Home Video Picks & Passes 03.08.15

101 Dalmatians (1961) — PICK
Force Majeure (2014) — PICK
St. Vincent (2014) — PICK


St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, has been making inroads with Catholics for its positive portrayal of a Catholic school staffed by caring, humorous priests. It’s fair to say the film offers Hollywood’s most positive depiction of Catholicism (outside of a horror film) in years — though that’s not saying much, alas.

It’s also the story of how an angry, foul-mouthed, feckless, hard-drinking slob named Vincent (Murray) becomes unwillingly entangled in the life of a sensitive young boy named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), who moves in next door with his divorced mother, Maggie (McCarthy).

Right away, you see the redemptive arc coming, and St. Vincent — from first-time feature director Theodore Melfi, a Catholic who attended parochial school in his native Brooklyn — hits all the beats you’d expect, though too many loose threads are unresolved, and consequences are seldom taken seriously.

Unlike other tales of redeemed curmudgeons, this one doesn’t ask its protagonist to change much. Beneath the unpresentable exterior, Vincent has a heart of gold and a number of redemptive secrets. What Oliver offers him is not so much impetus to change as an understanding heart. On the plus side, Murray is a pleasure in a role with less self-awareness and irony than usual, and McCarthy breaks with her usual over-the-top abrasiveness in a quieter role that still offers room for pathos.

Force Majeure, from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, received much critical acclaim for its examination of the emotional aftermath of a brief scare during a family skiing vacation. In a moment of panic, Tomas abandons his wife, Ebba, and their children — then denies it afterward, claiming to remember the moment differently.

It’s an intriguing exploration of marital dynamics and expectations (not unlike the earlier film The Loneliest Planet, but with a lot more talking). In lieu of a satisfying ending, though, the film settles for two climaxes I found less than satisfying — one apparently offering Tomas redemption and the other raising questions about Ebba’s maternal instincts in a crisis. Still worth watching.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD: the “Diamond Edition” of the classic 101 Dalmatians, one of the brighter films of Disney’s late Golden Age. Get it while the getting’s good.


Caveat Spectator: 101 Dalmatians: Animated menace. Cruella de Vil might be too scary for very sensitive youngsters. Force Majeure: Brief, non-sexual nudity and scenes of partial undress; references to adultery; some strong language. Adults. St. Vincent: A brief, non-explicit bedroom scene (no nudity); some sexually explicit dialogue, much crass language and some profanity; brief schoolyard violence; heavy drinking; irresponsible gambling.