Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar´s fifth computer-animated film is another gem, a deeply affecting, stunningly animated father-son fish story that that not only features the first onscreen Pixar dad, but actually focuses on the parent-child relationship rather than seeing the child in relation to some surrogate adult-figure such as Toy Story´s
Woody and Buzz or Monsters, Inc.´s
Mike and Sully.
Even more remarkably, papa clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) remains sympathetically and positively depicted even though young Nemo is reasonably frustrated by Marlin´s overprotectiveness, unlike, e.g., fellow undersea dad King Triton (The Little Mermaid
), who was basically a frustrating obstacle for Ariel to overcome.
Marlin´s overprotectiveness is actually quite understandable: In an early Bambi
-like tragedy, a predator devours Nemo´s mother and hundreds of his unhatched siblings, leaving even Nemo partly crippled. (Marlin and his mate´s lovingly protective concern for the clearly visible, embryonic fries in their translucent eggs is strikingly resonant for pro-life viewers.)
When Nemo´s willfulness results in his being snatched far away from his father, there seems no hope of their being reunited. As events unfold, though, Nemo comes to see his father in a whole new light, while Marlin learns to give Nemo room to grow and face his own challenges. Dare I admit I cried throughout the second half?
Content advisory: Animated high excitement and menace; parental separation theme. Could be frightening to sensitive youngsters.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982)
The good news: Raiders is finally on DVD, and in widescreen! The bad news: You can´t buy it alone. It comes in a four-pack with the two sequels (the dark, inferior Temple of Doom
and the enjoyable but flawed Last Crusade
) as well as a fourth disc of extras. It can, of course, be rented alone, and may become available for individual purchase in time.
Still the standard by which cliffhanger action-adventures are measured, Lucas and Spielberg´s hugely entertaining throwback to old matinee serial cliffhangers combines classic action set pieces, Harrison Ford at his swashbuckling best, Old Testament spirituality, and a satiric jab at Nazi anti-Semitism.
Daredevil archaeologist Indiana Jones is pitted against Nazi treasure hunters in a race to find the lost ark of the covenant, which Hitler superstitiously believes will give him the military indomitability of the ancient Israelites-Hitler apparently having missed 1 Samuel 4-6, in which the ark is captured by Philistines, who are subsequently plagued by boils and rats until they return it to the Israelites!
Fortunately, the filmmakers know exactly what they´re doing, and-in contrast to Last Crusade
, which had no clue what to do with the Holy Grail-the ark itself satisfyingly provides Raiders´
numinous, spectacular finale.
Content advisory: Stylized action violence, mayhem, and menace; some drunkenness; limited profanity and crass language; some gruesome images.
Duck Soup (1933)
The greatest and funniest film from one of the cinema´s funniest acts, Duck Soup
is as absurdly nonsensical as comedy can be and still be about something. A satire of Fascism, Mussolini-style dictatorship, and the banality of war, the Marx Brothers´ masterpiece is best remembered for Groucho´s blistering throwaway witticisms, a classic broken-mirror scene with Harpo posing as Groucho´s reflection, and a surreal slapstick hat-switching sequence.
The premise involves Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly becoming dictator of Freedonia at the behest of dowager Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, Groucho´s indefatigable foil), whose millions the ailing country badly needs. Groucho´s ideas for running the country consist largely of wooing Mrs. Teasdale in an effort to get the rest of her millions and insulting Trentino (Louis Calhern), the scheming ambassador of neighboring Sylvania. Trentino, meanwhile, hires Chico and Harpo as spies, and sends a sultry Mata Hari (Raquel Torres) to draw Groucho away from Mrs. Teasdale, hoping to marry her himself and gain control of Freedonia´s pocketbook.
A unique product of their era, the Marx Brothers combine silent-comedy slapstick with Groucho´s trademark verbal comedy ("If you can´t get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that´s too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff"). Their goofiness doesn´t get any better than this.
Content advisory: Double entendre and mild innuendo; comic war scenes.
Steven Greydanus is a film critic for the National Catholic Register