DVD Picks & Passes 01.18.2009

The Express (2008) -Pick

Henry Poole Is Here (2008) -Pick

Igor (2008) -Pick

City of Ember (2008) -Pass

This week’s DVD crop offers one clear winner and three borderline films that could go either way.

The winner is The Express, one of the best films of 2008 and a rare inspirational sports film that’s actually inspiring, about an athlete who actually inspires people. Directed by Gary Fleder, the fact-based story dramatizes the life story of collegiate football great Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), who, in 1961, became the first black player to win the prestigious Heisman Award.

Faith, family, hard work and social responsibility are front and center in the story of a talented athlete inspired as a young boy by Jackie Robinson and confronted with racist opposition from the playground to the gridiron. Early scenes of Davis’ life engage themes of family stability and instability, of absent fathers, unreliable mothers and grandparents who step into the gap. Sports fans and non-fans will enjoy this one.

After The Express, it’s a mixed bag. I’ll call Henry Poole Is Here a borderline pick for its well-intentioned treatment of putative miracles and Hollywood healing. Mark Pellington’s comedy-drama tells the story of a skeptic whose newly painted house develops a stain in which pious neighbors see the face of Christ.

Henry Poole aims for spiritual uplift but dodges the complexities of faith and reason. Despite its limitations, the film doesn’t scorn believers or unbelievers, and viewers may enjoy its timid but sincere Tinseltown spirituality.

Igor is another marginal pick, a modestly diverting computer-animated flick with shades of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Young Frankenstein. Riffing on old Universal horror classics, Igor imagines a country of mad scientists with hunchbacked lab assistants all called Igor — one of whom dreams of devising his own creations.

Eventually, the twisted foundations of mad-scientist society are questioned, and goodness is affirmed over evil. Some parents might find bits too scary or racy; my biggest beef was a throwaway line about the heroine and her “boyfriend” adopting a pet together.

City of Ember is a marginal pass, a film that’s not really good, but not a complete waste of time if you keep your expectations low. Another mediocre Walden adaptation, Ember benefits from stylish visuals and has a post-apocalyptic plot that plays like Wall-E crossed with Journey to the Center of the Earth — played in reverse — with mankind journeying to the surface of the earth after retreating underground (rather than into space) in the wake of an unspecified environmental crisis, then losing their way.

Centennial in the West

An unexpected storm in northeastern Oregon leads a Catholic journalist to discover a century-old cathedral named for the patron saint of Catholic journalists, St. Francis de Sales.

Pro-Life Reading Recommendations

As we approach the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the Register recommends three books that may be helpful in fighting for the sanctity of human life: The Right to Privacy by Janet Smith; Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign by Ann Farmer, and Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace by George Weigel.