I am not sure what can be done to stem the tide of violence that flows out of Hollywood. One thing we can do is use the very real power of our consumer dollars. By foregoing excessively violent films, we can instead choose to see a film without violence that actually tells an enjoyable story along the way!
A ROYAL AFFAIR (Danish Drama, Rated R) With gorgeous cinematography that’s reminiscent of a great master’s paintings, the film is a joy to behold. Unlike other films about royalty, it’s not just a vehicle for ferrying pretty costumes and romantic dialogue across the screen. It’s a heartbreaking, inspiring history brought to life, thanks in large part to its charismatic leads. And so much of what the Enlightenment thinkers espoused is still relevant today: Why allow others to determine your fate? Why give over your freedoms? Forget the run time; it’s rewarding to let it unfold.
BORN TO BE WILD (‘Heart-warming’ Documentary, Rated G) This brief (40 minutes) IMAX documentary narrated by the soothing tones of Morgan Freeman is a safe choice for younger kids because there aren’t any upsetting scenes of predatory violence or deaths, both of which are common in films about the animal kingdom. The two female experts followed in the documentary are wonderful role models because they’ve dedicated their lives to researching and rescuing animals, and preserving their habitats. Despite the sentimental visuals, director David Lickley doesn’t allow the narration to be overwrought or maudlin. Instead, he often hands over the narration to the experts so they can tell us why they’re so passionate about these animals – and why we should care as well.
FLIGHT (Drama, Rated R) Director Robert Zemeckis once again finds the perfect balance between characters and spectacle in Flight, as he did in his best films Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A less talented director may have focused on the issue of alcoholism, but Zemeckis uses the suspense of the impending hearing, as well as rich characters and performances. Special effects are restricted to the first act. Flight bravely includes many unconventional moments, ranging from passionate speeches by minor characters to amazing moments with no dialogue at all. Flight is a Hollywood film, but it’s Hollywood at its best.
FRANKENWEENIE (Animation Fantasy, Rated PG) This movie was originally a black-and-white short film that Tim Burton directed and released in 1984, and turning it into a feature-length movie was obviously a labor of love. Both homage to classic monster movies and a tender drama about the love between a boy and his dog, this is a film that works on so many levels. For kids and tweens, there’s the basic story of a boy who will stop at nothing to get back his best friend; for young scary-movie buffs and adults there are countless references to the horror genre that are seamlessly woven into the story. It is frightening in parts, particularly when the resurrected animals are unleashed onto the town, but there’s plenty of humor and tenderness as well.
LES MISERABLES (Musical Drama, Rated PG-13) Characters suffer beatings, degrade themselves out of desperation, engage in gun and bayonet fights, claw their way through unspeakable filth, and more. Expect some bawdy lyrics/references, plenty of cleavage, some blood, and a few deaths (including one suicide). But ultimately, Les Miserables is about the redemptive power of love and faith, and there are many moments of hope and beauty amidst the miserable ones.
LIFE OF PI (Adventure Drama, Rated PG) This is an intense, emotional story of survival and triumph against the odds, with themes of faith, friendship, and perseverance. Although it’s rated PG, and there’s virtually no strong language, sexual content, or blood, this adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel has several harrowing scenes of storms, shipwrecks, and zoo animals killing, and eating each other – all of which are likely to be too much for younger children. Pi is in peril throughout the story (though it’s told as a flashback, so you know survives) and, after losing his whole family, he must negotiate sharing a very small space with a large tiger. Pi remains determined and optimistic, relying on his strong faith to see him through every challenge. While some of the twists and themes will probably have more impact on those who haven’t read the book, there’s no denying that Life of Pi is a powerful movie that’s just as likely to make you think as it is to make you shed a tear or cheer in triumph.
LINCOLN (US Historical Drama, Rated PG-13) Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s award-winning book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, LINCOLN is more about the political intrigue of Lincoln’s final months than a “biopic” about his personal life. Day-Lewis’ performance is a brilliant character study of a legendary man. The most sensitive issues in the movie are its depiction of war (severed limbs and bloody battlefields filled with dead soldiers are seen) and occasional strong language, including many era-accurate (but hard to hear today) racial epithets. But overall, the violence is much tamer than in war movies like Saving Private Ryan or Glory, and Lincoln is an educational, entertaining drama that even some mature 5th graders might be ready to handle, if they watch with their parents. (That said, it does move somewhat slowly, so kids hooked on fast-paced entertainment may not be interested.)
MONSTERS INC. 3D (Animation Comedy, Rated G) Parents need to know that Monsters, Inc. is about closet monsters, but from their point of view — scaring kids is their 9-to-5 job. Kids might be scared of the movie’s concept initially, but they’ll soon figure out that the monster Sulley is a softy who takes care of the little girl in the story who isn’t the least bit afraid of him. However there’s one scene where a monster the child does fear straps her to a chair and tries to steel her screams. Kids will find it funny that most monsters fear any contact with kids — when one monster gets a child’s sock on him the whole factory panics and biohazard workers quarantine and shave him. Young kids may need help understanding what the monsters in yellow are doing to him and why.
