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
‘Hurt Locker’ best Iraq War movie so far; ‘(500) Days of Summer’ is ‘well worth seeing’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 10, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

When I saw The Hurt Locker some weeks ago I was tempted to leave several times because of the tension and violence of a story involving the members of a bomb squad. The soldiers are called out to defuse IEDs – the bombs set to go off near highways or buildings in Iraq.

But I stayed and closed my eyes several times. As many critics have already said, The Hurt Locker is the best movie to have come out so far about the war in Iraq. It is both an anti-war film and a film that honors and tries to understand the military personnel who are right in the middle of constant danger.

The three main characters are acted with skill and intensity. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) takes extraordinary risks to defuse bombs. He is seen as a “cowboy” and white trailer trash to his colleagues. But at the same time Sergeant James is deeply affected by the pain of war, especially as it touches children.

The experienced Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is worried about his new associate. Sanborn is African-American and he does not like what he calls “hot-shotting.”

The nervous Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is frightened and continually thinks he is going to die. He keeps talking to a military doctor about his fears.

The film is spine-tingling. At each bomb situation the soldiers constantly look around. Who might be the potential bad guy who is ready to set off the bomb with a message from his cell phone?

The story takes place in Bagdad in 2004. It is wonderfully filmed by Kathryn Bigelow in an extraordinarily intense manner. Several smaller parts are played expertly by more famous actors such as Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.

There is a scene in a large mega-store when James returns home to Kansas that is unforgettable. As he looks at an incredibly long row of cereal it is a struggle for him to pick out one for his family.

If you can take realistic war-time violence, The Hurt Locker is a film not to miss. It may be one of the great ones to come out of the period we live in.

The Hurt Locker is rated R-Restricted by the Motion Picture Association of America because of language and war-time violence. The film has not been rated by the U.S. Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting.


The romantic comedy has been done over and over again and is close to being run into the ground. The film (500) Days of Summer seeks to turn the genre on its end and yet not totally destroy it.

What may be disconcerting and confusing to some viewers is the director Marc Webbs decision to show the “days” of the story out of normal time-sequence.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a greeting card writer in Los Angeles. Summer (Zooey Deshanel) is new in Tom’s office, working as an assistant to his boss. For Tom it is love at first sight. For Summer it is a pleasant relationship with no possible commitment in the future. They are just friends. Notice the role reversal of male and female in reference to permanence from the typical romantic comedy.

The seeming joy and sadness, particularly of Tom, may seem pretty superficial at times, but watching a young man seeking some kind of permanent love commitment does break the mold.

Both Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are fine actors and handsome young stars. Los Angeles is filmed with a beauty usually lacking in many films.

Since the story is told from Tom’s point of view it is much easier to understand his thoughts, actions, and motivations than it is to figure out the rather opaque Summer.

While the ending is not typical, there is a coda at the end that brings the film back within the more traditional romantic comedy framework.

(500) Days of Summer is well worth seeing.

The film is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is sexual material and strong language. The film has not been rated by the U.S. Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting.

News Note

Joe Davis has reopened the Magic Lantern Theatre at 25 W. Main, next to Isabella’s restaurant in downtown Spokane. The price for an independent or foreign film is $5 for anyone. There are fancy coffees and desserts available. The theatre has recently advertised in The Inlander and copious information is available at

Book Review

Mary Ann Shaffer died in February 2008 of a long illness during which she was unable to finish her first novel. That novel is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. So her niece Annie Barrows finished the book for her. The result is a very enjoyable and readable book about individuals forming community in the midst of tremendous adversity.

It is postwar 1946 and British writer Juliet Ashton, living in London, begins a correspondence with Dawsey Adams from the Channel Island of Guernsey close to France. He is interested in books by Charles Lamb and asks for Juliet’s help in finding them.

Thus begins a series of letters that eventually draw Juliet to Guernsey, where she meets the diverse members of an unique book club there. The Club was formed as a cover-up during the German Occupation of this British Island during a five-year period from 1940-1945. The Club all started when several locals were caught after the 8 p.m. curfew. They had been together feasting on a forbidden pig for dinner.

There is a love story throughout the novel, which is the weakest part of the story, and its ending seems almost over the top. For me, the keys to the novel were the moving accounts of people and events when 16,000 Nazi troops were stationed on the small island and prisoner workers from the Continent were brought to Guernsey. The small group of people who do meet as a book club with a long and strange name tell stories of how they survived such a brutal occupation by German troops. There is a strong note of heroism in some of the stories and also collaboration with the enemy in other stories.

Some good reasons are suggested for some islanders to collaborate with the German forces. Also some German soldiers are presented as basically good and kind. One of the main characters from the book club falls in love with a good German soldier and has a child named Kit.

The ending of the novel changes in style and I assume this is the section that Ms. Shaffer was unable to finish. It is one long supposedly secret diary piece in which one of the characters explains how the over-reaching love story comes to an end. It is serviceable but lacks the unity of the earlier letters.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a book filled with much humor, great sadness, and a real sense of individuals becoming a community that brings hope in trying times. And it opens a whole area of World War II history that is not that well known. It is a wonderful book.

The book is published by Dial Press in large-style paperback at a list price of $14.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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