Family Movies for the Homebound: Part III — A Special List of Movies About Kids Playing Chess

Posted on March 28, 2020 at 6:53 pm

Copyright hugrakka 2008

If you have some extra time at home together, it’s a good time to teach kids to play chess. It teaches patience, sportsmanship, and strategy. As is often said, chess is a pool in which a mosquito may sip and an elephant may bathe. So even a young child can learn and even an experienced player can learn more. Plus there are some great movies about real-life children and teenage chess players.

Brooklyn Castle: P.S. 318 is a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school. And its students have won more national chess championships than any other in the country. So this is a touching and inspiring story of triumph and what can be accomplished in spite of the most daunting of obstacles if there is someone who believes in you. And it is a story of the joys of intellectual passion and a game that goes back centuries, even in an era of saturation in digital media. There is much of what you expect — gifted kids, dedicated teacher, tense anticipation, thrilling victories. The characters are endearing and their stories are stirring.

The Queen of Katwe: An illiterate girl from the slums of Uganda became an internationally ranked chess champion. So of course there is a Disney movie. But director Mira Nair has not made the usual feel-good underdog story. It is a wonderfully rich depiction of a family and a culture, as complex in its way as a master-level chess game with intricate moves by many pieces with different strengths and vulnerabilities.

The Dark Horse: It would be so easy — and so wrong — to make this true story of a Maori chess champion who struggles with mental illness as he teaches underprivileged kids into a safe, simple, saccharine, uplifting story. But writer/director James Napier Robertson, who himself played hundreds of chess games with real-life speed chess champion Genesis Potini, trusts his story and his audience enough to give us a film that is refreshingly messy, even grungy, and therefore much more powerful.

Endgame: “Modern Family’s” Rico Rodriguez stars in this story of the grandson of a chess champion who joins his school team as they prepare for the state finals.

Searching for Bobby Fischer: Based on the real-life story of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (real life chess player Max Pomeranc), this is a very thoughtful exploration of choices and parenting and what it means to have a full life, with a powerhouse cast including Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, and Joe Mantegna, along with William H. Macy, David Paymer, and Laura Linney.

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For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Not specified

Family Movies for The Homebound — Part II

Posted on March 25, 2020 at 7:54 am

Copyright 2006 Lionsgate

More great family movies to share while we stay safe at home:

Bells are Ringing: The adorable Judy Holliday in her signature role as Ella Peterson, who, in the days before voicemail and texting, worked for a small company that took and delivered phone messages in New York. She enjoyed putting on a French accent for phone calls to a French restaurant and pretending to be Santa for a mother whose boy wouldn’t eat his spinach. And she especially enjoyed the wake-up calls for a playwright working on his first script without his long-time writing partner. When she starts to meet the people on the other end of the phone, she changes their lives, and they change hers. The terrific cast includes Jean Stapleton, Dean Martin, Frank Gorshin, and Eddie Foy. Jr. and the classic songs include “Just in Time.”

Akeelah and the Bee: Keke Palmer plays a young girl with a talented for spelling and Laurence Fishburne plays her irascible coach. His “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” co-star Angela Bassett plays Akeelah’s mother. It’s an inspiring story of dreams, determination, and community.

Spellbound: And while we’re in the mood for spelling bees, be sure to watch this thrilling documentary about the annual Scripps-Howard spelling bee, with children under 14 competing to spell words even highly educated grown-ups would be daunted by. The featured kids come from a wide variety of families, from an undocumented Texas girl to the daughter of a single mother in Washington D.C. who calls herself a “prayer warrior” to the Indian-American boy whose grandfather paid 1000 people in India to pray for him.

Blinded by the Light: This neglected gem from last year is based on the real-life story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who as a teenager in Thatcher-era Great Britain, found that the songs of Bruce Springsteen were truer about his life than anything he heard from his immigrant family or racist community. Few films depict as joyously the thrill of finding who you are through music that reveals you to yourself.

