National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Video Picks & Passes

BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUS

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Sophie Scholl —The Final Days: PICK

(2006)

Superman Returns: PICK

(2006)

Robin Hood: PICK

(1973)

Content advisory:

Sophie Scholl: Much suspense and intimidation; a sequence of disturbing but implicit violence. Subtitles. Teens and up. Superman Returns: Some depictions of animal cruelty; a brief scene of menace and violence; a scene involving urination. Mature viewing. Robin Hood: Mild animated action and menace; brief comic inebriation. Fine family viewing.  

One of the best and most inspiring films of the year, Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl — The Final Days, now on DVD, is a riveting portrait of a young woman of formidable intellect, dogged self-possession and excruciatingly steady nerves. A German college student during WWII, Sophia Magdalena Scholl (Julia Jentsch) is involved in a tiny underground nonviolent anti-Nazi resistance movement.

Like Vatican list film The Passion of Joan of Arc, Sophie Scholl focuses not on the events that lead its heroine to her trial by fire, but on the trial itself. Nazi interrogator Mohr (Alexander Held) suspects Sophie, but doesn’t have proof. Mohr’s interrogation is a (nearly) irresistible force; Sophie’s calm explanations a (nearly) immovable object. The intellectual and emotional rigor of the back-and-forth between this terrible old lion and his cagey young prey is both crushing and exhilarating.

Throughout her ordeal, Sophie’s guiding light — symbolized by the rays of the sun on Sophie’s upturned face — is her Christian faith, a cornerstone of her critique of Nazi ideology and atrocities, and a taproot of her moral strength. Throughout the film, viewers are invited to put themselves in Sophie’s place: Would I have had the courage and vision to do what she did?

From the rousing fanfare of the classic John Williams score to the comic book-inspired opening credits, it’s clear that Superman Returns, also new on DVD, means to be nothing less than the film that Superman III could have and should have been, but wasn’t. Superman Returns honors and builds upon the strengths of its predecessors, while gracefully minimizing their weaknesses.

It’s impossible not to confront an ambiguous chapter in Lois and Superman’s history. Superman Returns finds Lois cohabiting with a decent guy with whom she is raising a child out of wedlock. The film neither condones nor condemns this arrangement, though it is possible to see the less than ideal consequences of the choices made in Superman II. Significantly, for the first time a Superman movie ascribes heroism to individuals other than Superman himself, including Lois and (better still) her fiancé Richard. Jor-El used to worry that mankind would rely on Superman for everything, including things they should do themselves. Perhaps he really can begin to “show us the way.”

Oo-de-lally! As post-Sleeping Beauty Disney animated features go, Robin Hood, new in a DVD special edition, is a fine entry. Worth noting is jovial, pugnacious Friar Tuck, one of the few positive representatives of Christianity in a Disney animated feature. He’s allowed to allude to the Gospels (“Your last farthing? Aw, little sister, no one can give more than that!”) and say things like “Thank God! My prayers have been answered!” as if he really means them. And when Prince John plots to hang Friar Tuck in order to lure Robin Hood out of hiding, even Sir Hiss is shocked: “Hang Friar Tuck? A man of the Church?”