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
Farewell to Harry Potter; Spokane Shakespeare production featured stand-out performances

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

Way back in 1948 in Seattle our family lived in the Mt. Baker district, several houses away from the manager of the Sears Store in the University District. The family had one of the first television sets in the city and many an afternoon they would invite the children of the neighborhood in for an hour or so at 4. All of us children would watch old movie serials like Rin Tin Tin and Superman. The short films had originally been shown years before in theaters on Saturday afternoons for children’s matinees.

The summer tent pole film Captain America stars Chris Evans as the 95-pound-weakling who, through a special medication, becomes a super-hero. This is as close to the old-fashioned serial as you’re going to get. To top it off, he has a rather cheesy star-spangled banner shield that continually protects him.

Captain America is beyond over-the-top and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The villain is so evil he is worse than Hitler.

The story is early in World War II. It begins at the New York World’s Fair. According to the history books that event took place in 1939, but for the movie’s purposes has been magically transferred to 1942.

Steve Rogers (Evans) will do anything to enlist in the military. But he is constantly refused, until a German scientist now part of the U.S. war effort picks Steve to become a new military weapon. The rest of the film is one impossible adventure after another in which Captain America saves the day.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 and the Catholic News Service rates the film A-II – for adolescents and adults. Lots of movie violence.

*****

The new Harry Potter film, titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is the last film in the series that has run roughly 10 years.

I admit I never read the extremely popular books or saw more than the first two films. So there is a great deal of connections and story points that I didn’t understand in the final film.

The kids have certainly grown up and become pretty good actors. The three buddy roles are played by Daniel Radcliffe (who continues to stretch himself on Broadway singing and dancing in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. Plus you have many of Britain’s greatest living actors in key roles in the cast of hundreds, from the great Maggie Smith to Michael Gambon and the evil Ralph Fiennes with the impressive Alan Rickman.

I enjoyed the film with all the caveats of my own problems for not being familiar with much of the plot and many of the characters.

The credits must take 15 minutes. There are countless individual artists and technicians literally around the world who made this film possible. The series has been a cash cow for Warner Bros. and this film is well on its way to having the largest box office of any film in history.

And to think an out-of-work J.K. Rowling wrote the books in a coffee house in Edinburgh, Scotland, when she was struggling to survive. Obviously, Harry, many are going to miss you. Thanks for the run.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film (PG-13) – Parents Strongly Cautioned because of some intense violence and fighting images. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-II –for adults and teens.

*****

In the roaring days of studio movies in the 1930s and ’40s the new film The Help would be called a “women’s movie.” And I have to admit when I saw The Help with two other priests the audience was overwhelmingly women. But men should not stay away from a film that takes such an important story as the reality of “Jim Crow” segregation laws in the South in the early 1960s and makes it both moving and entertaining.

The men in The Help are pretty much cyphers. The two key women are African-American maids in Jackson, Miss., facing incredible odds against historic segregation.

Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) narrates the story with a certain seriousness. Her best friend is Minny (Octavia Spencer) who is a feisty rascal. She single handedly brings to the film a needed humor.

The Help is the story of the black maids who raised many white children. Aibileen tells us fairly early on that she has raised 17 white children.

The women the maids work for belong to segregated service clubs and have card-playing gatherings. The leader of the white women is Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is on the warpath to have separate bathrooms out back that the maids must use.

Hilly’s old high school comrade Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), like Flannery O’Connor’s young character in the doctor’s office in her great short story “Revelation,” has just returned from college. Skeeter doesn’t feel comfortable in her old group anymore. She takes a job at the Jackson Journal where she writes a cleaning-advice column. She knows next to nothing about cleaning. So she asks Aibileen for advice. She then moves to seeking out the maids to tell their stories for a non-fiction book organized by her for a New York publisher under the author of “Anonymous.” This endeavor turns out to be very dangerous and difficult but also liberating.

Slowly we learn why Skeeter’s beloved maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson) was let go while she was at college. And there is a wonderful sub-plot about Celia (Jessica Chastain) who plays a white-trash beauty ostracized by the other white woman. Celia is happy to hire Minny after she has been fired.

The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s extremely popular 2009 novel. The director is Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Ms. Stockett’s who takes a very talented group of actors and gives us the story in a straight-line manner that is memorable.

Viola Davis, who was so mesmerizing in the play and film Doubt, again shows us she is one of the great actresses of our time. Octavia Spencer is an absolute delight. Bryce Dallas Howard again exhibits the great talent she has as she gives meaning to a character who is trying to hold her world together with racism at a time that civil rights leader Medgar Evers is being murdered.

The Help thoroughly entertains as it informs and reminds us of the horrors of racism whether we live in the South or the North.

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

Book Review

For anyone seeking more detail on the true story in the film Of Gods and of Men (“Media Watch,” IR 5/19/11), the 2002 book The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria by journalist John W. Kiser is just the ticket.

Admittedly, the book gives more about the political parties in modern day Algeria than many a reader might want. But it gives much of the back story of the monks of Tibhirine so well portrayed in the prize-winning French film. For example, it really helps to understand that Christian, the prior in the film, as a young platoon leader in the French military when Algeria was still under French control in 1959, was saved by a Muslim friend. His friend Mohammed put himself between Christian and a local group with rifles aimed at him. The group withdrew, saving Christian. But the next day Mohammed was found with his throat slit near his home where he lived with his wife and 10 children. This event affected Christian the rest of his life.

Before Mohammed died he had asked Christian this question: “You Christians don’t know how to pray. We never see French soldiers praying. You say you believe in God. How can you not pray if you believe in God?” The author states, “It was a question Christian had difficulty answering.”

The book has over 60 pages on the events leading up to the capture of seven of the nine monks, the diplomatic search for them, and the finding of their bodies. Kiser helps to explain the background on why to this day we do not clearly know which specific group actually martyred the monks.

The Monks of Tibhirine is a historical compendium to the artistic power of the brilliant film Of Gods and of Men.

The book is published in softcover by St. Martin’s Griffin of New York for a list price of $19.99.

Play Review

The beautiful Gonzaga Prep campus was the perfect scene for The Spokane Shakespeare Company’s impressive production of Much Ado About Nothing over three weekends in August. The grassed area near the entrance to school had different elevations that made it easy to sit upon and lots of creative room for the play’s action to take place.

Jesuit Father Kevin Connell provided the spirited direction that used all the exterior landscape and kept the action lively and always moving.

The stand-out actor in an excellent cast was Jacob Moore, a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, in the demanding part of Benedick. He seemed to hit every note pitch-perfect.

In terms of the Shakespearean humor, Jeffrey Sanders, a lecturer in theatre at Eastern Washington University, was excelling in the role of Dogberry, the Constable of the Watch.

The Spokane Shakespeare Company is a great gift to the local community and there are no long lines to wait for hours for tickets as is reality in Central Park, New York. Be sure and put their endeavor on your list for next summer.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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