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:
Three films offer thought-provoking reflections on profound themes

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 24, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

We live in a violent world, where killing with overtones of genocide continues in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This month, United Artists Pictures brings us an extremely powerful and moving examination of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in the new film Hotel Rwanda.

Hotel Rwanda recreates the 100 days of cruel violence that resulted in the death of approximately 800,000 Africans.

Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is the African manager of Sabena Airlines-owned four-star hotel, the Milles Collines in Kilgali, the capital of Rwanda.

At the beginning of the film we see Paul dressed impeccably in suit and tie, wheeling and dealing with generals and wholesale suppliers to the Hotel. He has the best Cuban cigars and Scotch that he uses to curry favor.

But soon the world turns upside down as Hutu Power Radio urges a massacre of members of the Tutsi Tribe by the majority Hutu Tribe. The European heads of the hotel leave immediately, and as people are being killed within a half a mile of the hotel, Belgian troops arrive, but only to take white European guests and missionaries away.

Paul, a Hutu, has gathered his family and neighbors into the Hotel compound. Paul’s wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is a Tutsi, so she and their two children are in grave danger. Soon Tutsi children are brought to the compound by the Red Cross and various missionaries.

Paul is now totally in charge of a world where hundreds of people are just a few feet away from certain death. Against all odds he connives and lies to generals and Hutu leaders to gain time. With the help of Sabena executives in Belgium and African hotel guests, he tries to get the word out of the genocide to the West.

But Europe and the United States do not intervene. U.N. peace keepers led by Col. Oliver (Nick Nolte) seem unable to protect the vulnerable guests at the Milles Collines. He has African guests call their friends and home countries to provide for themselves safe convoy out of the hotel. Media reporters leave with the Europeans, so it is very difficult to get the story of Rwandan genocide out to the world.

Director Terry George gives us a taunt film that continually has Paul and his charges facing insurmountable odds. He makes the film resonate with us because we identify particularly with Paul and Tatiana on their roller coaster ride to protect their children. On top of that Paul rises to the occasion as he takes on with all his heart the safety of all the occupants of his hotel. In the process he loses faith in the Europeans he has wanted to be like and finds new strength to continue the fight for the innocent.

Don Cheadle is in almost every scene of Hotel Rwanda. He is an outstanding actor who takes your heart away. Sophie Okonedo, the London-born actress, is electrifying in her scenes of pathos. The combination of these two great actors against a story of such magnitude is extraordinary.

Hotel Rwanda challenges us to the core of our being. It is a searing indictment of humankinds’ frequent inability to respond to the evil that humans can do to other humans.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Hotel Rwanda PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned – for scenes of heartbreaking violence.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Hotel Rwanda A-III – adults.

*****

The new comedy In Good Company by writer-director Paul Weitz is a lot of fun with lots of loud laughs. It is a family relational comedy with a subtext of the power of corporations taking over companies and firing all kinds of people for reasons of the bottom line. All this is brought to us by gigantic General Electric, who now owns Universal Pictures.

Fifty-one year old Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is the head of the ad department of a major sports magazine. All of a sudden the magazine is bought out by a giant conglomerate.

The result: 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) is sent in to head Foreman’s department and fire many members of the team. Carter accidentally meeting Dan’s daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) in the elevator the day he arrives at the sports magazine’s office. He honestly admits to her that he doesn’t have a clue what he is doing.

Carter begins his firings. Dan is torn apart by what is happening at his beloved magazine. Carter’s wife leaves him, and in his loneliness, he invites himself one evening to dinner at Dan’s home in the suburbs.

It is a dinner where everything seems to go wrong, but as one critic says in “an outrage of impropriety,” Alex and Carter begin to connect.

Dan stays with the magazine as a “wingman” to the young and isolated Carter.

In the end, In Good Company is a likable story about a protective Dad who loves his beautiful daughter living in the big city and going to New York University. But in its convoluted way it is also about a father who eventually becomes a father-like mentor to the high-flying young Carter, whose father left him when he was just four.

The last part of the film falls apart a bit when we get into a discussion of the global buyouts by giant world-wide companies who want to control the world.

The beauty of In Good Company is the wonderful acting of the principals.

Dennis Quaid is perfect as the really nice guy who sees his life in ad sales almost as a ministry to help other people. He really enjoys his work. He will fight to the end for his family. He is a very good Dad.

The young star Topher Grace is top notch as the materialistic guy who will climb over as many bodies as he needs to get where he is going. And yet he is extremely likable. He has lots of growing to do but he will be a good guy someday.

Scarlet Johansson is absolutely stunning in her beauty. She is filmed with such effective lighting and loving care that you almost think you are watching one of the great women stars of the 1940s.

In Good Company is an enjoyable movie that is perfect for February days.

In Good Company is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. It has some sexual and drug references. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates In Good Company A-III – for adults.

*****

Back in the summer of 1960 I was visiting some college classmates in Billings, Mont. We decided to take in a new movie we knew nothing about at a giant downtown movie theater. The movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s small black and white film Psycho. We sat in the balcony, which in those days was a place where viewers could smoke during the film. When the film got to the famous shower scene, which was unknown to us, the classmate sitting next to me bit entirely through the mouthpiece of the pipe he was smoking.

Years later, it would be very hard for anyone seeing Psycho to get the effect that moviegoers of 1960 got. It’s too well known and seen too many times.

Clint Eastwood’s new film, Million Dollar Baby, is not quite the same, but it is best if the viewer does not know the details about the dramatic turn that takes place in the last third of the film.

Million Dollar Baby well deserves to be considered one of the top two or three pictures of 2004. It begins with a voice-over by Scrap (Morgan Freeman), writing to the estranged daughter of his friend and boxing coach Frankie (Clint Eastwood). In his letter Scrap tells the story of her father training a young poor woman, Maggie (Hilary Swank) how to be the best woman boxer possible.

It takes a long time for Frankie to say “Yes” as Maggie practices day after day on her own at Frankie’s run-down gym in LA. Scrap, the gym’s manager and a former boxer who lost his eye in a fight, gives Maggie some quiet help on the side before Frankie agrees to be her coach and help her reach her dream.

The film moves in the traditional boxing genre until it eventually turns toward melodrama which can move you to tears. The last third of the film, which raises moral and ethical questions of the highest order, deserves to be talked about. But I will not do that now and prevent readers from experiencing Frankie’s conundrum on their own.

The moral dilemma is escalated because Frankie is a Roman Catholic who has been attending daily Mass for 23 years. His relationship with his priest, played by Brian O’Byrne, is prickly to say the least. But it is an important relationship that artistically heightens the moral decision Frankie makes.

The acting by the principals in Million Dollar Baby is truly extraordinary. Eastwood, Morgan and Swank are all well deserving of their Academy Award nominations. The direction by Eastwood is as good as it gets.

One small caveat is with Maggie’s family. The main characters are all portrayed in a very realistic, naturalistic style. But along comes Maggie’s family and they are played way over the top.

Father Horvak, well played by Brian O’Byrne, is close enough to Frankie that he gives as well as Frankie can dish out. But as much as I know the priest’s final advice makes the movie much more dramatic, I feel it is given in a harsh and almost cruel way.

Personally, for its boxing violence and mature subject matter I would give Million Dollar Baby an R rating. Million Dollar Baby is a thought-provoking, tragic film. It is a film for those who love great acting.

Million Dollar Baby is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is intense boxing violence and intense themes.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film O – morally offensive.

(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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