It’s a bewildering age, a time of posthaste change in our culture by those who think all reformation is progress. And for many people seeking solace at the movies, only to be blitzed by crudity or mediocrity, the frustration mounts. Don’t know what I can do to correct the impetuousness of Washington D.C., or the corruption of corporate CEOs, but allow me to suggest a few films that will enrich or enliven. Or both.
I am selecting five films to represent each different genre. Keep the list handy when browsing Netflix or for when you next visit your local video store. I have attempted to spotlight films I haven’t already talked to death. Some new, some old. But remember, if you haven’t already seen it, every film is new.
I.Q. (1994). Walter Matthau, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins. Albert Einstein has fun putting aside his physics to play Cupid for his pedantic niece and the local good guy/car mechanic. Romantic, literate and downright funny. PG (one scene features sexual double entendre and there are two mild expletives, but I caught no sexual situations, violence, or obscene language).
THE MARX BROTHERS SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION: The 6-DVD set includes THE COCONUTS, MONKEY BUSINESS, ANIMAL CRACKERS, HORSE FEATHERS, DUCK SOUP and a bonus disc loaded with special features. If you’re going to own the Marx Brothers, this is the set.
APOSTLES OF COMEDY: THE MOVIE (2008). Comedy documentary from First Look Studios. The film fuses together the standup work of four award-winning comedians (Ron Pearson, Anthony Griffith, Brad Stine and Jeff Allen), not only spotlighting their quirky humor, but also giving an inside look at their private lives as they share their journeys of love, faith, hope and forgiveness. With the success of the THOU SHALT LAUGH DVD releases (also worth getting), the marketplace has seen the light – there is room for Christian comedians. THE APOSTLES OF COMEDY: THE MOVIE blends interviews and testimonies of the standups. There are some very touching moments, balanced by laugh-out-loud routines.
PRINCESS CARABOO. A mysterious woman convinces the British well-to-dos that she is a princess from a far-off land. A most entertaining film, based on a true story. Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969). A very funny western send-up with drifter James Garner hired as town sheriff. Also stars Walter Brennan, Jack Elam and Bruce Dern.
A VOW TO CHERISH (1999). This film pointedly examines the effect Alzheimer's disease has on a family. It presents three-dimensional people who find fulfillment and strength through Christ. Ken Howard, Barbara Babcock, Ossie Davis. World Wide Pictures. Composer John Campbell and cinematographer Roger Boller add such dynamic, lush qualities to the production that no one will accuse the producers of making a “church” movie. A VOW TO CHERISH is not about religiosity, but about love, commitment, and a realization of the need for Christ to fulfill our lives.
THE WINSLOW BOY (1999). Nigel Hawthorne, Rebecca Pidgeon. Writer/director David Mamet (best known for his salty dialogue in most productions) has sensitively adapted Terence Rattigan's play about a barrister defending a youth accused of school theft. Genteel look at a father's determination to see justice done. A superb screenplay by Mr. Mamet, proving a story can be told without bombarding the viewer with profane and offensive material. G (I found nothing objectionable).
THE SUNDOWNERS (1960). Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov. Not rated (1 mild expletive; drinking and gambling are apart of Mitchum's character). Traveling Australian sheep-herding family is headed by freedom-minded Mitchum and sensitive and loyal Kerr. This is superior story-telling, with great dialogue and remarkable performances by the leads. Caution: gambling, including a horse race where the couple's life savings are bet, and Mitchum gets drunk in a scene. But it is not about gambling. The film spotlights family love and honor. For adults, but tastefully handled.
TUCK EVERLASTING. From the book by Natalie Babbitt, the story captures the dreamlike, enchanted, if somewhat somber folktale of Winnie Foster, a teenage girl on the cusp of maturity. One day, Winnie happens upon Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson), a boy unlike any she’s ever met before. He and his family are kind and generous, and they immediately take her in as one of their own. However, the Tucks have been concealing a deep dark secret: is the fact that they have eternal life. Thanks to a magical spring from which they drank a hundred years before, they no longer age.
