Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Jess Walter crafts another winning novel; ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is ‘well worth the ride’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 16, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, is a quirky film taking place in 1964 that is far from straight realism, but is very funny with a serious undertow. It is well worth the ride.

The film is shot often straight onto its subjects in a style similar to some of the early silent films. The interior shots of the main home in the film are taken like you have a doll house that opens up and you can view all the rooms at once. Every scene is meticulously filled with each and every item the director wants us to see. Even the colorful book covers designed by artists are given credit at the end of the film.

Two 12-year-old pen pals who met a year earlier at a church production like no other church pageant of “Noye’s Fludde” by Benjamin Britten decide to run away to a beautiful bay on New Penzance Island off the coast of New England. Sam (Jared Gilman), who has gone through a series of foster parents, escapes from an encampment of Kaki Scouts on the Island to meet Suzy (Kara Hayward) who seeks to leave her dysfunctional parents. Sam brings all the camping equipment and Suzy brings six books that are overdue from the library.

Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) organizes a party of Kaki Scouts to find Sam. The local island police captain, Sharp (Bruce Willis), is called in as Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Francis McDormand) discover her gone. The result becomes a whimsical race across the island that ends in an incredible storm similar to the Flood of Noah’s time we first met at the church pageant.

The acting of this ensemble film is terrific. Bruce Willis plays the subdued but caring law enforcement leader perfectly. The young people, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are right on as two persons trying to figure out who they are in a world where they are cast about. Edward Norton plays perfectionist scout master with zest. Bill Murray and Francis McDormand truly are miles apart as husband and wife, and parents.

Moonrise Kingdom will have you laughing and maybe even crying. Its patterned style may turn some off. But it is worth giving it a try. The reward may indeed be great.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. Catholic News Service rates Moonrise Kingdom A-III – adults.

*****

The Canadian submission as Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Academy Awards was a French-Canadian film titled Monsieur Lazhar. The director, Philippe Falardeau, gives us a slow-moving slice-of-life story of what it means to be a teacher and children struggling with tragedy.

Two 12-year-old students in Montreal arrive early at their classroom and see through the window that their teacher has committed suicide. Alice (Sophie Nelisse) and Simon (Emillien Neron) are deeply affected by what they have seen.

The harried principal quickly hires Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) who tells her that he has taught for 18 years in Algeria. He speaks French perfectly but he seems adrift in understanding newer teaching methods and the French-Canadian culture.

Mr. Lazhar definitely cares deeply for the children and knows they need more help in dealing with the death of their previous teacher. But he is limited by the rules and requirement that only experts such as psychologists are to deal with what the students are going through.

So the film is about the challenges and joys of being a teacher tied to a sensitivity with regards to students facing life and death issues.

The film has a number of twists and turns that you are better off not knowing until you see it. The acting by the principal characters is deeply impressive. The two key children are extraordinary. Mr. Fellag is a wonderful actor whom you will not forget.

Monsieur Lazhar is a beautiful and thoughtful film that enriches the viewer’s life.

The film is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. The rating is based on a mature theme, a disturbing image and brief language. Catholic News Service has not rated the film. The film is in French, with subtitles.

Book Reviews

In the past I have read and reviewed two of Jess Walter’s novels: Citizen Vince and The Financial Lives of the Poets. And they were very good. But the Spokane author’s new novel, Beautiful Ruins, is as good as a novel gets. It is top of the line. It is memorable. It causes you to reflect on your own life.

Walters takes a basic love story over a 50-year period and weaves in surprise after surprise and story after story that all come together at the end. In the process, within the novel he gives us the first chapter of another novel of Italy in World War II, a rejected memoir, a contemporary play performed at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint, and a screenplay outline for a film on the Donner Party in 1846. And somehow all the pieces fit together in a wonderful mosaic. The creativity of this novel is incredible.

The key story to this wonderful roller coaster of comedy and tragedy takes place in a small Italian village near Cinque Terre off the Mediterranean Sea. This village of Porto Vergogna is accessible only by boat. There young Pasquale Tursi runs a small hotel of six rooms, three dining tables and a very narrow and rocky beach. Pasquale has renamed the hotel as Hotel Adequate View. To this small hotel that has very few visitors comes an actress named Dee Moray who has had a bit part in the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton epic film Cleopatra, being filmed in Rome. Pasquale is very solicitous for his guest, who seems sick and weak. She recently has been told that she has cancer. She expects that a star from the film will eventually come and visit her. That star is Richard Burton.

