Movies for the Homebound XIII: Before They Were Famous

Posted on June 23, 2020 at 9:07 am

Copyright Universal 1973
It is fun to look for early appearances of some of today’s biggest stars, including four Avengers.  Here are some great films with the added pleasure of seeing favorite performers before they were famous.

American Graffiti; This classic film about one night in the lives of a group of California teenagers features future stars Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Phillips (the original “One Day at a Time”), and future directors Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith.

“The Frisco Kid: Harrison Ford was not yet a star when he appeared with Gene Wilder in this westerrn about a cowboy and a rabbi.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story: Viola Davis plays a sympathetic therapist in this semi-autobiographical story about a teenager struggling with anxiety and depression who checks himself into a mental hospital.

School Ties: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play classmates of a prep school’s star quarterback (Brendan Fraser) who is forced to conceal that he is a Jew.

Cellular: Before he was an Avenger, Chris Evans appeared in this nifty little thriller about a kidnapped woman (Kim Basinger).

Heart and Souls: And before he was an Avenger, Robert Downey Jr. starred in this bittersweet comedy about a man who has to help four souls complete their destiny so that they can get to heaven.

Mississippi Masala: Denzel Washington was already a successful actor, but not yet a major star when he appeared in his sweet love story about a Black American who falls for an immigrant from India, upsetting both of their families.

The Horse Whisperer: Before she was an Avenger, Scarlett Johansson played a traumatized girl whose mother seeks the help of a man who knows how to gentle horses and people.

Hoot: Another future Avenger, Brie Larson, stars in this story about Florida middle schoolers fighting to protect endangered owls.

Southland Tales: I can’t even begin to tell you what this strange and strangely fascinating movie is about. But I can tell you it has a really fun early appearance by Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). With hair.

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Movies for the Homebound X: Love Stories You Probably Missed

Posted on May 26, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Magnolia 2008
We all love romance. And we’ve all seen the recent classics: “Notting Hill,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Notebook,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and all-time classics like “The Philadelphia Story” and “My Favorite Wife.” (If you haven’t, hey, watch them!) But you probably missed these, and they are all delights and blissfully romantic.

“I Love You Again” The all-time record-holders for romantic movie couples are William Powell and Myrna Loy, who not only created the greatest married couple in the history of movies with the Thin Man series but made other great films as well. “Libeled Lady” is one of the best, but my favorite is this one, about a stiff, stingy man who is hit on the head and discovers he is in fact a con man who has had amnesia for years, during which he got married and worked at a pot factory in a small town. So he decides to set up a swindle until he starts to fall for the woman he married but cannot quite remember. It is clever, sweet, and very funny. And romantic.

“Next Stop Wonderland” This is one of two movies on the list where we fall in love with the lovers before they fall in love with each other. Hope Davis is radiant as a just-dumped (by Philip Seymour Hoffman) woman whose mother takes out a personal ad for her.

“And Now My Love” In this French film, everything that has happened in the lives of two people (and in pretty much everything that has ever happened) seems to be for the purpose of getting two people together. By the time they are about to meet at the very end, we have been on the journey will them and know happy ever after is what comes next.

“Happy Accidents” The writer/director of “Next Stop Wonderland,” Brad Anderson, also wrote and directed this sweet story with Marisa Tomei as a young woman with a history of bad relationships who meets a man who seems great except that he insists he is a time traveler from the future.

“Ira and Abby” Jennifer Westfelft wrote and stars in the story of a man who has just gotten out of a relationship because he could not commit (a terrific Chris Messina) and impulsively marries the slightly nutty but very charming and warm-hearted young woman he meets at a gym (Westfeldt).

“The Baxter” If you’ve seen a romantic comedy, you’ve seen a wedding that was interrupted at the last minute when the bride’s true love burst in to carry her off. Well, according to his film, the poor loser left at the alter is called “the Baxter.” And this movie is the story of the Baxter, played by Michael Showalter, with an outstanding cast that includes Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, and Justin Theroux, with a sensational performance by Peter Dinklage as a wedding planner.

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Happy Mother’s Day! Some of My Favorite Movie Mothers

Posted on May 10, 2020 at 11:11 am

Some of the movies featured in my book, 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers.

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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