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
To-see list: ‘The Butler’; ‘Blue Jasmine,’ Woody Allen’s latest, is ‘memorable’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the September 19, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

In mid-August I was finishing up as a replacement priest for a month at St. Gregory the Great parish on West 90th Street in New York City. I attended a packed 1:15 p.m. showing of Lee Daniels’ The Butler in a theater holding I would guess 300 people. The crowd was half black and half white, with a good mix of young and old. At the end of the film it felt like the whole audience was applauding.

The whole need for the strange use of the director’s name in the title goes back to a copyright issue caused by Warner Bros. having the title locked up for The Butler on the basis of a silent film from the 1920s that most of us will never see.

When a move like the modern The Butler takes on epic historical events within the context of one person’s life, sometimes the film turns out to be less than perfect. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t see it. The Butler is less than perfect, but it is a film that older teens and adults of all ages should see.

The film is based on the true story of Eugene Allen, an African-American who worked as a butler in the White House for eight presidential administrations. In the film an impressive Forest Whitaker plays the butler, now named Cecil Gaines.

The film begins in 1926 on a Southern cotton plantation where in practice slavery still exists. Cecil hears his mother (Mariah Carey) scream as she undergoes a rape by a white plantation owner. His father quietly stands up against the white aggressor and is shot and killed. The white matriarch of the plantation takes young Cecil into her home, where he is trained to be a servant. Cecil later escapes as a young adult and finds service in an upscale hotel up North where he is seen by an important White House official who invites him into service at the White House.

The movie skillfully intertwines the historical events of the civil rights movement toward equality within the context of Cecil’s employment, starting with Eisenhower and going through the Reagan administration.

Portraying well-known presidents is always dicey for people who lived through the times in question. For example, the idea of Robin Williams playing President Eisenhower is a bit of a surprise, to say the least. Thankfully he sits behind a desk so we don’t compare the height of the actor and the president.

In terms of how the presidents treated the Black staff, President Reagan (Alan Rickman) looks pretty good for raising their salary up 40 percent, equal to the white staff, after Cecil had asked officials of previous administrations several times, to no effect.

The family story is parallel to Cecil’s time in the White House with a fine Oprah Winfrey as Gloria, Cecil’s wife. David Oyelowo plays Louis, the eldest son, who becomes active in the Civil Rights movement, continually challenging his father. Louis is present at the main events in the movement, from sit-ins to bus bombings and even to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet Cecil, in his quiet way, fights for equal justice in the White House for the Black staff.

Lee Daniels as director does an admirable job in presenting a complicated series of events over a wide span of history with passion and feeling. David Strong, the writer, has composed a screenplay that is powerful and vast in scope. Other actors who stand out with lots of humor are fellow butlers at the White House played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz.

Do see The Butler. It teaches, challenges and in the process may well bring joy and a few tears.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 because of strong language, racial slurs, and violent scenes. Catholic News Service rates The Butler A-III – for Adults.

*****

Woody Allen, well into his 70s, has just released his new film, Blue Jasmine. It combines versions of the Bernard Madoff saga and Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Cate Blanchett plays the beautiful, talented Jasmine, who is also fragile and wounded. The result is a hugely entertaining and at the same time, challenging movie.

Like Pope Francis, Allen in his own way gives us a strong critique of the very rich – especially those who take advantage of ordinary people and lose their “nest eggs” in unethical financial schemes.

Jasmine, the wife of super-rich Hal (Alec Baldwin), is now without money, and yet she flies first class from New York to San Francisco. There she plans to live in her working-class adopted sister’s apartment. Jasmine continues to heavily drink vodka and pop Xanax like it is candy as she is highly judgmental of her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is kind to her to a fault. (Actually, the apartment Jasmine is critical of looks very spacious for high-priced San Francisco.)

Ginger’s former husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), lost his $200,000 lottery windfall to Jasmine’s pressure that he and Ginger invest in Hal’s so-called 20 percent return investment. Ginger’s present boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), is the Stanley-like character remembered from A Streetcar Named Desire. The hopes and dreams of both sisters are filled with deception and misunderstanding as they struggle forward.

Cate Blanchett is pitch-perfect as Jasmine, who can be cruel and filled with the misuse of money and power as she also later becomes broken and vulnerable. The British actress Sally Hawkins is terrific as the fragile but strong waif, looking for happiness. Dice Clay and Cannavale are both excellent at the working-class guys seeking to live life the best way they know how.

Blue Jasmine is memorable.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Catholic News Service rates the film L – limited adult audience whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

*****

2 Guns is an enjoyable banter-filled “shoot-em-up” film starring Mark Wahlberg as Stig and the always impressive Denzel Washington as Bobby.

This movie is made for the viewer who wants lots of action and movie violence, but is not too concerned about the plot fitting together perfectly.

Supposedly Stig works for a Navy Seals undercover division and Bobby works for United States Drug Enforcement. Neither knows those facts about the other as they steal $40 million-plus from a small bank in Texas. The money is drug money from Mexico. The result is everyone is after our two protagonists for the money, including Mexican cartel drug lords and the CIA that, in the story, is getting a financial cut of all Mexican drugs coming into the United States.

At this point in the film there is lots of violence as our two leading men survive almost impossible odds. For those who like a likable buddy film with lots of car chases and military-like action, here is your film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-restricted – under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. There is violence, language and brief sexual scenes. Catholic News Service rates the film L – limited adult audience-problematic content many adults would find troubling.

Book Review

In the summer of 1976 I was assigned to the parish of Our Lady of the Valley in Okanogan-Omak. The year I was there I marveled at the beauty of the Okanogan Valley and Central Washington. That year we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the country and parishioners helped teach me how to be a pastor.

Author Amanda Coplin spent eight years writing her first novel, The Orchardist. The Quality Paperback version of the 2012 novel published by Harper Perennial has a list price of $15.99.

The author focuses on the places of Central Washington, especially the areas around Cashmere and Chelan. The novel begins at the turn of the last century in the apple and apricot regions where William Talmadge and his sister Elizabeth grow up. Elizabeth somehow disappears into the wilderness and never returns. By age 40 Talmadge has an orchard of 25 acres.

The Orchardist is the story of a taciturn Talmadge’s life that becomes a story of the joys and sorrows of family life even though the parties that make up the family have loose connections in the beginning that grow strong as the novel progresses. Talmadge early in the story finds two young women, Della and Jane, hiding out in his orchard from an Okanogan man named Michaelson, who has violently subjected a number of young women to physical and sexual abuse. The kindness of Talmadge by putting out food for Della and Jane puts him at odds and in danger as the young women’s tormentor seeks to capture them again.

The novel moves through life and death in a beautiful literary style. Tragedy, joy and love stand out from the compassion of a man alone with nature in the orchard.

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


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