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Stream Free Movies from the Library of Congress

Posted on September 28, 2018 at 10:37 am

The Library of Congress has announced that it has digitized hundreds of hours of motion pictures that will be freely available on the newly launched National Screening Room website. Most of the content in the National Screening Room is in the public domain. Movies that the Library believes to be in the public domain are fully downloadable. Permissions were granted for the inclusion of copyrighted motion pictures, which are only available as streaming files.

This digital offering showcases the wealth and diversity of the Library’s vast moving image collections. The Library has the largest and most comprehensive archive of moving images in the world, totaling more than 1.6 million items. The first phase of the project will feature 281 titles and new content will be added to the National Screening Room every month. .

“The goal of this digital project is to present the public with a broad range of historical and cultural audio-visual materials that will enrich education, scholarship and lifelong learning,” said curator Mike Mashon, head of the Library’s Moving Image Section. “The National Screening Room is designed to open up the Library’s collections, making otherwise unavailable movies freely accessible to viewers nationwide and around the world.”

In celebration of the 120th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth on Sept. 26, the National Screening Room features 17 home movies of George and Ira Gershwin filmed in 1928–1939. These provide rare glimpses of the Gershwin brothers, sometimes working but primarily socializing with family and famous friends.

“The Gershwin home movies, long held in Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills archive, contain amazing images of interest to historians and fans alike,” said Michael Owen, consulting archivist of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts. “I’m overjoyed that the Library of Congress has digitized this collection and is now making it available for viewing via its National Screening Room website.”

One highlight of the Gershwin collection includes five reels of a party for Liza Minnelli on her second or third birthday. Ira Gershwin, Liza’s godfather, hosted the party at his home in Beverly Hills in 1948. Partygoers also included Liza’s mother Judy Garland, Harold Arlen, Sid Luft and Arthur Freed. There is also behind-the-scenes footage of Fred Astaire’s performance in the 1937 “Slap That Bass.”

Other collection highlights include:

33 issues of the “All-American News” (1942-1945), a newsreel made specifically
for African-American audiences during the mid-20th century;
A 1953 training film for midwives;
A corset commercial;
President McKinley taking the oath of office;
103 titles from the Library’s Paper Prints Collection, including several shorts directed by D. W. Griffith for Biograph Company;
Historical and iconic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell and Art Carney;
Titles named to the National Film Registry because of their cultural, historical and aesthetic significance;
A selection of films about mental health released in the 1950s.
Mashon is also working with the Library’s team of educators to develop lesson plans for the classroom and other educational initiatives. Some primary source sets will examine the Harlem Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, Dust Bowl, Jim Crow and segregation, scientific data, Spanish-American War, World War I, Mexican-American communities, immigration, women’s history, children’s lives at the turn of the 20th century, symbols of the U.S. and many more.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States – and extensive materials from around the world – both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

Night School

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 5:58 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence
Profanity: Very strong language for a PG-13
Nudity/ Sex: Crude humor, sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 28, 2018

Copyright Universal 2018
Maybe this movie might slide past more easily in the summer, when audiences are more susceptible to silly comedies. But it is possible even summer audiences would find this a disappointingly lesser work from two of the most unquenchably funny people in movies, Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. It’s a warning sign when the opening credits show six different writers in a tangle of “ands” and “&s,.” The seams between the obvious rewrites trip over each other, interrupting the flow of the storyline and the build-up of the comedy.

The premise is in the title and the best jokes are all in the trailer. Kevin Hart plays Teddy, a high school dropout who is happy and successful, happy because he has a beautiful, accomplished, loving girlfriend (the exquisitely lovely Megalyn Echikunwoke as Lisa), but not as successful as she thinks he is because he does not want her to know that he never finished high school and is living paycheck to paycheck. His best friend Marv (Ben Schwartz) warns him that he cannot afford his duplex, Porsche, or the engagement ring he wants to give Lisa, but Teddy’s boss has promised to give him the store when he retires, and so he thinks it will all work out.

Of course, all of that has to fall apart for the story to happen, but it takes too long to get to the reason we are there — night school, so Teddy can get his GED and go to work for Marv as a financial analyst(!). And so we can see the scenes with Hart and Haddish, playing his teacher, Carrie. The early scenes drag, especially when Teddy tries to get out of paying an expensive restaurant bill by sticking his hand down his pants so he can put some hair into the food and claim it came that way from the kitchen. And then Teddy has to accidentally burn down the store, another pointless, overlong digression.

And then we get to the GED program, at the very high school that was so traumatic for Teddy, now run by his high school nemesis, Stewart (a woefully underused Taran Killam), who has a poster of “Lean on Me” behind his desk and carries a Joe Clark-style baseball bat to terrorize the students.

The night school instructor is Carrie (Haddish), a straight-talking, hard-working teacher who demands the best from students. She has no patience for the work-arounds Teddy has come up with to hide what she recognizes as learning disabilities. But she has all the patience it takes to find a way for him to succeed.

