DVD Picks & Passes 02.08.2009

Miracle at St. Anna (2008) - Pick

Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa (2008) - Pass

Oliver & Company (1988) - Pass

Silverado (1986) - Pick

Back to the Future (1985) - Pick

New this week on DVD, Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna is both a contribution and a challenge to the Hollywood WWII genre, highlighting the untold story of the all-black Buffalo Soldiers.

Set in 1944 Tuscany, the film’s long-overdue attention to black veterans is complemented by welcome positive use of Catholic themes and images in a genre in which the Church has often appeared lately as a sinister power. Not a perfect film, but an honorable achievement, and worthwhile watching for mature viewers.

Also new this week, Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa looks better than its predecessor, and the story holds up tolerably well. Unfortunately, running sexual-diversity themes make Happy Feet’s coming-out subtext look wholesome by comparison. “Love transcends all differences” and “Love knows no boundaries” is the explicit, and repeated, moral. Some satiric religious commentary, cross-dressing jokes and a depiction of sexual blackmail (no kidding!) complete the subversive effect. One to skip.

Celebrating 20 years with an anniversary edition is Oliver & Company, the last gasp of Disney Animation’s post-Walt malaise before the post-Little Mermaid renaissance. A loose take on Oliver Twist with dogs and a feline Oliver, it’s pretty uninspired fare, with thinly drawn (in more than one sense) characters and sketchy backgrounds that often look more like storyboarding roughs than finished artwork.

Dickens’ seamy milieu is retained, but not his Victorian moralizing; Dodger and company still steal for a living, but moral issues are easily glossed over since they’re stray dogs. Not awful, but I’d skip it.

A pair of excellent 1985 entertainments get new editions this week. Silverado is writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s ridiculously enjoyable homage to Hollywood Westerns, with the same tongue-in-cheek excitement, taut storytelling and nostalgic innocence that Raiders of the Lost Ark (also scripted by Kasdan) brought to the cliffhanger genre. Terrific cast, too.

Back to the Future blends equal parts hilarity, nostalgia, science fiction, screwball comedy, and white-knuckle suspense in a complex storyline wound tighter than a yo-yo in a centrifuge. Stranded 30 years in the past, teenaged Michael J. Fox meets his parents as teenagers — and inadvertently endangers his own existence.

Finally, the two Back to the Future sequels, filmed back-to-back and released in 1989 and 1990, also get new DVD editions this week. They’re worth a look, but don’t expect the original’s timeless appeal.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Miracle at St. Anna: Graphic wartime violence; much obscene language and a few profanities; brief partial nudity and sexual content. Mature viewing. Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa: Recurring cartoon violence; some crude/suggestive humor; parental-separation themes. Might be too intense for sensitive youngsters. Oliver & Company: Animated menace; shady dealings involving semi-sympathetic characters. Might be too much for sensitive youngsters. Silverado: Recurring violence including gunplay, stabbing, and fisticuffs; fleeting sensuality. Teens and up.Back to the Future: Much profanity; moderate sensuality; some violence and menace. Teens and up.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy