VIDEOS FOR MATURE VIEWERS
This section serves up all kinds of films that deal with the human condition. Although these movies will not bombard your senses with negative images or profane language, a few of the more recent films may contain some material you deem incorrect for young children. Older teens should be able to handle the subject matter.
ADAM’S RIB (1949). A literate battle-of-the-sexes script with married lawyers (Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn) on opposing sides of an attempted murder case.
ADVISE AND CONSENT (1962). Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton. The Senate must decide whether to confirm a controversial nominee for Secretary of State. Engrossing look at Washington behind closed doors.
ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). Bette Davis at her best as a sophisticated actress at odds with her scheming protégé. Winner of six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Droll dialogue and sharp performances make this a 4-star picture.
AMISH GRACE (2010). This made-for-television drama stars Kimberly Williams-Paisley (“ACCORDING TO JIM,” “FATHER OF THE BRIDE” Parts I and II) as Ida Graber, an Amish woman dealing with the tragic loss of her daughter after the shooting by a crazed outsider who swore vengeance on God after his own baby girl died. The true story is about the aftermath of the 2006 schoolhouse shooting in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The book’s title best summarizes the production’s theme–Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957). Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr. Sudser about a shipboard romance that suffers a heartbreaking setback. Corny, but very romantic. Lovely theme song.
ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (1995). Narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Sony Pictures Classics. PG (the atrocities of Hitler’s concentration camps are seen briefly toward the end of the film). Anne Frank’s diary has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into 55 languages. Her life and tragic death speak on behalf of the 1.5 million children killed by the Nazis. This poignant documentary works on several levels: a true-life coming of age, the insight of a wise young girl, and the human capacity to survive. Every teenager should see this film to learn of the destructiveness of bigotry and to be uplifted by the courage and power people can display. In one incredible moment, the middle-aged son of a holocaust victim meets the woman who protected his father nearly 50 years ago. Two months after this meeting, the man died. Filled with many intuitive moments, the video reminds us that soon no one will be here to tell the personal events associated with that horrific time.
AS YOU LIKE IT (1936). Laurence Olivier. An early attempt at bringing the Bard to the silver screen proves successful.
AUGUST RUSH (2007). Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. A charismatic young Irish guitarist and a sheltered young cellist have a chance encounter one magical night above New York’s Washington Square, but are soon torn apart, leaving in their wake an infant, orphaned by circumstance. Years later, performing on the streets of New York and cared for by a mysterious stranger (Robin Williams) who gives him the name August Rush, the child (Freddie Highmore) uses his remarkable musical talent to seek the parents from whom he was separated at birth. It’s a wonderful film, because like most the great films, from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE to CASABLANCA, AUGUST RUSH makes you feel hopeful and good. This one looks to those things that unite us – the music around us, the hope of love, and the adventure of life.
PG (the word “pissed” is used once. I’m not sure if this is an actual obscenity, but it is crude, isn’t it? Three or four minor expletives [damns], but I caught no harsh language. One use of “Oh my God,” but I caught no other profanity. The Fagin-like character bullies a kid; a woman is hit by a car off screen, placing her in the hospital, and a boy is also hit by a car – this is jolting, but he is uninjured. It is implied that the lead couple have had sex, which leads to the birth of the film’s little hero, but we do not see the act. Members of a rock band drink beer in a couple of scenes. Though the young couple has had sex the very night of their meeting, it is not incorporated into the film to be exploitive, but to further the plot. It is not done to promote premarital sex. Indeed, the couple pays a price for the deed).
AUTUMN TALE (1998). Marie Riviere, Beatrice Romand. French film with subtitles. Sensitive (if a little talky) story of two woman in their forties: Isabelle, a happily married bookstore owner, and Magali, a widowed wine grower. Believing that “at my age, it’s easier to find buried treasure! than finding someone to love,” the 45-year old widow turns to her friend for help. Misguidedly, Isabelle places a misleading personal ad, and then impersonates her friend, while checking out the gentleman who answers the advertisement. The romantic shenanigans become both funny and poignant. Director Rohmer, who over the past decade gave audiences three other films in this series, including SUMMER’S TALE, WINTER’S TALE, and SPRINGTIME, here provides a clean, entertaining story about middle-aged friendships. PG (mild, adult subject matter).
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967). Robert Redford, Jane Fonda. A very good adaptation of Neil Simon’s funny play about newlyweds.
THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES (1960). Peter Sellers. From a James Thurber short story, a sophisticated comedy about a hostile business takeover.
THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925–Silent Russian). Directed by Sergei Eisenstein about the 1905 Revolution. Still powerful with many milestone thematic images, including the Odessa Steps sequence, which has been copied and spoofed a thousand times. This film made the world aware of just how influential the medium could be.
BILL (1981). Mickey Rooney, Dennis Quaid. Touching true story of a mentally retarded man making it outside a mental institution. Upbeat.
BROKEN LANCE (1954). Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark. Sons of a cattle baron attempt to take over his empire.
