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
A plethora of media choices in the midst of winter

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 7, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

The Savages, a small independent film, is striking for its wonderful script by writer-director Tamara Jenkins and flawless acting by Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Philip Bosco.

A brother (Hoffman) and a sister (Linney), both around 40, are faced with their father’s (Bosco) rapid health failure. For years, they have been estranged from him because of his abusive temper, while he lived out in Sun City, Ariz. They have not been close to each other; the sister worked as a temp and wrote unproduced plays in New York City, and the brother taught post-modern drama at a college in Buffalo. Suddenly they are dealing with transporting their father back to New York State and finding a nursing home for him.

This all sounds very serious – and it is – and yet there is lots of humor as this bittersweet story progresses.

The center of this moving story is really the attempts of brother and sister who are trying to be self-sufficient to finally realize that they can come to respect and even love each other. Both characters are severely flawed. And yet slowly, through many conflicts, they find hope in each other.

Laura Linney is one of our best actresses today. She plays a very unsympathetic character seeking to survive on temp jobs and stealing from her employers. She lies to keep some sense of control in her life. And yet time and time again her goodness sneaks through.

What can anyone say about Philip Seymour Hoffman? He seems able to play any character with depths of realism. His inability to believe that his sister has some talent always leaves him as the superior and truthful brother.

Philip Bosco, who is one of Broadway’s great older actors, is terrific as the cruel father whose health is slipping away.

The Savages is an entertaining dark comedy that tugs at our emotions as we face sickness, failure, and death in our own lives and lives of our family members.

The Savages is rated R-Restricted – for some sexuality and language, by the Motion Picture Association of America. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film L - Limited, meaning that it is for a limited adult audience. It is a film whose problematic content many adults would find morally troubling.

Short Takes: Opera

Several friends and former parishioners in the last year have urged me to take in one of the Saturday morning performances of the Metropolitan Opera on HDTV at the Regal Cinema-Northtown.

Finally on Saturday, Jan. 12 I made it to the live performance at 10:30 a.m. of Verdi’s Macbeth. The price is $20 for seniors and students. It is several dollars more for general patronage.

I am not very familiar with opera. My one experience at the Metropolitan was 30 years ago and my sister will not let me forget what I got her into. But HDTV is terrific. The introductions and between-scene backstage events are fascinating. The camera work for the opera, with distance shots and close-ups, is excellent. The English subtitles are very readable. You actually see much more via HDTV than you would be able to take in at the theater. Everything is so real that many in the audience clap along with the New York audience. The price for a movie seems high, but it sure is better than several hundred dollars for good seats at the Met. What impressed me were the wonderful choruses that seem to be casts of hundreds. Even for a person who knows little or nothing about opera, this Saturday morning experience is memorable. And if opera is your passion, you may well think you have gone to heaven.

Upcoming is Mannon Lescaut by Puccini on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 10 a.m. On Saturday, March 15 there will be a new production of Britten’s Peter Grimes at 10:30 a.m. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde will be Saturday, March 22, at 9:30 a.m. Puccini’s La Boheme will be on Saturday, April 5 at 10:30 a.m. The final program of the season will be a new production of La Fille du Regiment by Donizetti, on Saturday, April 26, at 10:30 a.m.

Short Takes: On DVD

The film Knocking, originally seen on the PBS TV series Independent Lens, is now available on DVD. The documentary looks at two Jehovah’s Witnesses families.

One family has a father and son who go door-to-door with Bible tracts. We learn that the son, who is in his early 20s, has a failing liver. His father becomes a donor. But the problem is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teaching on no blood transfusions. The story follows father and son going to a southern California teaching hospital willing to work with them if they sign the necessary documents on a “Bloodless operation” that allows for the person’s blood being recycled during the surgery.

The second family is led by a Jewish convert to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who made his decision to convert based on his experience of the hope of Witnesses in Nazi Concentration Camps in World War II. One highlight of the film is the gentleman’s grown Jewish daughter with her family and the father’s two sons who are Jehovah’s Witnesses going together to several concentration camps their father survived in. This is a very moving section of the film. Over 10,000 Witnesses were sent to Concentration Camps because of their unwillingness to salute Hitler and the flag as well as refusal to serve in the Army. They also felt strongly that they must stand up for Jews, from which the Old Testament was handed down.

The documentary also speaks of the court cases in the United States that have protected Witnesses’ beliefs and affected the rights of other minority groups.

Knocking could be used in any Religion and Ethics class for older students and adults. It is thought-provoking and should lead to very interesting discussions by those viewing the film.

The film is available from

Short Takes: Books

The softcover edition of Anne Lamott’s book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is a thought-provoking and poignant book about the continuation of the author’s journey as a Christian. It is written from a liberal point of view, but Lamott surprises time and time again.

As a single mother, she demands that her teenage son join the youth group at her Presbyterian Church and come to liturgy each Sunday. She has an especially strong notion of the importance of belonging to a Christian community.

Some chapters are a laugh-a-paragraph. The story about being asked, in her 40s, to be one of the flower girls with two small children is nothing but hilarious. Her efforts to get the right dress for the celebration is a laugh-a-minute.

The last paragraph of the wedding chapter goes: “When the processional was to begin, the three-year-old panicked, as expected, and my heart sank to see her look around desperately for her mother. She cried out her mother’s name, but only once. ‘Shhh, shhh,’ I said, ‘let’s go, darlings.’ The eight-year-old took her hand. There was a moment’s pause. Then they began to march along together and I fell into step beside them, and we tossed those translucent petals into the air.”

Sometimes Lamont’s use of language is from the neighborhood streets and her political views are intense, but for the right person, her book is a gift. She struggles with faith and doubt and cares deeply about this world. For some, her book truly is a book for spiritual reading.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is published in softcover by Riverhead Books at $14.

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

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