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
‘Brooklyn’ is a ‘beautiful’ tale of Irish immigration; Blessed Mother Teresa’s story told in ‘The Letters’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the January 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

In the early ’50s I was aware of the Army-McCarthy Hearings. They were on the television before school started. I don’t think I understood what was going on in reference to the blacklisting of actors, writers and directors, especially those involved in movies and television, which started in the late ’40s. Evidently, hundreds, if not thousands, were unable to use their artistic talents because at one time they had been members of the Communist Party. When Russia was our ally in World War II evidently there was not much thought about such membership being a problem. But once the Cold War was upon the country there was a dramatic change. The House Un-American Activities Committee sought out artists who had been or were still members of the Party and saw to it that they were imprisoned, or “blacklisted” so they could never work again.

The new film Trumbo tells that story through the events affecting the writer Dalton Trumbo, who was part of the “Hollywood Ten” and refused to name names of other Communist members he might of known. The result was 11 months in prison and the inability to write for films again.

Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) plays Trumbo with vigor and a sureness that he is right in not naming names. But it is hard on his family. His wife, Cleo (Diane Lane) and his older daughter, Niki (Elle Fanning) in particular try to keep the family together as Trumbo throws himself into writing scripts under phony names. Roman Holiday is one such script that won many awards, but his involvement was kept secret. Together with other writers, Trumbo ran off scripts for “B” movies at a low price.

The surprise for me was that Edward G. Robinson, because he had been out of work for over a year, eventually named names. John Wayne and Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren) are the key leaders in getting rid of anyone who once had a connection to the Communist party. I know Hedda Hopper was quite a personality, but Mirren sure emphasizes her over-the-top side.

The film has a number of laugh-out-loud moments in the midst of a rather serious story.

In the end, the importance of Kirk Douglas and the film Sparticus are brought to the conclusion of the film.

Cranston, Lane, and Fanning stand out on the acting side. Jay Roach, who gave us more humorous films in the past, does a good job combining some humor with a movie that emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-restricted, because of strong language and some sexual references.


The new movie Brooklyn is a beautiful character study that reflects on what it means to be an immigrant in our country. It beautifully focuses on the joys and sadness of the new arrival.

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan, who at 14 had a major role in the movie Atonement) is a young Irish woman in a small village in the 1950s. The local priest (Jim Broadbent) is able to arrange a job and ticket to America. Eilis’s sister will stay home with her mother.

Leaving is difficult, but times are rough in Ireland. So Eilis heads off to Brooklyn, where a boarding house for women awaits and a job in a large department store. The give-and-take at meals in the boarding house is terrific. Julie Walters plays the landlady, Mrs. Kehoe, who is a mix of wisdom, humor, and strict rule-giver, all at the same time.

Eilis is at times filled with homesickness, but eventually meets Tony (Emory Cohen). The scene at the boarding house where the young women teach Eilis how to eat spaghetti before going to meet Tony’s Italian family is hilarious. And Tony’s little brother at the dinner table steals the whole show in revealing that Italians don’t like Irish.

Eilis’s sister dies and the new American feels duty-bound to go back to Ireland for a while at least. The question for Tony is: Will Eilis ever return?

In Ireland, Eilis sees home with new eyes, and there is a wealthy young man, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson – Brendon Gleeson’s son in real life who did have a part with his father in the powerful movie Calvary) who hopes Eilis will stay in Ireland and eventually become his wife.

So throughout the movie the young immigrant has serious choices to make and is drawn between her homeland and her new world across the sea.

The movie is directed by John Crowley from a 2009 novel by Colm Tóibin. The screenplay is by Nick Hornby. The actors joined to this artistic group do a superb job in giving us a wonderful story, beautifully filmed, that attempts to give all of us a taste of the immigrant experience.

Saoise Ronan will certainly be up for an Oscar. She carries the movie with subtle acting that tells a deeply-felt story.

