Free Book on the Best Movie Mothers!

Posted on May 10, 2024 at 7:44 am

Happy Mother’s Day! My ebook, 50 Must-See Movie Mothers, is free May 10-14 on Amazon.

Copyright Miniver Press 2015

The movies have given us warm, loving, mothers (Marmee in “Little Women,” Sally Field in “Places in the Heart”), evil, abusive mothers (Gladys Cooper in “Now, Voyager,” Jackie Weaver in “Animal Kingdom,” Anjelica Huston in “The Grifters”), even alien mothers (“Alien,” “Enemy Mine”).  Some recent great movie mothers include Carrie Coon in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” Viola Davis in “Air,” and America Ferrara in “Barbie.”

Here are some of my favorites from classic films:

Claudia Before they went on to co-star in the luminous romance, “The Enchanted Cottage,” Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young played a young married couple in this sweet neglected gem based on the books by Rose Franken.  Claudia and David love each other very much and he finds her innocence very appealing.  But her immaturity leads to many problems.  A neighbor thinks Claudia is flirting with him and without consulting David she impulsively decides to sell their farm.  And she is very dependent on the loving mother she adores but takes for granted.  Claudia’s is about to face two of life’s most demanding challenges – her mother is dying and Claudia and David are going to become parents themselves.  So Claudia’s mother has to find a way to help Claudia grow up.  Watch for: a rare film appearance by the exquisite Broadway star Ina Claire as Claudia’s mother

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner There are two great mothers in this talky, dated, but still endearing “issue movie” about inter-racial marriage from 1967.  Katharine Hepburn’s real-life niece Katharine Houghton plays her daughter and what Houghton lacks in screen presence and acting experience is less important than the genuine connection and palpable affection between the two of them.  The question may seem quaint now, but as filming was underway, inter-racial marriage was still illegal in 17 states.  The Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional that same year.  Hepburn is electrifying in what she knew would be her final film with her most frequent co-star and real-life great love, Spencer Tracy.  And the distinguished actress Beah Richards is brilliant as the mother of a son who says his father thinks of himself as a “colored man,” while he just thinks of himself as a man.  Watch for: Hepburn’s expression as her daughter describes falling in love

Claudine Diahann Carroll was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as a single mother in this ground-breaking 1974 film, one of the first to portray a domestic employee as a real person with her own home and family, and one of the first to provide an honest look at the perverse incentives of the “Great Society” welfare programs.  Claudine is the mother of six who has to keep her work as a housekeeper and her relationship with a genial garbage worker (James Earl Jones) a secret from the social worker because they put at risk the payments she needs for her children.  Watch for: the very romantic bathtub scene

Dear Frankie Emily Mortimer plays Lizzie, the divorced mother of a young deaf son in this heartwarming story set in Scotland.  She is devoted and very protective.  She does not want him to know the truth about his abusive father (the source of his deafness), so she tells him that his father is a merchant seaman.  The letters he receives from all the ports of call full of details about all the places he has been are really written by Lizzie. When the ship comes to their town, she has to find someone to pretend to be his father.  Watch for: Lizzie’s explanation of the reason she writes to Frankie —  “because it’s the only way I can hear his voice”

Imitation of Life This melodrama about two single mothers, one white and one black, who join forces has been filmed twice and both are worth seeing.  The best remembered is the glossy, glamorous 1959 version with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore.  Lora (Turner) and Annie (Moore) are brought together by their daughters, who meet at Coney Island.  Lora, a struggling actress, needs someone to help look after her daughter and Annie needs a job and a place to live.  Annie moves in to be the housekeeper/nanny.  She and Lora have a strong, supportive friendship, though Lora and both girls take Annie for granted.  As the girls grow up, Lora’s daughter is resentful of the time her mother spends on her career and Annie’s daughter resents the racism she confronts even though her skin is so light she can pass for white.  Watch for: the most elaborate funeral scene ever put on film, with a sobbing apology from Annie’s daughter (Susan Kohner)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies Doris Day stars in this film loosely based on Jean Kerr’s hilarious essays about life as Kate, the wife of a theater critic (David Niven) and mother of four rambunctious boys.  While most of the film’s focus is on the marital strains caused by her husband’s new job and the family’s new home, the scenes of Kate’s interactions with her children are among the highlights.  It is clear that while she tries to be understated about her affection and sometimes frustration, she adores them.  Watch for: Kate’s affectionate interactions with her own mother, played by Spring Byington

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Free for Veteran’s Day: The Oral History of Black American Military in Korea

Posted on November 10, 2021 at 6:00 am

Copyright 2015 Miniver Press

In honor of Veteran’s Day, John Holway’s extraordinary book, Bloody Ground: Black Rifles in Korea is free from November 10-12. (It’s also available on paperback for $18).

