Family Movies for Halloween 2023!

Posted on October 24, 2023 at 8:06 am

Happy Halloween!

Halloween gives kids a thrilling opportunity to act out their dreams and pretend to be characters with great power. But it can also be scary and even overwhelming for the littlest trick-or-treaters. An introduction to the holiday with videos from trusted friends can help make them feel comfortable and excited about even the spookier aspects of the holiday.

Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Partywith a visit to the pumpkin farm, some ideas for Halloween party games and for making Halloween decorations at home, and some safety tips for trick-or-treating at night. They will also get a kick out of Richard Scarry’s The First Halloween Ever, which is Scarry, but not at all scary!

Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest has the beloved little monkey investigating the Legend of “No Noggin.” Disney characters celebrate Halloween in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – Mickey’s Treat.

Witches in Stitches is about witches who find it very funny when they turn their sister into a jack o’lantern. And speaking of jack o’lanterns, Spookley the Square Pumpkin, is sort of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of pumpkins. The round pumpkins make fun of him for being different until a big storm comes and his unusual shape turns out to have some benefits.

Kids from 7-11 will enjoy , A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting. It has gorgeously imagined settings, a great cast, and an exciting story that hits the exact sweet spot between funny-scary and scary-funny. Which means it is exciting and fun. “Muppets Haunted Mansion” combines all the Muppet favorites with one of the most popular attractions at the Disney theme parks, which also inspired this year’s Haunted Mansion live-action film starring Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and  LaKeith Stanfield. If you have Disney+, be sure to watch the Behind the Attraction episode about the creation of the various Haunted Mansions and how each one is designed specifically for its location.

Don’t forget the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the silly fun of What’s New Scooby-Doo: Halloween Boos and Clues. Try The Worst Witch movie and series, about a young witch in training who keeps getting everything wrong. School-age kids will also enjoy The Halloween Tree, an animated version of a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury about four kids who are trying to save the life of their friend. Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock on the original “Star Trek”) provides the voice of the mysterious resident of a haunted house, who explains the origins of Halloween and challenges them to think about how they can help their sick friend. The loyalty and courage of the kids is very touching.

Debbie Reynolds plays a witch who takes her grandchildren on a Halloween adventure in the Disney Channel classic in Halloweentown.  Recent favorites include The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Curse of Bridge Hollow, and Goosebumps.

Older children will appreciate The Witches, based on the popular book by Roald Dahl (the original with Anjelica Huston, not the remake with Anne Hathaway) and Hocus Pocusand the new sequel, with children and teens battling three witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. And of course there is the deliciously ghoulish live-action double feature Addams Family and Addams Family Values based on the cartoons by Charles Addams. Episodes of the classic old television show are online and  there are now two animated films for younger kids. The second is better than the first.  The new Munsters from Rob Zombie is not good, but the original TV series episodes are still fun.

Beetlejuice is a classic, now even a Broadway musical. I’m fond of Beautiful Creatures, based on the best-selling YA novels about a witchy family in the American South.

ParaNorman and Monster House  are two wonderful movies that should become a  family Halloween tradition. Frankenweenie,  Igor, and the Hotel Transylvania series are also a lot of fun.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has gorgeous music from Danny Elfman and stunningly imaginative visuals from Tim Burton and Henry Selick in a story about a Halloween character who wonders what it would be like to be part of a happy holiday like Christmas. Selick’s Coraline, based on the book by Neil Gaiman, is wildly imaginative andhis 2022 film, “Wendell & Wild,” was co-written with Jordan Peele, who lends his voice to the film with his longtime colleague Keegan-Michael Key.

And don’t forget old classics like The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. (horror/comedy treats) and the omnibus ghost story films Dead of Night and The House that Dripped Blood.

Looking for a romantic comedy for Halloween? Try Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and Jack Lemmon in “Bell Book and Candle.”

Or Frederic March and Veronica Lake in “I Married a Witch.”

Happy Halloween!

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Killers of the Flower Moon

Posted on October 19, 2023 at 5:34 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some grisly images, and language
Profanity: Strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence including murder, guns, explosions
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 20, 2023

Copyright AppleTV 2023
Martin Scorsese brings everything he knows to the fact-based epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” everything he knows about filmmaking and everything he knows about the conflicts and betrayals in American history, despite all efforts to remove them from curricula and libraries, continue to pulsate through our culture.

The film is based on the prize-winning book of the same name by David Grann, set about a century ago in Oklahoma. America forcibly relocated the Osage tribal members to a part of the country they thought was valueless. Times change. Technology changes. And it turned out that what was under that land was suddenly accessible and valuable: oil. The bounty the Osage never sought brought them riches they never dreamed of. The money brought the kind of people who will do anything to get it. That includes bending the law to the breaking point, with the government placing severe restrictions on Osage access to the money, appointing white “guardians” to oversee every expenditure and getting paid to do so, exploitation and con artists, price gouging, getting access to the money by marrying Osage women, and murder.

As the film begins, the approximately 2000 Osage are among the most prosperous communities in the world. They live in gracious, beautifully appointed homes. They have white servants. The women wear the latest fashions and expensive jewelry. Their towns are vibrant and modern. They go to a white church but retain many of their tribal traditions.

The most prominent white member of the community is William King Hale (Robert De Niro). “Call me King,” he says genially but meaningfully to his nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a WWI veteran who has just arrived in town. Ernest swiftly moves from driver to husband to Mollie, one of the Osage sisters who are prominent holders of “headrights” to the revenues from the oil, yet still needing permission to spend the money. Those rights cannot be sold or given away, but they can be inherited. So, many white men, like Ernest who candidly admits that he loves money and liquor and hates to work, marry Osage women, putting them in line to inherit. Even better if they can accelerate that transfer by accelerating their deaths.