The night school classmates are lazily sketched out, relying on our familiarity with the types we have seen in so many movie classrooms and the talent of the supporting cast, including Rob Riggle playing the blustery part he usually plays, Mary Lynn Rajskub in another mousy role, and Al Madrigal as the waiter Teddy got fired in the restaurant incident. The movie heaves from one set-up to the next, and we get the sense that “Kevin does something funny” is pretty much all they had in mind for most of them. Ultimately, even that fails and they have to resort to the desperation go-to, a dance sequence. To Outkast’s “Hey-Ya.” Come on. Okay, that part made me smile, but I was not proud of myself for it.

We don’t need the movie to make sense or ring true, but we do need it not to fight with us. In other words, the events and the comedy have to bring the movie forward. It may be funny to see Haddish deliver a powerhouse punch to Hart in full boxing gear (followed by further punches as he gets more and more protective covering), but it undermines everything we have been told about her character’s dedication and decency and come on, this is how you “cure” ADD and dyslexia? Scenes like the whole class getting together to steal the answers to a test go on much too long for too little payoff. I’m a fan of director Malcolm Lee, whose films generally have an expert balance of heart and humor. This one, sorry to say, does not make the grade.

Parents should know that this film includes near-R-level language and crude humor, sexual references, comic peril and violence, and drug references.

Family discussion: How did understanding that he had learning disabilities change Teddy’s outlook? Why didn’t he tell Lisa the truth sooner?

If you like this, try: “Central Intelligence” and “Girls Trip”

Smallfoot

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Nudity/ Sex: Brief potty humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 28, 2018

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
The Yeti, sometimes known as Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman and akin to Sasquatch, is a mythical, or, shall we say, so far unproven creature of enormous size, something like an ape. “Smallfoot” takes a charming switch-up — here it’s the Yeti who don’t believe there is such a thing as humans — and turns it into a surprisingly thoughtful film. In between its colorful musical numbers, silly jokes, and action scenes, somehow manages to address some pretty big and complex issues like fake news, xenophobia, and personal integrity, and to do so in a manner that is accessible and nuanced.

Our hero in this movie is Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), who is perfectly happy and wants everything to stay exactly the same. His home is “harsh, jagged, freezing, and awesome.” “It’s a day like any other,” he sings, “and I don’t want to change a thing.”

We can understand why. The gorgeously imagined tundra of the Himalayas is wonderfully enticing here, with a color palette of blue and white with sparkling snow and Prussian shadows, and the community has an inviting design of homes made from stone and ice. It is a close and cooperative neighborhood, led by the Stonekeeper (Common), whose robes made of stone lay out the immutable laws. The gong must be rung each morning to raise the sun. The mammoths that hold up the mountain must be fed. And, very important, no one may question the laws or traditions. “If there’s a question causing you to go astray, just stuff it down inside.” As Migo’s father, Dorgle (Danny DeVito) says, “Do what you’re told. Blend in.”

Migo and Dorgle have the very important responsibility of ringing the morning gong. With Dorgle’s head (explaining why it is so flat and he is so short). Each day, Migo launches his father like an arrow through a sort of giant bow. He dreams of someday having the honor of getting launched at the gong himself. He finally gets his first try, but misses the target and ends up out in the snow, where he witnesses a plane crash and sees a human, what the Yeti call “Smallfoot.” The pilot sees Migo, too, and is equally surprised and a lot more scared.

No one believes Migo, and when he insists that he is not lying about what he saw, he is banished by the Stonekeeper. That is when he discovers a kind of Yeti Resistance movement, led by the Stonekeeper’s spirited daughter, Meechee (Zendaya). She believes in curiosity, exploration, challenging assumptions, and testing hypotheses: “Questions lead to knowledge, and knowledge is power.” Migo sets off to go beneath the clouds in search of Smallfoot.

Below the tree line, a British television personality named Percy (James Corden) is “under pressure” (he performs a Karaoke version of the song) because his once-popular television programs about animals have been eclipsed by amateur cute animal videos on YouTube and Facebook (the musical number features floating Facebook “likes”). He tells his colleague, Brenda (Yara Shahidi) that he plans to fake a Yeti sighting, and then go back to having integrity afterward. But then Migo, a real Yeti, shows up. Migo wants to take Percy back to his community to show that he was telling the truth. And Percy wants to film Migo so he can make a lot of money.

Amusingly, they have no way of understanding each other’s form of communication. We hear what each of them sounds like to the other, Percy’s little squeaks and Migo’s growls. Migo wraps Percy in a sleeping bag, wears him on his huge hairy chest like a Baby Bjorn, and begins to climb back up to the peak of the mountain.

