Weekly Video/DVD Picks

Frequency (2000)

A time-bending action-thriller with a life-affirming, pro-family heart, Frequency begins with a premise so simple, yet so powerful, that it could practically carry the story by itself: A Queens cop (James Caviezel) whose firefighter father (Dennis Quaid) died heroically 30 years earlier has an unexpected and mysterious opportunity to communicate across time with his father on the eve of the fatal fire. This simple premise becomes the basis for heartfelt reflection on fatherhood and family. Above all, Frequency evokes the profound human longing to escape the constraints of time, to see the wrongs and mistakes of the past somehow redeemed. Caviezel and Quaid are note-perfect and their relationship is emotionally persuasive.

Eventually the film falls back on standard-issue time-travel complications in which something has gone horribly wrong, and father and son must collaborate across time to stop a serial killer who's inadvertently been given a new lease on life. This subplot is handled smartly and cleverly, with some interesting applications of the movie's time-bending rules. A great movie for fathers and (above a certain age) sons — especially if they're baseball fans.

The Mission (1986)

A Vatican film list honoree in the religion category, The Mission is now available on DVD, with wide-screen presentation and a director's commentary. Written by Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons) and gorgeously photographed by Chris Menges (The Killing Fields), The Mission stars Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons in a fictional account of a historical struggle between Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese slave hunters in a disputed South American region. Three distinct acts highlight three different moral crises.

First, there's a slave hunter's struggle between despair and redemption.

Then comes the sad, foregone investigation of a papal legate nominally sent to inspect the Jesuit's work, but who will really rubber-stamp plans to abandon the missions.

Finally, there's a choice to be made between futile guerrilla resistance and martyrdom.

Few films have more stunningly depicted redemption and forgiveness, or more thoughtfully explored religious duty and obedience. One priest justifiably breaks holy obedience in order not to endanger souls; another wrongly does so in order to resist a military enemy, violating ancient tradition against priests fighting as soldiers — as well as the just-war requirement of reasonable hope of success. A beautiful, difficult film that deserves thoughtful reflection.

Sahara (1943)

One of the best WWII movies, Sahara is a thoroughly entertaining war actioner starring Humphrey Bogart as a tough American sergeant commanding a tank crew in the Libyan desert.

Joined by a handful of British troops and a Sudanese soldier (Rex Ingram), saddled with a pair of POWs, one Italian (J. Carol Naish) and one German (Kurt Kreuger), Bogie helms his rugged M3 tank Lulubelle through the African waste, retreating before advancing Nazi lines until he makes his last stand at an inhospitable oasis.

As might be expected, Sahara celebrates valor and sacrifice, but it also goes beyond many war pictures in weighing exigencies of war against the moral regard that is due the life of an enemy soldier, in balancing patriotism with cooperation among soldiers of various nationalities (including Ingram's dignified African) against a common enemy, and in a theological dimension that more than once indicates whose side God is on.

There's also a humorous discussion between the Sudanese Muslim and an American from Texas: After listening to the Muslim's defense of polygamy, the Texan comments laconically that his own wife wouldn't like such an arrangement — whereupon the Muslim is forced to admit that it's the same with his one wife.