THE BUCKET LIST (2007). Two terminal cancer victims become friends while sharing a hospital room. Mr. Nicholson plays a cynical, lonely billionaire eventually led to a better way by Mr. Freeman’s good soul. Together they circumnavigate the world, crossing off items they wanted to accomplish before their life came to a close. Unlike most films dealing with a lead character facing death, this one actually addresses the afterlife. While the Morgan Freeman character explains what other religions say about the Hereafter, a scene of him and his family praying over a meal indicates that Christianity has been his spiritual path. He’s a man with foibles of his own, but his patient, forgiving and compassionate heart reflects a sincere response to his faith, and this obviously has an effect on the Nicholson character. I was troubled by the profane use of God’s name (mostly by the embittered Nicholson character – but once by Mr. Morgan, who is playing the more spiritual of the duo). I don’t know how to advise concerned moviegoers troubled by Hollywood’s infatuation with profanity. Does the profundity outweigh the profanity? It’s your call. (PG-13) Use TVG
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978). Gary Busey, Don Strud, Charles Martin Smith. Acclaimed musical bio of the famed ’50s rock-and-roller. Busey did his own singing and guitar playing. Caution: contains a few obscenities. I bring it to your attention for its artistic merits and its moralistic approach to marriage and friendship. Use TVG
BULLITT (1968). Steve McQueen at his coolest and the greatest car chase ever filmed. (Caution: contains one obscenity, but I caught no misuse of God’s name. Also it has some violence, but nothing like today’s standards, or lack of.)
CABIN IN THE SKY (1943). Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Musical comedy. Fable about faith and devotion. Ingratiating performance by Waters, with several moving musical numbers.
CASABLANCA (1942). Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman.
THE CAT PEOPLE (The 1942 version–don’t make the mistake of renting the 1982 remake; besides being an inferior film, it also contains extreme violence, nudity, and language.). I usually do not recommend horror films, but like many old classic spook stories, the original CAT PEOPLE is a morality play. In one scene our hero holds up a cross and tells the menacing foe to “leave us alone in the name of God.” Slowly, the possessed leopard retreats. You won’t find that kind of symbolism in today’s slasher movies, which, by the way, is the main difference between old Frankenstein or Dracula movies and today’s version of “horror.” Modern fright films are little more than special effects blood baths, with faceless monsters killing one victim after another.
CHARADE (1963). Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn. Amusing mystery with Grant at his elegant best, aiding Audrey in search of a missing fortune. Adding to the fun– Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. One of Henry Mancini’s best scores.
CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964). John Ford epic about the mistreatment of the Native American.
THE CHORUS (2004). Gérard Jugnot. French, with subtitles. THE CHORUS is an emotional, music-filled tale about how a very humble man’s simple dreams changed the future for a forgotten group of children. Shot inside a castle in the French countryside that lends a rich fairy-tale atmosphere, the film marks the debut of writer/director Christophe Barratier. Supported by a sincere cast and topnotch cinematography, Barratier gives the audience an involving, ultimately joyous film. It thoroughly entertains and uplifts the spirit. Despite having to sit through subtitles (after the first few minutes you aren’t even aware of them), the moving story becomes a total delight. PG (boys being boys, there are a few sexual references and crude language, but I caught no misuse of God’s name; a couple of boys are slapped by the strict, unfeeling principal). Use TVG
CITY LIGHTS (1931). Charles Chaplin. Not only funny, but very moving as the Little Tramp cares for and makes a major sacrifice for a blind flower girl. Incredible ending.
THE COMANCHEROS (1961). John Wayne, Stuart Whitman. A Texas Ranger battles an outlaw gang and Comanche Indians. Lots of action, great score.
CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY (1951). Sidney Poitier. A British film about the struggle between races in South Africa. Poignant without bombarding your senses with today’s screen profanity and violence. Pass on the remake.
DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007). An advice columnist/ widower takes his three daughters to Rhode Island for a family reunion. There he has a chance encounter and falls for a kindred spirit. Problem: she’s dating his brother. Dan In Real Life is sublimely charming, lightheartedly funny and explicitly clean. Too often this year, I’ve left comedies feeling grungy. This one is a welcome alternative: a sweet, relaxing, entertaining movie. There’s depth, not a cavern of depth, but just enough profundity to give the humor dimension, and just enough grownup romance to give singles hope. (PG-13) Use TVG
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951). This absorbing and eerie sci-fi drama concerns a space alien coming to Earth to warn humans of approaching destruction. Top notch, its acting, script and score are all 4- star. Today’s audience may have to adjust because the substance is in the story, not the special effects, but it is one of the few science-fiction films that acknowledges God. When the alien is asked if he has the power of life and death, he responds, “No, that is reserved for the Almighty Spirit.”
DEAR JOHN (2009). Green Beret John Tyree (Channing Tatum) returns to his home in South Carolina between tours just as the college kids are celebrating spring break . He meets co-ed Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) on the beach and they fall in love. John changes his plans to stay in the Army and promises to return at the end of his current tour. Then 9-11 happens, and John writes Savannah he cannot leave the military as promised. Will Savannah wait for John? Teenagers and young adults looking for a romantic movie on Valentine’s Day will find DEAR JOHN, based on Nicholas Sparks’s novel, a good choice. Those looking for action, conflict and real drama might nod off occasionally. ( PG-13) Use TVG
THE DEVIL AT 4 O’CLOCK (1961). Adventure on a tropic island doomed by a menacing volcano. Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra star as a dispirited priest and a sarcastic convict at odds with each other and God until they pull together to rescue villagers from the erupting volcano.
DISRAELI (1929). George Arliss won an Oscar for his performance as the great statesman and British prime minister.