In Bloody Ground, Black soldiers tell their own stories about fighting in the Korean War. Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge. Korea was also our last segregated war. This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way. It’s a good thing we weren’t with Custer,” one black GI muttered – “they’d have blamed the whole thing on us.” The 24th won the first battle of the war, won its division’s first Medal of Honor, and guarded the shortest and most vulnerable road to Pusan. If the port had fallen, the war would have been lost, leaving a red dagger pointed at Japan. It did not fall. That winter, after the Chinese attacked, the entire American army bugged out in perhaps the worst military disaster in American history. “That,” said another black veteran, “was when I learned that whites could run as fast as blacks.” This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.

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How We Got to Sesame Street

Posted on May 11, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Simon and Schuster 2020

There’s a terrific history of Sesame Street by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker, based in part on a terrific new book called Sunny Days: the Children’s Television Revolution that Changed America by David Kamp. I appreciated the mention of my dad, who, as Kamp’s book reveals, played a critical role in obtaining the first funding for the show. I remember his telling us about it at family dinners, and I was lucky enough to watch the very first episode, which I loved instantly.

Half a century ago, before “Sesame Street,” and long before the age of quarantine, kids under the age of six spent a crazy amount of time indoors, watching television, a bleary-eyed average of fifty-four hours a week. In 1965, the year the Johnson Administration founded Head Start, Lloyd Morrisett, a vice-president of the Carnegie Corporation with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Yale, got up one Sunday morning, at about six-thirty, a half hour before the networks began their day’s programming, to find his three-year-old daughter, Sarah, lying on the living-room floor in her pink footie pajamas, watching the test pattern. She’d have watched anything, even “The Itty-Bitty, Farm and City, Witty-Ditty, Nitty-Gritty, Dog and Kitty, Pretty Little Kiddie Show.”

Not much later, Morrisett fell into a dinner-party conversation with Joan Ganz Cooney, a public-affairs producer at New York’s Channel 13. The first time Cooney had seen a television set was in 1952, when she watched Adlai Stevenson accept the Democratic nomination. She’d gone on to champion Democratic causes and had moved from Phoenix to New York to work at Channel 13, where her documentary projects included “A Chance at a Beginning,” about a preschool program in Harlem. As David Kamp reports in “Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America” (Simon & Schuster), both Cooney and Morrisett were caught up in Lyndon Johnson’s vision of a Great Society, his War on Poverty, and the promise of the civil-rights movement, and they’d both been stirred by a speech delivered in 1961 by Newton Minow, President Kennedy’s F.C.C. chairman, which called television a “vast wasteland.” Minow, a former law partner of Stevenson’s, had gone on to rescue Channel 13’s public-broadcast mandate during a takeover bid. At that dinner party, Cooney and Morrisett got to talking about whether public-minded television might be able to educate young kids.

Educational television for preschoolers seemed to solve two problems at once: the scarcity of preschools and the abundance of televisions. At the time, half of the nation’s school districts didn’t have kindergartens. To address an achievement gap that had persisted long after Brown v. Board of Education, it would have been better to have universal kindergarten, and universal preschool, but, in the meantime, there was universal television. “More households have televisions than bathtubs, telephones, vacuum cleaners, toasters, or a regular daily newspaper,” Cooney noted in a Carnegie-funded feasibility study, “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education.” With that report in hand, Morrisett arranged for a million-dollar grant that allowed Cooney to begin development of a show with no other title than “Early Childhood Television Program.” In a fifty-five-page 1968 proposal, “Television for Preschool Children,” Cooney reported the results of a national study of the increasingly sophisticated scholarship on child development: she’d travelled the country, interviewing scholars and visiting preschools to find out about what was called, at the time, the “sandbox-to-classroom revolution”—the pressing case for intellectual stimulation for three-, four-, and five-year-olds.