Part TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, showing life in a gentler time, part DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, as these mysterious people live out their magical existence in a forest, this dark TWILIGHT ZONE-ish parable does teach us a wonderful moral – “Don’t be afraid of dying, be afraid of the unlived life.” PG
THE KITE RUNNER is a profoundly emotional tale of friendship, family, devastating mistakes and redeeming love. It is not, however, for kids. The film is structured around adult subject matter ranging from wartime atrocities to the sexual abuse of a child. That said, it may be the most moving film I’ve seen concerning the nature of true friendship. And just when you think good storytelling is dead (many producers having turned to special effects and car chases in order to further plot development), along comes a grownup adventure, one that puts a face on people of another land and reminds us of just how much we have in America. It’s sometimes difficult to view, but sometimes those are the scenes we learn the most from about the world and ourselves. Nothing is done to be exploitive, and even the most brutal moments are handled with far more discretion than most filmmakers would apply.
VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (1965). Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard lead a daring escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in this first-rate, action-charged war drama.
MRS. MINIVER (1942). An important account of the early days of WW2 and its effects on a naive world. Oscar performances from both Greer Garson and Teresa Wright in a film that exposes the horror of war without the gruesomeness of today's "realism." Don’t let the title turn you off, guys. This is a moving, exciting, revealing film.
THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963). All-star cast includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough and James Garner. Splendid wartime drama of men set to escape a Nazi P.O.W. camp. Based on a true story. Entertaining script, cast and musical score. And no profanity
BATTLEGROUND (1949). Van Johnson and James Whitmore head an impressive ensemble in this reflective account of the Battle of the Bulge. Oscars went to the writer (Robert Pirosh) and cinematographer (Paul C. Vogel). Engrossing and moving.
IN HARM’S WAY (1965). John Wayne heads an all-star cast in Otto Preminger’s epic account of the beginning of WWII. Though overlong and at times melodramatic, still the director’s scope, battle sequences and the Duke’s solid performance (his nickname is Rock) make for interesting viewing.
These five choices are all older films, but I was afraid that a few of the newer choices (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN,WE WERE SOLDIERS, PATTON, BROTHERS AT WAR, and THE GREAT RAID) might offend some viewers due to the excessive language and violence. Each of those films is provocative, PATTON is a great anti-war movie as well as one of the best war films of all times, and WE WERE SOLDIERS has spiritual depth to it). The choices I have written up are worth your time.
BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957). A psychological battle of wills, great action sequences, and a moving show of comradeship as POWs build a bridge for their captors. Epic in scope and dynamically involving. Directed by David Lean and starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa and Jack Hawkins. Winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
VALKYRIE (2008). Based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), the film tells of the daring plot to kill Adolph Hitler. Aided by a sophisticated cameral drive, the director’s clever visceral style, and a fine supporting cast, VALKYRIE becomes a topnotch action thriller. It’s a testament to the writer/director that we’re sitting there fully believing the would-be assassins might just achieve their task. Now, that’s good cinema technique, when it causes us to hope for a new outcome. PG-13 for one obscene word (the f-word), but I caught no misuse of God’s name or other offending language. The film also features some wartime atrocities and a few jolting explosions, one causing the disfigurement of the lead (he loses a hand and an eye), but the filmmakers do not assault us with battlefront atrocities; although there are graphic executions of several men who attempted the assassination, nothing is meant to be exploitive, rather, simply informative. An image is worth a thousand words.
INKHEART (2009) Brendan Fraser, Eliza Hope Bennett, Andy Serkis star in action/adventure/fantasy about a father/daughter quest through worlds both real and imagined in order to bring back the girl’s mother from a mystical world. The production values are not in the category with the NARNIA or LORD OF THE RINGS movies, but there is a charm about the proceedings. Brendan Fraser knows how to handle blue-screen action with ease and gives the storyline credibility. Devoid of crudity or rough language, with positive messages about the importance of family and self-sacrifice, the film should be a family pleaser.
Interesting note (well, to me, anyway): The film contains a great line about books. “They love anyone who opens them.”
PG (comic book action throughout with menacing villains chasing and threatening our heroes; while there is a great deal of action, the filmmakers don’t brutalize us with graphic bloodshed; in fact, there’s no blood; people get bonked on the head, held prisoner and threatened with guns, but good triumphs over evil; there are a few scary moments that could upset little ones).
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem. Update of the Jules Verne novel, the story centers around a science professor's untraditional hypotheses that have made him the laughing stock of the academic community. But on an expedition in Iceland, he and his nephew stumble upon a major discovery that launches them on a thrilling journey deep beneath the Earth's surface, where they travel through never-before-seen worlds and encounter a variety of unusual creatures. The adventure is presented in 3D.
It’s campy, maybe even cheesy at times, but nonetheless entertaining. Wall-to-wall action (there’s even a roller coaster ride inside a cave, ala the second installment of Indiana Jones), with added humorous quips to ease the tension. Indeed, the humor should help de-traumatize little ones scared of the frequent jeopardy the leads find themselves in. And it stimulates the imagination. Exactly what is at the center of the earth? Probably not an ocean or pterodactyls, but something unlike what’s up here.
This JOURNEY contains positive messages about the need for family, hope, self-sacrifice, and believing in something unseen. The makers tell their story without crude or offensive language and both the male and female leads are positive role models. Certainly not in the league with the INDIANA JONES or the STAR WARS entrees, but this is the type of film Misters Spielberg and Lucas pay tribute to. At times it jolts, at others it amuses. And always, it entertains.
Warning must be given about the incessant, perilous action sequences. While they will keep most on the edge of their seat, the constant peril may be unsuitable for little children. Remember, they take in such screen activity more literally than older viewers. Please be careful what you allow into their young minds – because Hollywood doesn’t.
PG (lots of Saturday morning serial peril, with the leads, including a kid, avoiding death from prehistoric creatures and a dangerous environment; there are several jolting action adventure scenes, but they are always accompanied by amusement to help ease the fright; one particularly scary moment comes when our group find themselves at sea when they are suddenly attacked by CGI-created flying piranha fish; but again, the situation is soon handled with humor; taken with the woman’s beauty and personality, the boy claims “dibs on the guide,” but respect is shown for the lady and she is a positive role model for young girls in that she often saves the day and generates admiration from her male companions; though we don’t see the body, the remains of the boy’s explorer father are found and buried).
ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953). John Wayne and flight crew become stranded in the wilderness when their aircraft goes down. A tense drama as the men struggle to survive. Nice performance by the Duke and directed by veteran flyer William Wellman. Though the film is old, it was just re-released a couple of years ago. The DVD contains several interesting features, including an insightful commentary track by Leonard Waltin and William Wellman, Jr.
SCARY or SCI-FI
WAIT UNTIL DARK. Caution: This is a scary movie, but it won’t bombard your senses with today’s visual and verbal obscenities. It is a well-crafted thriller about a blind woman being terrorized in her apartment by a murderer. Stars Audrey Hepburn. I don’t know how enriching it is, but I included it to show how scary a movie could be without gore.
WAR OF THE WORLDS. Nothing man can do seems to stop a Martian invasion. Ah, but God in His infinite wisdom…Based on a story by H. G. Wells, this superior sci-fi actioneer is eerie and frightening, but it also contains a positive message. Don’t miss the ending narration by Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Not to be mistaken with the newer one with Tom Cruise as an anti-hero with a dysfunctional family. The 1953 version with Gene Barry is eerie and mesmerizing.
SIGNS. Farmer Mel Gibson discovers crop circles on his land. Soon the world is crawling with hostile aliens. Like Hitchcock, director M. Night Shyamalan builds tension through restraint. It’s not what we see, but what we imagine that scares the Jujubes out of us. Besides being an arm-grabbing suspenseful thriller, Signs is an equally touching family drama. We get to know this broken family as they cope with the traumatic loss of a wife and mother. There is an intimacy in both script and presentation that causes us to care for these people. Added to the drama and suspense is the story’s subtext about a man losing, then regaining his faith. The film also has an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives. Do things happen by chance or do they serve to develop our nature? Shyamalan’s film is about finding our way – or finding our way back.
TIME CHANGER. D. David Morin, Gavin MacLeod, Hal Linden, Jennifer O'Neill and Paul Rodriguez. Time travel adventure about a Bible professor from 1890 who comes forward in time to the present via a time machine. An involving adventure that illustrates the disaster of moral relativism and the pit a society falls into when it sheds itself of an ultimate authority, TIME CHANGER is full of Christian teaching, and contains a powerful, spiritual ending.
