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BY Steven D. Greydanus
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
(2007) - Pick
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) - Pass
The Aristocats (1970) - Pick
New this week on DVD, The Assassination of Jesse James by
the Coward Robert Ford boasts the best name for a Western of any film in
history. It’s the second half of the title that does it — the editorial
moralizing, redolent of a 19th-century dime novel. The kind of thing boys like
young Bob Ford eagerly devoured as they dreamed of being daring and admired
like Jesse James.
Faithfully adapted from the 1983 novel by Catholic author
(and deacon) Ron Hansen, the film shares some themes with 2007’s other
big-screen Western, 3:10 to Yuma. Both are about a protagonist who is overshadowed
by a legendary outlaw, one who inspires adoration in his coterie and
hero-worship in young boys who read pulp novels about him.
Yet the two films couldn’t be more different. Where 3:10
fell under the spell of Russell Crowe’s charismatic bad guy, Jesse James sees
the legendary outlaw at a respectful distance, as a bright but enigmatic
Crisp narration lends a documentary-like quality, peeling
away the layers of mythology and but also situating James firmly in the
Also new on DVD, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, even more than
the original Elizabeth, is mired in a Christopher Hitchens–esque view of
history, in which all evil in the world is the bitter fruit of religion,
specifically Catholicism. The Golden Age expunges almost all signs of actual
religiosity from Elizabeth’s Protestantism. God-talk is troubling Catholic
behavior; Protestant religion is little more than a slogan for conscience,
religious freedom and heroic resistance to Catholic oppression.
The climax, a weakly staged destruction of the Spanish
Armada, is a crescendo of anti-Catholic imagery: rosaries floating amid burning
flotsam, inverted crucifixes sinking to the bottom of the ocean, robed clerics
slinking away in defeat. Pound for pound, The Golden Age may contain more
sustained Church-bashing than any other film I can think of.
Returning this week to DVD, Disney’s The Aristocats is
possibly the gentlest and least intimidating of the entire Disney canon for
even the most sensitive youngsters. Other cartoons have villains like Cruella
de Vil and Captain Hook; The Aristocats has only a comic British butler, about
as scary as Peter Pan’s Smee.
The highlight is the film’s one classic song, the swingin’
“Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat,” with “Scat Cat” (jazz musician and actor Scatman
Crothers) and his alley cats. Eva Gabor and Phil Harris lead an excellent cast.
The Assassination of Jesse James: Several graphic shooting
deaths; fleeting post-mortem nudity; torture of a child; graphic obscenity; an
off-screen adulterous encounter; at least one instance of profanity. Mature
viewing. Elizabeth: The Golden Age: A sexual encounter (nothing explicit);
brief rear female nudity; some crude language; a couple of gory
torture/mutilation scenes and non-explicit execution/killings. Aimed at mature
audiences. The Aristocats: Mild animated menace and slapstick violence; comic
inebriation of a goose. Fine family viewing.