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:
‘Spanglish,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ among movie offerings

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 13, 005 edition of the Inland Register)

I haven’t laughed as much all year at a movie as I did while viewing director James L. Brooks’s new bittersweet comedy Spanglish. The film is a critique of modern life from the viewpoint of an immigrant mother wanting the best for her daughter. Brooks gives us a wonderful relational comedy where a family can be falling apart and yet each wounded family member finally has the potential to help another.

The word Spanglish refers to the blending of the Mexican and Anglo culture and language along the U.S.-Mexican border. The film begins with the voice-over of the daughter of a Mexican immigrant telling her story through an essay to an admission placement person at Princeton University.

Flor (Pax Vega) moves to L.A. with her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) to begin a new life after Cristina’s Dad leaves them. For six years Flor works two jobs in the Hispanic quarter of L.A. in order to support herself and her daughter. Eventually she decides to work in the Anglo community so she will make more than $500 a month.

With the help of her sister, who speaks English, Flor goes to the upscale home of John (Adam Sandier) and Deb Clasky (Tea Leoni) to interview for a position as a housekeeper. From that first contact with Deb and her family the humor really starts rolling.

With the help of Evelyn (Cloris Leachman), Deb’s mother who once was a jazz singer, Flor lands the job. She grows to appreciate the children, a shy Georgie (Ian Hyland) and especially the likable Bernie (Sarah Steele), a high school student on the heavyset-side.

John Clasky is a well-known L.A. chef who in the course of the film is declared by the New York Times restaurant critics as the best chef in the United States. John is wary of the fame for the pressure it puts on himself and his colleagues. He loves his wife but is often put off by her self-absorption.

With new fame Deb rents a beautiful beach home in Malibu for the summer and begs Flor and Cristina to live with them. The result is a mixed language and cultural community that forms for lots of laughs and even some tears.

Adam Sandier is wonderful as the kind and understanding husband and father who finds his own creativity and meaning through cooking for others. Tea Leoni is first-rate as the character who seems over-the-top many a time but captures the essence of being a daughter who wants to finally be free of her own mother. Her self-centeredness makes for much of Brooks’s criticism of the “you can have it all now” culture in which we live.

Cloris Leachman is fantastic as an alcohol-dependent grandmother. She is on her way to all kinds of Best Supporting Actress awards.

Pax Vega, the Spanish actress who did not speak any English when she began filming this movie, is stunning as the beautiful mother who will fight to the death for her daughter and struggles with finding the love of her life.

Sarah Steele is lovable as Bernie, who just wants to be loved for who she is. Shelbie Bruce is perfect as Flor’s daughter who struggles with her fear that her mother will hold her back in the bright and shiny North American world in which she finds herself.

Spanglish is heart-felt storytelling at its best. It is a Christmas-New Year gift.

Spanglish is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America because of some sexual content and some crude language. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting rates Spanglish A-III – for adults.


Around 14 years ago I saw the stage play The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theater in New York. I was with a group that was in the next-to-last row in what seemed like the 5th balcony. We could raise our arms and touch the ceiling.

My memory of the play centers on the love triangle, the boats traveling through the Paris sewer, and of course the falling chandelier. We were seated so high up in the theater that the falling chandelier didn’t seem like much of a big deal. So for me The Phantom of the Opera has never been a great musical. I always thought musicals like Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, and Les Miserables were much more memorable.

If you liked the stage play of The Phantom of the Opera my guess is that you will really like the movie. If you didn’t care for the play, my guess is that you will not be turned on by the movie, even though it is a gigantic cinematic experience.

The film, powerfully directed by Joel Schumacher, begins in black and white at the rundown Opera Populaire in Paris as various items found in vaults of the house are up for sale. One item in particular is a music box with a monkey playing the cymbals. There is bidding between an aged viscount and a former woman leader of the corps de ballet.

The opening scene and the closing scene of the movie with the music box bookend a tremendously vibrant and colorful telling of the story of years ago when a mysterious Phantom (Gerard Butler) inhabited the upper and lower regions of the massive opera house.

Somewhat in the tradition of 42nd Street, a beautiful young member of the chorus is called up to replace the diva when new ownership takes over the theater. The chorus girl is Christine Daae (Emmy Possum), who becomes the love of both the Phantom and the young viscount Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson). The story centers on the give-and-take between the two males seeking the fulfillment of their love with Christine.

Around the love triangle are a series of set pieces made up of parts of operas being performed by the Company. One of the biggest production numbers halfway through the movie is the Masked Ball sequence, which is very elaborate.

The most famous song of the play, “The Music of the Night,” is performed by the Phantom in his thousand-candle-filled lair and is reprised through the film.

The sets, costumes and production of The Phantom of the Opera are all first-rate and in a sense are the central focal point of the movie.

Director Schumacher creates an exciting movie that in no way seems just a replay of the play.

Minnie Driver as the opera diva Carlotta is excellent. Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry, who bid on the music box, is convincing as the leader of the chorus who knows the secrets of the Phantom.

At age 18, Emmy Rossum is first-rate as the beautiful Christine. Gerard Butler stands out in the dark role of the Phantom. But Patrick Wilson as the young count does not seem strong enough for that important role.

Sometimes the lush extravagant music by Andrew Lloyd Webber seems too loud.

The good news is The Phantom of the Opera does not have the excessive MTV-like cuts that were so disorienting in Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge.

For those of you that liked the music and the play of The Phantom of the Opera, you will not be disappointed with this lavish film.

The Phantom of the Opera is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America because of brief violent images. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Phantom of the Opera as 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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