Eight Below: PICK


Mother Teresa: PICK


The Princess Bride: PICK


Content advisory:

Eight Below: Intense human and animal peril, fairly mild depictions of predation; fleeting mild crude language (could be troubling to very sensitive children). Mother Teresa: A potentially confusing religious remark (fine family viewing). The Princess Bride: Swashbuckling violence; a stylized torture scene; fleeting reference to suicide; a single instance of profanity (could be okay family viewing).

If Snow Dogs represents the conventional Hollywood idea of a live-action family film, Eight Below (new this week on DVD) represents a new trend in family films that includes National Treasure, Two Brothers and The Legend of Zorro — not all good films, but a hopeful trend. Hollywood is recognizing that families don’t necessarily want a steady diet of slapstick sitcoms, animals don’t always have to talk or perform super-heroics, and stories don’t always have to center on family conflict.

Loosely inspired by a true story, Eight Below is a survival tale about a team of eight sled dogs stranded at an Antarctic research facility when a sudden blizzard prevents the humans from pulling the dogs out. The filmmakers are willing to let the story be a little rough-edged. Both humans and animals suffer injury and serious risk of death, and survival isn’t taken for granted. Still, this only goes so far. The dogs must eat, but the only quarry we see them hunt (with astonishing resourcefulness) is flocks of gulls. Dog lovers especially will enjoy Eight Below, and family audiences generally could do a lot worse.

Olivia Hussey gives an earnest, focused performance as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in the reverential Italian-made English-language production Mother Teresa (new on DVD). Hussey (Jesus of Nazareth’s Virgin Mary) credibly evokes the determination, simplicity and idealistic faith of one of the 20th century’s most revered figures, from her early growing absorption with the desperate condition of Calcutta’s poor and dying through the difficulties that faced her efforts to establish a new congregation and its various projects, and beyond.

At only 110 minutes, the U.S. DVD edition is a whopping 40% shorter than the 180-minute original version screened in Italy. This might be a factor in the film’s choppy, episodic feel, which doesn’t always provide adequate narrative context to establish characters or situations. While the filmmakers don’t shy away from some of the controversies that followed Mother’s work, the film is never less than overtly hagiographical. At the same time, it’s an homage with as little to trouble Mother’s secular admirers as her Catholic followers, or less. For example, the screenplay includes an instance of Mother’s sometimes perplexingly indifferent comments about religious affiliation, but omits her blistering condemnations of abortion, divorce and contraception.

Though somewhat reflecting the Hallmark Channel in its approach, Mother Teresa is edifying viewing, and captures something of its subject’s dogged personality and devotion to serving Jesus in the poorest of the poor.

Newly rereleased in a pair of DVD special editions, The Princess Bride is one of those rare satiric gems, like The Court Jester and Galaxy Quest, that doesn’t just send up a genre but honors it at the same time, giving us the excitement and pleasure of the real thing as well as the laughs of a comedy.

Screenwriter William Goldman adapts his original novel, based on a story he created for his two daughters in response to competing requests for a story about either “princesses” or “brides.” The resulting tale, though, works just as well for romance-averse young boys, with the romance of farmboy-turned-swashbuckler Westley and princess-bride-to-be Buttercup more than supplemented by all manner of pirates, kidnapping, giants, life-or-death duels, screaming eels, fire swamps, rodents of unusual size and so on.