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
A look at John Grisham’s latest; plus, our correspondent’s Top 10 Movies of 2015

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the February 18, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

John Grisham writes one book a year, as he recently told Charlie Rose on Rose’s PBS program. He starts early January on a regular daily writing schedule until he finishes the book in several months.

Grisham’s newest book is Rogue Lawyer, published in hardcover by Doubleday for a list price of $28.95. It continues his prolific series of crime and mystery books centering on lawyers doing their job. As usual, you can’t beat Grisham for a fast-paced story that keeps you wanting to read forward.

Sebastian Rudd is the rogue lawyer who defends those who seem most guilty of major crimes. He does charge fees, except in unusual circumstances. His office is a van driven by a former criminal named Partner, who is also his bodyguard. He does have a safe apartment.

The book is divided into six sections, which contain accounts of Sebastian’s cases and adventures. Some of the cases cross the outlined sections.

For me, one of the most interesting cases is in section four. A home is invaded, based on misused internet by a neighbor. The SWAT team breaks down the door as the family sleeps. The husband, Mr. Renfro, responds, not knowing it is the police, and accidently kills one of the policemen as his own wife is killed by the police as she, confused, runs out of their bedroom. Mr. Renfro is accused of killing the policeman because of a law designed to protect the police. This is a court case that brings all of Grisham’s extensive legal and writing skills to the fore.

Throughout the novel there is a running conflict between Sebastian’s former wife, Judith, who is a lawyer, and Sebastian over minimum visiting rights of their son Starcher with his father.

Sebastian does deal with the dark side of society. Some may not feel comfortable with this world.

Grisham does not present gratuitous violence. If there were ratings for books, it most likely would be rated A-III – for adults.


Every now and then along comes a book of fiction that touches your soul. For me, Kent Haruf’s novel Benediction is such a book. It is published by Vintage Books in softcover for a list price of $18.

Benediction is Haruf’s last book; he died soon after it was finished.

The author writes with spare Hemingway-like prose. There are few if any metaphors.

He tells the story of Dad Lewis, himself fairly close to death, living on the great Colorado high plains in a small town east of Denver. That story includes Dad Lewis’s wife, daughter, son, and lots of neighbors and friends.

Benediction is about the blessings of life and how we bless each other. Also, it focuses on the sorrows and the human failures of life, and a sense of loss. You come to love these characters with their joys and sorrows. They go to the heart of the reader.

The main story is about Dad Lewis and his family, but there is a strong subplot of a Protestant minister who loses his church in Denver and is sent with his wife and son to the High Country. He gives a sermon that is too harsh for most of the parishioners and seems to give up on his vocation as his wife and son returns to Denver.

But the story always comes back to Dad Lewis and his family. They become unforgettable.

Ten Films that Stand Out from 2015

A series of circumstances made it difficult for me to see a number of the award-winning or nominated films of 2015. So my list of 10 films is limited. But these 10 films are well worth catching in a theater, or on DVD or streaming.

Coming in at the 10th spot is a film that was in theaters a short time. The movie is The Letters, a biographical film of Blessed Mother Teresa. Juliet Stevenson is outstanding as Mother Teresa. The story spends too much time on the priests investigating the case for Mother Teresa to be declared a saint. The title refers to a series of letters written by Mother Teresa to her spiritual director. She did not want them published, but they were after she died. The best part of the film is the main section that follows Mother Teresa as she leaves the teaching order she belongs to in order to serve the poor of India and beyond. She, of course, is the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

Number 9 is the film McFarland U.S.A. During the Christmas season I saw the film again “on demand” with a family with a teen and a middle-school student. The film held their attention and held mine as I saw if for a second time. Kevin Costner is Jim White, a coach who loses his football position in Idaho and moves his family to McFarland, Calif. He takes a secondary coaching position in this Hispanic community to have a job. Eventually he sees the potential of a number of the male students for cross-country running. Based on a true story of a number of years ago, McFarland U.S.A. mixes a Rocky-type sports story with the White family’s immersion into a new culture. Eventually the family finds the home community they have always been looking for.

