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
Director redeems himself with 'Silver Linings Playbook'; plus, our correspondent’s picks for the 15 best films of 2012

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the February 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

In recent weeks noted author Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book of fiction, Flight Behavior (HarperCollinsPublishers for a list $28.99) has been on the New York Times Book Review’s hardcover best sellers list.

Kingsolver tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, living on a farm in rural Tennessee. At 28 she feels trapped in her marriage and longs for greener grass. Climbing a mountain behind her home she comes across brilliant color made up of Monarch butterflies that have dropped into Dellarobia’s world instead of their winter home in Mexico.

The thesis of the book is that Global Warming has upset the weather systems so much that it has set the Monarchs off from their normal winter world. Into Dellarobia’s world come pushy media persons, lots of visitors, a Dr. Byron from New Mexico who is in expert in the study of the Monarchs. There is a surprise at the end of the novel within the Turnbow family.

I found Flight Behavior well written. Kingsolver is great on her use of metaphor and her ability to describe nature.

And yet it was real work to make it through the 436 pages of the book. I may be exaggerating a little, but if feels like at least 300 pages were in-depth discussions of the butterflies and Global Warming. And at times the characters become cardboard as the author presents her view. She convinced me in about 40 pages. Enough is enough.

The story is from Dellarobia’s point of view. She is particularly hard on her husband, Cub, who seems like a nice guy. One scene where they argue extensively in a Dollar Store seemed unreal to me. Admittedly, it brought home that they had little money to spend for Christmas gifts for their two children and the frustration of only being able to find objects made in China. A later chapter, where Dellarobia and her girlfriend Dovey go on an extensive shopping expedition in a large used clothing store, is really painful for any reader who doesn’t enjoy shopping.

The novel has a powerful theme running through it about the death of child and its ramifications on a marriage. Another theme is to treat people with respect and don’t assume Southerners are all out of the 40-year-old movie Deliverance.

In the end of the novel there is an apocalyptic flood in which Dellarobia could easily drown as her home floats off its foundation. I’m sure the scene has all kinds of meaning about the choices Dellarobia is making and the book’s central thesis on Global Warming. It seems real or is it one giant metaphor?

I am now ready for a novel with lots of plot and fast-moving. John Grisham, here I come.

Movie Reviews

If you asked me what the worst movie I have ever seen was, I would respond I Heart Huckabees, directed by David O. Russell, which came out in 2004. And yet if you asked me what is one of the best movies of 2012, I would quickly respond Silver Linings Playbook, also directed by David O. Russell. I wasn’t ready for how incredibly moving Silver Linings is.

Silver Linings Playbook has a screenplay written by Russell, based on novel by Matthew Quick. The story is a delight as, in a serious and comic way, it deals with mental illness within the context of a romantic comedy that has been tossed on its head. The movie is filled with hope, healing and love.

Pat (Bradley Cooper), who is bipolar, returns to his working class home in Philadelphia after eight months in a mental health facility in Baltimore. He is under the supervision of his parents: Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and Delores (Jacki Weaver).

The son had reacted violently to coming upon his wife’s unfaithfulness with a fellow teacher. A restraining order has been placed on Pat. But he hopes to get a letter to his wife now that he is back home and he believes they will be able to get back together again.

His psychiatrist, played wonderfully by Anupan Kher, tells him to have a plan. So Pat begins jogging each day to lose some weight and be in fit condition. He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who is suffering from depression after the death of her husband.

Both Pat and Tiffany are more than outspoken. Their dialogue is terrific.

Pat Sr. is out of work and is betting on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. He believes his son will bring good luck. The film brilliantly combines two people beginning to heal each other with a love of sports. On top of this comes a dancing contest and a bet with a parlay involving the Eagles and the dance competition with Pat and Tiffany.

Silver Linings is as good as the best of the 1930s screwball comedies.

The acting is as good as it gets. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are award-winning as the wounded but lovable principals. DeNiro and Weaver as parents are spot-on. And the supporting cast makes you want to be an Eagles fan.

If you like a contemporary film on family life with all of its mayhem and joy, don’t miss this phenomenal film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Silver Linings Playbook R-Restricted, for language and sexual situations. Catholic News Service rates the film as A-III – for adults.


The great Chinese director Ang Lee has brought the novel Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, to the screen in stunning color and special effects that sing of poetry. Much credit must go to Claudio Miranda for the prize-winning cinematography.

The story is told in a bookend fashion as the grown Pi (Irrfan Khan) is asked by an author (Rafe Spall) in contemporary Montreal to tell his story of a voyage from India. Pi (played at age 16 by Suraj Shana) had grown up in Pondichemy, India where his folks ran a zoo. As a young boy he was attracted beyond his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam. In his teenage years for financial reasons his father decided to move to Canada and take the animals with them on a Japanese freighter. The father planned to sell the animals in Canada. One of the most valuable and dangerous animals was a Bengal tiger named “Richard Parker.”

As a storm arises in the Pacific, Pi goes up on the deck when the power of a typhoon is unleashed. A crewman throws Pi into a lifeboat and sadly he is the only human to survive. At first, several animals find safety on the lifeboat, but survival of the fittest leads to Richard Parker for a while having the lifeboat to himself and Pi on a makeshift floating barge.

Early on, Pi realizes he needs Richard Parker to keep himself alive, as he inventively finds water and food for the both of them, and eventually trains Parker to allow Pi on the lifeboat also.

