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
Don’t miss ‘Lincoln’; ‘Skyfall’ is the best Bond yet

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

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

Movie Reviews

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, when I taught American History at Mater Cleri Seminary High School near Colbert, the textbook used the words “War between the States” for “Civil War” and pictured Thaddeus Stevens as a monster. Well, in Steven Spielberg’s new masterful film Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) is portrayed as a wise figure able to compromise to help Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) achieve the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States, through the U.S. House of Representatives in January of 1865.

It is wonderful to have an American film do American history in such an interesting and entertaining fashion. Great credit is due to the original source work, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and the lively screenplay by Tony Kushner. Spielberg has then taken a rather dry subject – the passing of a bill through Congress – and has then made it humorous, moving and fascinating.

To the story of the 13th Amendment we have the human story of Lincoln and his family. Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) still mourns the earlier death of their son Willie and worries as their son Robert Todd Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), against his parents’ will, joins the Union forces as an aid to General Grant (Jared Harris).

Daniel Day-Lewis gives the performance of a lifetime. Sally Field gives a memorable speech to her perceived enemy Thaddeus Stevens at White House social. She challenges her husband over Robert entering the war and he responds with a powerful explanation of the weight he carries in the midst of a war where hundreds of thousands of Americans have died. David Strathairn is excellent as Lincoln’s friend and Secretary of State. Tommy Lee Jones is terrific. There is a huge cast of fine character actors.

The vote in the House is moving as each name is called out. There are times in this film when you may tear up because the story, the acting, and the history combine to touch the viewer’s feelings and own history. Lincoln is a movie that makes you proud to be an American. The audience clapped at the screening I saw.

But the audience looked to be age 50 and older. It is my hope that younger people in high school on up see this film. Maybe the morning early show just draws older people on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Don’t miss this film. It approaches greatness.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Lincoln as PG-13 for violence and language. Catholic News Service rates the film A-III-for adults.

*****

The new impressive James Bond film Skyfall has a key scene that takes place in the hiding place for Catholic priests during the Reformation at a deserted estate where Bond grew up in Scotland. The principals escape the “priest’s hole” by a tunnel that leads some distance away to a deserted church.

The new film starts in Istanbul with a powerful chase scene across the city passing by Hagia Sophia into the countryside by car, motorcycle, and train. The story then heads off to London, China, back to London and ends in Scotland. The opening song by Adele and the traditional credits given a new spectacular setting begin after the dramatic chase in Turkey.

Bond (Daniel Craig) with Eve (Naomie Harris) chase a bad guy, Patrice (Ola Rapace), who has a hard drive with the names of undercover spies which, if revealed, would mean their death. James is shot in the shoulder but somehow is able to fight Patrice impressively on the top of moving railroad cars. Eve, who has traveled by Range Rover, is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to take a shot even though she might accidently kill Bond. The result is the apparent death of Bond as he falls, hit, into a river.

But somehow Bond comes back “resurrected,” as he claims to M, who is now threatened by a former disgruntled agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who has a power base in China. The film then moves to Shanghai and ends back in London where the whole MI6 spy network is mortally endangered by Raoul, who particularly wants to kill M.

Well, yes, James Bond films are cotton-candy action films. But Skyfall is certainly one of the best of the 23 films over produced over 50 years. Daniel Craig has now really taken on the character of James Bond with full force. He is excellent. Judi Dench as always gives a spot-on performance. The direction by Sam Mendes is top notch. There is more time given to real acting by the actors and more back story on who James Bond really is. And there certainly is more emphasis on the aging, the reality of eventual death, and the human condition of the heroic main character.

Skyfall is an exceptional entertainment – if the viewer can live with the heightened movie violence.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Skyfall as PG-13, and Catholic News Service rates the film A-III-for Adults.

Book Reviews

Philip Roth in a final interview at the time of his retirement from writing fiction said he does worry if there will be enough readers of fiction in the future. But he doesn’t worry about there being enough good writers of fiction. He especially praised Louise Erdrich’s new National Book Award-winner novel, The Round House. The book is published in hardcover by HarperCollins for a list price of $27.99.

This novel struck me as a haunting breathtaking story that combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story caught in the conflicts of who has jurisdiction when a white man commits a crime on an Indian Reservation. The first-person narrator is 13-year-old Joe Coutts whose father, Anatone Bazil, is a tribal judge on an Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota. His Mother, Geraldine, is a tribal clerk who knows the secrets of tribal families. The time is 1988 and Joe is telling the story as an adult when he too has become a tribal judge.

The story begins with a brutal rape of Joe’s Mother at the sacred area of the Round House one Sunday afternoon. She is so traumatized she goes to her room in a silent pain that makes it impossible for her to identify who has done this horrific crime.

Bazil does everything to patiently try to bring his beloved wife out of her pain and help the authorities solve the crime. He begins his own search wondering if any of his previous cases might give a clue to who the assailant is. In his loneliness he asks Joe to help him read through the past cases.

Joe invites his best friend, Cappy, to join their friends Zack and Angus to do some of their own sleuthing in the vicinity of the sacred Round House where the crime was believed to have taken place. All this is against his Father’s instructions.

One of the best scenes in the novel with a comic side is when the four boys spy on a wounded Marine priest from the Iraq War and he discovers them and makes a wild chase running after them. Another powerful scene is when Cappy goes to confession to the priest and again we have a wild chase. Since the boys know what Cappy is confessing I don’t know how real this could be with the reality of the Confessional seal.

Erdrich is particularly great at describing people and places. You can see it all. She has rich character studies of Indian people that are warm and earthy. She composes words that come alive in a memorable fashion.

Not everything is perfectly revealed at the end in typical mystery style. But you come away knowing people who celebrate joy and undergo great sorrow and in the process a young boy becomes a man. And on top of it you have a story with great ethical struggles.

The Round House is the best novel I’ve read this year.

*****

I thought The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything was an excellent book that was both enjoyable to read and easily accessible for any type of small discussion or prayer group in a parish (“Media Watch,” IR 6/10/10). Jesuit Father James Martin has a new book out titled Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. It is published by Harper One at a hardcover list price of $25.99. There is a softcover version listed at $14.99.

It may be the darkening days of late fall-winter, but I found Father Martin’s new book a bit repetitive, especially the section on prayer and even the jokes not particularly funny. For a laugh-out-loud experience, check out a half hour of ABC-TV’s Modern Family on Wednesday night.

But he certainly is right on that we do miss the humor of a wonderful story in the Old Testament Book of Jonah. And Martin has St. Teresa of Avila’s line to God: She had fallen in the mud with her donkey and God said, “This is how I treat my friends.” To which she responded, “And that is why you have so few of them.”

The stories on Pope John XXIII are wonderful to hear again. One tells the story of the child, Bruno, who wrote the Pope, “I am undecided. I don’t know if I want to be a policeman or a pope. What do you think?” The pope wrote back, “My dear Bruno, if you want my opinion learn to be a policeman, for that cannot be improvised. As regards being pope, anyone can become the pope. The proof is that I have become one. If you are ever in Rome, please stop by and I will be glad to talk this over with you.”

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who looks pretty serious, is quoted as saying that the lack of humor and irritability in the Church today is one of the most serious objections which can be brought against present-day Christianity.

Nuggets of the book were helpful but they were fairly few and far between and stories of Father Martin’s life seem repeated if you have read several of his books before.

Father James Martin is a great addition to writing and television (chaplain to The Colbert Report) today, but I can’t help but wonder if he is being stretched too far.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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