DVD Picks 03.13.2011

Letters to Father Jacob (2009) PICK

Hereafter (2010) PASS

The Switch (2010) PASS

The Fighter (2010) PICK

Tales from Earthsea (2006) PICK

Blu-ray: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) PICK

Blu-ray: Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) PICK

Argh! How did I miss Letters to Father Jacob in my year-end write-up this January? Let me make up for it by warmly recommending Klaus Härö’s gently uplifting Finnish film about a sullen female ex-convict obliged to take a job assisting an elderly, blind priest. A humane tale of grace, faith and forgiveness, Letters to Father Jacob is among my favorite unexpected discoveries from last year.

No such recommendation for another religiously themed (sort of) picture in theaters last year, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, starring Matt Damon. More literal and timid than The Adjustment Bureau, Hereafter is a soppy meditation on near-death experiences and psychic phenomena that insults believers and skeptics alike by pretending that the evidence is ironclad — and essentially leaves God out of the picture.

While I’m disrecommending films, let me disrecommend The Switch, a so-called romantic comedy about do-it-yourself artificial insemination in which Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman — oh, you’re convinced? Okay, moving on.

Next, two qualified recommendations:

Newly adorned with Oscar glory as well as numerous nominations, David O. Russell’s The Fighter stars Mark Wahlberg in an emotionally rewarding fact-based drama about a working-class Massachusetts welterweight boxer who trains with his unreliable older brother. Despite significant redemptive uplift, the harsh content and seedy milieu may be off-putting (see “Content Advisory”).

First-time director Goro Miyazaki takes his first paces in his famous father Hayao’s footsteps in Tales From Earthsea, based on the novels by Ursula K. LeGuin. Though it’s far from perfect, there’s quite a bit to appreciate, including a beautifully realized ruinous world and an elegiac sense of nostalgia a bit reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien. On the other hand, brief allusions to the author’s problematic mythology and rejection of the afterlife warrant critical viewing.

More enthusiastically recommended: the elder Miyazaki’s classic postapocalyptic sci-fi adventure Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the Vatican-list film Au Revoir Les Enfants, Louis Malle’s sensitive WWII-era coming-of-age tale, both newly available on Blu-ray.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Letters to Father Jacob: A few instances of profanity; references to a character’s criminal past. Subtitles. Teens and up. The Fighter: Much pugilistic and other violence; nonmarital sexuality (nothing explicit); morally sober depiction of drug addiction; extreme obscene language and some profanity. Discretion advised. Tales From Earthsea: Strong animated action violence; menace and depictions of slave trading; problematic comments about life after death and immortality. Teens and up. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Sci-fi action violence and frightening imagery. Too much for sensitive youngsters. Au Revoir Les Enfants: Adolescent sexual references and objectionable language; youths in deadly peril; Nazi menace. Subtitles. Teens and up.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.