ERAGON (2006) Edward Speleers stars in this epic fantasy-adventure about a young farm boy whose destiny is revealed with the help of a dragon. Reminiscent of DRAGONHEART, another period tale of knights, dragons and the never-ending struggle for justice, ERAGON contains messages of bravery, sacrifice, and the need for doing what is right. And though there is a demonic sorcerer, this good vs. evil parable is more Narnia than Hogwarts, and is not an attempt to interest youth in the dark arts. Rated PG for several intense battle scenes and several demonic-looking creatures who do battle with the good guys.
THE BEAR. Wow, what a great film experience. It follows an orphaned bear cub and his new protector, a huge Kodiak. There’s no Disney-styled narration or cutesy voice-overs. THE BEAR is simply a captivating, humorous look at the daily life of these two mammals. The film takes place in 1885 British Columbia, with stunning, often breathtaking photography, locations and some truly touching moments. Caution, there are a couple of frightening scenes. Hunters are after the Kodiak. Dogs and horses are wounded by the bear when he is cornered. But no animals were actually harmed during filming. I believe little ones can handle it if parents are there to reassure. Standout moment: an unprepared hunter comes face to face with his quarry. After some rather loud roaring, the huge mammal takes pity on the frightened hunter and walks away. Later, the bear is also spared. Rated PG.
BLACK BEAUTY. Narrated from the perspective of the horse, this episodic, sometimes slow-paced adventure is beautifully photographed, with life lessons for children. A close adaptation to the Anna Sewell animal-rights classic, it concerns the life of an extraordinary horse as it passes from one owner to another. Starring Sean Bean and David Thewlis, this G-rated movie is a great film for the family. There are several films with the same title, but this 1994 production is the best.
MY DOG SKIP. Drawn from Willie Morris’s best-selling memoir, MY DOG SKIP is a coming-of-age tale that looks back on how a terrier pup helped a shy boy, bullied by schoolmates and strictly handled by an aloof father, come to grips with loneliness.
Set in WWII-era Mississippi, the film has a Norman Rockwell ambience: gentle enough for little ones, but also involving for older kids and their parents. Funny, yet sensitive, MY DOG SKIP reminds us of what a great gift man’s best friend really is. Tenaciously loyal, unfailingly forgiving, and unquestioningly loving, our four-legged companions teach their custodians how to relate to fellow beings while giving us memories that last a lifetime. A gentle, delightful film, it does require a guardian to be seated next to toddlers. For although it has the adventure of a BENJI, it also contains the poignancy of OLD YELLER. Production values are all top drawer. Young Frankie Muniz as the film’s junior protagonist is never cutesy or precocious, but rather down to earth. It is replete with lessons in friendship, loneliness, and death. And that dog - he could give Snoopy charm lessons! The best boy-and-his-dog movie since Lassie Come Home!
MY DOG SKIP is rated PG (seven or eight expletives, but I caught no harsh or profane language; one scene features the parents smoking a cigar; the boy has to prove himself by staying all night in a graveyard, where he encounters moonshiners who threaten him; later, they hit the dog with a shovel (off camera); a deer is shot by hunters, but this scene is there to teach the boy a lesson; a father is a bit harsh, but we learn why, and it is obvious that he loves his son; after a long life, the dog gently passes away).
NATIONAL VELVET. More than anything, a 12-year-old girl (Elizabeth Taylor) wants to enter the Grand National Steeplechase on her beloved horse, Pie. Engrossing story from a child’s point of view, with a terrific supporting cast and breathtaking photography. A young girl competes in a man’s world.
THE ADVENTURES OF MILO & OTIS (1989). Rated G, it is an adventure film starring animals, with Dudley Moore serving as narrator. Highest grossing film in Japan until that time, it is perfect for parents to view with little ones.
SISTER ACT. Whoopi Goldberg. Comedy. A lounge singer hides out in a convent after witnessing her gangster boyfriend murder one of his underlings. The film is very predictable, but it comes alive when Whoopi, dressed as a nun, takes charge of the church choir. Except for the few bad words, it is a feel-good movie. PG (a few obscenities sprinkled throughout but I didn't catch any misuse of God's name; an off-screen murder).