This is where most movies for children start to move toward the themes of friendship, home, and believing in yourself. But “Smallfoot” goes in a different direction, somewhere between “The Matrix’s” blue pill/red pill choice between being safe and knowing the truth and “Black Panther’s” choice between isolationism and, despite the risks, finding a way to help and learn from others. Migo learns the reason for the Stonekeeper’s insistence on perpetuating the myths of the Yeti world, and he has to consider carefully whether it is worth putting his friends and family at risk in order to learn the truth.

This is some pretty existential stuff. “If I’m not the gong ringer, who am I?” Migo asks. It is heartening in this era of fake news, when it is tempting to outsource our knowledge base to our devices, to have a movie about curiosity, critical thinking, and challenging the status quo.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language, brief potty humor, action/cartoon-style peril (no one hurt), and discussions of past violence.

Family discussion: When did you find that curiosity led you to something you would never have expected? Why didn’t the Stonekeeper want anyone to know the truth? Who should decide what knowledge is available?

If you like this, try: “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “Surf’s Up!”

The Four Previous Versions of “A Star Is Born”(Plus the Real Story)

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
One of the biggest films of the year is the latest version of “A Star is Born,” written and directed by Bradley Cooper and co-starring Cooper and Lady Gaga. The story of the fading star with substance abuse problems who helps — and loves — a talented newcomer has been filmed under that title twice before, and once before that as “What Price Hollywood?” And it is inspired by the true story of two of the biggest names in show business in the 1920’s-30’s.

What Price Hollywood? George Cukor directed the version starring Constance Bennet as a Brown Derby waitress who meets director Lowell Sherman when she waits on him at the restaurant. While this is not explicitly the source of the following versions, and the waitress and director do not get married (because he is too noble), the essence of the story is all there, including (SPOILER ALERT) the suicide of the male character.

A Star is Born

Dorothy Parker and her husband were two of the scriptwriters who worked on the glossy drama starring Frederic March and Janet Gaynor that has been the basis for three remakes (so far). She’s a waitress who catches the eye of a fading movie star. He gets her a screen test, the studio changes her name, he embarrasses her at an award ceremony, and when his drinking gets worse, she quits her job to care for him.

A Star is Born

Broadway legend Moss Hart contributed to this musical update, again directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It’s long and unwieldy (some excised scenes were partially added for re-release), but it has unforgettable moments like this one.

A Star is Born

Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson star in the 1976 version, which won an Oscar for Best Song. Reportedly, she tried to persuade Elvis Presley to take the role.

A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper says he was inspired to make the film by being backstage at a Metallica concert. He wrote, directed and stars opposite Lady Gaga. She may repeat her predecessor’s experience with a Best Song Oscar for this one.

Certainly there are many possible inspirations for the story, but most people think that one of the likeliest possibilities is the marriage of Al Jolson, one of the biggest stars in the country during the era of vaudeville and radio, and Ruby Keeler, who became a huge star in the early days of talkies.

Bradley Cooper on A Star is Born

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers
Lady Gaga plays Ally, who becomes a star in what is the 4th or 5th version of this classic story, depending on whether you count “What Price Hollywood.” Lady Gaga herself becomes an instant movie star as already-star Bradley Cooper becomes an instant writing and directing and maybe even singing star in one of the year’s biggest releases.

I wrote about Bradley Cooper, who spoke about the film at the first non-festival screening for The Credits.

An excerpt:

Cooper said the moment that inspired the film was at a Metallica concert. “About seven years ago I was lucky enough to be backstage at a Metallica concert at Yankee Stadium. I had met Lars Ulrich, and I listened to Metallica when I was 14 years old. That’s why the character says, ‘Ride the lightning’ in Silver Linings Playbook. At the concert, I was behind the drum kit, and I could see the sweat on the back of Lars’ neck, and at the same time, I could see the scope of the audience in front of him. It was a beautiful proscenium, and that was the first moment where I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that on film, the subjective eye that could actually be epic and personal at the same time. And that was the beginning of the idea of how we were going to shoot all of the concert sequences that you just saw. It is all subjective. We never left the stage. But hopefully, you felt the scope of where they were.”

The concert scenes feel authentic because they are. Cooper filmed at real performance spaces, including the largest privately owned music festival in the world, Glastonbury, where they had just eight minutes to shoot before a performance by the star of the last version of A Star is Born, Kris Kristofferson.

Cooper said, “I had the luxury of having worked so often on camera and on stage, so I knew what I needed from a director as an actor in order to feel comfortable enough. As Al Pacino said, ‘We’re just trying to grab a few moments of authenticity.’ It’s important to create a space so that all the actors feel completely safe but also to know that it’s going to be hard. They’re going to have to go to places that scare them. They’re going to know that I’m right there with them. I’m not on the sidelines. It’s going to be okay to fail, but they have to risk. I have no desire for them to sit here and watch something that does not mean anything, that isn’t really personal to them and to me. Everybody wants to express the deepest part of themselves to another human being and feel safe about that. It’s very cathartic and healing.”