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:
‘Good Night and Good Luck,’ ‘Jarhead,’ ‘Shopgirl’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 1, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

In the early 1950s, on trips to visit grandparents in Eau Claire, Wis., I remember hearing our paternal grandmother and her sister talk about Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

In the spring of 1954, before going to high school at St. Patrick in Walla Walla, I remember many a day going down in the basement to watch our new TV when the Army-McCarthy Hearings came on at 7:30 a.m. To be honest, at that time I am not sure I understood what the controversy was all about.

George Clooney has brought a slice of that period back before our eyes in the black-and-white photography we were so familiar with in those long-ago faded days. As director and co-writer with Grant Heslov, Clooney brings to life an important moment in the story of our democracy. With documentary-like precision he gives us a fond remembrance of WSU graduate and news reporter Edward R. Murrow.

Clooney’s film Good Night and Good Luck centers on the conflict at CBS between Murrow, on his weekly broadcast See It Now, directly tackling the tactics of the junior senator from Wisconsin.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful film, although I have to admit it seemed very short to me and had little to do with the historic Army-McCarthy Hearings. It also ignores others who stood against the tide, such as the Republican senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith.

And yet, Good Night and Good Luck has some of the best acting of this year. David Strathairn, who plays the iconic Murrow, could not be better. George Clooney in a supporting role as Fred Friendly, the head of CBS News, is understated. Frank Langella as William S Paley, the president of CBS who in the end retaliates against Murrow, is cagey and powerful.

And McCarthy is shown in the actual kinescopes of the time. The use of the filmed McCarthy from the ’50s as the nemesis of Murrow was one of the best decision made by Clooney to tell this important story.

Sure, this film can be seen to be a cautionary tale of our time – or any time in American history. Good Night and Good Luck is a film to be seen and discussed. It is a civics lesson that is alive and meaningful.

Personally, I may be the only person who thinks so, but it is a delight to hear again CBS called by its original name: “The Columbia Broadcasting System.”

Good Night and Good Luck is rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). There are thematic elements and brief strong language that may not be appropriate for children. The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) rates the film A-II – for adults and teens.

*****

Steve Martin’s new film, Shopgirl, is based on his novella of the same name. It is a poignant and thoughtful love story that asks the question: Can love be bought by a rich man who gives to a young woman all the material goods of this world? But it goes far beyond the popular film Pretty Woman. It also asks: Can a young slacker, who you can’t help but like, grow and give love to another?

Mirabelle Butterfield (Claire Danes) is a beautiful but bored saleswoman at the luxurious Saks Department Store in Los Angeles. Doing her laundry near her home she meets a young, inquisitive and always broke salesman of music amplifiers named Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). Mirabelle is attracted to Jeremy, but eventually pulls away as he goes on a road tour of a rock and roll star in order to make sure the amplifiers work up to speed.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged rich man from the Seattle computer world, Ray Porter (Steve Martin), tries to date Mirabelle when she is working at the woman’s glove counter of Saks. Ray begins to wine and dine Mirabelle and give her expensive gifts. He believes she understands that no love is involved in their eventual sexual encounters. But Mirabelle doesn’t see it that way.

Shopgirl is a romantic comedy that breaks the mold more than a bit. It is a familiar question to ask: Can love and sexual activity be separated?

Shopgirl does it in a sad and sardonic way that makes you almost feel sorry for the womanizer character.

And yet, hope and happiness do shine forth in the growth of an immature boy who turns into a gentleman.

Claire Danes beautifully portrays a young woman drawn to all the name-label goods a rich man, who wants no ties, can give. At the same time, she sorrowfully shows the pain of a woman who realizes that sex without commitment is not something she really wants.

Steve Martin is very low-key as the man who has everything but that which might bring him some sense of love over the long haul. Jason Schwartzman is delightful as the free spirit who realizes he has a lot to learn, and maybe a lot to give.

Shopgirl is a small, thoughtful movie that touches the heart and the mind.

The film is rated R – Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian, because of sexual and language content, by the MPAA. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film L – Limited adult audience. The film has problematic content many adults would find troubling.

*****

A month or so ago I was able to borrow the great anti-war film Grand Illusion on Criterion DVD from the downtown Spokane Library. This powerful film by Jean Renoir first played in France in 1937 as the world was moving closer to World War II. Renoir’s story of military officers from both sides interacting at a POW camp in Germany during World War I was the story of a lost age in which some saw the Great War as the last war.

A few years ago I read Anthony Swofford’s thoughtful memoir of his time as a Marine in the First Gulf War. He took me into a world I had no direct contact with. His personal story has now come to the screen in Sam Mendes’ beautifully directed film Jarhead.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Marine Tony Swofford, who we see from his training period through to the end of the First Gulf War. He and his best friend Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) are trained to be elite snipers. The film traces their journey, along with their buddies, from boredom to humor and from tragedy to the joy of surviving.

There is not much war in Jarhead, as is true in Grand Illusion. We see young men trying to grow up in an all-male world of obedience and trial. Along the way we meet Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Fox), who is a tough leader with a soft heart for his men and what he is called to do. He exemplifies the glory of being a good teacher and leader.

Jarhead does not reach the heights of a great war film. It is a personal story from an ordinary guy’s point of view. The desert is filmed beautifully under Mendes’s direction. The film has disturbing sections as the men are whipped into frenzy watching the helicopter scene from the film Apocalypse Now, or when we see the “Wall of Shame” with its pictures of unfaithful girlfriends or wives.

Jarhead pulled me into an experience I have never known. And I can’t help feeling some small part of the Marines’ pain and the suffering of men, women and children caught in the continuing tragedy of war.

The MPAA rates the film R - Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian because of strong language, violence and strong sexual content. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film L – Limited adult audience. The film has problematic content many adults would find troubling.

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


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