June 20, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 28 February 2013 13:30
As we look back at Oscar season — and the best films of the year begin to appear on DVD — the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of the nominees. This week’s pick is Life of Pi, the winner of four Academy Awards.
Of the nominees for this year’s Oscar for Best Picture, the victorious Argo may be the most thrilling, Django Unchained the most outrageous and Zero Dark Thirty the most lasting. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi brings the year’s most advanced visual work to the most challenging story of the season. The result is an outstanding technical achievement that just misses being as emotionally satisfying as it is visually thrilling.
On screen, the film adaptation of the book by Yann Martel looks sensational. Director Lee, always a most imaginative moviemaker, feels as much at home on the Pacific Ocean as in our neighboring town of New Canaan (in The Ice Storm), the English countryside (in Sense and Sensibility) or the American West (in Brokeback Mountain). He deserves his Oscar for seamlessly using the 3-D camera and computer technology to create a total world that rarely reveals its artificial origins. And he breaks new ground in adding a third visual dimension to enhance the film experience.
This exploration of faith, family and miracle is not a natural candidate for memorable movie making. While the book uses words to explore a young man’s thoughts as he faces the challenges of life, a movie requires a visual language to describe such a journey. For the screen adaptation, Lee creates a stylistic look that could suggest many explanations for what we see. He purposely delivers an environment that, while less than totally realistic in its appearance, contains just enough exaggerated imagery to suggest the young man’s emotional journey.
Movies also talk and, for all the visual excitement in Life of Pi, the script does not develop the characters as effectively as the director stages its sequences. Screenwriter David Magee, best known for Finding Neverland, spends a good deal of early screen time establishing the backstory of a family operating a zoo in India. He carefully reveals how, as the sons in the family age, the parents face increasing pressures that force them to arrange a move to Canada by ship, taking many zoo animals with them. But he has less to stay when the going gets tough on the high seas and the young man begins a life-changing struggle to stay alive.
While Magee’s conventional dialogue limits how the characters develop, the Oscar-winning Lee refuses to let any gaps in the script restrict his vision. We sense the director imagining every possible way to tell the story no matter what the script may say or what technology may be available. From one sequence to another, Lee astonishes our senses with visual delights that reach beyond our expectations. His approach to filming the story is so strong he really doesn’t need the characters to speak. If only Magee had taken as many creative risks as Lee, an ambitious film could have been extraordinary.
Still, Life of Pi delivers a meaningful visit to the movies. Its impact reminds us that film is, essentially, a director’s medium. And, when the creator behind the screen brings the creative power of Ang Lee, the results can thrill.
Life of Pi
* Content: High. The essence of Yann Martel’s book transfers to the screen in the visually creative hands of director Ang Lee.
* Entertainment: High. The striking visual approach creates a sense of awe as Lee dares to use the camera in ways other directors could only imagine.
* Message: High. No matter what challenge we may face in life, we can endure when we embrace and learn from each moment.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with children handling the realities of life can be absorbing and meaningful
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your children can use the film as an opportunity to discuss how we approach situations we cannot control.
(Life of Pi is rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril. The film runs 127 minutes.)
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Check the nutritious movies available on television, DVD and online. Go to This Week’s Movie Menu in the online edition of The Reel Dad.
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week?
Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve. And all the choices on television make it easy to savor something at the same time you nourish the mind and heart.
This week, broadcast, cable and instant on-line video offer a range of nutritious movies. Here are a few choices.
With the Oscars over for another year, and movie theaters waiting for the spring releases, this is a good week to rediscover some Hollywood classics available on cable.
What history calls the “Scopes Monkey Trial” is a fundamental moment in the history of free speech. A high school science teacher in a small town dares to teach the Charles Darwin theory of evolution, a concept that explains how man descends from apes. This is not, in this town, a popular position, especially among those who profess the explanation from the Bible in their local religious congregations. And when the religious zealots put the teacher on trial, the court becomes a platform for two leading attorneys of the day to argue points of view that reach beyond the details of the local situation.
When playwright Arthur Miller used this real incident as inspiration for his stage play Inherit the Wind in the early 1950s, he equated the challenge of the “Monkey Trial” to the efforts by conservative voices of the period to censor those who dared to profess socialist views. Produced at the height of the “Red Scare” in the United States — as officials searched for signs of Communist leanings in all corners — the play became a plea for free speech regardless of the reactions those words may create.
When filmed in 1960, director Stanley Kramer expanded the scope of Inherit the Wind to also comment on the current Cold War tensions. As the film follows the trial, Kramer explores how public opinion can be manipulated, emotions can be swayed and anger can be stimulated. Clearly, the suggestion that the biblical interpretation of life is scientifically impossible is potentially controversial. But in a nation that professes free speech all opinions should be welcome. Inherit the Wind reminds us that, even when free, we aren’t always invited to speak what’s on our minds. The comfort zone for free speech can be narrow and limited. This nutritious film will broadcast on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Saturday, March 2, at 11 a.m.
One of the great musicals, Fiddler on the Roof, airs on TCM at 5 p.m., Sunday, March 3. This screen version of the Broadway hit was a big success in 1971 when it was a nominee for Best Picture. Beyond the magic of its musical numbers, what makes the film so meaningful is how it portrays a father’s love for his daughters. While their beliefs and priorities may test his view of the world, the strength of the relationships they share enable them to endure significant change, from how they live to how they choose their life partners.
In adapting the show to the screen, director Norman Jewison replaces the stylistic staging of the original to a more realistic interpretation. Rather than insert the musical numbers as show pieces, he uses the songs to advance the story and character. And he takes his time in the dialogue sequences to make sure we get to know the characters. While the film boasts a lovely score and some vibrant dancing, we remember the quieter moments that reveal how this family deals with all the change they experience.
In Some Like It Hot — for which Jack Lemmon lost the Best Actor Oscar in 1959 to Charlton Heston — our favorite actor Jack scores a comic triumph as a man who dresses as a woman to escape the mob. This outrageous comedy will keep your family laughing for hours. Leave it to the great Billy Wilder to imagine what can happen when two male musicians dress up as women to join an all female band. The pretend life is never simple especially when one of faux female musicals falls in love with the band’s lead singer and, in order to pursue the relationship, pretends to be an eccentric millionaire. Sound confusing?
Actually it’s easy to follow and very tame. Even though the content may sound suggestive — and, perhaps, would be if the film had been made today — it’s all innocent. What makes Some Like It Hot so fun is how the farce develops without abandoning the characters. Lemmon’s Daphne, one of the classic comic performances of all time, is a fascinating “woman” who truly does lose sight of the fact that she is actually a man hiding his real identity. Some Like It Hot broadcasts on TCM at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, March 2.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.
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