen, in her mid-40s, is luminous as a waitress getting her degree in wine studies. She is fantastic. Sandra Oh, who just happens to be the director’s wife in the real world, is perfect as the single mother who would like Jack to be the nice available guy that he pretends to be.

Director Payne and his colleague, Jim Taylor, wonderfully adapted the script from the novel by Rex Pickett. Alexander Payne’s direction is superb.

Sideways is a movie I want to see again. For adults who want a thought-provoking yet entertaining movie, do not miss Sideways.

Sideways is rated R, for language, strong sexual content, and nudity, by the Motion Picture Association of America. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Sideways L – limited adult audience.

(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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