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
Spokane on the big screen; ‘Blink’ examines the science of snap decisions

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 18, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

The opening scenes of Spokane from the air are absolutely beautiful in the new independent film production of Mozart and the Whale. When a film is shot locally by the North by Northwest production company, you can’t help but want it to be a critical and financial success.

Mozart and the Whale is the story of a group of autistic adults who have Asperger’s syndrome and meet each day near downtown Spokane. Within their efforts toward self-help and community-building, two of the principals draw closer to each other in love. Josh Hartnett plays Donald Morton, the volunteer leader of the group, who is a mathematical whiz. His eventual girlfriend, Isabelle Sorenson (Radha Mitchell), is a lively hair stylist and artist who occasionally loses control of her life and is afraid of any real commitment.

Mozart and the Whale is obviously a labor of love, based on a true story. It is a bit hard to watch at first. But if you let yourself go with the simple story, which is sometimes as humorous as it is touching, you will find it a movie that attempts to both entertain and educate.

Josh Harnett is terrific as Donald. His obsession with numbers at times leads to failures using the microwave and mistakes in human interaction. But his love of numbers at times brings him peace. Harnett gives a realistic portrayal of a human being who struggles not to be alone and to connect with his peers.

Radha Mitchell lights up the screen with her exuberant performance of an extremely talented person who doesn’t want to pretend she is normal.

The other characters of the group are first-rate. In a couple of the crowd scenes, such as a ferris wheel ride by Josh and Isabelle at Riverfront Park, the extras seemed a little artificial. But maybe my eye was wandering too much, looking for local extras I might know.

If you miss Mozart and the Whale in a theater, be sure to put it on your DVD list for the future. Its honest simplicity and heartfelt compassion will move your emotions.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Mozart and the Whale PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. There is sexual content, with language and some thematic material. The film has not yet been rated by the U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting.


Recently, coming out of a theater after having seen the new film United 93, a woman in her 70s turned to me and said that this was a film that should be seen by all high school graduating seniors.

I almost had to be pushed into to the theater to see United 93. But I can report it is an intense and powerful movie that is memorable.

Writer/director Paul Greengrass has made a film about a story from 9-11 that we all have some familiarity with. With music and hand-held cameras he creates an atmosphere of suspense that has you on the edge of your seat for the entire film. He also presents us with actors we are not familiar with and in the scenes in the air and military control centers lots of people who are the real people of that fateful September day.

We start with the four young men preparing for the evil deed in their hotel room near the Newark Airport, offering their morning prayers. We then proceed through almost two hours in real time. (Few movies attempt to set their action in the midst of the real time of the film. One of the most famous is Gary Cooper’s classic Western High Noon.)

We go back and forth, from the perpetrators of the crime to the ordinary passengers to the air controllers at facilities around New York City and Ohio. We also experience members of the military at their control center, trying to get fighters in the air after the Twin Towers have been hit.

When our four hijackers take over the plane, we see from the picture in the cockpit that they intend to crash into the United States Capitol. The power of the story is in the passengers as they slowly realize what is happening and, by cell phones, hear of the destruction and death that has already happened to buildings and people in New York and at the Pentagon.

The unknown actors are great. One may be familiar to Eastern Washington audiences: Cheyenne Jackson, who recently played Elvis Presley on Broadway, plays Mark Bingham, the young man wearing the University of California baseball cap. Cheyenne grew up in Newport, Wash., and was familiar to Spokane theater audiences in the 1990s, when he acted with local theater groups.

The aviation and military personnel who play themselves are perfect.

A real-life irony about the film is that the Iraq-born actor who plays the lead hijacker in the film was recently denied entry into the United States for the film’s premiere at the New York Tribeca Film Festival.

United 93 is not an easy movie to see. But it is a film that is mesmerizing and haunting. Don’t miss it.

The film is rated R – restricted (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) because of language and intense scenes of terror and violence. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates United 93 A-III – adults.

Book Review

For months, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell has been a best-seller. I must admit I didn’t find it terribly gripping. But Blink does tell, with lots of factual stories, the fascinating mystery of how some people can make extraordinarily correct decisions in the blink of an eye.

Gladwell begins his non-fiction work with the story of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles purchasing a sixth-century B.C. statue known as a kouros. The question becomes: Is this statue the real thing, or a forged copy? The thrust of the story turns on how several experts immediately know it is fake, when so many other experts declare, on seemingly solid ground, that this statue is the real artistic achievement?

Next, with Gladwell we visit social scientists who claim that by viewing just a few moments of tapes of married couples talking, they can tell if the marriages will succeed or not. He calls this type of judgment the theory of “Thin Slices.” The theory sure is interesting, but it certainly raises a lot of questions about important judgments made on very little information.

Gladwell brings forward the story of President Warren Harding. This is a “golden oldie” to readers of history. Harry Daugherty, a political power broker at the beginning of the 20th century, thought a newspaper editor from Marion, Ohio had the good looks to be President of the United States and pushed him forward until, in the early 1920s, Harding became, arguably, the worst President we have ever had. The Harding example is presented to show the dark side of rapid cognition.

The book includes stories of battlefield judgments, the reason for the failure of New Coke and, of course, the Edsel, which I remember going to see on opening day in the 1950s, in a Walla Walla showroom.

Blink ends with the dramatic story of the shooting of Amadou Diallo of the Bronx in the 1990s, by four policemen who made the wrong decision during a very tragic seven seconds.

Blink is a thought-provoking book that attempts to explain our own struggles with snap decisions. Is it helpful? Yes. Are there still lots of questions? Definitely yes.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, was published last year by Little, Brown and Company, New York; hardcover, $25.95.

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

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