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. The summer of their 16th year has four lifelong friends being separated for the first time. On a last shopping trip, the girls find a pair of thrift-shop jeans that mystically fit each of them perfectly and they decide to use these “magic” pants as a way of keeping in touch over the months ahead. Each girl wears the jeans for a week to see what luck they bring her before sending them on to the next. Director Ken Kwapis artfully blends each story, giving substance to the fears and frustrations of those approaching adulthood.
For a film whose demographic audience is teenaged girls, this one is thoughtful, touching and witty. SISTERHOOD is a pleasure even for those not in the demographic of teenagehood.
PG (it contains a few mild expletives and the now common colloquialism “suck,” but I caught no harsh or profane language; thematic elements including divorce, the lost of a parent, and using sex to get what you want; there is some sensuality, but I did not find it exploitive, but revealing of the character as she learns life lessons; one scene shows the two girls changing pants, we see them in their underwear, but the scene is brief and not meant as exploitive).
SKY HIGH. The son of two superheroes is entering an elite high school designed to mold today’s power-gifted students into tomorrow’s superheroes. But there is a problem for young Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano). He has yet to receive his powers. Indeed, there is a growing fear that he is doomed to be a powerless “sidekick.” To make things worst, an overbearing gym coach, a school bully and girl problems are becoming super frustrating. Ah, but world-rescuing powers are on the way, and Will and his parents are about to save mankind while discovering that sidekicks are heroes too.
Occasionally, a film aimed at the family succeeds in pleasing child and parent alike. This one does.
PG (devoid of objectionable language and crudity, the script maintains an uplifting standard due to creativity and respect for audience members; there is cartoonish violence – come on, it’s a story about caped crusaders and arch villains – therefore parents should attend with little ones, but the filmmakers are careful to add humor to the battle scenes in order to ward off fears; lessons are learned about respecting others and the film presents a positive family example).
STEEP (2008). Interesting documentary about men – and women – who live for danger. Like surfers searching for the tallest wave, extreme mountain skiers attempt to conquer the highest and most inaccessible adversary. Containing terrific cinematography and moving stories of fallen comrades, the film expertly reveals the character of these sportsmen. Best moment: Three skiers are photographed from a helicopter while getting caught in an avalanche. Not only a thrilling, armrest-grabber of a moment, the aftermath also shows a camaraderie known only to those who risk their lives together. PG (three or four minor expletives and one use of the s-word after surviving an avalanche; Lots of dangerous skiing in places not fit for man).
SMILE (2005). The story concerns Katie (Mika Boorem – BLUE CRUSH, SLEEPOVER), a self-centered teen from an affluent Malibu family, cute and at the top of the social order at her school. Struggling with adolescent issues, including whether or not to have sex with her boyfriend, Katie is beginning to sense that there is more to life than what’s offered by her preferential world. When a favorite teacher presents an opportunity to get involved with a charitable group, she hastily agrees to travel to China as a volunteer, not realizing that this trip will change her life.
Meanwhile, Lin (Yi Ding – THE JOY LUCK CLUB, THE AMAZING PANDA ADVENTURE) has grown up in a Chinese village protected by her loving adoptive father who learns of the medical organization. He takes Lin to the far-off big city where he and his daughter hope for a miracle. But when he is injured in an accident, they are unable to get to the surgeons before they return to America. They sadly retreat to their hometown. Once again Lin’s dreams of escape from her self-imposed isolation go unfulfilled.
After arriving in China, Katie becomes overwhelmed by viewing the deformed children in person. It is heartbreaking and more than she can handle emotionally. Her first instinct is to leave for home, but a compassionate nurse (Cheri Oteri – SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) helps the youngster through the initial ordeal and soon Katie begins to see the profound impact of her efforts.
Learning of Lin’s disappointment and the fact that she was born on the same day as she, Katie sneaks off to find the girl. Katie is changing. Her journey to China has suddenly become selfless. And that is the missing element to life she has searched for. Caring for others brings her purpose and fulfillment.
PG-13 (A mother discusses sexual matters with her teen daughter and supports her decision to get birth control pills. There is a make-out scene, but the girl realizes that she is not ready for sex and puts an end to it. Though some may be concerned with the brief sexuality, the filmmakers felt the issue needed to be addressed and do it with discretion.)