The various scenes of tragedy and joy are told with the power and beauty of nature. Computer-generated animals and various scenes of nature beautifully tell the story of 227 days at sea. There is a magical island with thousands of meerkats and fresh water that had a very dark side at night. And finally a beach on the Mexican coast where Richard Parker enters the jungle without looking back and young Pi is saved by locals.

The end of the film reverts back to the adult Pi who then gives another version of the story. To me it seemed like a twist where Pilate without cynicism could ask for all of us, “What is truth?”

Suraj Shana, who was 17 when he took on this most difficult part, was chosen from over 3,000 young men who auditioned for the part. He does a very good job of acting and carries the film. But in the end, it is the incredibly beautiful enhanced nature that makes the film memorable.

Life of Pi is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence of digital animals. Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.

Best Films of 2012

The Academy Awards of 2012 are scheduled to be broadcast this coming Sunday, Feb. 24. So it is time to look over the films of 2012 and make some admittedly subjective judgments in setting forth the top 15 films of the year.

My judgment is based only on films that I saw and many of them I reviewed in the Inland Register. (Editor’s note: Full reviews can be found on the Inland Register’s portion of the diocese’s web site: I will start with the film that comes in at 15th and continue down to the best film of the year.

15. For Greater Glory was partially financed by the Knights of Columbus and tells the story of the persecution of the Church in Mexico and Cristero War from 1926-29. It is an important part of North American history in which 90,000 lives were lost, including 20 or so who were eventually canonized as saints. The film is very violent and certainly not for children. It includes the torture of a 13-year-old boy who was later declared a saint.

14. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an unusual romantic comedy in which an Arab sheik who has a castle in Scotland and loves to fish for salmon seeks to somehow introduce salmon to his own desert country in a dammed-up river. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt star as the fishing expert and a business associate of the sheik who try to make this impossible task work.

13. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel goes against the business view that there is no market for films about older people. This delightful film, with some of Great Britain’s most famous actors, including Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith is both a comedy and a touching slice of life. It tells the story of around nine retirees from England who follow a colorful brochure to a new life in India at a rundown hotel.

12. Skyfall teams Daniel Craig in his third Bond film with the incomparable Judi Dench as “M.” Yes, this is the normal Bond film with unbelievable chase scenes and movie violence. But there is more of an insight into the background and lives of the main characters. The ending in the Scottish castle, with the priest hiding place from the Reformation with its secret tunnel, leads to a reverse homage to Michaelangelo’s Pietà.

11. A Late Quartet is a small dramatic film that centers on a classical stringed quartet that plays all over the world. The Christopher Walken character comes down with Parkinson’s. This leads up to a last concert. Also all kinds of struggles among the group are unleashed with the uncertainty taking place. This film is worth it to see Christopher Walken in a heroic role. The part where he is teaching a class and tells of the day he met Pablo Cassals and played for him is unforgettable.

10. The Intouchables, a French film, is the comic-drama of a wealthy quadriplegic Parisian who hires an African immigrant to be his caregiver. Each character is wounded and yet is able to help the other become a more complete human being. Francois Cluzet as wealthy Phillippe and Omar Sy as Driss, the untrained caregiver, are perfect. This is a film that has laugh-out-loud humor.

9. Arbitrage centers on a Bernie Madoff-like character played with superb acting skill by Richard Gere. It is a dysfunctional family story with strong overtones of a mystery. This is a film of great ensemble acting.

8. The Impossible is an incredible presentation by director J. A. Bayona of the devastating Asian tsunami of just a few years ago. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play parents of three children on a Christmas vacation in Thailand. The oldest son is played by Tom Holland, who is an extraordinary actor. Naomi Watts is memorable.

7. Moonrise Kingdom is a stylized film by quirky director Wes Anderson. It is the story of two 12-year-old pen pals who run away on a New England Island. There is lots of humor but an undercurrent of pathos. Bruce Willis plays against his normal character type. The young people, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are excellent.

6. Life of Pi is director Ang Lee’s poetic story of the beauty and devastation of nature. He tells the tale of Pi, the young survivor of a ship that sinks in the Pacific. He lives on a life boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for 227 days. This is a story of tragedy and joy. It is a feast for the eyes.

5. Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, was the winner of the Golden Globe best picture. It is the fascinating story of the C.I.A. plot to get six American hostages out of Iran during the period of the late Carter years. It is a colorful story involving a fake Hollywood movie. Ben Affleck really shows his directing skills as history comes alive.

4. Silver Linings Playbook is a delightful film, with Bradley Cooper as bipolar Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as newly widowed Tiffany. The supporting cast, including Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver as Pat’s parents, is wonderful. A serious subject told with lots of comedy. David O. Russell, the director whose son in real life has mental illness, has given us a gem.

3. Les Miserables is an epic musical delight. From the start with the kindly bishop played by Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Jean Valjean in London in 1985, to Hugh Jackman as today’s Jean Valjean, we have an impressive story well told. Anne Hathaway as Fantine is show-stopping.

2. Zero Dark Thirty is an outstanding achievement by director Kathryn Bigelow. Yes, she should have been nominated as a Best Director by the Academy. What happened there is impossible to know. Yes, I did close my eyes in much of torture scenes at the beginning of the film. There are lots of ethical issues to discuss. But this story of the search for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is striking. Jessica Chastain as the key C.I.A. agent shows herself as one of our greatest young actresses.

1. Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner, is a powerful movie about the passing of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in January of 1865. It sounds like a dry subject but it is fascinating as a story and emotionally moving. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a portrayal of Lincoln that will live through the years. This is a movie that makes you proud to be an American.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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