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:
‘Bella’ is unique among autumn’s movie offerings

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 6, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

A parishioner from Assumption Parish in Spokane recently handed me a book she had obtained over the internet, titled Running against the Wind: The Transformation of a New Age Medium and his Warning to the Church, by Brian Flynn. She had liked the first part of the book, which told the story of the author’s journey from a Catholic background to “New Age” to a “born-again” Evangelical Christian belief.

But the second part of the book included an attack on what many of us Catholics would hold dear in our notion of mystical prayer, coming from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, through Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, down to such spiritual leaders as Father Thomas Merton and Abbot Thomas Keating of our own day.

Well, I have never read such a critique of the forms of prayer that I as a Catholic hold as a gift. Flynn’s difficulty is in taking a wide broom to those methods of prayer that he somehow connects with the New Age movement. Tied to that is the strong Evangelical Protestant view of everything centering on Christ with the need for a “born again” experience tied to a paramount emphasis of Holy Scripture.

But in fairness, it must be noted that Flynn also attacks many Protestant leaders of our time, such as Richard Foster, Rick Warren, and Tony Campolo.

Because of his own journey, he sees dangers to Christians at all sides. Reading the various attacks made me thankful for the Catholic Church’s rich tradition of contemplative prayer. Flynn is particularly worried about any form of prayer that uses a repetitive, mantra-like phrase. And yet my memory is that many Catholic spiritual leaders such as John Main, who died 25 years ago, suggested not using a special phrase.

Somewhere along the line, I once heard someone say that spirituality was the freest part of Catholicism. Because we have the Creed and organized ethical teachings, the Church allows the methods in our life of prayer to be the most free, and so allows some adaptations from other religious traditions.

Running against the Wind is published by Lighthouse Trails Publishing of Silverton, Ore.


Khaled Hosseini’s new book A Thousand Splendid Suns is his successor to the extremely popular The Kite Runner. Although it was filled with almost unspeakable violence, The Kite Runner was also a tender story of the friendship of two boys growing up in Afghanistan during years of peace and war.

A Thousand Splendid Suns covers roughly the same period in Afghanistan, seen from the view of two women who move from separation to devoted love in the midst of the Soviet takeover and the Taliban period. It is filled with violence also, especially cruelty to women. I found the book tougher to get into and continue with. I have a suspicion Suns would be more gripping if you hadn’t read The Kite Runner.

Movie Reviews

The fall season has been heavy on R-rated dramas filled with violence and tragedy. It is a pleasure to report that there is a very enjoyable well-acted romantic comedy out that is great for teens and adults.

Dan in Real Life, a title I have difficulty remembering, is a delightful film staring Steve Carell of television’s The Office. The wonderful French actress Juliette Binoche tries her first American comedy, playing the woman for whom the widower with three daughters falls head over heels. And boy, does she succeed!

Dan Burns (Carell) brings his three girls to a family reunion at the craggy Rhode Island coast. The two teens are not all that happy about having to go. The first morning at the large home above the beach Dan goes to a nearby bookstore to pick up a morning paper. In the process, Marie (Binoche) thinks he is an employee and asks Dan to pick out a book or two for a problem she is going through. He randomly goes from section to section of the store with her and picks out around 10 books and tells her why he picked them out. He is so convincing that she buys all of them. As they leave the store he asks for her phone number and she gives it to him.

But the story gets complicated when Dan goes back to the beach mansion and discovers that Marie is the date of his brother Mitch (Dane Cook). So the film runs with gentle humor that has you chuckling throughout as the two bookstore confidants keep running into each other, and as the events tumble forward, fall in love, despite lots of obstacles in the way.

The two principles are perfect for their roles and the supporting cast is excellent. The family does lots of fun things together. Just watching them having such a good time is refreshing. It is great not to have another romantic comedy taken over primarily with junior high bathroom humor.

Dan in Real Life says a lot about what it means to be a good parent. It is a very enjoyable film that has several levels of deeper meaning that are worth pondering.

Dan in Real Life is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-II – adults and adolescents.


As I visit with people after daily Masses in various parishes, several have told me how impressed they were with the new film Bella. Having seen the film, it strikes me that Bella is the kind of film that would be enjoyed by many persons who normally do not go to movies today. In an autumn of very violent films, they would find Bella a welcome, thought-provoking change of pace.

The film is the story of a New York city cook (Eduardo Verastegui) who works for his brother in an upscale restaurant. The brother who owns the restaurant fires a waitress (Tammy Blanchard) after she has been late three times. The resulting story of friendship and love centers on moral choices of the highest order.

The film, directed by Alejandro Monteverde, won the People’s Choice at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival.

Bella has the feel of many low-budget independent films.

Blanchard is wonderful as the fired waitress. Verastegui seem a little hallow in his acting. At times the film seems to overdo its attempt at meaningful symbols and telegraphs long in advance that something tragic is coming up. The portrayal of an upper-middle-class Hispanic family living on Long Island is very impressive.

Bella is rated PG-13 and A-II – for adults and adolescents.


Lions for Lambs strikes me as one of the worst major Hollywood movies of the year. Tom Cruise plays a conservative Senator in his Senate Office trying to sell his supposed new view of the war policy in Afghanistan to a liberal Washington reporter, played by Meryl Streep. The back-and-forth dialogue on an admittedly serious subject for over a half-hour is “snoozeville.” Any Tom Cruise action film fan must think he has wandered into the wrong movie. Even a great actress like Streep has trouble making her questions and comments to the Senator come alive.

Meanwhile, in a separate world, a pair of front-line troops, played by the normally wonderful actors Derek Luke and Michael Pena, have been airlifted into the Afghan mountains, where they are under fire from the Taliban. The two heroic figures look like they are on a cheap studio set from a 1940s Hollywood B movie.

The third part of the movie is Robert Redford as a California college professor trying to convince a good student to come to class and give something back to society. The two American military men in Afghanistan had been Redford students and he didn’t think they would take his words to mean joining the military.

The problem is Matthew Carnahan’s script. The three-fold division doesn’t hold a viewer’s interest, nor do the parts connect as a meaningful whole. Because most of the movie is in two rooms, with two people speaking to each other, there is not much the director Robert Redford can do. Is this really the same man who directed Ordinary People?

The film is rated R and L-Limited.

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

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