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
See ‘Avatar’ for the effects, not the acting; 2008 presidential campaign revisited in ‘Game Change’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 4, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

Weeks after it opened I finally have seen James Cameron’s popular new film Avatar. The film is poised to pass Cameron’s film Titanic as all-time box office champ.

The film is monumental in style and technique. I saw the film in the IMAX 3-D version, which certainly brings home the accomplishment that the film is.

The story is more mundane. The acting is nothing to write home about.

Supposedly the film is taking place in 2154. The United States armed forces have gone to a place called Pandora to mine some kind of precious metal needed to avert some kind of ecological crisis on earth. The main character, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is a former Marine asked to take the place of his twin brother, who has died. Sully is to play a key role in a scientific program associated with the U.S. group on Pandora. Jake is confined to a wheelchair but because of a combination of his brother’s similar DNA and that of a tribe on Pandora he is able to achieve Avatar status. The lab conditions available enable Jake to obtain alternate state as if he were living a dream.

A Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) meets secretly with Jake so that he can use him as military spy among the Na’vi tribe. The military seeks to move the tribe from their land so that the precious metal can be mined.

In Pandora we see a computer-generated land that is filled with exotic flora and fauna. All this is beautifully shown in 3-D. Jake lands among the people looking as one of them with his scientific boss Avatar Grace (Sigourney Weaver). He gets separated from her and meets a Na’vi warrior, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who saves him from probable death. There are the traditional love overtones and Avatar Jake goes native as he seeks to help Neytiri and her people escape or somehow survive the eventual coming of a huge and violent military presence. There are lots of complication back at the base where Jake is in his sleep-station and Quaritch moves to destroy the sacred tree of the Na’vi and take over their land.

The story goes back to many an empire taking over the land of indigenous people through history and many a movie that has told that story. But it is the complicated special effects that make Avatar a memorable experience to see.

Avatar is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America and A-III – for adults, by the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Book Reviews

Theodore White’s The Making of the President books of the 1960s are the predecessors of John Heinemann and Mark Halperin’s new book Game Change. This “reads-like-a-thriller” book is published in hardcover by Harper of New York at a list price of $27.99.

The subtitle of Game Change is “Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.” The majority of the book is on the Obama-Clinton race for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008.

I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling from insiders of the recent campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. It is filled with lots of what might be termed as insider gossip. One example not widely publicized is the scene where Senator Joseph Lieberman is asked by McCain campaign leader Steve Schmidt to help Sarah Palin out of a time of depression by praying with her. Lieberman had mixed Palin up with the Jewish Republican governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle. The name “Sarah” was a Jewish name to Lieberman. Lieberman’s Talmudic wisdom and prayer did seem to help Palin do what she was called to do.

The problem I have with the book is the unidentified sources. The authors had 300 interviews with more than 200 people between July 2008 and September 2009. But all the interviews were on “deep background” in which the authors do not identify the subjects as sources in any way. The danger is that the reader is not sure who said what and if the person is speaking out of anger or in an attempt to get even with someone else.

This makes for a lively narrative, but one can’t help but to ask a few questions every now and again. The Prologue begins: “Barack Obama jerked bolt upright in bed at three o’clock in the morning... .Obama always slept soundly, like the dead. But now he found himself wide awake, heart pounding, consumed by a thought at once electric and daunting: ‘I might win this thing.’” Maybe the president told the authors this or maybe it was repeated by someone he told, but it sounds to me like style was the winner over substance.

The shorthand references to Hillaryland and McCainland, for example, get a little old after a while. Obamaland doesn’t seem to be used. The section of the Edwards is much more than many would want to know. The text pretty well destroys the reputation and good judgment of both of them. And President Bill Clinton gets the late night television comics’ approach.

For the person who enjoys learning how a campaign for the presidency works, this is the book for you. For the person who has no desire to learn the personal weaknesses and foibles of political candidates, Game Change is not a book you want to read.

*****

The first time I ran into a novel with a dog as the narrator was J. F. Englert’s mystery A Dog About Town. In Englert’s Bull Moose Run Mysteries, Randolph the Upper West Side New York City Labrador is the local Sherlock Holmes.

Garth Stein of Seattle has written an engaging and popular novel told from the point of view of a dog named Enzo, or Enz for short. Enz’s master, Denny picks him up in Spangle, Wash., and takes him to the Seattle area where Enz becomes a loyal friend. The Art of Racing in the Rain is the title of Enz’s story. It is published by Harper, New York in large size paperback for $14.99.

Through love and marriage, joy and tragedy, Enz thoughtfully and wisely tells the story of Denny, his family and friends. Denny has a passion for being a race car driver. So much of the story revolves around his desire and effort to fulfill his dream.

Half-way through the book an event happens when Denny and Enz are coming back from a reunion in Central Washington. To tell you of that event would ruin the book for anyone who has not read the book. But that event, understood by Enz, is completely missed in its ramifications by Denny. I find it very hard to believe Denny living today in Washington State would not see what was potentially happening. For me, the whole rest of the book, where Denny is dealing with his in-laws, goes over the top to become exaggerated soap opera. But if you can accept as “not beyond reality” this major plot device you will have no trouble enjoying The Art of Racing in the Rain.

(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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