National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks and Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

September 21-27, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/16/08 at 11:53 AM


102 Minutes That Changed -pick

America (2008) -pick

Independence Day -pick (2008)

Speed (1994) -pick

An American in Paris (2005) - Pick

This month, in observance of Sept. 11, the History Channel aired — without commercial interruption — 102 Minutes That Changed America, a unique documentary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Available this week on DVD, 102 Minutes is composed entirely of amateur and professional video of the attacks, painstakingly sifted from more than 500 minutes of material from more than 100 separate sources. The video clips are arranged chronologically and presented without voice-over narration or commentary.

It’s a harrowingly immediate chronicle of the experiences of New Yorkers and others in New York City as the enormity of the moment sank into the collective consciousness.

Familiar images blend with unfamiliar ones as different perspectives merge into a single record: the smoke of the first crash staining the sky, the horror of the second impact (here from the perspective of two New York University students, who were filming the scene from their dorm locks away), a dust-covered survivor emerging with a shaky joke, a woman silently crossing herself, and the mass exodus from Ground Zero through the toxic ash cloud.

What United 93 offered in recreation, 102 Minutes offers in reality: not perspective, not context, but memory of a day everything changed. It’s sober, cathartic viewing.

Is escapism more your thing?

Two new DVD releases of 1990s’ action films may appeal to genre fans.

Independence Day is a dim-witted but rollicking popcorn fun from schlockmeister director Roland Emmerich. Star Will Smith saves the world for the first time, and Jeff Goldblum in a nerdier version of his Jurassic Park nay-saying scientist. The images of giant alien ships destroying the Empire State Building and the White House may play differently in a post-9/11 world, but it’s fairly enjoyable to watch humanity battle back from the brink, however implausibly.

Smarter and more entertaining, Speed offers a welcome twist on the Die Hard genre, with Keanu Reeves as a hero cop who for once isn’t a wisecracking maverick who does things his way — but a gutsy professional who calls Sandra Bullock “ma’am” and works with the force to save a busload of people from a crafty bomber. A near-classic of the genre.

Finally, newly available in a two-disc special edition, An American in Paris is one of Gene Kelly’s best non-Singin’ in the Rain musicals, with a paper-thin plot and characterizations providing the pretext for Kelly’s effervescent dancing and choreography and George Gershwin’s timeless music.

Content advisory: 102 Minutes That Changed America: Intense disaster-scene images and emotional reactions. Might be okay for some teens. Independence Day: Sci-fi battlefield violence; frequent crass language and profanity; some suggestive content. Teens and up. Speed: Action violence with one unnecessarily gruesome killing; some obscene language and a couple of sexual references; brief drunkenness. Might be okay for teens. An American in Paris: Romantic complications. Teens and up.