Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
New Woody Allen film revisits old territory with ‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ while ‘Hundred-Foot Journey’ is ‘pure entertainment’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the October 16, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and even saw it two or three times. Allen’s film last year, Blue Jasmine, had an incredible performance by Cate Blanchett. But to be honest, I have to admit I dozed off a time or two in Allen’s newest film, Magic in the Moonlight.

Colin Firth plays a world-famous magician under a Chinese stage name. His real name is Stanley Crawford. A friend from childhood named Howard (Simon McBurney) tracks down Stanley in 1928 Berlin. Howard asks Stanley to come to the South Coast of France to show that an American, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) is a charlatan. Sophie has wormed her way into a rich Pittsburgh family, the Catledges, who are vacationing on the Cote d’ Azur. She claims to be a spiritualist who can contact the dead.

Sophie has convinced Mrs. Catledge (Jacki Weaver) to give her and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) a large sum of money for a foundation on spiritualism. The son of Mrs. Catledge, Brice (Hamish Linklater) is planning to marry Sophie.

Stanley is set to debunk the whole series of events and makes many a speech about there being no God and no spiritual world. The speeches are well given but are repetitious and eventually way too much. Woody, we do get your point!

Then there are several twists and turns, just as if you were watching a magic show.

Firth is a fine actor, but the material we have heard before.

The stand-out actress is Eileen Atkins, from the TV series Doc Martin. She is Stanley’s aunt, who just happens to live in Southern France, close to where the séances are taking place. The give-and-take between Stanley and Aunt Vanessa near the end of the film is a delight.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13-(Parents strongly cautioned.) There are mild sexual implications and smoking. Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.

*****

Director Lasse Hallstrom returns to the south of France (which is familiar to viewers of his earlier film, Chocolat) in his new film The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Helen Mirren heads a fine cast as Madame Mallory, the owner of a Michelin-rated one-star gourmet restaurant outside a beautiful French village. Om Puri plays the Indian patriarch, Papa Kadam, who leaves Bombay with his family under duress and settles across the street from Madame Mallory’s famed French restaurant. He seeks to introduce fine Indian food to the French.

It is good to think of the story more as a fable rather than a realistic portrayal of events.

There is an immediate conflict between the two restaurants. Papa Kadam finds that the fresh food he needs to provide for his menu on opening day has been bought up by his competitor across the street. He has to rush to other markets in nearby villages. Also there is violence of a racist nature, led by a chef from Madame Mallory’s restaurant, who is later fired.

The story eventually focuses on Papa Kadam’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who studies French cooking on his own with the help of cookbooks loaned from sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) who works across the street. It is Hassan’s goal to become as good a cook as any French chef. To tell much more would be a spoiler.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is pure entertainment with a series of ups and downs. It has tragedy, comedy and a dash of romance. Even considering it is a fable, it is interesting to note that when Hassan helps everything work out, he does keep his $12,000 watch.

The film is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is some sensuality. Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.

Book Reviews

James Lee Burke, who lives in Missoula, has a new mystery-adventure novel out.

In Wayfaring Stranger Burke tells the story of two World War II Veterans, Weldon Holland and Hershel Pine, who set up an oil pipeline company when they return to Louisiana. The book is published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster for a list price of $27.99.

The novel is seen mostly through the eyes of Weldon who, as a 16-year-old boy, took a gunshot at the car Bonnie and Clyde were driving during the Great Depression. This event comes up several times in the novel as Weldon Holland reflects on his life and seeks its meaning.

In World War II, Weldon and Hershel are caught up in the Battle of the Bulge. They end up behind German lines and are saved by a Jehovah Witness couple.

The two Americans had found a Jewish woman from Spain left for dead in the remains of a concentration camp. Her name was Rosita Lowenstein. Amazingly she survives with the two Americans and is eventually married to Weldon in a service in Paris before they all come back to the U.S.

Starting the pipeline company, they use welding techniques they have taken from Germany. The company does well and has a few setbacks. Weldon and Rosita have a number of crises caused by anti-Semitism coming at them from all sides, but evidently from one Texan couple who have loaned money to the pipeline company. Hershel also suffers as his wife Linda Gail is not satisfied with their income and status. She seeks to become a movie star and actually does hit the big time at Warner Bros. Studios in the post-war period.

Burke continues to have beautiful descriptions of the American West. He uses unusual metaphors that give vivid pictures. As with many of Burke’s stories, there are religious overtones and prayers.

There is a reference to Spokane in a legend passed around that says it was in Spokane that Butch Cassidy lived until his death in 1937. In this story he was not killed in Bolivia.

Burke speaks through Weldon Holland when he writes: “There are certain kinds of currency you acquire in life. Most of it is ephemeral. But friendship and faith in the unseen world and the commitment to be true unto thine own self are the human glue that you never give up, not for any reason.”

The novel comes to a conclusion with lots of questions. It does not end in the traditional mystery style, where everything is tied up. Be that as it may, Wayfaring Stranger certainly is a page-turner.

*****

Una M. Cadegan of the University of Dayton has a new scholarly book with the catchy title All Good Books Are Catholic Books. It is published in hardcover by Cornell University Press. Its subtitle is “Print Culture, Censorship and Modernity in the Twentieth Century.” The book is part of “Cushwa Center Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth Century America,” which is edited by R. Scott Appley of the University of Notre Dame. I would recommend the library if one is interested in the book, for the list price is $39.95.

The book covers the period from World War I to the Second Vatican Council. It is mainly concerned with printed materials, but has an informative section on the Legion of Decency and the Catholic Church’s influence on the motion picture industry. Members of the Church influenced and ran the film industry’s Code, which lasted from 1934 until the early 1960s.

For me, the most interesting section was on the history of the Index of Forbidden Books. The Index comes in after the Protestant Reformation and lasts until the 1960s, with the Vatican II Council.

Even early on there was some accommodation. The government of Venice ruled in the 16th Century that the German students at the University a Padua would have access to any of the books on the Index. The government wanted to provide a University that had students from several countries. The civil authorities were afraid some students would be put off by a strict interpretation of the Index.

There were no American books on the Index, although some Americans might talk like there were. Most were British philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume. French writers were heavily on the Index, including Rene Decartes, Francois Voltaire, and Denis Diderot.

After the beautiful scene in Les Miserables where the bishop excuses Jean Valjean of stealing and even gives him his silver candles, it is hard to understand Victor Hugo being on the Index, as were Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, and Emile Zola.

There was an attempt to place Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory on the Index. But it didn’t happen. One of the greatest proponents of the book was Cardinal Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI.

As an academic book, All Good Books is not a quick or easy read, but it does help explain what older Catholic went through in reference to what they could read and see. One good effect might be some of the fine classic movies of the ’30s through the ’50s that we took for granted and now are on Turner Classic Movies where they are all pretty much rated G.

The author lays out the struggles of Catholics writers in light of past history. At the beginning of her book she quotes a letter dated July 20, 1955, from fiction writer Flannery O’Connor:

“I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic. This is a fact and nothing covers it like the bald statement. However I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness, the thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary and guilty. To possess this within the Church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic. It’s to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level. I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

Magazine Notes

William Dersiewicz, who taught at Yale from 1998-2008, has an excerpt from his new book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life in The New Republic for Aug. 4, 2014. The excerpt is titled: “I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed by the Ivy League.” It is a statement expressing a strong point of view, questioning the advantages of the Ivy League and other elite private schools. I found the parts of how students are chosen to be accepted in such schools informative and interesting.

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


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