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
'What’s in a Phrase?’ offers ‘excellent’ resources for prayer; ‘Whiplash’ is tough to watch, but ‘extraordinary’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the March 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

The Russian nominee for Best Foreign Film was Leviathan. It was partially funded by the Ministry of Film, but not shown in Russia until the Academy Awards accepted the film as one of the five films nominated. (My favorite film from Poland, Ida (Media Watch: IR 2/19/15 and 08/21/14) was the winner.)

This powerful but slow-moving film was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. It won a major prize at Cannes and the Best Foreign film at the Golden Globes.

Leviathan tells the story of an ordinary Russian who is good at fixing cars, living in the far Northwest of Russia on the dramatic coast of the Barrets Sea. The mayor of the town wants the man’s property for a new housing development. It is the story of how corrupt ways can be used to bring down a man and his family in what amounts to a Grecian tragedy.

The scenery is striking throughout, but there are way too many scenes of cars traveling from one location to another.

The leviathan is quoted by an Orthodox priest in reference to the biblical story of Job. The main character becomes Job-like as the local government seeks to destroy him for a piece of property. And there is no receiving everything back as there is in the Book of Job.

The cinematic reference to the title of Leviathan are the scenes of whale bones on the beach.

The film is filled with lots of vodka-drinking scenes. The Orthodox Church is strongly critiqued as being hand-in-hand with a corrupt governmental system.

And yet Leviathan is a thought-provoking film which shows the raw beauty of Northern Russia and strongly asks questions about contemporary Russia.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-Restricted (under 17 requires accompany parent or adult guardian). There is some sexuality, language, and alcohol. Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film.

*****

Over 50 years ago in the seminary we had a brilliant professor who would put individual students on the spot. The teacher adopted badgering tactics which would overwhelm most students with fear and the inability to answer the questions.

The new movie Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, features J.K. Simmons, who in February won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Personally, I think in many ways he is the main actor of the film.

He is outstanding as the music professor at Shaffer Conservatory in New York City. One of his pupils on the drums is Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) who is trying to get into the school’s elite concert jazz band.

The professor’s teaching methods are cruel and abusive as he seeks the best performances for his orchestra. The focus of the film is the increasing violence the professor uses on the young drummer, played by Miles Teller.

Teller gives a very strong performance as a young man willing to give up all human relationships to excel at his craft. The scene where he rather cruelly drops his girlfriend sticks in your memory.

A number of melodramatic events, including a suicide and auto accident, give twists and turns to the story.

One need not be a jazz enthusiast to enjoy both the music and the story.

Whiplash, made for the unusually low figure of $3.3 million, was first shown at the Sundance Festival in Utah over a year ago. In many ways it is a tough film to watch, but seeing both Simmons and Teller go after each other in such an intense way makes for an extraordinary film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-Restricted (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian). Catholic News Service rates the film L-limited – adult audience films whose problematic content many would find troubling.

*****

Mr. Turner is the biographical film of the great British landscape and seascape painter J. M.W. Turner (1775-1851). The film is slow moving and has lyrical scenes with sunsets that beautifully parallel Turner’s actual paintings.

Timothy Spall does a fine job as Turner who in some respects is not a particularly kind and understanding person to his colleagues and the ordinary people of his life. He took advantage of his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) in cruel and sexual ways. He never married, but did find love and affection from Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey). We follow Turner throughout his career to his death in Victorian England.

Mike Leigh directs the film with a certain love and care of the great painter. We see Turner develop his art from realism to some modern uses of abstraction. He eventually uses brilliant colors within a less realistic style. Early in his career, to get the realism right for painting ships, he had himself tied to the mast to get the view and feel from high above the water.

The cinematography by Dick Pope is at times breathtaking. But the film’s slowness and length will cause some to doze off.

Mr. Turner requires at least some interest in Turner’s paintings, the Victorian times, or cinematic beauty.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-Restricted. Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film. I suspect it would be rated L-Limited for some sexual content.

Book Reviews

Looking for a new book of excellent meditations for prayer or spiritual reading? Look no further than Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s What’s in a Phrase?: Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause. This book of 50 reflections on short Scriptural phrases is published in paperback by William B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids for a list price of $14.

McEntyre collates her book under the themes of Assurance, Invitation and Admonition, Mystery, and Surprise. She takes a verse from Scripture, often from the Psalms, and runs with it. She often connects difficult verses and connects them with contemporary life in a new and thoughtful way.

The author uses examples that often stick with you. One such example is the story of a young monk speaking with anxiety to his abbot.

The monk says, “Father, I can’t go to Mass. I’m so mired in doubt. I’m afraid I’ve lost my faith.”

The abbot replied, “Then come with my faith.”

The author sums the story up: “That trust in the love that allows us to step in and pinch-hit for each other, take each other’s place, stand in each other’s shoes and hold each other up is anchored deeply in the life of the body where we first learn about being held, shielded, stretched and wrestled with.”

What’s in a Phrase? is a treasure to be reread again and again.

*****

When Graham Greene wrote his early thrillers in the late 1930s, he called them “entertainments.” The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins is of the entertainment genre. It has no great literary style; “just keep the story moving” is her mantra.

The book is published in hardcover by Riverhead Books for a list price of $26.95. In February it was number one in sales for fiction books.

The novel tells the story in the first-person from three different women who become interconnected, whether they want to be or not. The main narrator is Rachel, who has a drinking problem. There are some questions about how reliable the account from her voice is.

She sees a couple on their porch having coffee a number of times as her train to London slows down for a switching issue. She gives them names and romanticizes their life.

The couple lives down the street overlooking the train tracks from where Rachel once lived with Tom before they got a divorce. Tom now lives with Anna, his new wife. They have a daughter, Evie.

The real names of the couple Rachel idealizes are Megen and Scott. At one time Megen was the child care provider for Evie.

Each of the women tells part of the story. There is a murder eventually that takes some time to figure out, especially as Rachel is in and out of reality as she tells her side of the story.

Whether it means to or not, the story tells of the damage done to young and old by divorce, adultery, lying, and the misuse of alcohol.

The Girl On The Train is escapist literature for a long airplane ride.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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