The eighth film is Disney-Pixar’s incredibly creative animated film Inside Out. The story is about an 11-year-old girl named Riley (voice by Kaitlyn Diaz) who, with her folks, moves from Minneapolis to San Francisco. Her difficulty adapting to the new location fills her life with emotion. The five emotions emphasized are Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. These pictured emotions in a sense fight for control of Riley. The world of the brain has never been presented so imaginatively before.

Number 7 is the new Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks stars as a lawyer asked to defend a Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in the 1950s. Abel is played by great actor Mark Rylance (TV’s Wolf Hall). He has a relatively small part, but the film shines brightly whenever he is on center stage. The main part of the film centers on the New York lawyer of modest means who is asked to be the key figure in the switch on a bridge in Berlin: Abel for U.S. spy Francis Gary Powers. This movie is fascinating even if you are familiar with the historic story of the Cold War.

The sixth film is Trumbo, an interesting historical film of the late 1940s and ’50s. It is the time of the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Committee focused on the motion picture and television industries. Trumbo centers on Hollywood and the famed writer Dalton Trumbo, who takes the 5th Amendment on the question if he knows others who were Communists. He also refuses to answer if he himself was or is a Communist. The result is that a number of writers were no longer able to write under their own names. Trumbo went to jail and under phony names wrote such films as Roman Holiday. In the end, thanks to Kirk Douglas, he gets credit for writing the film Spartacus. Bryan Cranston is excellent as Trumbo.

Steve Jobs is the fifth film. Michael Fassbender gives a great performance of the famed founder of Apple. The movie centers on three introductions of Apple products that give a form to Jobs’s life, especially in relation to his daughter, Lisa. For some reason, Jobs never wanted to recognize Lisa as his child. The movie is based on Walter Isaacson’s fascinating book. The movie shows us a very creative man who with his strengths had many weaknesses. It is a fine film.

Will Smith, starring as Dr. Bennet Omalu, gives a striking performance in the fourth film, Concussion. I found it quite wonderful for a mainstream film to emphasize, even in small ways, Dr.Omalu’s Catholic religion. It is refreshing. But above all this is a hard-hitting movie about the damage done by concussions to football players in particular. As a forensic neuropathologist in the Pittsburgh coroner’s office, the doctor comes upon several NFL players who have died tragically. He spends his own money to go deeper in his investigations and comes up with a new disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by repeated injuries to the head. Thus begins a conflict with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL. Concussion is a well-done, challenging film.

Brooklyn is the third film of the year. It is an old-fashioned film filled with human emotion. It is the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis, who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. The film shows us what it is like to be an immigrant separated from family and friends. The death of her sister pulls Eilis back to Ireland, where she sees her home country with new eyes. Saoirse Ronan wonderfully plays Eilis. She is drawn between Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian in Brooklyn, and Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) in Ireland. For many it may be the best film of the year.

Phoenix, at number two, is a German film that has overtones of the great Hitchcock film Vertigo. But it does stand alone with it wonderfully creative telling of a story of Germans immediately after the Second World War. Nelly Lentz (Nina Hoss) has facial reconstruction for wounds suffered in a concentration camp. Her former husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), doesn’t recognize her when she finds him at a German cabaret in the American zone. He seeks to train her to be a credible visual figure of his former wife so that he can get half of the money owed to her because of what happened to her as a Jewish person. The ending, which includes an American song in English, is so memorable you may never forget it.

The best film of the past year is Spotlight. The cast is an extraordinary ensemble. The “Spotlight” of the title is a four-person investigative group of reporters for the Boston Globe newspaper. The four fine actors are Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and Brian d’Arcy James. The reporters are assigned to follow up on the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church of the greater Boston area. So the film is in the tradition of All the President’s Men at the time of Watergate. The film is a thriller-mystery in which the Boston Globe reporters put the pieces together to reveal events that had been covered up by the Church, with some support from law enforcement, lawyers, and the Globe itself. The film may be a help to the Church today as it continues in its considerable efforts to safeguard all children.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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