Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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‘Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,’ ‘Woman in Gold’ – sometimes a movie is best enjoyed, not analyzed
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the May 21, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Kristin Hannah, who has written 22 novels from her home in Seattle, has given us a new rousing novel of two sisters in France caught up in the horrors of World War
II. The novel is titled The Nightingale and is published in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press for a list price of $27.99.
The Nightingale is the story of two sisters who have grown apart. One, named Viann, lives in the small village of Carriveau, south of Paris. The other, named Isabelle, has been living in Paris but is forced to move South as
the Germans invade France in 1940. The dramatic early scenes remind the reader of the “remembrance section” in the great film Casablanca.
Throughout the fast-moving story, Isabelle, whose name means “nightingale,” becomes a member of the French resistance. She first passes out tracts on what the Resistance is doing and then becomes a leader bringing English and
eventually American airmen across France to the Pyrenees. After an arduous journey across the mountains the airmen find safety in a British consulate along the Spanish coast.
Meanwhile, her sister, Viann, with her teenage daughter, Sophie, is forced to take in a Nazi commandant, Capt. Beck, into her home. He does try to help Viann, but she is seen by the villagers as a collaborator.
There are lots of twists and turns in the story. They are moments of romance and large portions of Gestapo-type torture that you may want to skip over in a speed reading fashion.
There is a major surprise toward the end of the book, which is certainly strong on the value of every human life.
The novel shows each sister in her own way as a fighter against unexplainable evil.
It’s fair to say that The Nightingale is a novel you will have a hard time setting aside. It is an achievement that is popular, interesting, and historical, all at once.
A large group of older adults worldwide three years ago enjoyed the movie about retired British citizens taking up residence in Jalipur, India. The film, directed by John Madden, was titled The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
That success has resulted in round two of the story, titled The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The second film has many of the same first-rate English actors. Anyone who saw the first film and enjoyed it will probably
enjoy the second. But like the danger facing any sequel, the first one is the better film.
What makes the film worthwhile is to watch the acting of Bill Nighy, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. They are truly great actors no matter what material they are given. The plot has twists and turns and really isn’t that important.
Muriel (Smith) has joined forces with Sonny (Dev Patel) to run the hotel designed for retirees. They go to Los Angeles to meet with corporate executives to see about starting a small chain of hotels with the same clientele across
India. They have in mind a second one down the road from the original for a start. The corporation will send a secret observer to check things out.
In the midst of all this, Sonny is getting ready to marry his beloved (Tina Desai) and lots of misunderstandings take place. A man who may be the observer (Richard Gere) shows up. Those who have seen the first film will be able to
follow the stories of the guests whom they came to know in the first film.
The ending of the film is a gigantic Bollywood musical production number with all the actors out on a huge dance floor at the big wedding finale.
Yes, I did enjoy the film. It is designed for older viewers, of which I am one. If you want to see The Second Best I would advise seeing the first film first.
The film is rated PG-Parental Guidance by the Motion Picture Association of America. The Catholic News Service rates the film for Adults – A-III. There are adult themes.
I have to admit I enjoyed the new movie Woman in Gold, although from a critical point of view there is a lot wrong with it.
Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann, in her 80s, living in L.A. in the early 1990s. She is the living heir of a series of paintings stolen by the Nazis when Hitler took over Austria in the late 1930s. The most famous of the
paintings is Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1” with its heavy emphasis on gold leaf.
Maria hires Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to be her lawyer in her concerted effort to get the family paintings back, which are at the time in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna. The “Adele” painting is considered to be the “Mona
Lisa” of Austria. There is a series of back stories of the original painting taking place, and then the Nazi period when Maria’s family home is emptied of its valuables. Maria and her husband are able to escape to the U.S.
The movie then centers on the various court cases that lead up to the 2004 Supreme Court case Austria vs. Altmann, that allows Maria to sue Austria for the paintings.
The weaknesses of the film include the script by Alex Kaye that goes back and forth in time. Woman in Gold is worth seeing for the “scenery-eating job” of Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann. But Ryan Reynolds is too bland as the
lawyer who is the grandson of the Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg. His wife, Pam, is way underused. It is a surprise to find out she is played by Katie Holmes.
In the Nazi period there seems to be only one Austrian who points toward safety as Maria and her husband make their escape. The officials of the Belvedere are portrayed as demanding, cruel and Nazi-like characters.
What we have is an interesting story, poorly told.
The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 because of strong themes and language. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-II – for teens and adults.
The March 2015 issue of Harper’s has an excerpt from Gary Wills, who is now at Emory University in Atlanta, on Pope Francis and the Church. The piece is from Wills’ new book The Future of the Catholic Church
with Pope Francis.
He argues that Pope Francis needs all of us in the constant renewal of the Church.
Wills writes: “To say that change has often shaken the Church does not mean that change is always an easy process. And we should not expect it to come from any one man, even the pope. The papacy is not a prophetic office. People may be lodging too much hope in the name Cardinal Bergoglio took for himself. No other pope has taken that name, probably for good reason. Francis of Assisi was notoriously not a good administrator – prophets never are. The Religious order he founded rushed off in all directions, splintered, and quarreled, while – in broader and lasting ways – the whole church was aerated and exalted by his example.”
In the same issue there is an interesting piece for people who like to read. John Crowley in the “Easy Chair” column writes “On Not Being Well Read.” He reviews the books that have made a difference in his life.
Cardinal Walter Kasper has a comprehensive article on Pope Francis in the April 10, 2015 issue of Commonweal. The article is titled “How Francis Sees the Church.”
The author wonderfully gives a rather complete yet readable version of what is in Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium “(The Joy of the Gospel”). For example, he speaks of the pope using the model of the Good Samaritan. Cardinal
Kasper writes: “The Samaritan descends into the dust and dirt of the street, touches and binds up the wounds of the one fallen among robbers, and also pays for his care. Francis speaks of a mysticism of coexistence and encounter, of
embracing and supporting one another, of participating in a caravan of solidarity, in a sacred pilgrimage; he speaks of a mystical and contemplative fraternity which ‘knows how to see the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding
God in every human being’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 92).
(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)
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