DVD Picks & Passes 01.11.2009

Brideshead Revisited (2007)

An American Carol (2007)

Miss Potter (2006)

Funny Face (1957)

New this week on DVD, Julian Jarrold’s handsome, literate but strangely chilly Brideshead Revisited seems to suffer from the spiritual blindness of Evelyn Waugh’s young protagonist: Events are adapted from the novel, but their meaning eludes the filmmakers.

Waugh’s magnum opus told the story of young working-class agnostic Charles Ryder being swept off his feet by the luxurious, extravagant world of aristocratic, eccentric Sebastian Flyte and his family. The Flytes’ decadent Catholicism at first repels him, but he comes to recognize it as part of their peculiar charm, and ultimately, their saving grace — a grace lacking in his own life.

This Brideshead is all jars of clay, little or no treasure. For instance, it includes Sebastian’s conflicted guilt over his homosexual inclinations and Julia’s outrage at Bridey over a comment about living in sin — but not Sebastian’s childlike affirmations of faith or Julia’s wish to have her child raised Catholic. Skip the big-screen adaptation and go with the 1981 miniseries, also recently released on DVD.

Also new on DVD, An American Carol is Hollywood conservative David Zucker’s satiric jab at Hollywood liberalism, embodied in a fictionalized version of Michael Moore. Unfortunately, it’s not that funny.

Zucker’s Naked Gun-style absurd-ism is hit-and-miss at best, and a patriotic riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a mismatch of medium and message. Satire is skeptical and reductive; it can have an implicit positive message, but American Carol goes awry by articulating its patriotic message in an overtly preachy way.

Worth getting, on the other hand, are a couple of films new to Blu-ray and also available on standard DVD.

Miss Potter stars Renée Zellweger as writer-illustrator Beatrix Potter, creator of Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle-duck and all their ilk. Babe director Chris Noonan helms the PG-rated biopic that’s as gentle in spirit and civilized as Potter’s elegant stories and charming watercolor paintings.

Funny Face, starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, is as odd as the juxtaposition of its two stars, combining the insouciance and silliness of a typical Astaire vehicle with Hepburn’s gamine beatnik vibe. What do you make of a film that puts the light-footed, pudding-faced Astaire opposite the luminous Hepburn — and then has him singing to her about her “funny face”? It’s best just to enjoy Astaire’s effortless grace and Hepburn’s defiant dance scene all in black with white socks.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Brideshead Revisited: An adulterous bedroom scene (no explicit nudity); some rear male nudity; crass language; homosexual themes; a fleeting same-sex kiss; heavy drinking; ambiguous religious themes. Mature viewing. An American Carol: Much slapstick violence, including brief comic gore and recurring crass language. Teens and up. Miss Potter: A few rude phrases. Fine family viewing. Funny Face: Nothing objectionable.

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.