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:
‘Invictus’ a tale of reconciliation; ‘Orson Welles’ an exploration of youth; economy forms backdrop of ‘Lives of the Poets’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

Years ago in high school at the old St. Patrick in Walla Walla, one of the novels that I read was Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. Paton was white, but he wrote movingly of the conflicts and racism of the country of South Africa. As the years went by I must admit I never thought there would be a peaceful change to majority black rule from the evil of apartheid.

In his powerful new movie Invictus, Clint Eastwood tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s peaceful reception as the head of South Africa. Eastwood ties the beginnings of some form of unity of former antagonists using the events of the 1995 rugby World Cup, held in South Africa.

Mandela is played with the performance of a lifetime by Morgan Freeman. After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela has studied his Afrikaner guards. The Springbok Rugby team is beloved by Afrikaners. But at the same time it is hated with passion by South African blacks, because of its symbolic support of apartheid.

Mandela decides to use the upcoming World Cup, still a year away, as a way of beginning to unite whites and blacks in South Africa. His theme of reconciliation is difficult for many to understand. He keeps Afrikaners on as half of his staff of police protectors. He invites whites in the government to stay if they can find a way in their heart to do so.

As the film progresses we learn that the Springboks are extremely weak and discouraged as a team. Mandela invites their team captain, Francois Peinaar (Matt Damon), to tea at Government House. A white woman brings the tea into the room and Mandela serves Francois, saying that tea time is one of the good gifts the British gave South Africa. Mandela challenges Peinaar to inspire his team above its abilities and win the World Cup for the nation of both blacks and whites.

Peinaar is helped on his journey of inspiration by a visit to the slums of South Africa with his team to teach black children what rugby is all about. There is one black player on the team who immediately becomes the focus of crowds of young boys. The Afrikaner captain is also helped by a visit to Mandela’s prison cell and a Victorian poem that helped Mandela survive the suffering of imprisonment.

All the above, plus many small touches of growing relationships between blacks and whites, leads to the final game of the World Cup against the New Zealand Blacks (named after the color of their uniforms). You do not need to know anything about rugby to enjoy this film. Just go with the flow.

Anthony Peckham’s screenplay, based on John Carlin’s book, is wonderful. Mandela is presented as a great and wise man who is still less than perfect, especially in his relationships with his family. Eastwood has a good chance for another Oscar for direction. In his late 70s Eastwood is at the top of his game. Damon has the accent down perfectly and gives one of his finest performances in a supporting role.

For older teens, parents, and grandparents, this is a memorable film that can be seen together. And this certainly is a film for those who don’t believe good films are made today. It is a film that preaches reconciliation to the people of our world.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 because of the threat of violence and brutal sports activity. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Invictus A-III – for adults.


Orson Welles has always been a bigger-than-life figure, from the time of scaring the nation with his radio adaptation of War of the Worlds in 1939 to his later-in-life television advertisements for Paul Masson wines. A new film directed by Richard Linklater tells the story of Welles’s early Broadway production of Julius Caesar when he was in his early 20s.

Me and Orson Welles is told through the eyes of a teenager from New Jersey who fast-talks his way into a 1937 production of Welles’s Mercury Theatre production of Shakespeare’s play. The “Me” in the title is played as a cocky youth by Zac Efron of the Disney High School Musical movie series. And I can report that Efron is a very fine and engaging young actor.

Orson Welles is played with all his charismatic personality and ability to manipulate by the British actor Christian McKay. To see McKay play Welles so well and with so much gusto is a joy.

The fine actress Claire Danes plays Welles’s secretary, who in her own way is out for the connections that will lead to her own fame and fortune.

The movie has a high content of mainly off-screen affairs, especially by Welles and the Joseph Cotton character.

So in a sense, the film is about what being an actor is all about, examining the joys and sorrows of that life. And it is about a youth finding his way through a maze of so-called grown-ups with a new understanding of the seven deadly sins.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 (Parents strong cautioned - some material may be inappropriate for youth under 13).

Book Review

A couple of months ago, authors Jess Walter and Sherman Alexie gave an hour-and-a-half of good-natured give-and-take at Auntie’s Book Store in downtown Spokane. For the 300-plus standing-room-only guests, it was an event to remember.

Jess Walter’s new novel is listed in the Dec. 21, 2009 issue of Time as the second-best fictional book of the recent year. The book, titled The Financial Lives of the Poets, is published in hardcover by Harper Collins with a list price of $25.99.

Walter’s main character, Matthew Prior, connects well with Larry Gopnick, the protagonist in the recent Coen Brothers film A Serious Man. Matthew Prior tells the story of his Job-like life. Everything from loss of job, family, home and his own respect happens as Matthew recounts his efforts to save his economic and family life by, would you believe, becoming a drug dealer.

Drugs, language, and general irresponsibility turned me off in the first half of the book. But the writing is great and if you stay with Walter’s book you will be greatly rewarded. Besides being a satire on the financial crisis we are all living through, it becomes a story of what it means to be a father (in particular) and maybe even a husband. And in fact the novel becomes a poignant reflection on human frailty and continued healing, even in the darkest moments.

The perils of small-time drug dealing become the metaphor for the way people have gambled with other people’s money and brought upon us the greatest economic collapse since the 1930s. And yes, how many of us willingly participated?

Eastern Washington readers might possibly see a strong Spokane connection, even though the city Matt lives in is never identified. Chapter 8, titled “The Last Days of the Newspaper Business, Part II,” is a biting satire of what appears to have been the modus operandi of a recent editor of the largest newspaper in Eastern Washington. Just a sample of a part of a very long sentence will give you and idea of the writing:

“Meanwhile, M— continued to promote his sycophants and to build himself the Taj Mahal of offices, even as he oversaw round after round of layoffs. Like some medieval doctor, this self-aggrandizing bully claimed he was saving the paper every time he bled it,...”

My favorite quotation from the novel is a short piece of poetry:

And I wonder if we don’t live like water
seeking a level
a low bed
until one day we just go dry.
I wonder if a creek ever realizes
it has made its own grave.

The Financial Lives of Poets is a critique on our economic system and how we buy into it. It is the story of family above all, including an aging father whose mind is slipping away. And it speaks of the sometimes slim hope that may lead to happiness of a sort and a new beginning.

Short note

Jesuit Father Uwem Akpan, who spent some time in his studies at Gonzaga University, has a new short story titled “Baptizing the Gun” in the Jan. 4, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. Father Akpan is a priest at Christ the King Catholic Church in llasamaja, in Lagos, Nigeria.

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

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