National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Blu-ray/DVD Picks & Passes 01.13.13

BY Steven D. Greydanus

Film Critic

January 13-26, 2013 Issue | Posted 1/4/13 at 5:03 PM

 

Arbitrage (2012) PICK

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) PICK

Mrs. Miniver (1942) PICK

An absorbing thriller about illusory wealth and moral bankruptcy and a pair of Golden Age gems are among the latest home-video releases.

In the well-made suspense film Arbitrage, Richard Gere plays a seemingly dazzlingly successful businessman and family man named Robert Miller who in fact cheats in every area of his life — and whose life threatens to unravel on multiple fronts at once.

Miller alternately manipulates and is opposed by everyone in his life: his smart, principled daughter and financial officer (a strikingly good Brit Marling); his wife (Susan Sarandon); and a young Harlem ex-con (Nate Parker) trying to build a new life.

First-time feature filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki makes Miller’s actions understandable without letting him off the hook … at least morally. The same goes for the cop (Tim Roth) determined not to let Miller get off because of his money. Despite some content issues (including frequent, casual use of the F-word), Arbitrage has an unusually well-developed moral sense.

Best known to Catholic audiences for the pious Bing Crosby comedies Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s, Catholic director Leo McCarey probably never made a better, more regrettably overlooked comedy than the "Best Picture"-nominated Ruggles of Red Gap (newly available from Universal).

A Western spoof — and an inspiring ode to American egalitarianism — Ruggles stars Charles Laughton as a third-generation British butler transplanted to the Wild West after his master gambles away his services in a poker game with uncouth nouveau-riche Americans.

At first mistaken for British nobility, Ruggles is eventually transformed and liberated by American democratic principles. The film’s famous highlight, in which the British butler finds himself reciting the Gettysburg Address to a saloon full of dumbstruck Americans, is unforgettable.

William Wyler’s "Best Picture" winner Mrs. Miniver (new on Blu-ray from Warner) is best known as a WWII propaganda film that helped shift American sentiment in a pro-British direction, so it’s a surprise to discover just how well-crafted it is. Less a war story than a domestic melodrama set in wartime, the film chronicles both the day-to-day lives and the war-effort contributions of a well-to-do English family in the London area.

Trivial incidents and well-observed character moments effectively segue to occasions of high peril, the highlight being Greer Garson’s Mrs. Miniver taking on a crashed German pilot while her husband assists in the Dunkirk evacuation. Only in the climax, in a bombed church building, does the film shift into all-out propaganda mode, by which point the film has fairly earned its closing statement.

 

Content Advisory: Arbitrage: A deadly car-crash scene; sexual references and a brief adulterous bedroom scene (no nudity); much obscene language; a few instances of profanity and crass language; a couple of racial epithets. Adults. Ruggles of Red Gap: Comic drunkenness. Fine family viewing. Mrs. Miniver: Wartime violence and menace. Fine family viewing.