Lighter Fare: A Dozen Great Movies You May Not Have Seen

Taking a break from preparedness and politics...in case you’re in the mood for something different this Friday night, here are a few movies you may not have seen. Some are old, some foreign and some just obscure. I've tried to give you some idea as to the "family friendliness" of each. In alphabetical order:

The African Queen (1951)—Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are at their best in this John Huston film. Set in Africa during WWI, Hepburn plays a missionary and Bogart a coarse riverboat captain who get thrown together fleeing the jungle and attacking Germans. A great blend of drama, comedy and adventure. Family friendly.

Amelie (2001)—(French) If you’re like me, this movie will just paste a big smile across your face. Though Audrey Tautou took an unfortunate turn starring in The DaVinci Code, she is nonetheless a charming actress and the closest to a modern Audrey Hepburn in film today. Amelie is just magical filmmaking, typical of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Sadly, this being a French film, there is some minimal but unnecessary nudity and sexual content which make it inappropriate for pre-teens. If you like Tautou, check out He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, a fun movie with a great twist.

The Apostle (1997)—Robert Duvall wrote, directed, funded and starred in this challenging film. His character is a Southern Pentecostal preacher who finds out his wife is having an affair and knocks the offending man into a coma. He then goes on the run, changes his name, wrestles with God and himself. What I like about this movie is that it portrays Believers accurately, “warts and all.” Believers are flawed people striving to grow in a real relationship with a real God. Check it out. Family friendly and likely to spur conversation.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)—Cary Grant stars in Frank Capra’s excellent film-adaptation of the popular stage play. Grant plays a normal man who discovers that his sweet, churchgoing aunts are poisoning transients who come to stay at their room for rent. As the hilarious plot unfolds, he begins to realize that he is surrounded by madness and begins to question his own sanity. Family friendly.

Brazil (1985)—Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame has directed a number of movies, all strange and many quite good. Brazil is a black comedy set in a totalitarian state in the not-too-distant future where bureaucracy reigns supreme. Starring Jonathan Pryce with a cast of other familiar faces, including Robert DeNiro, Brazil is about a simple bureaucrat who dreams of freedom and love and unwittingly becomes an enemy of the state. There is nothing too objectionable here, but the sheer bizarreness might cause younger viewers some distress. I haven’t included it in this list, because I think it was much more popular, but Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is a must-see. Go rent that first if you haven’t seen it.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)—Screwball comedy at its best, this movie barely stops for a breath. Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant star in this fast-paced caper as a free-spirited heiress and an uptight paleontologist who end up entangled in pursuit of a dinosaur bone and a leopard, “Baby”, on the loose with many misadventures and romance ensuing. Family friendly.

Charade (1963)—Though it looks and feels like a Hitchcock film, it’s not. Directed by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), this thriller stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant with Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy supporting. When the husband of Hepburn’s character dies under mysterious circumstances, she discovers that she didn’t really know her husband and now has to figure out who she can trust as a whole host of characters are looking for money she knows nothing about. Though this movie is primarily a thriller, they throw in enough humor and romance to please a broad audience. Family friendly for the most part with a couple of briefly disturbing scenes.

Chungking Express (1994)—(Cantonese/Mandarin) The talented Wong Kar Wai directed this fun but odd little movie. The plot is simple and convoluted at the same time, but it is more an experience than a story with delightful visuals and quirky characters. The film is split into two somewhat parallel stories about two different cops in Hong Kong, one of whom is mourning the breakup of a relationship and longing to be re-united with his love, the other is an oblivious cop who’s caught the eye of an impish deli clerk who manages to get the cop’s apartment key and redecorate his home. (Note: Quentin Tarantino was responsible for getting this film distributed in the U.S. but it lacks his characteristic brutality. The great cinematography and direction were the appeals, no doubt.) Family friendly but probably won’t appeal to kids.

Delicatessen (1991)— (French) An early film by Amelie director Jeunet, this black comedy is a hilarious look at a post-apocalyptic world where cannibalism isn’t quite as taboo as it used to be. Lots of fun visuals and the typical menagerie of quirky characters that frequent Jeunet’s work…it’s just a hoot. Not family friendly (again, it’s French) but nothing graphic or overly offensive. Much is left to your chuckling imagination. If you like Jeunet's work, also rent The City of Lost Children.

Never Cry Wolf (1983)—A great movie to watch when the mercury’s spiked and the A/C’s out. This movie is so engrossing and Arctic, it will make you cold. This movie, directed by Carroll Ballard, is the true story of Farley Mowat, a researcher sent to northern Canada to study the threat of wolves against other species. He does this alone, dropped off by plane in the middle of the tundra with a pile of gear and provisions. Though the reviews of this film tend to concentrate on this man’s growing understanding of the wolves and their integral part in the tundra ecosystem, it’s also a fascinating look at a man trying to make it on his own under extreme circumstances. It is a quiet, beautifully shot film. Family friendly.

Run Lola Run (1998)—(German) Directed by Tom Tykwer and starring Franka Potente, this adrenalin-infused movie plays like a long, very good music video. It’s essentially a day in the life of a couple of young, German punks played out three different ways, with tiny decisions changing the way each day unfolds and determining the fates of the characters. If you like this, The Princess and the Warrior is another Tykwer/Potente film that is engrossing, though slower-paced. RLR should be OK for junior high on up. TP&W is not appropriate for youth.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)—I love the gaslight era and, though not based on an actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, this film does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of that time and speculating on the young lives of Holmes, Watson and other Doyle characters. It was directed by Barry Levinson, written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg with impressive special effects done by Industrial Light and Magic. It is a great adventure and mystery movie with a nice dash of romance thrown in. Family friendly but will be too scary for young children.

If you can’t find one at your video store, let me know and I’ll loan it to you. If you've seen any and enjoyed them, drop me a comment. Thanks!

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