THE CIVIL WAR (1990). Ken Burns' eloquent look at the struggle between the North and the South should be required viewing, especially for teens. The 1989 quintessential documentary on the War Between the States is a moving learning experience about the foibles and nobility of the human spirit. Indeed, it defines the American Spirit.
EARTH (2009). Narrated by James Earl Jones, EARTH tells the remarkable story of three animal families and their journeys across this planet we share. Mesmerizing, the best nature film – ever! The visuals alone are breathtaking, as the documentarians approach the wonder of our world with the same magic and majesty found in MARCH OF THE PENQUINS and WINGED MIGRATION. From the tropical rainforests to the Kalahari plains to the artic tundra to the Mediterranean Ocean to the Antarctic Peninsula to the Himalayan Mountains, you name the hemisphere, this film is there. With scale and drama the production follows five main topics: the Earth and the Sun, Great Migrations, Adaptation and Habitat, Predators and Prey, and Life Cycles. Caution: as the film depicts the circle of life, keep in mind that little ones may be disturbed by the representations of predator and prey. That said, the film never becomes gory. There are several “catches” depicted, but the camera cuts away before the bloodshed is revealed.
After viewing all the creatures, including over forty species of the Bird of Paradise, surely the evolution of all beings from one Big Bang is ludicrous. Adding all the complexities of nature to the argument, including the fact that if the tilt of the Earth were off just the slightest life on earth would not exist, one must allow for the plausibility of intelligent design. To dismiss such a theory would indicate a shallowness of thought. Rated G.
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED (2008). This investigative documentary probes the snubbing of scientists and teachers who teach the theory of intelligent design. Ben Stein, who’s had an eclectic career ranging from presidential speechwriter to droning actor (he played the blasé teacher in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF), hosts this outing of those determined to prevent the creationist hypothesis. Mr. Stein interviews respected scientists and teachers who have lost their jobs and/or careers because of their desire just to be open to ideas other than evolution.
With touches of cynical humor and moments of thoughtful reasoning, the filmmakers take on a system that has long since said that there is no place for the concept of intelligent design outside Sunday morning worship. Indeed, in the halls of prejudicial academia, spiritual matters have become archaic. And when someone has the nerve to test the theory that man came from fish in the sea or apes in the trees or a big cosmic bang, not only are they ridiculed by many in the field of science, they are also ridiculed by the media (hence the overwhelming negative reviews from the secular press).
What an eye-opener this has been. Movie critics, so proud of their liberal and objective stances, are clearly dominated by personal views and agendas. After reading some of the poisoned-pen smears of this film by many of my colleagues in criticism, I have come to the conclusion that they demand not only separation of church from state, but of church from anything. Their so-called open-mindedness only extends so far as to the boundaries of their own beliefs.
I must point out that there are exceptions to that previous statement. I know people in the press who are positive role models for the term “liberal,” in that they debate, but also listen to the views of others. They are, however, few and far between.
Admittedly, the film has an agenda. It mocks the narrowness of man’s all-knowing, all-seeing intellectual conceit. Stein and his team use any means to make cartoons of evolutionists, including the actual use of cartoons. Stein attacks them much the way Michael Moore does everyone else. Of course, Moore’s tactics are generally accepted as filmmaking tools to make an entertaining point. Stein’s, however, are mocked as as disingenuous and deceitful.
The makers of Expelled are using the very stratagem documentarians have used to puncture Detroit, McDonald’s and church hierarchies. Ah, the evolutionary worm turns. The film is thought-provoking, amusing and scary because it points out that our nation’s schools, which once embraced a reverence for God and spiritual concepts, are now manned by those who don’t.
Rated PG (a couple of minor expletives, but I caught no harsh or crude language; concentration camp victims are displayed in one scene -- it is a harrowing image and this could be very disturbing for children; there are a few violent scenes taken from old movies to make a point -- these are fairly tame).
