Weekly Video Picks
Whether or not you're a hockey fan, whether or not you remember the turbulent era in which the 1980 Winter Olympics “Miracle on Ice” occurred, Miracle will make you want to stand up and cheer. The bare facts are enough: A tough coach forges a team of raw American college hockey players into an upstart Olympic team that goes up against the seasoned, indomitable Soviet squad and pulls off the upset of the century.
Kurt Russell anchors the film with an expertly focused performance as NCAA coach and former Olympian Herb Brooks. Brooks isn't a traditional inspiring leader or even entirely likeable. What he is is the guy who can train these recruits to skate blade to blade with the best team in the world.
Miracle is about sacrifice, team-work and achievement. It's the best sort of true story, a story so striking and satisfying that it could only happen in real life. As sportscaster Al Michaels put it at the medal ceremony, “No scriptwriter would ever dare.”
Content advisory: Recurring sports roughness and an on-ice brawl; minor profanity and a crass expression.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Riveting, downbeat and full of surprises, John Huston's Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a gripping adventure and a smart morality tale about gold, greed, guns and guile. Humphrey Bogart gives what might be his finest and most startling performance as a down-andout American in Mexico suffering from a lack of options and moral fiber. Equally splendid is the director's aging father, Walter Huston, as an eccentric but canny and tough old prospector.
Part of what makes the film so compelling is its avoidance of the obvious or heavy-handed. When we meet Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart), he's neither particularly honorable nor particularly dishonorable. In one scene he mistreats a young beggar, but later when he gets the better of a shady operator who owes him a week's wages, he forcibly takes only what the man owes him and no more.
The film has the subtlety to avoid implying that self-interest is always ultimately the bottom line. An unforgettable, cathartic experience.
Content advisory: Sustained menace and sometimes deadly violence. Teens and up.
Two notable Westerns were released in 1939 that transcended the B-movie status that had defined that genre for a decade or more. One did so through satire: Destry Rides Again, starring Jimmy Stewart, looked back on the clichés and simplistic situations of the Westerns of the 1930s with a comic wink. But the other, John Ford's Stagecoach, went beyond those clichés, reinventing the Western in a more serious form and giving it new life for decades to come.
Stagecoach isn't the greatest Western of all time, but it's been called the first great Western. Instead of rote hero-villain conflict, Stagecoach emphasizes characterization, social commentary and moral drama. By throwing together nine characters representing a cross section of social classes and types into a stagecoach out in the vast wilderness of Monument Valley, the film explores themes of discrimination and hypocrisy.
Stagecoach gave the Western one of its great directors, Ford, and its most iconic star, John Wayne — a team that would go on to make some of the genre's classics. One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the Art category.
Content advisory: Sustained menace and sometimes deadly violence; an obliquely identified woman of ill repute. Teens and up.
- June 13-19, 2004