DOWN IN THE DELTA (1998). Alfre Woodard, Al Freeman, Jr., Esther Rolle, Mary Alice, Wesley Snipes. Fearing her substance-abusing, self-deprecating daughter will lose her life, a Christian mother sends the girl and her two children to relatives down in the South. There, each member of the family learns life lessons about responsibility, commitment, and the importance of family. Sounds a bit high-handed, but I assure you, the screenplay accomplishes all this while entertaining you every second. I just can’t say enough about the positive nature of this film. It demonstrates how people can mend when they are nurtured, and not one profanity in the entire production! There’s even a respect for God, with family members praying and attending church. I was moved, educated, and entertained throughout. It is perceptive, touching and life affirming. PG-13 (there are four or five mild expletives, but no obscene or profane language; in the beginning, to set the stage, we see alcohol and drug abuse, and suggestive sexuality; however, the content is not used gratuitously, but rather to indicate how anyone can change his lifestyle). Use TVG
DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE. There are three well-made interpretations (1931), with Fredric March (1941), with Spencer Tracy, and (1968) , with Jack Palance. A timeless good-vs.-evil theme.
EL CID (1965). Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren. Historical drama/romance about the legendary hero who drove the Moors from Spain. Great spectacle, with a literate script, a lovely score, and arguably the most beautiful woman ever to appear on the silver screen.
ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE (2007). Reprising the roles they originated in Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush return for a historical drama laced with treachery and romance. Joining them in the epic is Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, a dashing seafarer and newfound temptation for Elizabeth. Writers William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, director Shekhar Kapur, and all the artists and technicians involved in this production have given moviegoers stunning cinematic entertainment.
The story has much to do with Catholicism vs. Protestantism, or at least the political significance of these Christian faiths during that age. Spain’s King Philip, according to the film, was sure he was meant to defeat Elizabeth, seeing Protestantism as the devil’s deception. Queen Elizabeth wanted the two religions to dwell in harmony under her reign, and despite urgings from her court, she wouldn’t punish subjects or enemies for their beliefs.
EMMA (1996). Gwyneth Paltrow stars in this period romance about a self-assured young woman who turns matchmaker for her little English village. Although a most likable Cupid, she is often off the mark. The teen comedy CLUELESS was inspired from this Jane Austen novel. Not quite in the league with SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, but all of a sudden, about halfway through, I was hooked. Beautiful to look at, amusing to listen to, and oh, yeah, nothing explodes! PG (I found nothing objectionable – no off-color language, no sexual situations, no violence).
THE ENEMY BELOW (1957). Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens. Tense sea epic with American captain vs. a German U-boat skipper.
EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982). Peter Ustinov as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot solving a murder on a remote European island.
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED (2008). This investigative documentary probes the snubbing of scientists and educators who teach the theory of intelligent design. The provocative and often amusing documentary unnerves by pointing out that our nation’s universities, many of which once embraced a reverence for God, are now helmed by those who don’t. For older teens. Rated PG
THE FANTASTICKS (2000). Brad Sullivan, Jean Louisa Kelly, Joel Grey. Musical based on one of the longest running off-Broadway plays, it has two fathers scheming to get their two kids to fall in love and marry. When they do, and the fairy-tale ending is on the horizon, all of a sudden the realities of life begin to replace the “tinsel sky” of romantic love. The grand romance of Act 1 is replaced by the symbolic loss of innocence in Act 2. Ah, but it wouldn’t be a great musical without a satisfying Act 3.
THE FAR COUNTRY (1986). Michael York, Sigrid Thornton. Drama. A doctor who served in the German army escapes to Australia at the end of the war. There he has to overcome prejudice and a possible prison sentence when he exposes his profession in order to perform a lifesaving operation. Rated PG (3 or 4 expletives, one violent murder early on).
FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1991). Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams. Truly a sensitive, often hilarious look at a father dealing with his daughter’s upcoming marriage. Martin is no Spencer Tracy, but he is credible. Newcomer Kimberly Williams is perfect. And what a pleasure to be able to bring to your attention a recent film with no violence, obscene language or sexual situations. PG (one crude joke about the use of a condom).
FIREPROOF (2008). Okay, let’s get it out of the way. Yes, FIREPROOF has an agenda. It clearly states that you need Christ on the throne of your life and at the center of your marriage. But here’s what sets it apart from the plethora of well-intentioned, spiritually themed movies dedicated to the proposition that the message must come first – the brothers Kindrick (FACING THE GIANTS, FLYWHEEL) never overwhelm the entertainment value with a proselytizing lesson. They keep in mind that they are making a movie and must adhere to the first law of movie-making. Which is? Entertainment. Want to get a message across? Make sure the audience is engrossed and likes your protagonists. Oh, there are the usual filmmatic shortcomings associated with wellmeaning religious storytelling. This awkwardness is seen especially in the opening scenes, where both the actors and introductory dialogue seem clumsy and forced. But within minutes, something special happens – we begin to get caught up in the narrative. Now, narrative (story), for you younger readers, is an element that was once the dominate ingredient in movie-making. This was before CGI and comic book concepts became cinematic overlords. So, it’s nice to again see an involving tale, one where you grow to care about the lead characters and their fates.
