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:
‘Lady in the Water,’ ‘Scoop,’ and an ‘ideal’ volume on Church history

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 24, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

Last May I was invited to St. Joseph Parish in Colbert to be a part of a discussion of the book and film The Da Vinci Code. There were 140 parishioners present for a freewheeling and lively discussion of the famous Code. Parishioners spoke with passion on their pros and cons of the Da Vinci phenomenon. One high schooler spoke of having to defend his faith at school in light of the The Da Vinci Code. A 20-year old, a new Catholic at Easter, read the book and told of her anger at what she saw as an attack on the faith she had long searched for.

From this animated discussion I expressed my own view that we need to offer more programs on the history of the Church. I well understand that probably only a small number of parishioners would be interested in a discussion on various periods of Church history.

Recently I came across an ideal book for a parish discussion on the important period of the Protestant Reformation. The book is titled The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, from the Protestant publishing house Westminster John Knox Press and priced at $14.95. The author is Glenn S. Sunshine, with intriguing drawings by Ron Hill.

The book would be ideal for a small parish group who read a chapter before gathering together once a month for, say, five or six months. It would also be ideal for an ecumenical gathering of friends from different Christian traditions.

The Reformation for Armchair Theologians is written in a breezy, easy-to-read style that is entertaining as much as it is informative. There are 13 chapters. One could pick five or six, such as the causes of the Reformation, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Henry VIII and the Catholic Counter-Reform. You would not have to read the entire book to have a thoughtful discussion.

The book began as a series of newsletter articles by Sunshine for the First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Conn. They became so popular they were pulled together for the book we have.

Yes, the book is written from a Protestant point of view. But the author is eminently fair. The section on the Catholic Counter-Reformation is excellent on the humanists, the Jesuits, the Council of Trent and, would you believe, rather kind on the repression of the Inquisition.

I learned a great deal about the divisions among the Lutherans and the reforms of Zwingli and Calvin. Very interesting to read of the reasons why Lutheranism was pretty much contained to parts of Germany and all of Scandinavia while Calvinism spread more broadly to Holland, Scotland, France, and Eastern Europe.

There also is an excellent section on the religious wars that went on for 30- plus years. On one side of the Louvre in Paris, near the church where the kings worshiped, up to 20,000 French Protestants were killed at the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August of 1572.

Knowing at least some of the history of the Christian Church helps us to know the difference between what really happened and fictional exaggerations in very popular mystery thrillers.

Movie Reviews

Recently visiting Walla Walla for a week, I went out to the local multiplex on Poplar. M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, Lady in the Water, had recently opened. I well remember when his first blockbuster opened and huge crowds coming out of the theater after seeing The Sixth Sense seemed almost stunned.

Shyamalan has written and directed his first four major release films and tried to go for some kind of surprise within the thriller context.

Lady in the Water doesn’t have much of a surprise and comes across as a vanity project which fails. The Walla Walla audience I saw the film with seemed to laugh at parts of the film that the director wasn’t purposely making funny.

Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, an apartment house handyman in a suburb of Philadelphia. Much of the movie takes place around the swimming pool that the apartment surrounds.

One night he meets a sea nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) – for some reason in the narrative, she is called a narf – who is missing from the Blue World and needs to get back. She is frightened and chased at times by a wild pig-like monster. The screenplay centers on Cleveland seeking information and help from the residents of the apartment house to know how to help the narf Story get back to her blue home.

There are lots of minor characters who help in one way or another. The helpers include a crossword-puzzle fanatic and his son who gets wisdom by looking at the back of cereal boxes.

The director seeks to get his animosity against critics out in the open by presenting us with a movie critic who speaks lots of Hollywood inside jokes and gets his due by running into the wild pig monster in a hallway deep in the bowels of the apartment house.

Supposedly, all this mishmash is based on a story M. Night created and would tell his children at bedtime. Sadly, the story should have stayed in his home for personal use. It just doesn’t work. And to top it off, Night, as he is commonly known, plays a fairly important part in the film. He should immediately stop acting in his films. He just isn’t very good. A visual cameo a la Alfred Hitchcock is fine, but playing an important character is a big mistake.

For his next film, I would suggest M. Night Shyamalan have someone else write the script. He has run dry.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Lady in the Water PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film A-II – for teens and adults.


Woody Allen’s new film, Scoop, seemed like the perfect antidote to summer special effects movies. That was, until I saw it.

His last film was Match Point, the exciting mystery that raised moral questions. Well, Scoop continues Allen’s recent love affair with London, but reverts back to the light confections in which the aging Woody is a character repeating his worn-out comments on religion and the search for meaning. The most quoted phrase from the movie is when Woody’s character, Sid, responds to a question on his background by saying, ‘I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism.”

Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) is a young American journalism student visiting rich friends in London. She attends a magic show where Sid invites her on stage and places her in a large box from which she is to disappear. While in the box, Sondra meets a dead reporter (lan McShane, Deadwoood) who tells her a rich young nobleman named Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is the famed Tarot Card Killer, who has not yet been exposed.

Through her rich friends, Sondra meets Peter by pretending to drown in a pool in a exclusive private club. As the story progresses, Sondra falls in love with Peter and ignores the clues that she and Sid have found along the way. All this leads up to Sondra and Peter in a rowboat on a beautiful lake at Peter’s country estate as Sid rushes in a Mini-Car from London to tell the latest clue.

It is time for Woody Allen to stop playing such major roles in his films. He is an extremely talented writer and director. But it is time to let others play the important roles and let go of his familiar angst that has become all too familiar. We need more Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Points.

The Motion Picture Association of America rating for Scoop is PG-13. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting classifies the film at A-III – adults.

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

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