DVD Picks & Passes 06.19.11

Recent DVD releases include a couple of romantic fantasies — one worth checking out, the other not so much.

Part Hollywood romance, part paranoia thriller, The Adjustment Bureau trades on the likability and chemistry of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as star-crossed lovers pitted against a team of superhuman agents watching over human affairs — a fantasy conceit that writer-director George Nolfi uses to noodle concepts of fate, free will, chance, Providence and theodicy.

Religious themes abound. Are the agents angels? How benevolent are they? Is the mysterious Chairman, the author of the Plan that governs human affairs, God? He (or she) is obviously a God figure, though one might interpret him (or her) as a powerful intelligence like the planetary spirits of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, say.

The Adjustment Bureau plays with many possibilities, and its indeterminacy, which some might find indecisive, is what makes it work for me. Instead of spelling out the answers, Nolfi raises the questions, inviting viewers to contemplate the possibilities in light of their own beliefs or doubts.

Much less successful is Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood, with its blend of fairy-tale imagery and overtly Stephenie Meyeresque dark romantic fantasy, including a romantic triangle with a teenaged heroine and two brooding suitors, one of whom may be a fearsome predator.

Despite the Twilightery, the movie shows just enough interest in its fairy-tale roots to make its failure frustrating. A postmodern fairy tale is one thing; a fairy tale with a postmodern heroine is another. Red Riding Hood takes place in a stylized, pseudo-medieval fairy-tale setting, yet the heroine is as sexually liberated as any modern-day Bella. Embodying everything wrong with this world is Gary Oldman’s ruthlessly Torquemadaesque, monster-hunting cleric. Boo.

Both sobering and inspiring, Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders is Mark N. Hopkins’s eye-opening documentary about volunteer physicians working in dire circumstances in some of the most troubled spots on the planet. Shot in war-torn Congo and Liberia, the film follows four doctors from Italy, the United States and Australia (two firsttime volunteers, two veterans) as they treat horrific injuries with short supplies under appalling conditions. Not easy to watch, but a thoughtful treatment of moral responsibility to the most needy.

Finally, if the complete eightdisc set of The Little Rascals is too pricey for you (about $54 at Amazon), you can take your pick of the first six discs, now available individually (under $8). Still great family viewing.

Content Advisory: The Adjustment Bureau: A car crash and some brief roughness; limited sensuality, including a non-marital bedroom scene (nothing explicit); some language, including a curse and one obscenity; theological ambiguities. Mature viewing. Living in Emergency: Explicit, bloody documentary footage of appalling war-zone and operating-room realities; sexual and drug-related references. Mature viewing; discretion advised.