At the same time, the film extols biblical principles and addresses nagging spiritual questions. This is something I seldom see in theatrical releases. And I mean very seldom. Kirk Cameron gives the most mature, complex performance of his career. Like Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, Cameron’s Caleb Holt is a good man, but a real one, one with flaws and foibles. Cameron is willing to display negative traits that seldom take focus in movie protagonists. Supported by Erin Bethea’s three-dimensional portrait as the firefighter’s wife, Kirk and company approach an important issue: the sanctity of marriage. In a culture that promotes the quick disposal of friendships and marriages at the first hint of dissatisfaction, here is a movie that declares life-long unions are worth fighting for. Marriage is more than a contract, according to the film: it’s a covenant. And that word covenant suggests a spiritual, life-long and consecrated commitment. Here, that theme is driven home, not in an attempt to rebuke those who have already been blinded long enough to forsake their “I Dos,” but to aid other couples in danger of losing their own 20-20 focus. PG (intense fire sequences).
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall. Hitchcock directed this espionage thriller set in Europe during WWII. A 4-star classic.
THE FORTUNE COOKIE (1966). Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau. A decent man is convinced he should fake an injury to win a lawsuit. Funny and poignant.
GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENT (1947). Gregory Peck. A writer posing as a Jew discovers anti-Semitism.
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh. Storytelling at its best.
THE GOOD EARTH (1937). Paul Muni, Louise Rainer. The life of a simple Chinese peasant and his struggling family. Love, honor, self-sacrifice prevail.
THE GOSPEL (2005). A semi-autobiographical film about the transformative power of faith and forgiveness, THE GOSPEL is a contemporary drama packed with the soaring, soulful sounds of gospel music. Set in the impassioned world of the African-American church, it tells the story of an R&B star (Boris Kodjoe), whose chart-topping albums have earned him fame and wealth, but whose decadent lifestyle has estranged him from his father (Clifton Powell), the bishop of his hometown church. When his father becomes ill, the young man returns home and comes face to face with his beliefs, and, ultimately, himself. THE GOSPEL deals with spirituality, something most filmmakers shy away from when attempting a story about healing and passion. One moment at the end especially touched me, as we see a young man coming forward during an altar call. I found tears coming to my eyes because it was an honest depiction of a soul professing an acceptance of Christ. That’s a powerful concept, one rarely addressed in the cinema.
PG (some drinking and mild language; the lead, having grown up in the church, becomes a rock star – to emphasize this, there is a brief scene of him doing a music video surrounded by scantily clad female dancers gyrating to his music, but the filmmaker is not attempting to exploit, but merely depict the world of secular entertainment). Use TVG
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993). Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell. A cynical weathercaster finds himself waking up each morning having to relive the same day. Rated PG (some surreal violence and two implied sexual situations, but our hero learns life lessons, including the fact that promiscuous sex does not lead to happiness). A very funny modern-day parable with Murray at his best. An intelligent script full of pathos, humor, and character development. And not one profane word in the whole production (very rare for the ’90s).
GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957). Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas. Another relating of the O.K. Corral, helped along by bravado performances and an unforgettable score by Dimitri Tiomkin. (Music is an essential element to the success of the western, as evidenced by THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.)
GUNGA DIN (1939). Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. One of the first and best “buddy” films, with three British soldiers trying to defuse a native uprising. Great action scenes! Stirring ending as we discover “you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956). Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger. Potent look at manipulation and crime in the world of boxing. Bogart’s last film.
HIGH SIERRA (1941). Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino. An aging gangster hides out from the cops in the mountains. Another example of story development dominating a gangster film, rather than violent bloodletting.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939). Charles Laughton. It’s a great morality play by Victor Hugo and sensitively portrayed by Laughton as the grotesquely disfigured bell ringer, Quasimodo. It was filmed several times. This one’s the best.
THE INFORMER (1935). John Ford directed Victor McLaglen to a Best Actor Oscar for his role as an Irish Patriot who turns in a friend so he can collect the reward. This drama also won Academy Awards for Ford, Max Steiner (score), and screenwriter, Dudley Nichols.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2007). This incisive documentary features the accounts of the surviving members of the Apollo teams who walked on the moon, giving a fresh perspective of those achievements, and allowing for the spiritual implications that affected the men on those explorations. At one point, we hear Charles Duke from the Apollo 9 mission give his testimony. I couldn’t believe my ears; a man was declaring his faith in Jesus Christ and there were no snickers from audience members. Indeed, my fellow moviegoers were moved, realizing that there is something far bigger than man, or even space itself. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON engages, uplifts and unites.
INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS (2000). For nine months prior to the outbreak of WWII, Britain mercifully opened its doors to over 10,000 endangered children whose lives had been thrown into chaos following the rise of Adolph Hitler. The film addresses the extraordinary rescue effort and its dramatic impact on the children who were saved. Erudite, perceptive, horrifying, and ultimately uplifting, this moving documentary features several survivors who detail their experiences and realize that their lives have had meaning.
