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
Surprising performances: from Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s latest, and Will Farrell in new serious comedy

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 21, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

It has been on the trade fiction list of the New York Times for 70 weeks and is rated at number five of that list in a June issue of the Book Review. The book is Abraham Verghese’s epic yet very human story Cutting for Stone.

You might assume the title has a couple of different meanings, but with this novel I’ll bet there are at least five or six meanings.

The book published by Vintage Books of Random House for a list price of $15.95, runs over 600 pages of fairly large print. Don’t let the length keep you away from reading a magnificent story with plenty of surprises, mystery, and mystical prayer.

It is indeed an unusual piece of popular writing today that has St. Teresa of Avila lost in prayer as a key focal point throughout the novel.

Sister Mary Joseph Praise is a Carmelite Religious Sister from Madras, India, who travels to the Horn of Africa to begin a mission effort. Through a series of events she ends up alone with another Sister from England at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the year 1954. The Hospital was originally called Mission Hospital but a government clerk misspelled the name and the clerk’s name stuck.

Years go by and Sister Mary Joseph has twins, named Marion and Shiva. It is a bit of mystery who the father was, but it becomes clear that it was an Englishman, Thomas Stone, whom Sister nursed to health on the sea trip from India to Aden. The story of the birth of the boys and the disappearance of the father is told with great detail.

Since the author is a medical doctor in real life the sections of the book on sickness and surgery are intense and realistic.

Cutting for Stone is the story of the twin boys who grow up in Africa with Indian foster parents who are doctors at the hospital, Ghosh and Hema. There is a long middle section of the boys’ teenage years that seem more than enough information to me and could have been cut some. But as the story progresses we pass through the history of Ethiopia from post-World War II to the 1990s. As the boys grow up they both become medical doctors, one in Africa and one in New York City.

Dr. Verghese gets his viewpoint in on American medicine in the section that takes place in a Catholic Hospital in New York City.

The novel has lots of surprises and melodrama toward the end. And St. Teresa plays a fairly big role in bringing things together.

A stand-out area of the book is the relationship between fathers and sons. In one powerful section Marion reflects on the life of Ghosh, who has been a father to him. Marion says: “I spent as much time as I could with Ghosh. I wanted every bit of wisdom he could impart to me. All sons should write down every word of what their fathers have to say to them. I tried. Why did it take an illness for me to recognize the value of time with him? It seems we humans never learn. And so we relearn the lesson every generation and then want to write epistles. We proselytize to our friends and shake them by the shoulders and tell them, ‘Seize the day! What matters is this moment!’ Most of us can’t go back and make restitution. We can’t do a thing about our should haves and our could haves. But a few lucky men like Ghosh never have such worries; there was no restitution he needed to make, no moment he failed to seize ... He was teaching me how to die, just as he’d taught me how to live.”

Cutting for Stone is a rich accomplishment from a physician writer who brings the medical together with deep human relationships that touch the mind and the heart.

Movie Reviews

Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, is a very enjoyable trip to a picture-perfect Paris romanticized by so many. But it also points out the danger of longing to live in the past like Miniver Cheevy and missing the possibilities of life all around you.

Owen Wilson plays the Allen alter ego, Gil Pender, who is a screenwriter for popular films. He is trying to write a novel that will make him feel more accomplished. He is in Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), with her upscale parents. Her interests and values seem distant from Gil’s as she meets up with an old boyfriend (Michael Sheen). Gil spends many nights walking the streets of Paris and taking the “city of lights” fully into his consciousness.

One night at midnight the church bells ring and a beautiful old car comes up and invites him to go with a group of writers living in the 1920s. No questions asked, Gil is somehow transported to the exciting world of Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), and many other notables. Gil asks questions and learns from these wonderful writers that have been a part of his life of reading.

He even asks Gertrude Stein to read his novel and critique it for him. A day or two later at midnight he brings it to her and she does read it and encourages him.

While all this is happening he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a sometimes mistress of Picasso who certainly pays attention to him and makes him wonder about his own upcoming marriage.

There is even a scene where Adriana and Gil go back even further in time to the 1890s, which is Adriana’s dream of the exciting period that she wished she had lived in.

The time travel may seem over-the-top, but if you just go with it you will find Midnight in Paris a charming and memorable film.

Owen Wilson is particularly good as the Woody Allen character. Corey Stoll as Hemingway is terrific. He recently was one of the

detectives on TV’s LA Law and Order. Marion Cotillard stands out as Allen’s dream woman who is beautiful and supportive of her man.

There is a critique of materialism when Gil’s future in-laws (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) play up their vacuous superiority and need for an 18,000 euro wooden chair that looks like it could have been bought at Ikea and had varnish put on it.

Also, the wife of the President of France, Carla Bruni, has a small part as guide at the Rodin Museum. She would be wise not to push her acting career forward.

All in all, Midnight in Paris is a delightful movie that is well worth seeing.

The film is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for mature themes. Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.


In May I saw Will Ferrell’s new serio-comic Everything Must Go. I assume it will be out on DVD and Netflix in a couple of months from now.

Everything Must Go, based on a short story of only three or four pages by Raymond Carver, is one of those small independent movies that shows the acting range of someone known more for comedy. It also is thought-provoking and intriguing.

Nick Haisley (Will Ferrell) is like a modern-day Job who loses his job, his wife, his home and his self-respect in roughly 24 hours. His wife, who has left him, has changed all the locks so he can’t get in his home, and she has thrown all of his possessions, particularly the ones she did not like, out on the front lawn. So he begins to sleep in his lounger chair in the middle of his chaos of the things of his life.

A local detective, played by Michael Pena, tells Nick that the only way he can stay on his front lawn for 48 hours or so is to have a lawn sale. The detective seems to be a caring friend whom Nick knows through AA meetings.

The result is a neighbor boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace), around early high school age and riding his bike around the area, is invited by Nick to be the sales person at the Yard Sale. However he is really not supposed to sell much of anything. As the hours slip by Nick reaches out to an new neighbor across the street (Rebecca Hall). She is kind to him, even though he keeps drinking beer around the clock.

Going through an old yearbook on the ground Nick finds a friendly comment from a school classmate of 20 or so years ago. He finds the address of the classmate (Laura Dern) and surprises her with a visit which indeed is poignant.

There are more sad surprises and some real beginnings of redemption.

It is wonderful to see Will Ferrell do serious drama with humorous overtones. They say comedy is harder to do than drama. I don’t know if that is true. But this sad, human and hopeful film shows Ferrell can do both.

Everything Must Go is rated R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is drinking and swearing. Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film.

Recently Received

Orbis Books of Maryknoll, N.Y., has a beautiful new coffee table book out for $20, by Maryknoll Father Joseph R. Veneroso, titled Mirrors of Grace. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of Maryknoll.

With beautiful pictures we have a fairly concise explanation of the history and mission of Maryknoll around the world, with special emphasis on the time of Vatican II and beyond. And there is a discussion of the reality of an older Religious community and the fewer numbers of young men becoming Maryknoll priests and Brothers. For anyone with a fondness and love for Maryknoll and its impressive ministry, this is a very appropriate book.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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