DVD Picks & Passes 11.11.2007

Amazing Grace (2007) - Pick

Shrek the Third (2007) - Pass

New this week on DVD, Amazing Grace may not be quite amazing but it’s touched by grace nonetheless. A rare departure for Walden Media from its stock-in-trade of increasingly weak adaptations of acclaimed children’s books, Amazing Grace is an inspirational historical biopic celebrating the crusade of English Parliamentarian William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), a devout Christian, against the slave trade.

The title reflects the supporting role of Isaac Newton, played with gusto by Albert Finney, as a penitent ex-slave ship captain, now a mentor of sorts to Wilberforce as well as the writer of the beloved American hymn. (“A wretch like me,” Newton was not afraid to call himself in the original lyrics, with a biographical and theological honesty too direct for the revisionist vandals of hymnody responsible for many Catholic missalettes. But I digress.)

Directed by Michael Apted (best known for the acclaimed 7-Up series), Amazing Grace highlights a historic turning point unique to Western Christian civilization, which alone in human history challenged and ultimately outlawed slavery and human trafficking on moral grounds. Wilberforce’s Christian convictions are honored but not overemphasized, and the film benefits from a top-notch cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch as Primie Minister William Pitt, Rufus Sewell as radical abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, and Ciarán Hinds as pro-slavery Lord Tarleton.

Also new this week on DVD is Shrek the Third, a lackluster “threequel” that continues the cheerful vulgarity and skewed sensibilities that is the franchise’s hallmark — but lacks the spark of heart that made the first two films work. I won’t go so far as to say that the first two films had a lot of heart. But even a little heart goes a long way, and Shrek the Third hasn’t got it.

The satiric riffing on fairy-tale conventions is now well past the point of diminishing returns. There’s still humor to be mined in, say, Pinocchio’s convoluted efforts to avoid being caught in a lie. But where in Shrek 2 having Larry King voice an overtly masculine Ugly Stepsister was merely a risqué sight gag, here she (?) is a significant supporting character, notably upping the yuck factor.

So there are a few telling jabs on the fairy tale canon. But every one of fairyland’s “super-hot princesses” turn out to be spoiled, catty suburban-princess types. Or worse. And Prince Charming is still a cad. And every villain (except Charming) is merely misunderstood, and willing to give it all up at the first overture of understanding. And King Arthur himself is merely a dweeb with no spark of greatness.

At some point, the Happily N’Ever After syndrome kicks in: With heroes and villains as banal as this, why should we care?


Amazing Grace: Recurring mild profanity; an instance of the “n-word”; a fleeting mild sexual reference and mild sensuality; descriptions of inhumane treatment of slaves; brief abuse of an animal. Teens and up. Shrek the Third: Frequent crude humor; some suggestive references; a fleeting instance of drug humor; a gender-bending supporting character.

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.