I.O.U.S.A. (2008). This documentary examines the rapidly growing national debt and its consequences for the United States and its citizens. Before attending the screening, I couldn’t imagine a film I’d rather not watch. So, I suspect that would be your first reaction. But if there’s a tiger in the room, you need to know it. This film tells you how big the tiger is. (PG)
IRON MAN (2008). Witty writing (considering the genre), involving direction, perhaps the best special effects I’ve seen, and actors doing what good actors do best, make this the most entertaining of the Marvel comics screen adaptations. True, the last third becomes top-heavy with the standard combativeness we’ve seen with the Fantastic Foursome, the mutating Transformers and the go-go Power Rangers, but by then Robert Downey, Jr. and the supporting players have cast their spells, drawing us into a mesmerizing action adventure that’s also a morality tale. (PG-13) Use TVG
JANE EYRE (1983). Timothy Dalton, Zelah Clarke. A British mini-series adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel about an orphan who later becomes the governess of the household. Also, well-made in 1944 with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Gothic, mysterious, romantic–but slowpaced.
THE JERICHO MILE (1979). TV movie starring Peter Strauss as a prison lifer who attempts to become the world’s fastest runner. Notable script.
JOAN OF ARC. The 1999 TV presentation about the French martyr starring Leelee Sobieski, Neil Patrick Harris, Jacqueline Bisset, Peter O’Toole, and Peter Strauss is entertaining, educational, and uplifting.
JUAREZ (1939). Paul Muni, Bette Davis, Claude Rains (excellent), John Garfield. Inspiring bio of the Mexican leader.
JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961). A U.S. judge presides over wartime criminal trials. Outstanding all-star cast includes Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Montgomery Cliff. Oscars went to Schell and screen writer Abby Mann. Well-crafted by director Stanley Kramer.
JULIE & JULIA (2009). Based on true stories of two women from different times each discovering their life’s reason through passion, strength of character and just the right amount of seasoning, the film shows us how and why Julia became perhaps the most famous chef de cuisine of all time, and how her book, The Art of French Cooking, affected the life of a young woman seeking an outlet for her culinary interests. Both Julie and Julia have found reason in life through the art of cooking. Indeed, the story can be seen as a metaphor for living. And if all the ingredients are lovingly and precisely blended together, a film can satisfy like a fine soufflé. Such is the case here. Food becomes a character in the film and its masterful presentation a simile for life’s struggles and conquests. Meryl Streep’s performance as Julia Child is simply superb. PG-13 (one crude comic term for a male body part; around five or six obscenities, mostly the s-word, with one f-word spoken in frustration; and a woman is called the b-word; no misuse of God’s name; violence: only to an unsuspecting lobster about to be dipped in boiling water; there are three or four implied sexual situations, each between a married couple; several scenes feature people drinking and wine is a part of each exquisite meal; warning: do not go to this movie hungry).
KING OF THE KONG: A Fistful of Quarters (2007). Another documentary, this one spotlighting 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, it is an amusing exposé that masterfully reveals the makeup of advocates of the arcade.
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948). Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane. Film-noirish suspense as a seaman becomes entangled with a villainess and her jealous husband. Here again we see adult material handled without exploitive sex scenes or abusive language.
THE LADY VANISHES (1938). Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Michael Redgrave. Mystery. An imposter takes the place of a missing woman on a train. Alfred Hitchcock at his best. Film buffs–don’t miss it!
THE LAST ANGRY MAN (1959). Paul Muni in a sentimental story of a simple country doctor whose life is going to be presented on TV. Muni, the forgotten star, is outstanding in this and almost every other picture he made.
THE LAST VOYAGE (1960). Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone. Engrossing tale about a disaster at sea. An actual ship was sunk to capture the realism for the screen.
LAURA (1944). Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews. Noted romantic mystery with the great Clifton Webb as the snooty Waldo Lydecker who responds to a compliment about his apartment, “It’s lavish, but I call it home.”
LIFEBOAT (1944). Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix. Based on a story by John Steinbeck about shipwreck survivors adrift at sea during WWII. Excellent cast directed by the master, Alfred Hitchcock.
LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963). Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win a best-actor Oscar for his wonderful performance as a handyman who helps build a chapel for an order of nuns.
THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (1940). Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, John Qualen, and a young John Wayne (doing a Swedish accent). Nominated for several Oscars, a well-written adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play about the lives of a merchant steamer’s crew.
THE LONG WALK HOME (1990). Sissy Spacek, Whoopee Goldberg. PG (adult subjects, 3 or 4 obscenities). Two women who sacrifice much during the beginning of the civil rights movement. A very important film that not only exposes racism but gives examples of justice. Use TVG
LOVE IS NEVER SILENT (1985). Emmy winner featuring Mare Winningham, this made-for-TV movie has a woman torn between building a life of her own and remaining with her deaf parents who depend on her as their link to the outside world.
LUTHER (2003). Joseph Fiennes stars as Martin Luther, the 16th century Christian reformer. As a young monk, Luther confronted and challenged the Vatican’s supreme, but corrupt, authority and, as such, the law of the land. The filmmakers have interwoven a clear presentation of the Gospel in this suspense-filled epic. While it is a movie and therefore subject to dramatizing and maybe even occasionally “elongating” the facts, LUTHER reminds viewers of the importance of the Reformation. The producers have given movie audiences a fascinating, beautiful, well-mounted film, with themes worth discussing once you leave the theater. PG-13 (3 or 4 minor expletives, but I caught no harsh or profane language; we see the remnants of a village butchered by authorities, and there is an element of danger as the Catholic church fights to maintain control, but it is not gory or excessive).
