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
The 15 best films of 2009, plus books new and newer

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the March 18, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Admittedly, anyone’s choice of the best films of the year is limited by the films one saw, memory and subjective judgment. Also, not all films up for honors made it to our neck of the woods. But thanks to Spokane’s Magic Lantern Theater being reopened this past year in the Saranac Building, the opportunities for people in the area or those visiting the city greatly increased the number of good films to be seen.

Most of the films, unless otherwise noted, are for adults.

My choices for the Best Films of 2009 follow, with the order beginning with 15.

15. Everybody’s Fine. Here is a film that has some wonderful scenes with a older father attempting to connect with his adult children scattered across the country by surprise visits to them. The film got destroyed by many critics and was a disaster at the box office. But Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Frank the Dad is well worth seeing. Sam Rockwell as a son is terrific. The film is for people who don’t go to movies very often and long for films from the past.

14. A Serious Man. The Coen brothers give us a dark and humorous story of growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the late ’60s. They combine that experience with the biblical story of the Book of Job. Michael Stuhbarg gives a fine performance as the Job-like character who finds his whole world collapsing. It helps if you have a Jewish friend to talk with concerning this film.

13. The Last Station. Christopher Plummer at age 80 plays the famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Helen Mirren plays his wife, Countess Sofya, in a story that focuses on the last days of Tolstoy’s life. Sofya sees danger in her husband’s disciples taking away the rights to his great novels from her and her children. Paul Giamatti plays a key disciple who appears ruthless and cartoonish. An interesting period piece about conflict in a colorful and talented family.

12. Crazy Heart. The story of an alcoholic country and western singer traveling the West who falls in love with a single-parent reporter. Jeff Bridges gives an outstanding performance as the broken singer. Maggie Gyllenhaal is enchanting as the reporter. The weakness is the story that seems to stretch believability. Why would she fall for him? Why does he finally want to seek treatment? If you enjoy country-western music you should find this film a real pleasure.

11. The Young Victoria. Emily Blunt gives an outstanding performance as Queen Victoria before she took the throne, during the early years with Albert (Rupert Friend). Prime Ministers and foreign kings seek to control the young queen. The love story is well done and you are drawn into Albert and Victoria’s life and romance. The film is an excellent costume drama.

10. Bright Star. Jane Campion, the famed New Zealand director, brings her talents to the romantic story of the love between the young and sickly poet John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne. The young Abbie Cornish plays the strong willed Brawne. England is beautifully shown, probably with less rain than there really is. The costumes by Janet Patterson are memorable.

9. The Blind Side. Sandra Bullock gives one her best performances as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a woman who moves rapidly ahead with determined pace. She seeks to adopt an African-American student who appears separated from his family. The film combines a story of family with a narrative of sport’s achievement by the now Baltimore Ravens’ football star Michael Oher. A film for adults and older children.

8. Julie and Julia. The story of Julia Child is told with Meryl Streep as Julia and with Amy Adams as a contemporary woman who seeks to cook all of Julia’s famed recipes and tell that story in her own book. This film has a continuing section on the love between Julia and her husband, played magnificently by Stanley Tucci. Meryl Streep is outstanding again.

7. Precious. It is a very difficult to watch film of the story of a teenage black woman who has been abused in numerous ways by her father and her mother, played with caustic power by Mo’Nique. The teen is played by Gabourey Sidibe in a stark yet emotive way. Director Lee Daniels has given us a story that cuts to the core and yet ends with some hope. Definitely for adults only.

6. Up. Here is a delightful animated movie that although it has several violent parts is certainly fine for older children. The early montage of the married life of the main character (Ed Asner) and his wife who has died is an example of incredible film making. The Boy Scout who travels up with the balloons in the quaint home with the septuagenarian lead character all the way to South America is delightful.

5. Up in the Air. Here is a film that struggles in a humorous way with the displacement of people from neighborhood, family and home by the constant movement of modern life. George Clooney is a sad figure traveling the country by plane to let workers know they have lost their jobs. Vera Farmiga begins to open him up to deeper meaning in life, but she herself is only wanting the occasion fling. Up in the Air breaks the romantic-comedy mold and becomes a tale of the modern “everyman.”

