Recommended Video Rentals For Summer Viewing

BARBARA NICOLOSI

Summertime generally means more time to spend hanging out with family and friends. Here’s a list of recent films now available on video or DVD that parents and kids can enjoy together and perhaps find what Joseph Conrad called “that measure of truth for which they had forgotten to ask.”

My Dog Skip

Chances are you missed most of these films in theatrical release — only a few of them did anything at the box office — but each of them is testaments to the fact that good films, and even great ones, are still being made today. The reason you don’t see more of this kind of good film in theaters, is that you didn’t go to see these films at the theater.

There is still time to send a message to the entertainment industry, however, by renting these on DVD or VHS. The industry does track rentals too.

Films For The Kids

The Iron Giant - Not just another animated kids’ movie, The Iron Giant earned accolades like, “exquisite” and “perfection in filmmaking” from a cross-section of film critics. Featuring the talents of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr. and Cloris Leachman, the story here sets this project far ahead of The Quest For Camelot and The King and I which were financially more successful animated features from Warner Bros. The Iron Giant is about a young boy named Hogarth Hughes who befriends a 100-foot tall metal alien. Unable to finally evade the paranoid machinations of government agents, the giant responds with an act of unconditional love and self-sacrifice. Weaving thoughtful messages about friendship and non-violence into an exciting adventure, The Iron Giant will surprise and delight the whole family.

The Miracle Maker - The best of the millennial network specials on the life of Christ, this claymation import from Britain and Russia packs a high degree artistry and some unexpectedly elevated theology. Besides being absolutely Catholic in its sensibilities, the film works as entertainment. Younger children will appreciate the telling of the story of Jesus through the eyes of Jairus’ daughter. Adults will appreciate the all-star performances and effective weaving of cel animation and 3-D stop-motion photography. If “a thing of beauty if a joy forever,” than The Miracle Maker will surely enter the realm of classics.

My Dog Skip - It’s Yazoo City, Michigan in 1942. While the world outside is engaged in the greatest military conflict of human history, a young boy is fighting his own battle for survival. Anguishing over their son’s failure to make friends, Willie’s parents give him a terrier puppy for his 8th birthday. Based on the best-selling memoir by Willie Morris, My Dog Skip is a funny and heartwarming story about friendship and family. The excellent cast includes Frankie Muniz from FOX’s Malcolm In The Middle, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane. This movie impressed me with its insight and sensitivity. You and your kids will laugh and cry together, which is a good thing for families to do now and then.

Films For The Heart

Return To Me - Produced, directed and starred in by the very talented Bonnie Hunt, this film is a tender celebration of faith, family and Divine Providence. In her acceptance speech for receiving the Catholics in Media Award for this film, Hunt explained that she wanted to make a tribute to the simple goodness and faith of the blue-collar people she grew up around in her Polish-Irish neighborhood in Chicago. Commenting on one of the themes of the film, Bonnie noted, “Without faith, ultimately life has no meaning.” Also, starring David Duchovney and Minnie Driver, the love story here is squeaky clean without being prudish. I happened to run into Bonnie at an industry event and I encouraged her to make more films like Return To Me. She shrugged and, referring to the fact that people didn’t turn out to see this “good family movie,” exhaled with exasperation, “Well, we’re tryin.’”

Remember The Titans - Winner of a 2000 Christopher Award, this film has the rare distinction of being an issue film that isn’t propaganda. Starring Denzel Washington, Remember The Titans is a football film that reminded me of Brian’s Song, only because I generally hate football films, but I liked Brian’s Song. I liked this one too. Basing his screenplay on a true story, writer Gregory Howard weaves inter-racial tension with athletic competition, in a triumphant journey of the human spirit. I especially appreciated this film by contrast with another recent football film Any Given Sunday. Remember The Titans feels completely realistic and manages to pack its punches without the crassness, vulgar language and nudity that Oliver Stone felt was necessary to tell his football story. Remember The Titans is an inspiring film…but teenage boys will like it too.

The Straight Story - The true story of an improbable journey towards reconciliation, The Straight Story screenwriter Anne Sweeney noted to me that “writing this film was a prayer.” In an Oscar nominated performance, Richard Farnsworth portrays an old man who can sense death on the horizon. Unwilling to leave this life without making peace with his brother, he rides over seven hundred miles on a secondhand lawnmower, to offer and obtain forgiveness. He brings gifts of wisdom and goodness with the people he meets along the way, surprising himself – and us - by the fact that he still has so much good to share. A lovely and sensitive film.

Tuesdays With Morrie - Another excellent “made for television” movie, I saw this film on a retreat weekend, and found it much more powerful than any of the homilies or meditations that were preached at us on those days. Starring Jack Lemon and Hank Azaria, this is a tender story of how a young man’s small act of self-donation, comes back to him a hundred-fold as gifts of love, wisdom and meaning. Besides being a vivid application of the Gospel theme about the grain of wheat needing to die to live, Tuesdays With Morrie carries with it an implicitly pro-life message about why we need to keep sick people in our midst. Sick people don’t suffer for themselves, but for the healthy who need to be stretched into humanity by the exercise of compassion and caring.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Barbara Nicolosi. "Recommended Video Rentals For Summer Viewing." Liguorian (June 2001).

This article reprinted with permission from Liguorian, One Liguori Drive, Liguori, MO 63057.

Liguorian is a general interest Catholic magazine written and edited for Catholics of all ages. Its purpose is to help readers better understand the gospel and Church teaching and to show how these teachings apply to life and the problems confronting them as members of families, the Church, and society.

THE AUTHOR

Barbara Nicolosi teaches screenwriting to aspiring Catholic writers at the acclaimed Act One: Writing for Hollywood. You may email her at Actone2000@aol.com.

Copyright © 2002 Liguorian


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