FRANK & OLLIE (1995). A Disney documentary about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who, along with Walt Disney and a select handful of others, changed the face of cartoons, bringing character and pathos to their creations such as SNOW WHITE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, THE JUNGLE BOOK and over 30 other features. Enough clips are presented from these treasures to give viewers an even greater appreciation and a desire to see them all again. But there's another element that makes this a true enjoyment. Frank and Ollie have not only worked together for 40 years, but have maintained a close friendship many believe possible only in a ‘60s sitcom. They have a respect and camaraderie many people never achieve with other humans. It is more than just a retrospective of two old animation artists. It's an appreciative look at two nice people. PG (a few mild expletives and a glimpse of a nude drawing in an art class).
KING OF THE KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (2008). This documentary spotlights contestants gearing up for the ultimate video arcade championship. So well conceived, I thought for a while, “Are we being punked?” But no, even though it has a mockumentary feel, it’s the real deal. Not mean spirited or belittling, but it is amusingly taunting, an exposé that masterfully reveals the makeup of advocates of the arcade.
TOGETHER. (2002) This Chinese film concerns a widowed father who sacrifices everything in order to support his teenage son’s gifted musical abilities. The son can’t see the sacrifices made on his behalf until the end. Beautifully filmed in the “Forbidden City” of China, full of humor, drama and insight, TOGETHER is a powerful morality tale with an ending that moved me to tears. This film reminded me of 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, he has denied the faith.”
IL POSTINO (1995). Massimo Troisi. Miramax. Romantic comedy. Italian, with subtitles. PG (although two lead characters proclaim to be communists, it is not a political film). No bad language, no disrespect for the church, no violence, just a gentle story about a meek Italian postman who befriends a renowned poet visiting the quaint island. When the postman falls in love with the town beauty, our hero turns to the poet for help in winning her over. It is truly a movie about amour. Don't be turned off by subtitles or poetry. It is a great date video. If you're tired of robotic acting and high-decibel special effects, treat yourselves to this warm, funny, romantic picture. Massimo Troisi, the beloved Italian comic, put off a heart operation to do this film. Sadly, he died the day after completion.
BABETTE’S FEAST (1987). Okay, I have talked this one to death, but it’s such an incredible film. This 1987 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film centers around two religiously devout Danish sisters who show kindness to a homeless woman. When she wins a lottery, the woman shares her good fortune in a most lavish manner. Based on a short story by Isak Dinessen, it is a beautiful tale of devotion and sacrifice, as well as a healing parable where quarreling friends and acquaintances are brought together once they shed their pious austerity. The film urges us not to hide behind our religion, but to put it into action.
MEMORIS OF A GEISHA (2005). A sweeping romantic epic set in a mysterious and exotic world of the geisha, the story begins in the years before WWII when a penniless Japanese family sells their child as a maid to a geisha house. Despite a treacherous rival who nearly breaks her spirit, the girl blossoms into the legendary geisha Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). Beautiful and accomplished, Sayuri captivates the most powerful men of her day, but is haunted by her secret love for the one man who was kind to her as a child (Ken Watanabe). Driven by story, characterization and gorgeous cinematography, this is exquisite filmmaking. I was completely captivated. PG-13 (though nothing is exploitive or graphic, the film has adult subject matter concerning children sold into servitude and the subsequent life of a girl raised in a geisha house, which is not a bordello – the girls are not prostitutes, but Japanese maidens who are trained to provide entertaining company for men; that said, a great value is set upon the virginity of such girls and they can be bid upon; the film has some sensual moments and twice the lead’s virtue is threatened; there are several scenes where cruelty is displayed; the lead prays to Buddha for a miracle – there is no other scene dealing with spirituality).
PONETTE (1997). French with subtitles. After the death of her mother, a child attempts to understand where her mother is and believes if she can get close enough to God, He will send the mother back. Sometimes difficult to view, as we are frustrated that we cannot relieve her sadness. But an insightful look at the world of children, an uplifting ending and the performances of the three lead children make for great adult entertainment. Positive portrayal of a Christian woman as she relates the story of Christ to this little one. Four-year-old Victoire Thivisol won the 1996 Venice Film Festival Best Actress that year. How they got such a dynamic, moving performance out of this cherub is beyond me, but even if she never does another thing, this little girl has greatly contributed to the world of art. Not rated (3 or 4 obscenities, but I caught no misuse of God's name; adult subject matter as the loss of a parent and subsequent unhappy searching for her mother may disturb children).
