National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

April 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/10/07 at 9:00 AM


Faustina(1995) - PICK

Spider-Man 2.1 (2004) - PICK

The Last King of Scotland (2006) - PASS

Every year on Divine Mercy Sunday, our family watches Faustina, director Jerzy Lukaszewicz’s beautifully made film on the life of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the apostle of Divine Mercy.

Made in Faustina’s native land and tongue, the film follows major events in the life of the visionary nun (Dorota Segda) who emphasized God’s mercy as the greatest of his attributes, and whose mystical experiences led to the Divine Mercy image, the observance of Divine Mercy Sunday on the second Sunday in Easter, and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy prayer.

Faustina is remarkable among spiritually significant films in the directness of its approach to Faustina’s encounters with the transcendent. Zdzislaw Najda’s painterly cinematography is rich and gorgeous, and the haunting main theme, whether original to the film or some traditional composition, goes through the viewer like an arrow. (Your local video-rental outlet probably doesn’t stock the DVD, but it’s readily available for purchase in online bookstores.)

New on DVD this week, Spider-Man 2.1 isn’t a radically different film from the original cut of Spider-Man 2 — and, given that the rip-roaring original cut was exactly what a Spider-Man movie should be, that’s a good thing. Even so, eight minutes of new content does enhance the film. New dialogue between Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his troubled best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco), and between Peter and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), fleshes out characters and relationships. The action centerpiece, the clock tower/train fight between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), has also been expanded.

Part of what makes the film work is that the filmmakers aren’t afraid to think outside the comic-book panel. Consider an offbeat sequence scored with “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” or a well-conceived appearance by the late Uncle Ben that is neither a flashback or dream nor a paranormal event.

Also new this week on DVD, the deceptively titled The Last King of Scotland features a powerhouse performance by Forest Whittaker as the charismatic, barbarous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t on the same level.

Like too many films set in Africa, Last King sees through the eyes of a well-intentioned European protagonist, Dr. Nicolas Garrigan (James McAvoy, Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Sometimes this point of view is indispensable to the story, but here Amin is the story’s center even if Garrigan is the protagonist. Garrigan is just in the way of a better story.

Whittaker turns on a dime from magnetic and charming to frighteningly amoral and psychotic, yet the action-movie finale trivializes the scale of Uganda’s tragedy, as if what really matters is whether Garrigan gets away. Disappointing.