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
From clever to profound to simple fun: ‘Moneyball,’ ‘The Descendents,’ ‘Tower Heist’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the December 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

After seven years, Director Alexander Payne, who gave us the wine country adventure Sideways, has returned with a wonderful movie of family, struggle, and life called The Descendants. It is rated R for several bad words at the beginning of the film. Otherwise it is a powerful film for older teens to see with their parents.

Matt King (George Clooney) is a lawyer in Honolulu, Hawaii with a wife who is on life support after a boating accident with friends. The King family have two daughters, Sottie (Amara Miller) who is a preteen and needing lots of support from her previously distant father and Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who has been sent to boarding school on another island. As the story develops the two girls, dad, and a boyfriend of Alexandra’s (Nick Krause) become a somewhat dysfunctional team trying to cope with their Mom’s death and the possibility that she was with a lover when the boat crashed.

Meanwhile, there is a major story in which Matt’s family is preparing to sell 25,000 pristine acres on a beautiful bay on the island of Kauai. It has long been part of the family’s heritage, but now most of the “cousins” want to sell so that they will be flush with large sums of money.

But it is the nuclear family story that takes center focus. There are moments of humor and sadness where even the most wounded family is family in the best sense of that word.

George Clooney dumps the movie star role and plays one of us. He is terrific. Shailene Woodley is fantastic as the tough daughter who is ready to help her Dad if he is open to it. If she doesn’t get a best supporting nomination at the Academy Awards an injustice will have been done. Robert Forester, as Matt’s curmudgeon father-in-law is a stand-out as the grieving father of a dying daughter and a wife with dementia who thinks she is visiting Queen Elizabeth when she visits their daughter.

The Hawaiian music stands out. The movie moves slowly compared to today’s quickly-moving films. It is more meditative. It is thoughtful, moving, and memorable. It is well worth seeing twice. It goes without saying, it would be great if Alexander Payne made movies a bit more often.

The Descendants is rated R-for language by the Motion Picture Association of America. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.


Aaron Sorkin, who wrote many of the episodes of the television series The West Wing 10 years ago or so, is the screenwriter with Steve Zaillian of the new film Moneyball. Sorkin is famous for writing fairly long speeches for his characters. But in Moneyball there is really only one long speech in the film and that is given by the owner of the Boston Red Sox when he is recruiting a new general manager.

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the financially troubled Oakland Athletics back in 2001. He has just lost his best players to the Red Sox and Yankees for buckets of money which Oakland doesn’t have. So he tries an unproven gambit by recruiting Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics major out of Yale who has developed a computer system that rates players on how often they get on base. So they can be low-priced players who teams are avoiding that the A’s can obtain at a low price.

The only problem is that the recruiter-coaches don’t buy the idea and are opposed. The team manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), doesn’t buy it either and won’t play the players in the right positions according to computer calculations.

The film goes into a back story about Billy Beane who went into the big leagues out of high school instead of to Stanford on scholarship. Beane did not pan out in the majors and so now as general manager he is fighting against all odds to be the leader of a winning team.

You are thoroughly drawn into the story as you watch the A’s go through almost unbelievable losses and then slowly begin a historic winning streak that leads to the playoffs in 2002. You don’t need to know much about baseball as you follow the ins and outs of a man with an determined vision of doing the impossible.

Brad Pitt is incredibly good as Billy Beane. He certainly should get an Academy Award nomination. He is on the screen in most of the film, other than the baseball scenes themselves. The fast-moving section of the film where Pitt as Beane is trading players to three other teams on the telephone is a joy to watch. Jonah Hill, who is often rather hyper in comedies, is very subdued in his role as the mathematical genius whose theories have not been proven before.

The ending is not quite the stereotype sports film conclusion. It is more human, real and thought-provoking.

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


If you like a caper movie in the vein of Ocean’s 11 you have a treat in store with the new Eddie Murphy film Tower Heist. In fact, it is great to see Eddie Murphy back in a comic film with much success, a la Beverly Hills Cop.

Actually, the main actor of Tower Heist is a fairly subdued Ben Stiller, who plays the manager of a luxury high-rise near Columbus Circle and Central Park in New York City.

