Weekly Video Picks
Peter Pan (2003)
“Heartless” is the last word of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, a romantic but not sentimental picture of childhood. It's a tribute to childhood's magic and cruelty but also to childhood as a preparation for adulthood, for adult responsibilities and roles.
The best-known screen versions of Peter Pan, the Disney version and the Mary Martin musical, only scratch the surface of Barrie's tale. The best versions, Cathy Rigby's delightful 2000 musical and the enchanting 1924 silent adaptation, go significantly deeper. This latest version, a lavish, big-budget adaptation, eschews musical numbers, casts a boy (Jeremy Sumpter) in the title role and confronts Barrie's darker themes head-on. And it gets things mostly right.
The film's main flaw is that it's too self-aware. Hook should be a child's idea of grown-up malevolence; the moment he can psycho-analyze Peter, Hook becomes a real grown-up. No fair. Still, an interesting tribute to Barrie's enduring story.
Content advisory: Mild menace, swashbuckling action and at times comic violence, some of which is fatal.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
One of the 15 movies in the Religion category of the Vatican's favorite-film list, The Gospel According to St. Matthew is newly available on DVD.
Pier Paolo Pasolini was an atheist, yet he came to Assisi in response to Pope John XXIII's call for dialogue with non-Christian artists and, after reading through the Gospels, was inspired to film the life of Christ straight from one of the Gospels, taking no editorial license. He dedicated The Gospel According to St. Matthew “to the dear, familiar memory of John XXIII.”
Though a Marxist, Pasolini was perhaps a poet first.
Pasolini's technique is striking in its austerity: He uses Matthew's dialogue but omits his narration, relying on images to convey whatever Matthew himself tells us. Location shooting in southern Italy using nonprofessional actors gives the film a persuasive peasant authenticity. There is no spectacle and few special effects (note the restrained but effective walking on water scene); the emphasis is on Jesus' teaching.
Content advisory: Mild passion imagery. In Italian with subtitles.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
Recently released on DVD, Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the original inspirational-teacher story and a beloved valentine to classical education, tradition and the English boarding schools of a bygone era.
Based on James Hilton's novella, the film is essentially a character study spanning 60 years of a man's life. Its chief asset is Robert Donat's celebrated, Oscar-winning performance as Charles Chipping, a bookish classics professor who makes an inauspicious debut at the hallowed halls of Brookfield School for Boys but eventually finds his feet, ultimately becoming something of an institution at the school.
Donat not only ages convincingly from young adulthood into doddering old age, but he also persuasively synthesizes the various stages of the character's life, from diffident, humorless newcomer to endearingly eccentric absent-minded professor, into a well-integrated total portrait. Greer Garson, making her feature-film debut, is delightful as Katherine Bridges, the self-possessed young woman who makes a new man of Chipping and gives him a new name, Mr. Chips, to boot.
Content advisory: Nothing objectionable.
- May 2-8, 2004