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
Whedon and Shakespeare a marvelous team-up; superlative storytelling from regional authors

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the August 15, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

Noah Baumbach’s new independent American film Frances Ha is a combination of a bit of a Woody Allen story of New Yorkers combined with the reality of life for those in their 20s finding their lives heavily based on the high cost of apartments.

The irrepressible Greta Gerwig gives an outstanding performance as a 27-year-old college graduate named Frances Handley who wants to be a dancer and make enough to have her own apartment. But that is a long way off if it is ever to happen.

In the beginning she is living in an apartment with Sophie (Mickey Summer) in Brooklyn. But Sophie wants to live in the exciting neighborhood of Tribeca and moves out. Frances can’t afford such a move. She finds herself moving to Chinatown with Benji (Michael Zegen) and Lev (Adam Driver) where she can barely afford her $900-plus-a-month share.

Frances will make a number of other moves as her dance career doesn’t take hold and the money dissipates. She spends Christmas in Sacramento with her parents who are played by Greta’s real parents. They do a very good job.

Then on a spur of the moment she uses a new credit card to spend a weekend in Paris where she connects with virtually no one. But through all of her disasters Frances always has an exuberant side that is infecting. She is a fun person to be around although her social skills are sometimes lacking. Even when her world is collapsing around her she still picks herself up and keeps on going.

One summer, to make money she goes back to Vassar College (where she graduated) and takes on menial jobs to make some money.

I don’t know if the scene in the Unitarian Church in Sacramento for Christmas is meant to be harsh or just humorous in a Garrison Keeler vein. The hymn is “This Little Light of Mine.”

Frances Ha is filmed in black and white, as are four or five other films coming out this year.

If you want to try to understand some people in a large city in their 20s, Frances Ha may well be a good start.

Catholic News Service rates Frances Ha as L-limited adult audience films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-restricted-under 17 requires parent or adult guardian. There are language and sexual situation issues.


Joss Whedon directs the new version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon has quite a following of fans based on writing and directing last year’s Marvel’s The Avengers, his Serenity film, and the television series Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A number of the actors from those productions play key parts in this new black-and-white version of Shakespeare’s comedy, filmed in 12 days at the director’s own home in Santa Monica.

We have an hour-shortened version of the original taking place in contemporary times of the rich and famous falling in and out of love in the foundational basis for all those Hollywood romantic comedies down through the years.

Leonato (Clark Gregg) is welcoming all kinds of guests to his beautiful home for a plush party with all kinds of wine. Claudio (Fran Kranz) rapidly falls in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jullian Morgese). A wedding is scheduled within a very brief time.

Meanwhile, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) pledge themselves to the single life and give each other a rough time with verbal jests. The story is filled with gossip and misunderstandings that lead to a confrontation scene at the wedding of Claudio and Hero where the Friar (Paul Meston) suggests a lie that he hopes will eventually bring some tranquility to a divided house.

I don’t claim to understand every line but the plot is fairly clear. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry is the comic highlight of the film. Those familiar with him from Firefly, Serenity and Castle will laugh out loud at his portrayal of the chief detective on the case of deception over the lies destructive of Hero.

Much Ado is not the typical summer movie that more likely would have been released in the fall, but Joss Whedon makes Shakespeare come alive for a new generation. The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film as PG-13 because of some sexuality and drug use. Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – adults.

Book Reviews

My favorite book in the last year has been Brian Doyle’s stories of his life, titled Grace Notes. A parishioner from Spokane passed on her copy of Doyle’s February 2012 release Bin Laden’s Bald Spot and other stories. Published by Red Hen Press of Pasadena, Calif., for a list price of $16.95, this volume is made up (with one major exception) of fictional stories. Each story is three to four pages (though with several exceptions). Generally there is humor and more than a bit of quirkiness.

The stories were published in sources such as Harper’s and Harvard Review to U.S. Catholic magazine and a website known as “Smokebox.” Several seem to be original to this book. There are a total of 25 stories.

I’m not sure I connect with the humor or meaning of every story but several stood out for me.

“AAA Plus” is a delightful story of a dad who needs a tow of his car, but he only has AAA Standard that, because of restrictions, doesn’t allow the tow-truck driver to take his car the distance to the mechanic’s shop. In the story there is a three-mile or less limit to the Standard. But if the dad had AAA Plus the driver could take him anywhere. So Dad purchases Plus the next day and the driver named Denny was now willing to tow Dad and the kids up into the mountains on a ski trip adventure with a stop at a restaurant included.

“Waking the Bishop” has overtones that may connect with a former auxiliary bishop of Portland. It is the story of the burial of a bishop who was an enormous man and it took 10 men to carry his coffin. After the burial of the bishop there is a reading of his will on the college campus where he lived. In that process there are lots of fond remembrances of the bishop’s life that in a sense become like a wake. And among the bishop’s items is a parrot that causes divisions over who gets what. All in all, the story is a reflection of life and death and the connections to the people of our lives.

The most extraordinary piece in the collection is “Pinching Bernie” which begins with raging recounting of sexual abuse of children by priests in the Boston archdiocese and the cover-up that followed. It is a “cri de coeur” that could have been written by Emile Zola in the “J’Accuse ... !” tradition of over a hundred years ago. This is the strongest writing I have seen on this subject anywhere. And then all of a sudden the account becomes fiction as a Dad named Jimmy snaps and goes to Rome where with a friend he commandeers Cardinal Law and brings him back to Boston, where he is to work 12 hours a day in menial labor the rest of his life.


To my knowledge I have never read any of Ivan Doig’s novels about Montana at various times in history. But recently I read his 11th novel, The Bartender’s Tale, which came out a year ago. It was published by Riverhead Books of New York. It is available for various prices. My hardback copy was $12.99 used from Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane.

Ivan Doig is a wonderful story teller. In The Bartender’s Tale we see life in a small fictitious town of Gros Ventre, Mont., through the eyes of 12-year-old Rusty Harry. Rusty has been united recently with his father Tom, a bartender at the Medicine Lodge Saloon. His early years were with relatives in Arizona. Who his mother was tends to be a question that travels through the novel.

The story centers on the winter and summer of 1960. We find out Rusty was named after the great western painter Charlie Russell. An older Russell Harry is looking back on the eventful time as he approached his teenage years and what it was like to have the father he always longed for and a friend his own age, Zoe. The two preteens loved to listen through louvers in the attic over the bar and hear the stories and work on model airplanes and check through the traded objects gathered to pay long-standing bar bills.

Rusty learns to fish although his Dad enjoys it much more than he does. He and Zoe go to Great Falls with his Dad to receive the Bartender’s Achievement Award of the Great Falls Select Beer Company. The beer at Medicine Lodge Saloon is referred to as “shelac.” Rusty resents the various trips his Dad takes to Canada – trips shrouded in mystery. Rusty is always worried that things will fall apart and he will end up back in Arizona.

Del, an oral historian from Washington D. C., arrives in town and asks Tom who had a bar called the “Blue Eagle” near the Fort Peck Dam when it was being built in the 1930s, to go to a reunion. Del, short for Delano, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, needs someone who can get the workers (called “mudjacks”) to talk to him. This whole section is a prize winner.

Into this world comes a woman named Proxy who was a “taxi dancer” at the “Blue Eagle” back in the days of the building of the dam. She would like her daughter to learn how to be a bartender under Tom’s tutelage back at the Medicine Lodge Saloon. After this the story has lots of twists and turns that are both delightful and filled with the human condition.

The Bartender’s Tale is a terrific book with which to end the summer.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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