Video Picks & Passes





CONTENT ADVISORY: The Exorcism of Emily Rose contains intense disturbing phenomena and imagery. The Great Raid contains intense war violence, including torture and execution, and objectionable language, including profanity, crass language and sexual references. Both films are mature viewing. The Muppet movies are generally fine family viewing.

Do the voices whispering in someone's head come from his own subconscious, or from somewhere else? Does a patient's aversion to religious objects point to satanic influence, or is it merely obsessive-compulsive behavior with a religious bent? Writer-director Scott Derrickson raises questions rather than supplying answers. Inspired by a true story of Anneliese Michel, a Bavarian girl who died in the 1970s after almost a year of exorcism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a study in opposing worldviews. It doesn't so much affirm the existence of God or the devil as insist on the importance of the question whether God (and the devil) exist.

This confrontation of worldviews takes the form of a courtroom drama structured around the trial of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who administered the failed exorcism. The drama of the philosophical divide is heightened by the juxtaposition of a reluctant, skeptical defense attorney and a determined, churchgoing prosecutor. The courtroom drama offers some good moments and Emily's story, though limited to flashbacks, is genuinely chilling. The film is aided by effective performances from most of the principals. Unfortunately, it also makes some mistakes, such as reducing the DA to a one-note jerk.

Emily Rose is a worthwhile story for the issues it explores, though I find it ultimately tragic rather than inspiring. The exorcism failed. The girl died. The priest was indicted. Perhaps there is a moral triumph here somewhere, but it doesn't help me. Alas, life is like that sometimes.

Also based on a true story — and perhaps a more unambiguously inspiring one — John Dahl's unabashedly patriotic war movie The Great Raid celebrates the story of one of the most successful rescue missions of all time. Late in World War II, the Japanese war ministry issued a “kill all” policy for prisoners in POW camps, intending to eradicate evidence of atrocities before the arrival of Allied forces in the Philippines. This directive was tragically carried out on the 150 Allied POWs in the Palawan camp, who were doused in gasoline and burned alive.

However, things went differently for the more than 500 prisoners in the Cabanatuan camp near Manila, where, in January 1945, a small force of Rangers and Alamo scouts, together with Filipino resistance fighters, went 30 miles behind Japanese lines to attack the camp and rescue the prisoners. To call the raid a brilliant success would be an understatement. The film tells the story of the raid more or less as it actually happened, in a low-key style that's as much a throwback to the WWII films of the 1940s as a tribute to the soldiers it honors.

The screenplay makes some pedestrian choices — a clichéd love affair does little credit to the real-life heroism of an American war widow who helped smuggle medicine and information to Allied POWs — but unshowy performances feel true to the businesslike heroism of Greatest Generation warriors.

Finally, in honor of 50 years of Kermit the Frog, new DVD editions of four of the best Muppet movies — The Muppet Movie and sequels The Great Muppet Caper, Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol — are worth picking up. (Avoid inferior recent Muppet sequels, including A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz.)