July 29, 2014

This Week’s Movie Menu

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

How about a visit to a mobile medical unit during the Korean conflict of the 1950s? Or a hot afternoon in Brooklyn during a bank robbery in the 1970s? Or a wild weather day in the plains of Oklahoma in the 1990s? Or an over-the-top look at show business in the 2000s? These nourishing films are available this weekend on television.

Few movies capture the essence of war as effectively, and authentically, as Robert Altman’s dark comedy M*A*S*H from 1970. While your memories of the television series based on the film may recall broad comedy, the original film is far more pointed and dark. While Alan Alda made Hawkeye a thoughtful if complicated observer, Donald Sutherland’s initial interpretation is more daring in its intent. Altman introduces techniques found in most of his subsequent films, including how he overlaps dialogues, shoots visuals, and takes narrative sequences out of context. What emerges is a frightening look at how war attacks innocence and creates victims with issues far beyond their physical injuries. The movie, made at the height of the Vietnam conflict, never apologizes for taking sides. Altman simply wants us to think. And to make sure we get the message, he makes us laugh. Look for M*A*S*H at 3:45 p.m., Sunday, July 21, on Sundance.

Few chapters from real life are as entertaining on screen as Sidney Lumet’s interpretation of Dog Day Afternoon from 1975. This bizarre comedy-drama, based on actual facts, takes to Brooklyn on a hot summer afternoon when a man robs a bank to get the money to fund his lover’s sex-change surgery. Yes, truth is stranger than fiction! Al Pacino is dynamic as a robber without common sense but with a great deal of heart, ably supported by Chris Sarandon as the lover and Charles Durning as a policemen. What makes the film so memorable is how Lumet creates a rich background texture with a range of cameo players. He creates a fabric so filled with voices that we instantly feel we are there on that smoldering afternoon. Look for Dog Day Afternoon at 5:45 p.m., Sunday, on Sundance.

Few real-life events frighten as quickly as an approaching tornado. Sadly, too many people are impacted by such storms, a weather reality that inspires scientists to study the reasons behind the fury. The ambitions of storm chasers are brought to the screen in the highly entertaining Twister from 1996. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt star as a couple on the brink of divorce who choose a particularly active day in the Oklahoma plains to try to iron out their differences. But they have little opportunity to consider their marital challenges when one storm follows another in a series of visually stunning sequences from director Jan de Bont. Whether or not the theories the film advances could be true is subject for more serious exploration. In the meantime, sit back and munch the popcorn from the comfort and security of your own house with a roof. Check out Twister at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Friday, July 19, on ABC Family.

Few aspects of show business are as favored by movie creators as the world of burlesque. From the musical Gypsy from 1962 to the cheesy drama Showgirls from 1995, this somewhat seedy world never fails to entertain. The over-the-top Burlesque from 2010 casts Christina Aguilar as a rather unbelievable singer with a heart who strives to hit the big time at a burlesque house in Los Angeles. Of course, there are complications, both romantic and professional. And there is a wise, over-the-hill performer – the always magnetic Cher – who manages to say just the right words and sing just the right songs when the chips are down. No moment in Burlesque rings true; the chance of such an establishment still surviving in the present day seems slim. But it’s all so much fun – and such a guilty pleasure for movie buffs – that you will be entertained. Just don’t believe a word of it. Burlesque airs on Sunday, July 21, at 5:30 p.m. on ABC Family.

 

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.