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
Impressive books from Ron Hansen and James Lee Burke, but give a pass to Woody Allen’s latest

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the September 20, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Some months back a clerk at a Hastings in Spokane recommended the 1996 novel Atticus, by Ron Hansen. I had read his novels Mariette in Ecstasy and Exiles years ago and enjoyed them very much. I had also been impressed by the movie version of his novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt.

Ron Hansen has a degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a degree in spirituality. He is professor at Santa Clara University and an ordained Catholic permanent deacon.

Atticus is a powerful story of the love of a father for a son, no matter what the cost. It is a mystery with numerous twists and turns.

Atticus Cody is 67 years old and a rancher living in Antelope, Colo. He has two sons. The story centers on Scott, who is living in Mexico. He has had a tough life with mental health problems. His Dad has given him some trust fund protection so he will be able to live on his own. Scott has bouts of depression and excessive use of alcohol. After a Christmas visit with his family Scott returns to the Mayan country.

Atticus receives a phone call that Scott has evidently committed suicide, taking a gunshot to the head. So with very little Spanish-speaking background Atticus immediately heads to the town of Resurrección, Mexico.

Thus begins an intriguing mystery with all kinds of religious connections. Atticus will stop at nothing until he figures out what has happened to his son.

Atticus is a moving novel. It was published in 1996 in large size paperback for a list price of $13 by HarperPerennial.


Missoula author James Lee Burke has a new Dave Robicheaux mystery out titled Creole Belle. The novel is published in hardcover by Simon and Schuster for a list price of $27.99.

Burke is incredible in his descriptions of the beauty and danger of the natural surroundings of his novels. Again we return to his old stomping grounds of Southern Louisiana.

The first 300 or so pages tell the interesting story of Robicheaux in the hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound that took place on Bayou Teche. A young woman, Tee Jolie, has disappeared and soon another woman, Jolie’s sister, will be found dead, floating in a block of ice on nearby waterways of the Gulf. Thus begins an extravagant plot that ends in the last hundred pages or so in a violent shootout, with Dave and his friend Clete Purcel on one side, and endangering both Dave’s daughter, Alafir, and Clete’s newly discovered daughter, Gretchen.

Clete Purcel is the most colorful character in the novel – and there are lots of colorful characters. I’ve never been to Louisiana, so I don’t know if all these goings-on are in anyway close to reality. Whatever, the cast of characters is sure interesting.

In the process of telling a very engaging story, Burke weaves references to Catholicism again and again. He also has short essay-like paragraphs interspersed throughout the novel about war, prison, moral questions, the problem of evil, and fear. He also has a very old character who goes back to the concentration camps of World War II.

Burke’s bad guys are really bad. And his good guys are filled with goodness and lots of debatable moral choices involving killing or injuring other people. But if you can lay aside the excruciating violence toward the end of the book and go with Burke as he tells an intriguing story, you will find a very enjoyable thriller that asks some pretty important questions about life and death.

Movie Reviews

The best movie I’ve seen so far this year is the French film The Intouchables. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I saw it twice. The movie is the largest grossing non-English film in history. Across the world it has made over $344 million.

The Intouchables is the beautiful story of two men from the opposite side of the tracks who even in a working arrangement become the best of friends. This is a film filled with humor as it tackles a very serious subject. And to top it off it is based on a true story.

Phillippe (Francois Cluzet) is an extremely wealthy Parisian who lives in a chateau in the heart of Paris. He is a quadriplegic injured in an extreme sports accident. His wife, whom he dearly loved, has died and he has no children. He has caretakers who are lucky to last a month.

Early in the film, Phillippe and his assistant, Magalie, are interviewing possible new caregivers. An African named Driss (Omar Sy) in his 20s breaks ahead of the crowd and says he just wants his paper signed indicating that he wasn’t hired so he can continue to receive his unemployment check. Phillippe is impressed with his brashness and tells him to come back tomorrow for his paper. When he comes back after we learn he has just spent six months in jail and has been thrown out of his home in the projects, Phillippe hires him for a trial period.

Driss is not trained for the work before him. But Phillippe likes Driss’s lack of pity toward him. In scene after scene, Driss discovers what it is like to be in Phillippe’s situation. In his unorthodox style, Driss teaches Phillippe a new openness to life and Phillipppe teaches Driss something about facing life with extreme disability, and some high culture, too.

The two main actors are terrific. Francois Cluzet will immediately remind you of Dustin Hoffman. Omar Sy won the French Cesar, the equivalent of the Academy Award, beating out Jean Dujardin of The Artist, who won the Oscar.

Be sure and stay for the credits to see pictures of the persons the film is based on. One of them received 5 percent of the film’s profits for helping with the film. That money he gave to help those with spinal injuries.

The title is a bit confusing. The English word “The” was put in front of the French word “Intouchables,” which translates into English as Untouchable, so as others have pointed out, both of the main characters are in a sense untouchable, based on severe physical disability or on the disadvantages of life. They both become very touchable. Their story is one to remember.

The Intouchables is rated R-restricted by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is some drug use and language issues, although it seems to me the bad words in French sound rather beautiful. Catholic News Service has not rated the film. Personally I would rate the film for older teens and adults. The film does have English subtitles.


One of the highlights in movies the summer of 2011 was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It was a funny and very enjoyable movie with rich characterizations that are well remembered.

This summer, Allen gives us some beautiful pictures of Rome in the film To Rome with Love. But the four stories intertwined of Americans and Italians are pretty light and forgettable. In fact, the critique of celebrity delivered by the actor Roberto Benigni is so bad it is almost like listening to finger nails been pulled across an old-fashioned blackboard.

Unless you really want pretty pictures of Rome, don’t put this title on your DVD list.

To Rome with Love is rated R-restricted by the Motion Picture Association of America, for language and sexual situations. The Catholic News Service rates the film L-Limited – films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.


I know very little about opera, but I very much enjoyed the new film Wagner’s Dream.

The film is about the complicated staging for the Metropolitan Opera’s 16-hour-long version of the four-part Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner. What I found fascinating in this documentary by Susan Froemke was her step-by-step history of the building of the huge modern or post-modern set. The massive set, first built by Robert Lepage in Quebec, has 24 huge lengths of cedar pieces that move independently. The result is the giant set can be relatively flat and actors can walk on it or it can be perpendicular or anything in between.

The viewer sees all the complications that go into building such a set, transporting it to New York City, and getting it to work mechanically at the right time in each of the operas. There were bugs in the system on opening night, but as the operas go through the season, the set works.

But there were fears among some of the singers who took a tumble on the set. The leading soprano, Deborah Voight, took a fall early on and it took lots of tender loving convincing to get her up again on the moving arms of the 45-ton mechanism.

This film should be out on DVD in a month or two. It is wonderful film for anyone interested in staging and the theatrical side of theater and opera.

Wagner’s Dream is rated by neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor Catholic News Service. It would be fine for all audiences, but I would doubt that children would enjoy it.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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