Spectacular production design by Jack Fisk and cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (who also did “Barbie,” so he’s having quite a year), editing by Scorsese favorite Thelma Schoonmaker, and music from The Band’s Robbie Robertson (who grew up on a native reservation) create a world that is vivid and specific but also a metaphor that resonates with America’s founding themes and failures to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence. Mollie and her sisters are doubly restricted as Indians and women and Mollie is additionally vulnerable because she has diabetes. At the sometimes poisonous heart of the film is the Ernest/Mollie relationship. From their first magnetic conversation when Mollie accurately but somehow also fondly calls Ernest a coyote who wants money, the themes of love and betrayal intertwine. Ernest’s increasing corruption shows on DiCaprio’s face, disintegrating like Dorian Gray’s portrait. De Niro shows us Hale’s smooth veneer, as he pretends to be devoted to the Osage, especially Mollie and her sisters, and as he speaks of murder as though he is making plans for a picnic. A white man is asked to kill someone and instantly refuses until he is told the target is an Indian. That alters the transaction. And it makes clear the othering that expands as the envy of the white Oklahomans distorts their thinking.

The book focuses on the pre-FBI investigator (Jesse Plemons, genial, implacable, incorruptible, and determined) working under J. Edgar Hoover, the movie, with a script by Scorsese and Eric Roth, wisely makes Mollie the center. Gladstone is a wonder, showing us her mingled love for her husband and her people, her devastating grief over the loss of her family, and her growing recognition that she has been betrayed. The film calls on us to keep watching her face, calm to the point of stoicism as she sits with her grief and her shrinking options.

The film takes its time, over 3 1/2 hours, but every minute is earned. This is a rare film that is not just excellent, but important.

Parents should know this is a fact-based story of racism, plunder, murder and exploitation. Characters are in peril and are murdered by guns and an explosion and fire. There is an attempted murder by poison and references to suicide. There are intense and graphic images. Characters use strong language, drink, and smoke.

Family discussion: Is there a way to find justice for these abuses? Who should be responsible? What does the relationship between Mollie and Ernest symbolize about the relationship between the US and its people?

If you like this, try: the book and the documentary, and read this piece by Sarah Knight Adamson

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The Burial

Posted on October 12, 2023 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Strong language, racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: References to violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 13, 2023

The old lawyer’s adage is: When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts and the law are against you, pound the table. Willie Gary, a sharecroppers son who became one of the most successful litigators of all time, likes to do all three. In this enormously entertaining film based on one of his most satisfying cases, a Biloxi, Mississippi funeral home owner vs a gigantic funeral conglomerate.

Copyright Amazon 2023

It takes place in 1995. Tommy Lee Jones plays Jeremiah O’Keefe, a 75-year-old decorated WWII veteran, father of 13, and respected member of the community who served two terms as the town’s mayor. His one wish is to pass on the family funeral business, including burial insurance, as his father and grandfather did. When the bueiness falls on hard times and he is unable to keep the required amount in the insurance company’s bank account, he reaches out, through his lawyer Mike Allred (Alan Ruck), to an enormous Canadian firm that has been buying up funereal homes. O’Keefe flies to Canada, where he is entertained on the $22 million yacht of the conglomerate’s CEO, Ray Loenwen (Bill Camp). They shake hands on a deal for Loewen to purchase three of O’Keefe’s funeral homes, which will give him the cash he needs to satisfy the insurance regulators.

But months go by and somehow the deal never closes. Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie), a young lawyer O’Keefe has taken on because he is the son of an old friend, suggests that the Loewen offer was never serious, just a tactic to drive the O’Keefe homes into bankruptcy so he could buy them cheaply. Despite Allred’s qualms, O’Keefe decides to sue. Hal recommends a lawyer he’s seen on the television series, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” Willy Gary (Jamie Foxx), who loves to flaunt his mansion and his private plane, called “Wings of Justice.” O’Keefe flies to Florida to watch Gary in action and decides, over Allred’s strong (and admittedly racist) objections to make him lead counsel. They file suit in a county that is majority poor and Black, and that is where the judge and jury will come from.

And so, we sit back in happy anticipation because we know how this is going to end and we know it will be a lot of fun on the way there. Foxx is every bit as electrifying as the man he is portraying, whether at the pulpit or addressing the jury, and his fellow Oscar-winner Jones is superb in the quieter role of a decent man who will not allow others to treat him indecently. Some of the details are adjusted or ramped up for dramatic purposes. For example, the real-life lead counsel for Loewen was a white, male, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, not a young, beautiful Black woman, heading a team of top Black lawyers.

But it is much more fun to see Jurnee Smollett as the entirely fictional Mame Downes, who lives up to her character’s nickname, The Python, as the lead defense counsel hired by Loenwen because of her outstanding credentials, and also because, in the words of the plaintiff’s team, “she out-Blacked and out-womaned us.” Athie has great screen presence as the young lawyer and Amanda Warren is wonderfully warm and elegant as Gloria, Willie’s wife, who gives him some very wise advice. Pamela Reed, a favorite of mine for years, makes us see the relationship O’Keefe and his wife have created over the decades. But Camp, always watchable, is limited here by an under-written bad guy character so one-dimensional he is cartoonish.

Foxx and Lee have a crackling chemistry that makes me hope they work together again. Director/co-writer Maggie Betts keeps their developing friendship through shared values as the heart of the film, with a lively, energetic tone that had the theater audience cheering.

Parents should know that this film has some very strong language including racial epithets used by Black characters and some discussion of racist abuses in the past and in the present day of the film. Characters drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Would you hire Willie Gary? Why didn’t Jerry accept the settlement offer? What would you do with $175 million?

If you like this, try: “Marshall,” about a real-life early case for later Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and read the article that inspired the film

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