Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hit List: "Top 3 Little -Known Non-Disney Family-Friendly Films"

It is difficult to find those movies that are legitimate enough in terms of plot, stunts, and acting to hold the attention of a teen/young adult and their parents; even fewer in this category that the two groups would watch together--and come away feeling good about each other.
Of course, Disney's pretty much got a monopoly on "movies-that-the-family-could-and-would-watch-together"; the trouble is, the animated movies are old enough that we've all seen them a bazillion times, and the live-action films often leave much to be desired.

I present for your viewing pleasure films I've seen that are visually safe (for the most part) for younger kids (except when noted), and the story is decent enough for older siblings, and the morals are ones parents can appreciate! (All of the films listed below (except #1... for some reason I couldn't find that one on the typical Christian/family review sites... I don't know why, because it's awesome!)

3. Frequency
 I discovered this movie a little over a year ago in a Netflix "Because-you-watched-"X"-you-might-like-this-too" recommendation. Curiosity set in (I mean, Jim Caviezel's on it, how bad can it be? There are just some actors blessed with the capacity to breathe life into the most shoddy script and half-baked premise; more about that later) and I watched it.
Verdict: the premise is a little raw (not quite half-baked, but not exactly the most thorough study, either), but oh my word! I immediately wanted to watch this with my dad. Hence it's presence on this list. I am surprised how few people know about it. You must see it.
Summary: Jim Caviezel plays a young cop with little purpose in life, no motivation for relationships, and consistently making the wrong choices. His dad, a firefighter, died in a burning building when he was a young boy, which (as happens so often in the life of a boy who loses his father) sends him on a downhill slide and negatively affects every relationship, even the one with his mother. One night, he discovers his father's CB radio during a solar storm, and the premise comes into play: 30 years ago, that same day is the day before his father's death. A solar storm occurred at the same time, and (lo and behold!) father and son connect across 30 years, via solar flares on matching frequencies, and through the same CB radio.
Okay, so summed up bluntly like that, yes, I'll admit it sounds cheesy--but the writers actually make it feel natural, and the acting is so good (at least for the two lead roles) that you'll be too wrapped up in watching a father connect with his grown son, and the son get to express his struggles to a father he never knew (plus a few other scenarios, just to make the movie more interesting than a single conversation--namely this: if you had the chance to warn a loved one who "shouldn't have died" about their impending death, thereby saving their life, what would you do?).
Warnings: There is swearing and some violence... so just make sure your audience isn't too young.

2. Stardust
This is my all-time favorite fantasy-adventure (besides the 2003 live-action Peter Pan; if you haven't heard of that one you must watch it). I could watch it again and again. Can't remember when I first heard of it, but I've loved it ever since.
Verdict: Well, marvelous, obviously. The premise of this movie appealed to my sense of "What-If" that I find so inspiring when writing. Moreover, I loved the way that the movie makes no bones about "anti-villains" (who are merely "good people gone bad") or "anti-heroes" (who are so screwed up that any "good" they do is actually wrong and you really shouldn't be cheering for them) that I just find so aggravating--the "good characters" possess good morals and a strong sense of right and justice, while the "bad characters" are all liars, cheaters, back-stabbers, and they never once make "good" choices; the best that the "bad" characters can behave is fleeting, fickle, and false. Excellent for teaching kids about "end-justifies-means" and personal responsibility and the like.
Summary: There's a town called Wall, situated in England, next to (what else?) a wall. This wall supposedly separates the "real" world from the "magical" one; nobody knows, though, because this wall has been guarded, and no one cares enough to try sneaking past the guard. Until one day, a young man's curiosity gets the better of him (SPOILER: unexpected cameo by a familiar face!) and he crosses the Wall. He ends up meeting a mysterious, pretty girl, and (as inevitably happens in the beginning of any great adventure) nine months later, a bassinet arrives at his house. He raises his son, who has always dreamed of his mother, but never knew what she looked like. The son imagines himself in love with the catch-of-the-town, a self-centered beauty. To "prove his love", this young man is going to cross the Wall like his father did and bring his "true love" something fantastic from the magical land beyond. And so it begins....
Warnings: There's a surprising level of violence in this fantastic movie; it's just over 2 hours long, and the villains rack up quite the body count. I didn't notice the language so much; there are a few scenes of the "turn around I'm changing/bathing" variety, but the camera maintains a tactful angle. Oh, and there happens to be "witches" involved, so there are at least 3-4 scenes of "divination"; of course, it's only the villains who are trying to manipulate "fate" and use the predictions to their own advantage, which, as we all know, never works. (I just mention it so you're not shocked... still on my list of recommends!)

1. The Secret of Moonacre
 I'm surprised at how unknown this movie is. It takes popular elements from many different fantasy-adventure plots and combines them and re-imagines them into a wonderful adventure that is (as opposed to the other two) safe for even young children.
Summary: Basically, a young girl and her governess are left nearly poor and must turn to the nearly-non-existent charity of her crazy, reclusive uncle on Moonacre Manor (a bit reminiscent of "Beauty and the Beast") The girl discovers surprising secrets, a family curse--and the key to it's undoing.
Verdict: Absolutely marvelous. The moral overtones are abundantly clear, paving the way for some lively family discussion about selfishness, pride, and its consequences. The acting is wonderful (how could it not be, when the cast includes--but is not limited to--the likes of Ioan Gruffudd, Tim Curry, Juliet Stevenson, and the debut of Dakota Blue Richards?) and the story is positively enchanting.
Warnings: There aren't many. Of course, as with many fantasy stories with curses involved, there is a slight undercurrent of some sort of "magic" at work, but the moral implications far supersede the "magic" part of the story, so that it's more about what the curse teaches the characters involved about their moral choices than the actual curse itself. Violence is largely of the theatrical variety.