September 23, 2014

From an epic to epic greed: films worth watching

What’s on your family’s movie menu this weekend?

A man who confronts a society’s rules, a young woman who dares to demonstrate ambition, and a man who lovingly reunites old friends highlight the nourishing movies available on television.

Russell Crowe won an Oscar for portraying a bold man with a thing for arena competition in Gladiator, the surprise winner of the Best Picture Oscar of 2000. With assistance from the story of Spartacus from 1960, director Ridley Scott creates an exciting if predictable epic about a man who fights the odds to become a legendary fighter in ancient Rome. While the script offers more subtext than a standard Middle-Ages action flick, the look of the film depends heavily on the magic of computer generation. No matter its deficiencies, the film soars when Crowe enters the ring to battle all types of opponents. And that’s why, after all, we watch such epics. Look for Gladiator on TNT at 8 p.m. Friday, June 7.

Reese Witherspoon, before winning an Oscar for Walk the Line, captured our hearts with her delightful rendition of a spoiled girl jumping into law school in Legally Blonde. The film finds Witherspoon a most entitled college student who believes that beauty is only skin deep. But when she follows her boyfriend to Harvard, she surprises everyone with her performance in law school and discovers the happiness that inner beauty can bring. What a treat to savor Witherspoon at her most spontaneous before soggy roles in dramatic scripts trapped her personality. Enroll in Legally Blonde on Bravo at 9 p.m., Friday.

Jason Segel may not have won an Oscar for The Muppets but he won a legion of new fans for the furry characters in this delightful comedy from 2011. Segel reminds us, in fact, why we love the lunacy of the Jim Henson troupe in a film that is appropriately light, respectful and spontaneous, offering something new for the series while honoring the tradition that Henson initiated. The incidental plot focuses on the groups’ efforts to reunite to save their theater from a mean oil man. With Amy Adams on hand as the love interest, and a delightful turn by Chris Cooper as the villain, The Muppets is welcome opportunity to spend a morning with old friends. The film airs on Saturday, June 8, at 11 a.m. on Encore.

Dustin Hoffman is a man on the run in Marathon Man, a chilling thriller from director John Schlesinger from 1976. As a graduate student caught in a conspiracy he does not understand, Hoffman brings his patented intensity to a role that reminds us how powerful an actor he can be when given good material and a strong director. Laurence Olivier creates a frightening portrayal of a former Nazi determined to bring pain to the innocent and Roy Schieder shines in a small role as Hoffman’s brother. I often tell my sons that the typical film of the 1970s is superior to most films of today simply because they focus on character and situation. Marathon Man reminds us how good the typical fare can be when in strong hands. Look for this classic on Saturday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. on Sundance.

Ingrid Bergman won the first of her three Oscars for making us scream in the classic thriller Gaslight from 1944. This remarkable actress portrays a young woman whose husband is much too secretive for her own good. And when they move back into her house, where her aunt was murdered years before, her natural fears begin to take over her thoughts. Or does she have real reasons to be scared? Use this chance to introduce your family to the magic that Bergman brings to every screen performance. Directed by George Cukor, Gaslight creates great movie fun, one chill at a time. Look for the movie on Sunday, June 9, at noon on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Michael Douglas won an Oscar as an investor with a heart of steel in Wall Street from 1987. Seen through the eyes of today, the film is marvelously dated in its use of technology, hair styles and corporate swagger. Douglas’ bravado is so perfectly exaggerated that he pushes everyone else off the screen, including Daryl Hannah as an art collector with strong tastes and Charlie Sheen as a financial whiz with bad judgment. No matter that director Oliver Stone paints the heroes and villains in broad black-and-white strokes or that he over-simplifies the issues of corporate greed. What we love about this film is how the over-the-top Douglas dominates the screen in a riveting performance. Watch Wall Street at 2:45 p.m. Sunday on Sundance.

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.