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1941). Monty Wooley, Bette Davis. When a pompous man injures himself in front of a family of Good Samaritans, he finds himself their houseguest. Unfortunately for the good souls, he begins to drive them crazy with his boring stories and weird friends. Very funny. Highly recommended.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962). Noteworthy performances by Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury. Political thriller about a brainwashed man sent to assassinate the incumbent President. The DVD also contains an interview with Sinatra and the film’s director, John Frankenheimer.
MARLEY & ME (2008). This romantic comedy/drama, based on the true-life adventures of columnist John Grogan, centers on an unruly yellow Labrador who manages to dominate a newlywed couple’s lifestyle. It’s a smart movie about people finding their way. Fast-paced, with mostly gentle humor, the film celebrates the preciousness of life, while giving a realistic view of a modern marriage. It’s a film about love, responsibility, a pro-marriage, pro-life film that moves from comedy to drama with the ease of giving Lassie a command. (PG) Use TVG
MARTY (1955). Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky provides an erudite script, with Ernest Borgnine giving an Oscar-winning performance as a middle-aged, lonely man who finds love. Best Picture of that year.
MASTER AND COMMANDER (2003). Russell Crowe. Writer/director Peter Weir has captured the enormity of the sea, while examining the innermost recesses of the human heart in this action tale of friendship, loyalty, courage, and independence of spirit. God is reverenced as men are seen praying, and when the oddities of the Galapagos Islands are witnessed and the question is raised, “Do you think God made these changes?” The answer is a steadfast, “Yes.”
The film contains one negative, a profane use of God’s name in one scene. There are two ways of looking at the inclusion of this profanity. The first, I suspect that the language would be a little salty from sailors on the sea; therefore the writer should be commended for not bombarding us with objectionable language. On the other hand, is there any real difference between misusing God’s name once or a hundred times? PG-13 (there are several battle scenes, but the filmmakers are careful not to overwhelm us with blood and guts; a boy has his arm amputated, and a suicide is portrayed as an officer goes overboard, thinking he is a Jonah and doesn’t want his fellow sailors to perish because of his jinxed luck – a prayer is said for his soul).
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN) 1946. Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this engaging fantasy has David Niven as a WWII pilot surviving a crash that should have killed him. Soon, however, he faces a heavenly court that proclaims his survival was a mistake. The flyer must defend his existence in order to remain on Earth with his new love. The scenes filmed in color are breathtaking, Niven gives a sound performance, and the romance, ah, the romance – superb.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974). Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman lead an all-star cast in Agatha Christie’s murder mystery set aboard the famed European train.
MUSIC OF THE HEART (1999). Newly divorced Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep) began teaching the violin to students of an East Harlem school. Soon, her passion became infectious. But when the school board cut her funding, Guaspari fought back to preserve this class. With the support of her friends and the community, plus a little help from Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Arnold Steinhardt, the real-life Guaspari and her students raised money to continue the music program by performing at – Carnegie Hall! Its strength lies in Ms. Streep’s performance and several positive messages the film conveys, including examples of compassion and understanding between races and not giving up when things get difficult. Although the film suggests that the lead lived with a man outside marriage after her husband abandoned her, there are no sex scenes. The film does not focus on a romance, but on her determination to provide for her children and to help her students. PG (five or six expletives, an implied sexual situation – not seen; the lead has a glass of wine in one scene and a drink in another). Use
TVG MY FATHER’S GLORY (1990). French with subtitles. Based on Marcel Pagnol’s memoirs about his childhood summer vacation in the country. An example of storytelling at its finest.
MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE (1947). Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Peter Lorre, Alan Ladd. Parody of ’40s detective films with Hope as an aspiring P.I. trying to solve a murder case.
MY MAN GODFREY (1936). William Powell, Carole Lombard. Delightful performances and witty dialogue highlight this comedy about a displaced man hired as a butler by a self-absorbed family. Slapstick, with a message: money isn’t everything.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). Robert Mitchum. This is perhaps the most hair-raising film I’ve brought to your attention. I do so with hesitation. It’s a scary film, folks, about a ruthless man masquerading as a minister. He marries then murders a woman, seeking money stolen by her first husband. When he can’t find it, he goes after her kids! As terrifying as it is, it’s a wonderful alternative to many thrillers of the ’80s and ’90s that tend to bludgeon your senses with gore and guts. This is a good vs. evil story, with God’s children triumphant at the film’s end. But be warned, it’s not for the squeamish. Mitchum is menacing, to say the least. “Children,” he says, “I feel myself getting angry.” He’ll send shivers down your spine.
THE ODD COUPLE (1968). Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau. Two divorced men, one a slob, the other a neatfreak, share an apartment. My favorite Neil Simon comedy.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1958). Spencer Tracy stars in the film adaptation of Hemingway’s tale of a Cuban fisherman’s heroic struggle to catch a great marlin. A good allegory, a memorable performance by Tracy, and an Oscarwinning score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Want a real treat, read the book.
ONCE UPON A TIME…WHEN WE WERE COLORED (2005). Al Freeman, Jr., Phylicia Rashad, Leon, Richard Roundtree. A distinguished effort from firsttime film director Tim Reid about black life in the South between the ’40s and ’60s. Advances the importance of family and biblical teachings. PG (no abusive language other than a Ku Klux Klan member using the N-word; a knife fight, but no one is injured; a brief scene featuring dancing girls in a tent show). Use TVG
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger. Winner of eight Academy Awards, dealing with New York’s crime-ridden harbor docks. Another excellent example of romance, emotional stress and vice masterfully told without the language and brutality associated with today’s movies. Best acting I have ever seen in a movie. Marlon Brando in this one.
