ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. The most colorful film, ever, with Errol Flynn the quintessential swashbuckler, “Robin Hood” sparkles with action, witty dialogue and one of Hollywood’s best musical scores.
AMERICA’S HEART AND SOUL (2004). Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road, with a goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Here you have the chance to meet ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories. Schwartzberg’s gift is his ability to connect with people, honestly capturing their values, dreams, and passion. AMERICA’S HEART AND SOUL is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people.
BABETTE’S FEAST. In the 1987 Oscar winner for Best Foreign film, “Babette’s Feast” tells the story of a homeless French woman taken in by two religiously devout Danish sisters. The gentle sisters are heading up their conservative church, long ago started by their father. But it is a dying church, filled with members who have developed feuds among one another. It is winter, in this cold, barren community. The imagery reflects their dying church, because the members have left Christ out of their pious beliefs.
Well, it turns out that the French woman was once a famous chef. She has hidden her talents, subjecting her self as a housekeeper for the two sisters. Then one day she discovers that she has won a lottery back in her homeland. When the money arrives, she shares her good fortune in a most lavish manner. She asks the sisters if she can provide a special meal for an upcoming church celebration. The sisters hesitantly agree. When the food arrives from far off regions, consisting of epicurean delights such as turtles for turtle soup and quail and other gourmet treats these simple people are unfamiliar with, the sisters are horrified. Plus, there are several bottle of wine. Wine! Till now, these people have avoided any form of alcohol.
The church members are afraid of what they are getting themselves into. But rather than be impolite, they decide to pray over it and decide that they will get through this ordeal. They’ll eat it, but they just won’t enjoy it. However, as each course is served with a matching wine, the guests at the feast discover tastes and aromas that ignite the palate, aided by the wine, which causes them to warm up and reunite their friendships.
A member of the party is an officer in the military. He has been everywhere and dined at the finest restaurants – even in France. He begins to tell of a French chef renown in her country as one of the best in her profession. Little does he know, or anyone else there, that this is the same woman.
By the end of the meal, friendships are restored, old grievances settled, and Christ is praised. This woman’s meal has brought them together. But the guests are unaware that she was being more than generous. She was also being sacrificial. For she has spent her entire lottery winnings on this feast.
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 put our faith into action.
THE GHOST & MRS. MUIR (1947). A gothic romance without promiscuity, starring Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney and George Sanders. No, I don't believe in ghosts (angels and demons, yes), but the serene love affair is difficult to resist. It contains, you should excuse the expression, a “haunting” score by Bernard Herrmann.
THE HIDING PLACE. Corrie Ten Boom worked with the underground during WWII, helping to save many Jews. Imprisoned herself, she learned “there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” A moving film about compassion and forgiveness. Ask for it at your local Christian bookstore.
HOODWINKED. 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.)
LAST HOLIDAY. A shy cookware clerk (Queen Latifah), believing her days are numbered, throws caution to the wind and embarks on a dream vacation to Europe. While staying at a grand hotel, she and her uninhibited attitude have a profound and humorous effect on the guests and staff. I wish I could say it was a film that contained nothing that someone might find objectionable. Alas, what film made in the past two decades could claim that? Still, the objectionables were few and far between and I felt good when I left the theater. Not only was it apparent that the lead was a churchgoer – rare in today’s movies – but she demonstrated the teachings she obviously learned there. Mix the moral uplift with some very funny comic gags and you have a unique film today, one that entertains while respecting both the audience and the Creator.
PG-13 (one sexually suggestive remark deals with oral sex; though it is not overtly graphic and though it does lead to a redemptive message, still many parents will find its inclusion to be unsuitable for children; 4 or 5 obscenities; Profanity: none, though we do hear 2 “oh my god’s”; slapstick physical comedy includes snowboarding down a dangerous hill; one person is slapped); there are a couple of comical references, but nothing overtly graphic; there is social drinking throughout; upon hearing she is dying, the main character, who normally doesn’t drink, downs nearly a whole bottle of wine; it is implied that the villain is an adulterer, though he and the woman learn life lessons. Gambling once).
LITTLE MANHATTAN. The family film is somewhat nostalgic and always respectful of the innocence of children as it follows two friends, 10-year-old Gabe (Josh Hutcherson – Zathura, Kicking and Screaming), and 11-year-old Rosemary (newcomer Charlie Ray) going through the ups and downs of first love. Gabe and Rosemary have known each other nearly all their lives, but when they come face-to-face in a karate class, they begin seeing one another in a whole new light. Aided by whimsical narration and packed with classic tunes that capture the essence of NY City, Little Manhattan reminds adults of their first loves while addressing curious feelings adolescent boys have for these strange creatures with long hair and short skirts.
MAD HOT BALLLROOM. This light-hearted documentary concerns likeable New York 5th graders who are given a free course in dance as part of their school curriculum. Funny, innocently insightful and completely engaging, these kids gain direction and confidence as they learn the merengue, tango and swing dance steps. There’s an innocent wisdom that generates from many of these kids. We also experience the pain of those who learn for the first time about disappointment (“But we did everything they told us to do”).
MEMORIES OF A GEISHA. 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).
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).
SENSE AND SENSIBLITY (1995). Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant. Tweaking the social mores of the day, this engrossing screenplay (by the film's star, Emma Thompson), concerns two sisters who discover the joys and tribulations of young love. Set in prim and proper 18th-century Regency-era England, Jane Austen’s romance novel is beautifully photographed and splendidly acted. The melodrama is full of wit, humor, and passion. PG (no profanity, no sexual situations, no violence - just great tongue-in-cheek storytelling).
THE STRAIGHT STORY. Filmed along the 260-mile route that the actual Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) traversed in 1994 from Laurens, Iowa to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin, The Straight Story chronicles Alvin’s patient odyssey and those he meets along the way. Alvin encounters a number of strangers, from a teenage runaway to a fellow WWII veteran. By sharing his life’s earned wisdom with simple stories, Alvin has a profound impact on these people. It contains lessons about the importance of family and forgiveness. Caution, though it is rated G, the film contains the following: a few expletives, one misuse of God’s name and one misuse of Jesus’ name; many of the main characters smoke; occasional beer drinking; the lead drinks a beer himself, but the film explains why many people use alcohol as a crutch.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF. A very funny western send-up from 1969, with drifter James Garner hired as town sheriff. Also stars Walter Brennan, Jack Elam and Bruce Dern. Rated G.
THE SWAN PRINCESS. A wonderful animated film for the entire family based on the mythical Swan Lake legend. Voices of Sandy Duncan, John Cleese, Jack Palance.
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).
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.