CHARLOTTE’S WEB (2006). What an incredible story, completely involving, yet loaded with life lessons for children and reminders for adults. Based on E. B. White’s classic about a spider who befriends a shy piglet, this is a classic – not just one of the best family films of 2006, but of ever. Rated G (there are a few comically perilous situations for the Rat, and there’s the threat that Wilber the pig will be turned into bacon by summer’s end, but the filmmakers managed to tell an involving story without graphic or excessive violence; although it is a witty, heartwarming story, there are a few flatulence jokes, as well as a few other crudities sprinkled throughout).
BOLT (2008). Voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Mark Walton, Susie Essman.
FILM SYNOPSIS: For super-dog Bolt (voice of John Travolta), every day is filled with adventure, danger and intrigue – at least until the cameras stop rolling. When the star of a hit TV show is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City, he begins his biggest adventure yet – a cross-country journey through the real world to get back to his owner and co-star, Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus). Armed only with the delusions that all his amazing feats and powers are real, and the help of two unlikely traveling companions – a jaded, abandoned housecat named Mittens (voice of Susie Essman) and a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino (voice of Mark Walton) – Bolt discovers he doesn’t need superpowers to be a hero.
REVIEW: The most creative film since WALL•E, Bolt is sometimes touching, often hysterical and always mesmerizing. The film opens with a great chase, ala James Bond only better. Where the opening sequence for Quantum of Solace was muddled by extreme close-ups and quick cutting, Bolt’s adroit draftsmanship immediately draws us into the chase as if we were a part of the action. The scene encourages those who have attended merely to please offspring that maybe, just maybe, they are going to be entertained as well.
And they are, for the writers and artists have embraced moviegoers of all ages with this animated “girl and her movie star dog who thinks he has real superpowers” adventure. Every detail has been given loving and experienced detailing, from the animation to the film’s score, to the directorial pacing. Disney has once again given us the perfect family film.
And the pigeons. You got to go for the pigeons. They’re the new penguins!
PG (no obscene language; rather, the writers use wit to express exclamation, frustration and surprise; there are several detailed action sequences; although the filmmakers use discretion and show respect for the youngest audience members, it is always best to attend with your children, just in case they need any reassurance; the dog has been separated from his “human”; this leads to a few touching moments that may disturb little ones – moms and dads should be on hand to let them know everything will be okay).
HOODWINKED (2006). It’s the story of Little Red Riding Hood, with several of the main characters giving various accounts to the police – kind of a RASHOMON for kids, if you will. Witty, song-filled, it is a funny film parents will enjoy with the little ones.
PG (There are a couple of jolting scenes with the wolf scaring Red and there are a few perilous situations, but the filmmakers handle these scenes with sensitivity and humor. That said, parents should view with little ones in order to reassure in case something alarms them.)
THE INCREDIBLES (2004). This hilarious, action-packed, animated adventure has a put-upon superhero family now denying their superpowers and living under a government protection plan. Taking on grownup themes such as the suspicion of infidelity and a barrage of violent do-or-die histrionics, Pixar Animation Studios and filmmaker Brad Bird (THE IRON GIANT) incorporate cartoonish slapstick with thoughtful PG-rated wit.
TINKERBELL (2008). Disney’s famous fairy gets her own story and children get a real treat. The full-length CG animated movie is filled with adventure, magic and even a sprinkling of pixie-dust. Produced by DisneyToon Studios, the story concerns Tink’s early life, as she and we learn the jobs of these tiny sprites. Why do leaves change colors? Where does a rainbow get its glow? How do birds learn to fly? … It’s all the work of fairies! Okay, so it’s not scientific. But it’s not all New Age, either. It’s just, well, a fairy tale. The film is fun for little ones and tolerable for adults – something that can seldom be said for films aimed at that age range. TINKERBELL may raise questions from children about how nature truly works. You might want to bone up on the subject. Rated G.
For an extended list, consult your copy of MOVIES: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE REALLY, REALLY BAD. Don’t have one? Go to: www.wordcrafts.net. Or: To order a signed copy directly from the author, mail your check for $15.00 + $3.00 (S&H) to Central Christian Publications, 492 E. 12th Street, Tonganoxie, KS 66086.