4. The Messenger. This film only lasted a week in Spokane but is a film of incredible acting by its two principles, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. It is the story of two army guys who have the difficult job of being the first to the home of the relatives of a serviceman or woman who has just died. Films about recent wars have generally not been popular, but The Messenger in its rough but honest ways shows the horror of war from a different side.

3. Avatar. James Cameron tops Titanic at the box office, and in the new skill of computer generated images he shows all kinds of new cinematic possibilities. The technology in this film is incredible. The story may be a rehash of many a Western, but the experience in 3-D is stunning. Well worth seeing.

2. The Hurt Locker. I saw The Hurt Locker last July and wanted to walk out of the theater several times. It is more the suspense than the violence that hits you. Kathryn Bigelow directs the first recent war movie that has great acting, a thrilling story and combines an anti-war feel with a very pro-servicemen and women point-of-view. The scene where the Jeremy Renner character home with his family is unable to pick out cereal at the supermarket is unforgettable.

1. Invictus. Morgan Freeman gives a stunning performance of Nelson Mandela coming to power in South Africa. Mandela seeks to use rugby, a game hated by blacks as a way to bring some sense of unity to a divided nation. Matt Damon plays the team captain of the South African rugby team. Mandela gets the World Cup of rugby to be held in South Africa in the mid-nineties. The result is a story of peace and reconciliation combined with a good-old Rocky-type sports film. There is no need to know anything about rugby to enjoy this powerful film.

Book Reviews

A Religious Education Director from a Spokane parish recently passed on to me a book that had been important in her life: How Big Is Your God: The Freedom to Experience the Divine. The author is Jesuit Father Paul Countinho, from India. It is published by Loyola Press of Chicago in 2007 for a list price of $18.95.

Father Countinho is in the tradition of fellow Jesuit Anthony de Mello, who also hailed from India. There are many stories in the 48 chapters that make up this fine book. The book is also influenced by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.

The book argues that sometimes we make God too small and confined. The author besides his strong Christian tradition is influenced by the religious traditions of India including Hinduism and Buddhism. How Big is Your God definitely attempts to deal with real-life situations of his readers. It has a psychological component. It would work well with someone in a twelve-step program. Reading it slowly a chapter or two a day gives opportunity for prayer.

For those studying the Jewish Scriptures in particular, Countinho’s explanations of the traditions of understanding God in the Priestly, Yahwistic, Elohistic, and Deuteronomy experiences are excellent. How Big Is Your God is an easy-to-read book that is able to make some tough subject areas understandable and applicable to daily life.


Megan McKenna, who has given many a speech at religious education congresses through the years, has published a new book on spirituality, titled We Live Inside a Story. The paperback book is published by New City Press of Hyde Park, New York (2010) for a list price of $16.95.

McKenna, who began this book in China, focuses on the stories of many traditions that help us to grapple with creation, Trinity, Incarnation, and the Paschal Mystery. She then goes on to speak of the Spirit, the Church, small communities and the individual. Throughout the book she uses these stories mixed with Scripture to enrich her point of view.

Many of the stories are on the longer side in comparison with the stories of the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello, who used stories so extensively in his writing. I found several of the stories on the dull side. Some would be great for reading out-loud to children or grandchildren. There is a long one about the squirrel who helped the sun trapped in a tree and because of the heat and light loses his fur, his tail, and his eyesight. In helping the sun escape to its normal position he was given the gift of flying. So he became a bat.

There is a problem at least in one spot of a failure to “fact check.” I assume that is the editor and the publisher’s responsibility. On page 86, in speaking of the tragedy of the Iraq War, McKenna says that”... more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have met their death in a country the size of New Jersey.” The Rand McNally Atlas states the square miles of New Jersey are 7,419 and the National Geographic Web site states the size of Iraq as 168,754 square miles.

If you’ve enjoyed McKenna in the past, my guess is you would enjoy this book. If you are looking for lots of good short stories and religious examples, I would pass this one by.

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