DVD Picks & Passes

Once (2007) - Pick

National Treasure (2004) - Pick

New this week on DVD, Once is a personal, intimate little film that, like a favorite song, you would rather play for someone than try to describe. Not a story so much as an incident that becomes a turning point in two people’s lives, Once relates a brief but memorable encounter between a bearded Dublin street musician (Glen Handard of Irish band the Frames) and a ponytailed Czech girl (19-year-old singer-songwriter Markéta Irglová).

He plays guitar on street corners; she notices his playing and is intrigued. She observes that he plays his more personal songs only at night; he explains that he makes his money during the day from passersby who only want to hear popular songs they know.

He works in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop; she has a broken vacuum cleaner. She plays piano, but doesn’t own one; a shop owner lets her use the store piano during lunch hour. They play together and collaborate on a song. She is lovely; he is lonely. He wants to sleep with her; she walks away disgusted. Both are wounded souls, and their connection is emotional as well as creative, but she has an intractable sense of responsibility and decency, and won’t let things go too far. We never learn their names, and never need to know.

The accents are thick, at times hard to understand (arguably softening the film’s one notable caveat, the characters’ constant, casual use of the f-word, pronounced to rhyme with “spook”).

In the end, like the songs the guitarist sings at night — and like gritty but good literary fiction written by grownups for grownups — Once is more satisfying and enduring than the popular mainstream fare that attracts the crowds.

Also new this week on DVD, piggybacking on next week’s theatrical release of National Treasure: Book of Secrets is a new two-disc collector’s edition of the original National Treasure, a film noteworthy for reviving a lost art form, the family-friendly swashbuckler.

Omitting the PG-13 violence and sex common to such films, National Treasure combines Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones archaeological spelunking, Ocean’s 11 high-tech capers and (generally harmless) Da Vinci Code historical revisionism. Nicolas Cage stars as a treasure hunter seeking King Solomon’s treasures, discovered by the Crusaders and hidden by the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, who planted clues on the back of the Declaration of Independence!

Most of this esoterica is harmless nonsense, though the brief, flattering depiction of Freemasonry is problematic. Especially galling is the claim that Charles Carroll — the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence — was a Mason! Even so, there’s no anti-Catholicism here.

National Treasure works fairly well as slick, enjoyable hooey that not only comes up with two different approaches to stealing the Declaration of Independence, but gives the hero a credibly righteous motive for doing so.

Content advisory

Once: Constant casual obscenity; a couple of profanities; a few sexual references. Mature viewing. National Treasure: Action violence, a few mildly grisly images, and minor profanity; fictionalized depiction of unhistorical claims of Freemasonry. Might be okay for older kids.