That proposal brought in the eight million dollars in foundation and government funding that made possible the founding of the nonprofit Children’s Television Workshop and the production of the first season of the still unnamed “Early Childhood Television Program.” “Nothing comparable to such a program now exists on television,” Cooney observed. “Captain Kangaroo,” broadcast on CBS beginning in 1955, had educational bits, but it was mainly goofy. (Bob Keeshan, who played the captain, had started out as a Sideshow Bob clown named Clarabell on “Howdy Doody” and then starred as Corny the Clown on ABC’s “Time for Fun.”) “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a half-hour show produced by WQED, in black-and-white, had gone national in 1968, but reached mainly a middle-class audience. The new show would be broadcast nationally, every weekday, for an hour, in color; it would be aimed at all children, from all socioeconomic backgrounds; it would be explicitly educational, with eight specific learning objectives drawn from a list devised by experts; and its format would be that of a “magazine” made up of “one- to fifteen-minute segments in different styles”—animation, puppetry, games, stories. The “Early Childhood Television Program” would also be an experiment: its outcome would be measured.

Cooney put together a board of academic advisers, chaired by the developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser, and in 1968 she began a series of seminars loosely affiliated with the Harvard School of Education, where Lesser was a professor. To one of those seminars, she later recalled, “this bearded, prophetic figure in sandals walks in and sits way at the back, ram-rod straight, staring ahead with no expression on his face.” She thought that he might be a member of the Weather Underground. She whispered to a colleague, “How do we know that man back there isn’t going to throw a bomb up here or toss a hand grenade?”

“Not likely,” he said. “That’s Jim Henson.”

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Free This Week for 2019 Mother’s Day — 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers

Posted on May 6, 2019 at 7:00 am

Copyright Columbia Pictures 1994

 

In honor of Mother’s Day, my ebook 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers will be free on Amazon from Monday, May 6 to Friday, May 10, 2019.Image

No relationship is more primal, more fraught, more influential, more worried over, more nourishing when good and more devastating when bad that our connection to our mothers. Mom inspires a lot of movies in every possible category, from comedy to romance to drama to crime to animation to horror, from the lowest-budget indie to the biggest-budget prestige film. A lot of women have been nominated for Oscars for playing mothers and just about every actress over age 20 has appeared as a mother in at least one movie. From beloved Marmee in “Little Women” (three great movie versions, a modern-day adaptation, and a PBS miniseries, and a forthcoming film directed by Greta Gerwig) and Mrs. Brown in “National Velvet” to mean moms in “Now Voyager” and “Mommie Dearest.”  Oscar winning classics and neglected gems, based on real-life like Sally Fields in “Places in the Heart” or fantasy like Dumbo’s lullaby-singing elephant mom, these are all must-see movies.

 

 

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Jon Hamm in “Stinker Lets Loose!”

Posted on January 9, 2018 at 3:58 pm

It almost seems like there really was a movie back in 1977 called “Stinker Lets Loose,” part of those affectionately remembered cornpone road films like “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Cannonball Run,” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” There should have been, anyway. And now there sort of is, with the novel and audiobook (exclusively from Audible) starring Jon Hamm.

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Author Mike Sacks and director Eric Martin have created a fully immersive cinematic audio experience with an all-star cast. Stinker teams up with old pals Boner and Jumbo, plus new friends Buck and Rascal the Chimp, for a crazy ride across the highways and byways of Bicentennial America and meets scores of beautiful Southern gals, reams of treacherous villains, and even the Big Man!
Jon Hamm as Stinker
Rhea Seehorn as Gwyneth
Andy Daly as Boner
John DiMaggio as Jumbo and Sheriff Sledge
Paul F. Tompkins as Clarence Macleod and Mr. Walsh
Jessica McKenna as Buck
Kimmy Gatewood as Betty
Mark Gagliardi as Big Red
Justin Michael as Pip
With James Urbaniak as President Jimmy Carter and Jeremiah King
Guest starring Andy Richter as Orville Max and Phillip Baker Hall as the Big Man!
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THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

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