PITCH PERFECT (Musical Drama-Comedy, Rated PG-13) It’s a joy to watch a comedy like this which wraps you up in belly laughs and catchy songs and makes whatever ails you seem far away. All the a cappella troupes assembled here are awesome. Never mind that they’re kitschy and earnest and seriously competitive about their craft. The beauty of it is they don’t care; they just want to make music. This movie hits lots of the right notes and will leave you singing.
QUARTET (Drama-Comedy, Rated PG-13) A great choice for grandparents, parents, and teens to watch together, Quartet explores mature issues such as aging, fading talent, seeking forgiveness, and the importance of being passionate about the arts.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (Animation-Action, Rated PG) Filled with characters such as Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and the Sandman, this is a fast-paced romp. Whether they personally believe in these characters or not, kids will root for the Guardians as they fight the forces of chaos and despair. It’s such a refreshing treat to see an animated film so thoughtfully made that didn’t come from Pixar. Director Peter Ramsey has made an impressive, imaginative fantasy where the wonder of childhood reigns supreme.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Comedy-Drama, Rated R) After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own. Positive ratings but warnings about a mature theme that includes mental illness, some family violence (yelling and pushing), and very strong language.
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (UK Drama-Comedy, Rated PG-13) Leave it to the English to show Hollywood that a dramedy starring a who’s who of seniors can be loads funnier, sweeter, and more romantic than the kind of forgettable fluff that passes for romcoms here in North America. The stellar cast is fabulous, but what else would you expect from such a winning group of British thespians? The plot is admittedly thin, but that doesn’t stop director John Madden from exploring the taboo issues of getting older: depression, sexuality, dissatisfaction, even death. But all of the transformations are captured in a way that’s touching and humorous to witness. Audiences completely unaware or unappreciative of dry British humor may not “get” some of the subtler, genius lines, but the dialogue is full of rich, laugh-aloud lines.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (Historical Drama, PG-13) Movies about a massively destructive event, whether it’s a war or 9/11, can be difficult to watch and even more difficult to make well. By focusing on one family, director Juan Antonio Bayona wisely distills the 2004 tsunami tragedy down to the myopic perspective of one distraught woman and her mature-beyond-his-years son. Watts and Holland’s interactions beautifully capture the bond between mother and child. No longer a little boy but far from a man, Holland’s Lucas is fiercely determined to survive and help his mother secure medical attention. Once they safely land at a Thai hospital, we find out what happened to the father and brothers thought lost. The Impossible isn’t easy viewing, but it reminds us all that even in times of despair, there are moments of hope and miracles.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Drama, Rated PG-13) Charlie is starting high school, a momentous and joyous occasion, if not for the fact that his best friend killed himself months before, and Charlie himself is recovering from a breakdown. It’s a scary situation, until he befriends Patrick, a charismatic, openly gay senior whose biggest heartache is that his closeted boyfriend refuses to acknowledge their relationship in public. Patrick’s step-sister Sam, a sweet girl saddled with an unfair reputation, also takes to Charlie – and vice versa. Together they navigate the treacherous waters of high school with some success, until Charlie is forced to face his past again. NOTE: Parents need to know this is an edgy film that’s frank about the exploits of teenagers. They push back against parental intervention, drink, and use drugs. One girl blithely jokes about being bulimic. There are couples (both same- and opposite-sex) making out, teens bullying each other, and plenty of swearing.
THE SESSIONS (Drama, Rated R) This movie is transcendent, laying bare (no pun intended) the emotional and sexual needs of the disabled in a way that’s universal. Mark isn’t simply looking for release; he’s searching for a deep and abiding connection beyond his faith. The movie follows his exploration elegantly and without judgment, and in so doing, elicits empathy. Hawkes deserves high praise for his rich, nuanced performance. He’s so believable we forget he’s not actually reliant on an iron lung in real life. His scenes with Hunt, who’s also great here, feel so private, so personal, that we feel both privileged and a bit intrusive watching them. Macy’s addition as Mark’s priest allows viewers a peek into Mark’s mind without bogging down the movie. And how wonderful it is to see a pious man not painted as a sinner for discussing his urges and needs. The Sessions is a powerful, emotional lesson in grace and compassion. NOTE: Parents need to know that The Sessions’ story isn’t appropriate for younger teens, but for mature older teens and adults it’s a film filled with compassion and hope that can provide a lesson about what sex and love mean and what they can bring to anyone’s life when approached in a healthy manner.
Please research and decide for yourself if any of these are appropriate for you and your viewing companion(s):
I am temporarily unable to spend much time at my computer as I have been going through a health issue and subsequent pain. I look forward to catching up with all you wonderful readers and your excellent blogs as soon as I am back on my feet (ok, up and sitting at my computer for any amount of time). So this post has been in the works for a while as well as the one that follows: lists of older movies to rent or record to enjoy violent-free movie viewing. May we remain aware and carefully choose the quality content and imagery that will soak into our brains for two hours of watching a movie. May it be a time of enjoyment and enrichment! Namaste. Gina