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
Summer: time for a popcorn movie and a new collection from Sherman Alexie

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 29, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

It is summer. This is the time of “popcorn” movies, designed to be totally entertaining.

The new Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz film is a mix of action, spy-mystery, and romantic comedy. If you took a little Agatha Christie with the Orient Express and added a little Alfred Hitchcock a la North by Northwest and threw in a little Nancy Drew you would have the new film Knight and Day.

Cruise plays a secret agent, Roy Miller, who is charming, but you are not sure whose side he is on. He meets June Havens (Cameron Diaz) who has car mechanic skills at a Kansas airport. Suddenly while June is in the bathroom all hell breaks out as Roy shoots all kinds of characters on the plane. The plane only has about 10 percent of its seats filled. Already we know we are not to take this movie too close to reality.

There is lots of Hollywood violence. I would guess about 200 people get shot or blown up. This may keep some from this film, but the violence is all sort of cartoonish.

The plane is landed by Roy who, we later find out, is really Knight. From then there is lots of sleeping potions and rapid moves from Boston to Austria to Spain. To enjoy this movie you should try to ignore the plot and take nothing very seriously.

There is a McGuffin, as seen in most Hitchcock films. It is some kind of small battery that never has to be recharged. Paul Dano plays the young nerdish inventor and Peter Sarsgaard plays a special agent who may or may not be a bad guy.

There are lots of car chases. The one in Seville, Spain that gets caught up with the running of the bulls is the most creative.

Both the principals, Cruise and Diaz, do a good joy of acting in a story that is really just supposed to entertain.

Knight and Day is rated PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned – by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) rates the film A-III – for adults.

*****

In June Sony Classics Pictures brought an independent drama filled with humor to a Spokane Theater. The film is titled Please Give and stars the wonderful actress Catherine Keener as Kate, married to Alex (Oliver Platt). In the strange ways of New York apartment living, Kate and Alex now own the apartment next door to them, which is inhabited by an elderly woman who almost seems cruel to everyone she meets, including her granddaughters. It would appear that Kate and Alex are awaiting the death of Andra (Ann Guilbert) so that they can break through the wall and extend their own apartment.

Kate goes to estate sales of the dead to buy nice, low-priced furniture which she and her husband resell through their own quirky furniture store. Possibly because of this part of her job she feels very guilty. She always gives money to people on the street sometimes even people who are just waiting in line for a restaurant. She looks for places to volunteer but usually ends up in tears and decides she is not the best person for that kind of work.

Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet) are the granddaughters. Rebecca really cares about her grouchy grandmother. Mary doesn’t have the time of day for her older relative. There is a question of unfaithfulness on the part of Alex. And so we see two people very much in love affected by the middle life danger of taking each other for granted.

The film also revolves around the relation of Kate who gives $20 to street people while not wanting to buy expensive designer jeans that her daughter wants.

Please Give is small film that speaks of the human condition with a sense of forgiveness and understanding. You may want to put it on your DVD list for adults and older teens.

The MPAA rates the film R-Restricted, for language and sexual content. There is no rating from the USCCB’s Film Department.

Book Reviews

Eastern Washington’s own author (even though he lives in Seattle), Sherman Alexie, has a new book out, titled War Dances. It is published in hardcover by Grove Press of New York for a list price of $23.

War Dances is 208 pages of poems and short stories that are contemporary in nature and are fiction. But often they seem to connect with Alexie’s life growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, his life during his time as a student at Reardan High School, and his adventures in Spokane.

Some of the stories struggle about God, and one, “The Senator’s Son,” ends with father and son sitting before each other. The author writes: ”We had no need or right to judge each other for sins that might have already doomed us to a fiery afterlife. Instead, we both silently forgave each other, and separately and loudly pray to God for his forgiveness. I’ll let you know how that works out.”

There is a story about an invisible dog on a leash first seen at Spokane’s Expo ’74. And a story of a Roman Catholic nun at Gonzaga University in 1985 who has a brown recluse spider perched on her shoulder.

“Fearful Symmetry” is a commentary on the Hollywood system and the difficulty of writing a script and jumping through all the hoops. The writer is named Sherwin and the story connects with the magic of cinema and seeing The Breakfast Club long ago in Spokane with a classmate named Karen.

My favorite of the collection is “The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless,” which tells the story of a clothing salesman who would purchase the clothes of famous celebrities and who travels the country. Twice he meets a woman named Sara at an airport. She wears red Pumas. He is attracted to her and tries to connect. As the story progresses we find out Paul is married and has three daughters. And Sara enjoys talking to him the second time, but wants it to go no farther.

Later, Paul approaches a woman in an airport who looks like Sara and makes a fool of himself and is called in by the airport security. Earlier we learn that he had bought an iPod for his daughters, filling it up with music he liked from his generation. His daughters thanked their father and explained they would put their own music on the gift. To the officers Paul said, “The thing is, I’m sorry for everything. And I know this is no excuse, but I think – I realize now that I want to remember everything – every song, every article of clothing – because I’m afraid they will be forgotten.” A few lines later Paul thought of his wife, daughters and his recent airport life. All he could say was, “I don’t want to be forgotten” several times and “Don’t forget me” four times.

I liked Alexie’s previous book for young adults, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, better than this collections of stories and poetry. However, Alexie does tell stories that speak to us from the culture of our times. There is continually an emphasis on remembering and the search for meaning with a sardonic tone of humor.

*****

Robert J. Wicks has a new book out on prayer. It is titled Prayerfulness: Awakening to the Fullness of Life, and is published in hardcover by Sorin Books of Notre Dame, Ind., for a list price of $20.

Wicks has written over 40 books and brings to his writing a strong practical and psychological side that is particularly helpful for the beginner and the old-timer in prayer.

Professor Wicks is in the pastoral counseling department at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md. He has worked with relief workers following the Rwandan civil war and relief workers in Cambodia. So he brings a world view to his spirituality writing.

The book begins with what Wicks calls the three key elements of spiritual intimacy. He describes them as “Love God deeply, do what you can for others, and please, take good care of yourself.”

The book is divided into two main sections: “Navigating the Perils of Spiritual Intimacy” and “Discovering the Peace, Uncovering the Joy.” The first part takes our humanness and helps us find ways to have spiritual mindfulness. He gives lots of practical examples as we navigate busy lives in a world that can keep our minds and hearts distracted and busy. It is a bit like a cross between and examination of conscience and a diary of our lives.

Wicks continually gives short Power Points to meditate on. He always comes back to the practical as we seek to love God and neighbor.

The second part of the book is short pieces to be used for 30 days as a retreat of sorts. Each day there is a special emphasis for that day that is less than a page or several pages in length. Throughout the book the author strives to help us to be in the present moment with a spirit of thankfulness. He does take on all sorts of things that may keep us from prayerfulness including anger, past hurts, fame, power, security, and pleasure.

At the very end of the book he has a questionnaire on Spiritual Mindfulness. There are some 30 questions the reader can navigate. The final chapter gives lots of hints for responding to the questionnaire. In fact I would suggest reading it before attempting to respond to the questionnaire yourself.

Wicks’s books are loaded with lots of quotations from other writers. Many of them are great to just reflect on slowly and come back to. At the beginning of the book he has a wonderful quotation from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude: “I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

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


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