Brooklyn is rated by the Motion Picture Association of America as PG-13. There is some fairly modest sexuality. Catholic News Service rates it A-II – adults and adolescents.


It is hard to play a saint. It is easier to play a rogue. Juliet Stevenson deserves lots of praise for her tremendous job of acting as Blessed Mother Teresa in the new film The Letters.

The movie begins with some confusion, trying to get across lots of information in many different cities about Mother Teresa and her early life in the Loretto Religious order and her eventual religious experience that told her she should work with the poor.

There is quite a bit of time given to Sister Teresa’s spiritual director, Father Celeste Van Exen (Max Von Sydow) speaking to Father Benjamin Praagh (Rutger Hauer), who is involved in her canonization efforts. Both are fine actors, but their characters complicate the plot, as does the heavy emphasis on Roman and local ecclesiastical authorities. I find it hard to believe that key authorities at important meetings would be holding rosary beads and moving them.

But once we get to Sister Teresa in the slums of India the story moves with interest and, at times, emotion. The Indian sections where Sister Teresa, against all odds, faces the dangers of being not trusted in a Hindu society are impressive. She also breaks the rules in caring for those of lower castes. But eventually, despite all the conflict with her own order and the reality of working with the poorest of the poor, she attracts young women in large numbers who wish to work with her as they see Christ in every person they serve.

The Letters is well worth seeing. It is inspiring and challenging for us today.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG – parental guidance. Catholic News Service rates the film AII – for adults and teens.

Book Review

Liturgical Press has a new series of fairly short biographies of famous Catholics, under the title “People of God.” A fellow volunteer at the food bank put me on to the series and especially to Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s biography of Flannery O’Connor, subtitled “Fiction Fired by Faith.” The list price is $12.95 in softcover.

I have read much of O’Connor’s fiction, admittedly not always understanding every story. And I have read Brad Gooch’s informative biography A Life of Flannery O’Connor. But this short (138 pages) book is a gem.

In easy-to-read language, O’Donnell tells the story of Flannery’s life and explains several of her short stories and her two novels. O’Donnell could not do a better job. She has a real love and appreciation of Flannery O’Connor and a deep understanding of her writings.

This is a bucket list book that makes you want to go back and reread the stories you have already read or to read for the first time ones you missed. The author opened for me the meaning of the novel Wise Blood, which O’Connor took five years to write.

Flannery wrote the short story “Revelation” a few months before her death at 39 in 1964 after years of suffering from lupus. It is my favorite story of this great southern Catholic writer. If you have never read it, put it on your list. It is an extraordinary account of a bigoted Southern woman who, at the end of the story, has a vision of humanity entering heaven. It is a story of All the Saints, forgiveness, and redemption. What a story for this Year of Mercy! O’Donnell does her discussion of the story with wisdom and love.

The author ends her wonderful book with these words:

“The gifts Flannery left us are many – 32 short stories, two novels, a dozen (plus) essays, and hundreds of letters – but the greatest gift, perhaps, is that of her life. Blessed with brilliance, fired by faith, yet physically fragile, flawed and fraught, Flannery lived and died with grace and wit and sheer nerve. Not bad for a life lived between the house and chicken yard.”

Magazine Update

The December 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine has an informative and interesting article on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is titled “Mary: The Most Powerful Woman in the World.” It is written by well-known magazine writer Maureen Orth, with wonderful pictures by Diana Markosian.

The author takes us to interviews with pilgrims visiting Marian shrines across the world. She gives a short biblical background on Mary. She then emphasizes private revelations of Mary throughout the world. There is a great map with the places where individuals are said to have visions of Mary that tells whether they are approved by the Church, expressions of faith by people, local tradition, or unconfirmed.

Writer Orth spends special time on Our Lady of Guadalupe and her importance in Mexico and beyond. There is a beautiful section on Lourdes. The ending of the article centers on the importance of Mary in the Muslim tradition. There is more on Mary in the Koran than in the New Testament.

All in all, a memorable article.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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