Thus begins a well-told story that continually surprises throughout the novel.

Much of the novel takes place 50 years later in our contemporary period. Principals travel the world from Rome to Edinburgh to L.A. and Seattle to Truckee, Calif.; plus Sandpoint. And yet the travels through time and place all make sense in the end. The ending chapter, titled “Beautiful Ruins,” pulls everything together in a most satisfying way.

There is satire of Hollywood, reality television, the communication revolution, and especially celebrity. But the serious part of the novel invokes memory and the question of how do you do the right thing versus what you want to do.

New Yorker author Louis Menand referred to Richard Burton in a 1980 interview with Dick Cavett as “54 at the time and already a beautiful ruin.” The title, Beautiful Ruins refers to the village of Porto Vergogna and to the people in the novel who all are wounded, and yet have a goodness that shines through.

What a wonderful story!

Beautiful Ruins is published in hardcover by Harper at $25.99.

*****

If you enjoy a spy novel, popular writer Alan Furst has a new mystery taking place in 1938 Paris right before World War II titled Mission to Paris. It is published in hardcover by Random House for a list price of $27.

The surprise for me was how active German spies and collaborators in Paris were a year before World War II began in Europe.

Fredric Stahl, a Hollywood movie star born in Austria comes to Paris to be in a World War I French Foreign Legion movie. He is a contract actor for Warner Brothers but has been traded for Gary Cooper so Stahl needs to do a film for Paramount France. In the process doing a public relations interview for a Parisian paper with German sympathies, he finds his words construed to weaken French morale. The social parties he is invited to are filled with pro-Nazi celebrities. So the Hollywood star eventually finds himself at the American embassy explaining what has happened to him.

Slowly Stahl finds himself being asked to be a spy of sorts. When asked to judge a film festival on mountain climbing films in Berlin the actor acts as a conduit for information back to the American embassy in Paris. The time in Berlin just happens to include “Kristallnacht” – the violent night of the breaking of glass windows of stores owned by Jews when thousands of Jews were imprisoned and synagogues were burned. The story of the filming of the World War I film leads to lots of intrigue that culminates in an ending that seemed a little too pat to me.

The map of Paris at the beginning of the novel is very helpful.

*****

When Marilynne Robinson was growing up in Northern Idaho she went to school in Coeur d’Alene when she took Latin with five other students. She learned to translate Cicero. Her new book of essays is titled When I Was a Child I Read Books. It is published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus and Giroux of New York for a list price of $24.

With its mix of American history, religious belief and family life in mid-20th-century Iowa. Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead is one of my favorite novels. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop where Flannery O’Connor once attended.

Robinson writes with a fine literary style with fairly long sentences. So her essays take thought and some work. But if you have interest in her themes, reading When I Was a Child I Read Books is well worth it.

Her themes include Christian religious belief, the value of words and books, science and religion, and the need for a strong sense of community versus rampant individualism. She strongly speaks out for seeing the rich value of the teachings of Calvin and Moses. Robinson strongly lifts up Calvin’s emphasis on seeing nature as a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed. Calvin states we must consider the image of God in men and women, to which we owe all possible honor and love.

On the Mosaic law, Robinson argues that it has been too easily down played in Christianity. She states: “Moses (by whom I mean the ethos and spirit of Mosaic law, however it come to be articulated) in fact does not authorize any physical punishment for crimes against property.” In another place: “In fact, the laws of Moses establish a highly coherent system for minimizing and alleviating poverty, a brilliant economics based in a religious ethic marked by nothing more strongly than by an anxious solicitude for the well-being of the needy and the vulnerable.”

In “Wondrous Love,” Robinson speaks from the beauty of Christian hymns to a defense of the founders and what eventually becomes separation of church and state. She writes: “Well, in fact, the founders meant to give us freedom from established religion, from state-sponsored religion. Whether they themselves were religious or not is a separate question. I assume they were. But the country in its early period was largely populated by religious people escaping religious oppression at the hands of state churches, whether French Huguenots, Scots Presbyterians, English Congregationalists or English Catholics. Freedom of was freedom from – the coercions that did and do arise when there is no wall of separation between church and state.”

The people of the Inland Northwest can well be proud of their daughter, Marilynne Robinson.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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