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
The 15 best movies of 2013

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the February 20, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

The Academy Awards of 2013 are scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday, March 2. So it is a good time to look over the films of 2013 and make a subjective judgment on the best 15 films of the year. My judgment is based on films I saw during the year or reviewed in the Inland Register. I will start with the film in 15th place and continue down to the best film of the year.

15. Frances Ha is a small independent film directed by Noah Baumbach. It is the story of Frances, played by an irrepressible Greta Gerwig. It is in the tradition of Woody Allen as we follow Frances trying to become a dancer and somehow get her own apartment. In the process we meet lots of people in their 20s in New York City. Even when her world seems to be collapsing, Frances is somehow able to pick herself up and start again.

14. 42 is the story of Jackie Robinson entering the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African-American in the Big Leagues. Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is recruited by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to break the racist color barrier in 1947. The film has been called old fashioned, but it is a story, well told, that gives hope and is thoroughly entertaining.

13. Saving Mr. Banks is the story of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) seeking to get the rights to Mary Poppins from the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in the early 1960s. Disney has been trying to get the rights for 20 years. Finally, Travers comes to Hollywood because she is having financial difficulty. But she doesn’t want Disney messing with her story with animated penguins and songs. Emma Thompson plays the author very prickly and Tom Hanks doesn’t directly try to recreate Disney. There is a separate story in Australia about Travers growing up. The movie is well done but is heavily delving in to the mental health reasons for Travers’s position.

12. All Is Lost tells the story of nameless man trying to survive storms in the Indian Ocean alone on his boat. Robert Redford, well into his 70s, show how good an actor he really is with very few words to say. But his body and face portray the hope and agony of dealing with a large hole in the side of the hull of his ship. Within 90 minutes or so, Redford uses every bit of his imagination and his “fix-it’’ ability to try to keep the boat afloat, and then later, the same with his lifeboat.

11. Enough Said is the final performance for James Gandolfini in a unique romantic comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Gandolfini plays entirely against his Sopranos type. His divorced-man-with-a-daughter-ready-for-college comes across as a very kind and caring man. Louis-Dreyfus plays a character who first sees this man’s good qualities and then, influenced by his former wife, starts only to see his weaknesses.

10. Captain Phillips is a major achievement by director Paul Greengrass, who took three ordinary Somalis from Minnesota and helped them become competent actors up against Tom Hanks. Hanks in the title role plays the head of a cargo ship hijacked for ransom off the coast of Somalia. The film shows the plight of the invaders while at the same time showing the innate Everyman survival skills of the Captain trying to save his men and his ship.

9. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom covers the life of Nelson Mandela, the father of his country, from childhood to his ascension to the presidency of South Africa. The outstanding pillar of the film is the extraordinary acting of Idris Ellba as Mandela. The movie is less than perfect, as it tries to cover the totality of an incredible story. Naomie Harris plays his second wife, Winnie.

8. Lee Daniel’s The Butler tells the story of Eugene Allen, played by Forest Whitaker, who was a butler to Presidents of the United States from Eisenhower down to retirement, and living to see President Obama in the White House. The great line at the end of the film as he is being ushered into the new President’s office is: “I know my way.” Oprah Winfrey does a fine job playing Eugene’s wife. The film gives a graphic history of the civil rights movement.

7. August: Osage County was originally a Pulitzer-Prize winning play. An incredible group of actors join together, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ewan McGregor. The film centers on a family gathering in the hot summer at an Oklahoma farm house. The result is a load of issues in a dysfunctional family coming to the surface with a viciousness that won’t stop. Hard to watch but a surplus of fine acting that lasts until the final scene.

6. Mud was small movie filmed on the Mississippi River. In this film, partly a tale of coming of age, two boys around 13 years old find a man living in a boat in a tree on a deserted island in the river. Matthew McConaughey does a superb job of acting as the mysterious man who may have some trouble with the law. The film is also a cross between a thriller and an idealistic romance. The outstanding script was by Jeff Nichols and the breakout performance was by young Tye Sheridan.

5. 12 Years a Slave is one of very few movies about slavery and overnight becomes a classic. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a freeman who goes down to Washington D.C. and is captured into slavery. As we watch his story we see the horror of the violence of slavery in pre-Civil War Louisiana. Lupita Nyong’o stands out as the slave Patsey, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender are the slave owners who preach from the Scriptures to their slaves and commit unbelievable acts. Director Steve McQueen has given us a film that sickens and forces us to remember our country’s history.

4. Gravity is the most powerful visual film of the year. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron presents a journey into space that is unforgettable. Sandra Bullock gives a performance that is incredible and George Clooney gives her the humor and support to do the impossible. This is one time when the technology available today truly enhances the experience of the wonder of God’s creation. For some there are religious themes that run throughout the film.

3. Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen’s best films, as it combines the Madoff story with A Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett gives the performance of a lifetime as the wounded wife of the Madoff character seeking to begin a new life with her sister out in San Francisco. The supporting cast of Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Carnavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhbarg, and Peter Sarsgaard are all terrific.

