DVD Picks & Passes 09.27.2009

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Joseph of Nazareth: The Man Closest to Christ (2000)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

If you see only one 3-D computer-animated family-film sci-fi thriller parody this year … be sure to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, now in theaters. Monsters vs. Aliens, new on DVD, is slicker but less good and problematic.

Monsters riffs on sci-fi thrillers of the 1950s like The Fly, The Blob and most of all Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, from which Monsters gets its male-bashing feminist theme, with its passive heroine jerked around by her egotistical weatherman fiancé (among other incarnations of male inadequacy).

Cloudy has a feminist angle too, but a positive one. In that film, the girl is the meteorologist, and she’s smart and capable — but there are also positive male characters, including the hero. (See my full review of Cloudy at DecentFilms.com.)

New on DVD from Ignatius Press, Joseph of Nazareth: The Man Closest to Christ is the first in a series of four Italian TV productions called “Close to Jesus” or “The Friends of Jesus.” Directed by Raffaele Mertes, the series includes Mary Magdalene, Judas and Thomas.

Of the four entries, Joseph has the most biblical material to work with. Tobias Moretti is appealing and manly as the foster father of Jesus, and Stefania Rivi makes a fine Virgin Mary; supporting performances vary widely.

Joseph and Mary’s relationship is well handled, and the film follows Catholic tradition in depicting Jesus’ “brethren” as nephews of Joseph (strangely omitting the most important brother, James). The Annunciation is well done, though the Nativity unfortunately has the birth taking place while Joseph is out gathering firewood.

Among the film’s odder conceits is making Joseph such a famous carpenter that Herod summons him up to Jerusalem to do woodwork on the Temple right around the time of the Annunciation. And there’s a chase sequence on the flight to Egypt, with Joseph clutching the Baby Jesus as a Roman soldier pursues him.

Finally, celebrating its 70th anniversary with a new two-disc special edition is Vatican-list film The Wizard of Oz. The classic American fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz has left an indelible mark on our collective imaginations, ranking among our earliest and most defining experiences of wonder and of fear, of fairy-tale joys and terrors, of the lure of the exotic and the comfort of home.

Special features include audio commentary by film historian John Fricke, featurettes on the making of the film, its legacy and its restoration, outtakes, deleted scenes and more.

Content advisory: Monsters vs. Aliens: Mild crude language and some mildly vulgar humor; a brief mildly suggestive scene; cartoon sci-fi action violence. Joseph of Nazareth: Some menacing sequences; reference to a rape by Roman soldiers. Okay family viewing. The Wizard of Oz: Some scary and menacing scenes that may be frightening to very sensitive children.Fine family viewing.