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: ‘Elizabethtown,’ ‘North Country,’ ‘The Rosary’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 10, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

New in film

Elizabethtown is a romantic comedy that tries to break the mold and take on some important subjects – the importance of family, the reality of personal failure, and the significance of traveling across America to know its history and meaning.

Cameron Crowe is a talented writer-director who had lots of money at his disposal for this project. And yet the movie just doesn’t work. It lacks believability, and the stars really sort of cross in the night in a film that is way too long.

Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) of Portland, Ore., is a rising executive at a Nike-like shoe company. He develops a new sneaker that fails and costs the company almost a billion dollars (yes, billion; we are no longer in a world where “million” is sufficiently large). Drew is let go, and after an over-the-top suicide attempt, flies to Kentucky, where he is to pick up the cremated remains of his recently deceased father and return them to his mother in Portland.

On the flight to Louisville, on an empty plane (which is really hard to believe nowadays), Drew meets an overly perky stewardess named Claire (Kirsten Dunst). So we have all the makings of a cute love story. By this time we may have dozed a bit.

The center part of the film is meeting all the folksy relatives who are played up for comic effect. They appear as if they are northern stereotype of what Southerners are supposed to be like.

There are many rather slow scenes of Drew and Claire meeting again and again. The final part of the movie is Drew driving across the United States, on his way home after his father’s memorial service. He finally meets Claire at a huge outdoor market somewhere in the Western United States. This information in no way will ruin the movie for anyone who is still watching it.

The one part of the movie that spoke to me at all was Drew’s visit to Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. died, and his visit to the park with empty chairs in Oklahoma City.

Other than a few moments, Orlando Bloom hardly seems to be acting. He has little star power on the screen. Kirsten Dunst keeps coming back and forth into the movie while she keeps telling Drew that she is already in a relationship with another guy. The giant guide books that she has made for Drew’s road trip are so elaborate she would put the AAA out of business in a minute. It all becomes implausible.

Elizabethtown is a major failure.

The film is rated PG-13 because of language and some sexual references, by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) rates the film A-III – for adults.


Director Niki Caro, who gave us the luminous New Zealand film Whale Rider, has now given us the beautifully filmed dark and disturbing tale North Country.

Yes, it is a star vehicle for the Academy Award winner Charlize Theron. For me personally, it was very hard to watch as female workers at a large mill in northern Minnesota are verbally and physically persecuted.

Josey Aimes (Theron) leaves her brutalizing husband and with her children returns to her family home on the Iron Range. In order to get a small home she begins working at the mine where her father (Richard Jenkins) has worked for years. Her parents are strongly opposed to her efforts. She is a good friend of the female union representative, Glory (Francis McDormand).

After a few days Josey begins to understand the inherent abuse that continues at the mine no matter how hard she works. The first hour of the film lays out the various kinds of sexual harassment that are forced on the women miners.

There is a back story on Josey’s young love in high school and a horrible event that in one day changed her life.

The movie eventually moves into a class action suit, filed by Josey against the mine, that becomes key to the last part of the movie. Josey persuades a local former hockey player, now a lawyer, to take her case. The lawyer, Bill White (played by Woody Harrelson), takes a central role as the trial becomes the focal point of the final quarter of the movie.

North Country is a less than perfect film. But for the filmgoer who appreciates good solid melodrama with very fine acting, it is well worth seeing.

Among the supporting cast, Frances McDormand stands out as best friend/union rep, who seeks to get along at the mine, as she knows the reality of what is happening day in and day out to the women employees. But to be honest, it is hard to think of McDormand ever doing a poor job in any movie she is in.

North Country is a film that takes on a moral issue with a strong point of view and challenges any viewer to look inward and wonder if he or she could just as easily say in similar corrupted systems: “What did you expect me to do?”

The MPAA gives North Country an R rating – restricted (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) because of stark scenes of sexual harassment with violence and language. The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting rates North Country L – Limited: a film whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

New in books

Garry Wills, the well-known Catholic liberal and prominent historian, has come out with a fascinating book on the rosary. The Rosary: Prayer Comes Round would be excellent for the person who prayed the rosary years ago and set it aside, but now is interested in renewing the practice of that familiar prayer. It would also be excellent for someone first beginning a journey of wanting to pray the rosary.

Wills gives a fascinating history of the rosary, with all kinds of connections to Biblical references to the life of Christ. Under “Elements of the Rosary” he gives a thought-provoking view of the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.”

Of the many highlights of the book, the beautiful color prints of many of the mysteries of the rosary by the Venetian painter Tintoretto are extraordinary These paintings can be used as icons when praying the rosary.

Wills also gives an interesting section on each Mystery of the Rosary. He is a strong supporter of the new Luminous Mysteries recently added to the Rosary by Pope John Paul II.

The Rosary is published in hardcover by Viking at $24.95.

William Sloane Coffin was once the chaplain at Yale University and pastor at Riverside Church in New York City. Now in his 80s, he is retired and living in Vermont.

His new book, Letters to a Young Doubter, tells of his response to questions and comments by letter from an undergraduate college student. He fills his letters with pithy sayings that can be used for prayer and reflection. Sample sayings include words from St. Benedict (“God often shows what is better to the younger”) and Albert Camus (“To grow old is to pass from passion to compassion”).

The book’s genesis comes from Rainer Maria Rilke’s classic Letters to a Young Poet. But in Coffin’s case, he is imagining the letters coming from a college student. I would have preferred a real college student writing the letters.

William Sloan Coffin was the model for the liberal, laid-back student pastor who reappears occasionally in Garry Trudeau’s cartoon Doonesbury.

Letters to a Young Doubter is published by Westminster-John Knox Press at $14.95.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist of the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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