Pope John Paul II: PICK


Lassie: PICK


Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4: PICK


Content advisory:

Pope John Paul II: Some violent war-related images; an assassination attempt; brief frank discussion of moral issues relating to sexuality, abortion and other issues. Lassie: Some depictions of animal cruelty; a brief scene of menace and violence; a scene of public urination. Looney Tunes: Slapstick violence; some mild innuendo and other thematic elements.

Not to be confused with the 1984 Albert Finney film, CBS’s 2005 miniseries Pope John Paul II, now available on DVD from Ignatius Press, is the first — so far the only — dramatic presentation to do anything like justice to the life and reign of the 20th century’s most popular pope.

Earlier biopics, including Hallmark’s Karol: A Man Who Became Pope, end with the 1978 conclave — an approach that omits the drama of the modern era’s longest and most important papacy: the first papal visit to an Iron Curtain country, Poland, leading to the rise of Solidarity and the breakdown of Soviet control; the 1981 assassination attempt; the triumph of World Youth Day; the Holy Father’s struggle against his increasing frailty and loss of motor control.

Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering its subject’s life as could be hoped for. The two-part miniseries neatly splits between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes as Wojtyla up to the conclave and Jon Voight as John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.

Both actors succeed at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion. Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve.

Pope John Paul II is a fitting tribute to a great papacy, benefitting substantially from the active cooperation of Vatican insiders, authentic locations in Poland and Rome, and a solid supporting cast. It’s no substitute for the best biographical documentary on Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, but it’s a worthy companion piece.

New this week on DVD, writer-director Charles Sturridge’s lovely, literate Lassie is one of the year’s best family films, faithfully following Eric Knight’s beloved tale of a proud but impoverished Yorkshire family forced to sell their beloved collie to a local nobleman. Lassie is a rare family film that knows that kids live in a grown-up world, that they are not isolated from such realities as unemployment or war, and can relate to the problems of adult characters as well as those of children and animals.

When Lassie is sold, it’s not just young Joe’s sorrow that matters, but also his parents’ — not only at losing the dog, but at not being able to give their son the one thing he wants. Joe’s mother (Samantha Morton) tries to comfort him with words as wise and thoughtful as the father’s speech at the end of Old Yeller. In this scene is more humanity than in whole shelves of family films at the corner video store. It’s heartening to see a film for family audiences aim so high and achieve so much.

After three volumes of essential cartoon classics, it’s hard to believe there are still so many great cartoon shorts for the fourth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Non-aficionados may find a whole disc of Speedy Gonzales a bit much, but such classics as “Operation: Rabbit,” “Knight-mare Hare,” and “Knighty Knight Bugs,” make up for it. (What? Still no “Ali Baba Bunny”? Hassan chop!)

Steven D. Greydanus is editor and chief critic of DecentFilms.com.