ONE, TWO, THREE (1961). James Cagney. Fast-paced comedy about a Coca Cola executive trying to chaperon his boss’s daughter while in Berlin. Complications set in when she decides to elope with a communist. (Caution: several expletives.)
OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959). Cary Grant, Tony Curtis. Expert blend of comedy and wartime action as an American sub commander must deal with a con-artist lieutenant, Navy nurses, and the Japanese.
THE OX (1991). Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann. Drama– not rated (a few expletives in the subtitles, depressing subject matter, but ultimately uplifting). Swedish film nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1991. True story about the moral conflict a man goes through after slaughtering a stolen ox in order to keep his family alive. Masterful storytelling, beautiful cinematography. Harsh penalties, but forgiveness and mercy triumph.
THE PALEFACE (1948). Bob Hope, Jane Russell. Smashing comedy with Hope as a cowardly dentist out of place in the Old West. Music includes Oscar-winning “Buttons And Bows.”
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004). Mel Gibson’s brutal, yet undeniably artistic rendering of the final hours of Christ’s life blew away skeptics when it earned over $350 million at the box office. Aided by superb cinematography, lighting, music, some dynamic special effects and Jim Caviezel’s sincere and muted performance, director Mel Gibson brings a mood and sensitivity never before captured when telling the story of the Christ. Justly rated R for its graphic depiction of scourging, piercing, beating, and crucifixion, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is meant to shock, unnerve, and clarify the ordeal of Christ’s sacrifice. But Mel’s film, while showing the physical horrors Christ endured, is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us.
PEARL DIVER (2006). It had a limited release, but I’d suggest you keep an eye out for this one. It will show up in either art houses or on DVD this coming year. The story concerns two sisters dealing with the twenty-year-old murder of their mother, and what happens when a farming accident rips away the layers of secrecy surrounding that night. Well, that sounds like a lot of fun, I know, but this film moved me more than any other this year. I was very affected by the sacrifices portrayed and amazed at how this incisive film reminds us that no sacrifice ultimately goes unrewarded. PG-13 Use TVG
THE PERFECT MARRIAGE (1946). David Niven, Loretta Young, Charles Ruggles, Zazu Pitts. Com/dra about married couple not knowing if they want to remain married.
PLACES IN THE HEART (1984). Sally Field, Danny Glover. Rated PG (some mild language, implied adulterous affair). In spite of these few negatives, the film contains an award-winning performance by Sally Field, an uplifting moral, and one of the most moving endings ever filmed. Use TVG
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1933). A 4-star adaptation of the 16th-century monarch. Stars Charles Laughton, Robert Donat and Merle Oberon.
THE RAGE OF PARIS (1938). Danielle Darrieux, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. A French girl looking for a rich hubby discovers love is more important than money. Funny and engaging.
RANDOM HARVEST (1942). Ronald Colman, Greer Garson. Outstanding soap-opera about an amnesiac saved from a mental ward by a showgirl.
REBECCA (1940). Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier. Hitchcock’s romantic mystery of a newlywed not quite able to live up to her husband’s first wife.
REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1956). Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, Ed Wynn, Kim Hunter. Written by Rod Serling for PLAYHOUSE 90 about a boxer who risks losing his eyesight so his manager can pay off bookies. Uncompromising, often grim, but very moving. Later made with Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason.
ROPE OF SAND (1949). Burt Lancaster, Corinne Calvet, Paul Heinreid, Claude Rains. An ex-patriot attempts to regain a treasure he hid in a desert country. Will greed or love win out?
SAVING GRACE (1986). Tom Conti. Com/dra, rated PG (2 expletives). A pope feeling out of touch with the people and wondering if he has any real effect outside the Vatican walls, ventures out incognito to a small spiritless town. It moves slowly in some places, but it has great heart and reveals how, with God’s help, one man can make a difference.
THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK (1983). Made-forTV true story of a priest (Gregory Peck) who harbored allied POW escapees and the Nazi official (Christopher Plummer) who tries to catch him. The film is a bit long (155 min.) but the message contained at the end of the picture should not be missed. A true example of Jesus’ compassion will help remind each of us to love our enemies.
SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey. Is Uncle Joe a swell guy or the Merry Widow murderer? Only his niece knows for sure! Exceptional Hitchcock suspense thriller.
SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN (1968). Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier, Oskar Werner, David Janssen. Most critics didn’t like this one, but I was entertained by the grand-scale production concerning a pope who may be able to defuse a world war.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952). Most everybody is familiar with Gene Kelly’s version of “Singing in the Rain” (alone worth the rental price). But there are several great numbers in this film, including perhaps the funniest musical number ever filmed–Donald O’Connor’s “Make Em Laugh.” Good story, fabulous dancing, and memorable tunes make this the granddad of musicals.
STAGE DOOR (1937). All-star cast includes Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, and Lucille Ball as young women trying to make it in show business.
SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (1941). Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake. This is exceptional. A filmmaker sets out to do a serious film about the poor and homeless. Starts with laughs, but deals with concern and perception about a problem that has yet to be defeated.
THE SUNDOWNERS (1960). Robert Mitchum, Peter Ustinov, Deborah Kerr star in this entertaining tale of sheepherders in Australia. Romantic, humorous, moving, and beautifully photographed on location.
THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945). John Wayne, Robert Montgomery. PT-boats stationed in the Philippines during the outset of WWII. Exciting and moving.
THE THIRD MAN (1949). Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten. A film noir about cold war intrigue. The ending contains a good moral.
THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS (1935). Robert Donat. Hitchcock spy thriller. Droll dialogue highlights this romantic mystery.
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.”
THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948). Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tom Holt discover what greed can do to a man in this 4-star John Huston production.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957). An all-star cast includes Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. One juror trying to convince the other 11 of the possible innocence of a youth on trial for murder. Positive statement of our judicial system and strong performances make this a must-see.
UNITED 93 (2006). For me, this was the best film of that year. The day that changed the modern world hits home and testifies to the fact that this war will be unlike any other. (How do you defeat zealots willing to kill themselves and innocent bystanders for a cause they believe is just?) Though our country is at odds with its involvement in Iraq, the film makes it clear that we face an evil masking itself as righteous. It is a film that will touch you, move you and make you think. (R) Use TVG
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 camera drive, the director’s clever visceral style, and a fine supporting cast, VALKYRIE becomes a top-notch 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) Use TVG
VISIONS OF LIGHT (1994). A compelling movie for buffs of the cinema. Clips of over 125 films are featured in this fascinating documentary showcasing the great cinematographers of the world. A mesmerizing film.
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (2010). Occasionally a movie comes along that clearly defines a threat to our culture – this is one. WAITING FOR SUPERMAN should be seen by all, for this well-produced documentary concerning the crumbling education system in America is the most important film of the year and may help galvanize our nation’s citizenry. (PG)
WAITRESS (2007). Trapped in a loveless marriage to an abusive wacko, a pregnant Jenna (Keri Russell) fights off depression by making pies for the restaurant where she waits tables. She puts such skill and dedication into her baking that customers find a little piece of Heaven whenever they partake. Though she is unhappy, frustrated and stuck, Jenna shows compassion for others. And though she doesn’t want a baby by a man she has come to despise, she realizes that the unborn child has rights and she does everything possible to see that the fetus is getting what it needs to develop correctly. Without uttering the term “prolife,” the film suggests that this stance is valid and just.
A poignant parable, WAITRESS makes you laugh out loud and ultimately touches your soul. On one level, it is somewhat fluffy, but as you savor the story, dialogue and performances, you begin to see that it is layered and thoughtful.
Caution: Since I’m putting WAITRESS at the top of my list, I feel it necessary to point out that the film has some sexual situations and adultery. (The sexual situations do not contain nudity and do not become overly graphic.) The lead learns lessons and comes to admit that adultery is wrong; no matter how much it seems to be filling a need in her life (to be loved), she learns in time that such affairs can only harm others. She is not judgmental of a friend who also commits adultery, but eventually shows by example that such a sin is never fulfilling. The lead has done some wrong things, but her caring for others is eventually what completes her life. This is a rare message found in today’s movies. (PG-13) Use TVG
WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (2010). Disney Documentary. In WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY, the coupling of happy cartooning and an inside look at corporate ego makes for a fascinating combination of art forms. The production is satisfying not just for its revelatory depiction of the obsession with art and ambition, but for us as Christians the film is a parable in newsreel form. It testifies to the fact that egotism becomes silly and destructive. It’s the work, the reason for the work, and who we’re working for that becomes profound and lasting. PG (Cocktails are served at a party. One of the creators dies from HIV complications. Another Disney employee dies in a plane accident. Though we do not see these deaths, their loss to their fellow collaborators is sincerely felt). DVD Companion: FRANK & OLLIE (1995). This Disney documentary focuses on 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 maintained a respect, camaraderie and intimacy most never accomplish 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).
WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Romeo & Juliet set to music and ballet, amid 1950s New York city gangs. I don’t know how they did it, but it works. Music by Leonard Bernstein (our Mozart), directed by veteran Robert Wise, and winner of 10 Oscars.
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (1961). Hayley Mills, Alan Bates. Three children mistakenly think the fugitive hiding in their barn – is Jesus. A delightful comedy/drama with Hayley giving the best performance of her career. Only drawback – the misunderstanding coming from the dazed convict uttering “Jesus Christ” when startled by the girl. She has just asked him, “Who are you?” Therefore, the film’s one profanity needs to be there, it sets up the whole premise. A gentle allegorical film. At the end, as the convict is captured and being led off, the girl’s faith is not shaken. She informs a little friend, “You missed him, but He’ll come again.” Charming and symbolic, with strong moral messages concerning faith, compassion, and courage to stand for what you believe. (Not yet on DVD, but keep an eye out.)
THE WINSLOW BOY (1999). Nigel Hawthorne, Rebecca Pidgeon. Writer/director David Mamet (best known for his salty dialogue in past 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).
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957). Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich. Courtroom drama based on an Agatha Christie play about an English barrister defending a man charged with murder. Electrifying climax.
THE WRONG MAN (1956). True story of a man accused of robbery and the effect his arrest has on the family. Gripping performance by Henry Fonda, with a trenchant script and Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, directing.
YOUNG AT HEART (1954). Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Gig Young. Melodrama about a luckless composer in love with his friend’s girl. Superb performances and music. (Caution: contains an attempted suicide, but it shows the folly of such an act.)