2. Nebraska uses black-and-white film to tell a somber yet at times humorous story of a father (Bruce Dern) suffering from dementia. His younger son (Will Forte) decides to humor his aging father and take him on a road trip to Lincoln, Neb., where the father thinks he has won a million dollars. They travel together through Dad’s old home town and meet lots of relatives and friends who think the father really has won the money. After making it to Lincoln the story moves to a powerful ending that is unforgettable.

1. Philomena is the poignant story of an Irish lower class nurse (Judi Dench) who 50 years ago lost her son when the institution she was in turned him over to Americans as a three-year-old. She meets an upper class reporter (Steve Coogan) who for his own reasons to get back into the writing world is willing to help Philomena travel to the United States and find her son. There is humor amidst the seriousness of the film. Stephen Fears’s direction is top notch. The ending is a meditation on forgiveness.

Movie Reviews

Years ago at St. Patrick High School in Walla Walla in English class I read Alan Paton’s novel Cry the Beloved Country. That book always made me interested in South Africa. I always had the fear that eventually there would be a massive Civil War with violence that wouldn’t stop.

But thank God for Nelson Mandela. The new film Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom is based on Mandela’s autobiography, published in 1995. With his political ability and willingness to avoid vengeance and seek reconciliation he certainly avoided the very real possibility of civil war.

Director Justin Chadwick tries to tell the complete story of Mandela, and in the process his film sometimes becomes ponderous, with beautiful scenes of nature in South Africa. We start with the boy in his African village and pass to the young lawyer who eventually becomes radicalized and becomes a leader of the African National Congress, which fights with all its might against an increasingly apartheid state. Mandela is sentenced to life in prison so that he won’t become a martyr by a sentence of death. He spends 27 years in prison most of the time in a 50 square foot cell at Robben Island and later at Pollsnoor and Victor Verser Prisons in Cape Town. He is released in 1990 and eventually is elected president of all of South Africa.

The movie shows that Mandela’s personal life has flaws. His first wife leaves him. His relationship with his second wife, Winnie Mandela (Naomie Harris), goes from great love to eventual separation after the years in prison and the violence adopted by Winnie when Nelson wanted reconciliation for the country.

The strength of the film is the stand out performance of Idris Elba, who gets Mandela’s speech patterns down to perfection and gives him a certain kind of majesty. The film tries to do too much and results in both some very fast moving moments to slow ones that seem stalled.

But all this being said, I have to say I was glad I saw this film.

Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America because of intense violence, sexual content, and strong language. Catholic News Service has rated the film A-III – for adults.

*****

Director Brian Percival’s new film is based on the young adult novel The Book Thief by the Australian writer Markus Zusak. The movie follows the book accurately.

The film unusually is narrated by Death (Roger Allan) who provides the background of a young teen traveling with her Communist mother to a German village. On the train trip her younger brother dies. At his burial the main character Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) steals a book she finds on the ground that it is a training book for undertakers. Liesel does not read yet. Her mother has her left with a German couple so that she will be safe. It is 1938 and the Nazis are in full control of the country.

The couple are kind: Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and his tough cookie wife, Rosa (Emily Watson) who, as the story progresses, has a heart of gold.

Early on, while Liesel misses her mother, she is in the crowd of villagers as there is a major book burning in the town square. It is my understanding that book burnings took place throughout Germany early on in the spring of 1933 after Hitler had come to power. For purposes of the story the event has been transferred much closer to the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. At the burning Liesel steals one of the smoking books. Using the two books she has in her possession Hans teaches Liesel how to read. She later “borrows” books from a wealthy family’s beautiful library. The ability to read and tell the story to others is a key to the film.

An important part of the story is Hans and Rosa providing a safe place for a young Jew in his 20s whose father Hans knew in the First World War. The young man, Max, reaches out to Liesel and she cares for him especially at a time he is near death from illness.

There are a number of subplots involving a schoolmate of Liesel’s named Rudy (Nico Liersh) who is kind and protective of her from the beginning. One night Max leaves because of the danger he is causing to the family he has come to love.

Toward the end of the film there is a bombing of the street on which the family lives.

The film does look like an old Hollywood movie filmed on a studio lot, even though it was filmed in a German village. There is a danger of seeing the film as a sanitized version of one of the worst times in world history. It helped me to think that these were many very sad and tragic events being seen through the young eyes of Liesel.

The acting by the principals, especially Sophie Nellsse, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, is excellent.

If you have read the book and found it captivating my guess is you will be pleased with the film adaptation.

The Book Thief is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America because of violence and depictions of death. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-II – for adults and teens.

Recently Received

Charles F. Finck, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Otis Orchards, has recently published a book on forgiveness. The title is As We Forgive Those: How to Forgive Others, Ourselves and God. It appears to be self-published and is available in softcover from Liberty Cross Ministries, www.libertycross.org, or at P.O. Box 809, Liberty Lake, WA 99019, for a list price of $12.95.

Mr. Finck has worked as a counselor and teacher for 28 years. He seeks to provide the ordinary person with ways to forgive, especially through a "Forgiving Prayer."

Throughout the book he uses examples from his time in the Air Force at Fairchild and from his experience in counseling. The book also includes short Scripture passages that go with the text, set aside in small boxed areas. The recent movie Philomena and the first episode of the new season of Downton Abbey dovetail nicely with the important theme of this book.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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