In an over-the-top story ripped from the headlines, there is a Bernie Madoff character, played by Alan Alda, who lives in the penthouse. It eventually comes out that with a Ponzi-like scheme the Alda character has stolen money from ordinary people and beyond, like all the workers at the Tower who have now lost all of their retirement money. Josh Kovaks (Stiller) feels particularly guilty because he put the staff’s retirement money in the financial care of Arthur Shaw (Alda) and it is all gone.

So with a fairly quick decision, Kovaks decides with the help of a band of Tower workers to steal the $20 million he believes is hidden in a safe in the rich man’s lair on the top floor.

Admittedly, this does strain credulity, but it makes for a very enjoyable film. Josh seeks out Slide (Murphy) whom he knows slightly from his neighborhood. Josh believes Slide, who is in jail needing to be bailed out, can give them the expertise to accomplish their goal of getting the retirement money back to the workers.

The safecracking events with the help of Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) lead to a very expensive sports car dangling over Columbus Circle for a good part of the caper.

This may all sound ridiculous, but it is done in such a humorous way you soon find yourself laughing out loud more than you have in months.

Tower Heist is probably not the best movie for someone with height-phobia problems as much of the action takes place from the top of the tower looking down on the huge Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Eddie Murphy reminds you how good he was in his early films. Ben Stiller holds the film together with its complicated plot. Tea Leoni is excellent as the F.B.I. agent. Alan Alda is appropriately chilling as the Madoff character. Other supporting cast members bring both laughs and variety. They include Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck, and Gaby Sidibe.

Director Brett Ratner has put together a very entertaining film.

Tower Heist is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. Catholic News Service rates it L – Limited Adult Audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. There are bad words, innuendo and bad moral deeds.

Book Review

The well-known Jesuit teacher of high school students at Fordham Prep in New York City, Father William J. O’Malley has a new book on “Bringing the Catholic Faith to Life” that is titled The Wow Factor. It is published in large-size paperback by Orbis Books of Maryknoll, N. Y, for a list price of $16.

Father O’Malley must be a great teacher and his skills carry over into his writing. He gives lots of lively examples. Sometimes I get a little lost in where all this is going and then I get a wonderful story that puts things in perspective. I do think it is fair to say that Father O’Malley is in the tradition of 60 Minutes’ Andrew Rooney, who recently died. He is more than a bit of a curmudgeon. But the good news is that even when he has a frontal attack on a sacred cow of the reader, you still can’t help with getting in a mental discussion with the author that is helpful for the reader.

The book is strong on the moments of our lives that break us open to God in almost a moment of Epiphany. In the process Father O’Malley has lively rants, among others on Vatican II liturgy, Original Sin, and the Holy Spirit and Confirmation.

One interesting paragraph goes like this: “Whenever a penitent has finished confessing, I always say, ‘Well, you’re a good person, aren’t you?’ Hardly ever in 50 years has anyone, old or young, said gratefully and gracefully, ‘Yes. I believe I am. Thank you.’ Invariably, they smile shyly and say, ‘Well, I’d like to be’ or ‘I wish I were’ or ‘You don’t really know me.’ That’s a greater indication of how they honestly view the sacrament of forgiveness than any other, and it’s an invariant and sure-fire indication of their Christian conditioning about what this sacrament is for. They seem never to have been told that bad people don’t come to confession. Only good people do.”

In the early sections of the book there is quite a bit on science and how it touches our religious understanding.

The Wow Factor is a thought-provoking book that seeks to resurrect wonder in our lives and a more lively understanding of our faith. The book would be very helpful for anyone who teaches middle school and high school youth in religious education and parish youth programs.

Recently Received

Orbis Books has a beautiful new large size paperback biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest, available for a list price of $27. The book is titled All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. What stands out so strongly in this biography of one of the great prophetic voices of the 20th century in the American Catholic Church are the wonderful photographs that are almost on every page of the text. These photos, some of them iconic, make the story of Dorothy Day even more interesting and impressive.

Jim Forest, who now lives in The Netherlands and is the secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, knew Dorothy from 1960 until her death in 1980.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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