Masterminds: This is by no means a great movie, but it is very entertaining. Think “Die Hard” in a posh private school. A rebellious teenage happens to be in his step-sister’s school when it is taken over by a brilliant “mastermind” who holds the children for ransom. Future “Mad Men” star Vincent Kartheiser plays the teenager and the villain is an all-in Patrick Stewart.

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More Movies to Watch at Home: Recommendations from The Washington Post, AWFJ, and Rogerebert.com

Posted on March 24, 2020 at 10:57 am

Great recommendations for movies to watch at home from my friends and colleagues:

The Washington Post:

This is a great list, with Martin Scorsese’s quirky comedy “After Hours,” my favorite film of last year, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” and the under-seen documentary that is a powerful reminder of what connects all humans, “Life in a Day.”

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists:

This is a wildly varied assortment, reflecting the wide range of the AWFJ’s members. It includes Drew Barrymore’s roller derby film “Whip It,” the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG,” the zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” and Barbra Streisand’s Oscar-winning performance in “Funny Girl.”

Rogerebert.com editor Brian Tallerico has put together all of the resources for watching the films that Roger Ebert certified as “great.” Try “Diva,” “M,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” and “On the Waterfront.”

And the contributors to rogerebert.com have also suggested some of our favorites, including one of the craziest movies of all time, “Madame Satan,” which we showed here in Washington as a part of our pre-Code series.

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Family Movies for The Homebound

Posted on March 16, 2020 at 8:49 pm

Copyright 1999 Dreamworks
We all say we wish we had more quality family time. Well, here it is. Many parents will be looking for some good options for family viewing time, and here are some of our family’s favorites, all available on streaming services.

The Court Jester: This one has it all, action, comedy, romance, a brave heroine, and Danny Kaye singing. The “vessel with the pestle” scene is a comedy classic, but the semi-hypnotized sword fight (with Basil Rathbone!) is every bit as good.

The Dick van Dyke Show: When I was in 6th grade I was asked to write an essay about my favorite television show and I picked this one. Decades later, it’s still the top of my list. Inspired by Carl Reiner’s years as a writer on the popular variety series “Your Show of Shows,” it has one of the greatest ensembles in television history: Dick van Dyke as the head writer with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as his colleagues and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife. Reiner made occasional appearances as the egotistical star of the television show within a show. Start with these episodes: Coast to Coast Big Mouth, Never Bathe on Saturday, That’s My Boy, The Curious thing
Big Max Calvada, My Blonde-Haired Brunette, Buddy Can You Spare a Job, and — to see the cast in their own variety show, The Alan Brady Show Goes to Jail. For more: see “My Favorite Year” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” also inspired by the legendary writer’s room for “Your Show of Shows,” which included Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, and Larry Gelbart.

The Great Race: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Natalie Wood star in this wildly entertaining story of an early 20th century car race from New York to Paris. Director Blake Edwards dedicated it to “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy” and it has a delightfully old-school blend of adventure, romance, and slapstick, including the pie fight to end all pie fights and a Prisoner of Zenda-style dual role for Lemmon. The terrific supporting cast includes Peter Falk, Kennan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Ross Martin, and Dorothy Provine.

National Velvet: A young Elizabeth Taylor plays a girl who dreams of owning a horse she names Pie and entering him in England’s biggest race. Micky Rooney gives one of his best performances as the son of a family friend. My all-time favorite movie mother is Anne Revere, who tells her daughter that ” I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life.”

Ball of Fire: Inspired by “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” this sublimely witty romantic comedy has Barbara Stanwyck as a showgirl named Sugarpuss O’Shea hiding out with seven professors, played by six of the all-time great character actors plus Gary Cooper. The screenplay by the “Some Like it Hot” team is so clever you’ll have to watch it two or three times to get all the jokes and it has both a sensational drum solo by Gene Krupa and a swoon-worthy marriage proposal.

Galaxy Quest: Even if you are not a Star Trek fan, you will enjoy this hilarious love letter to television series about space explorers. An all-star cast including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, Tim Allen, and Tony Shaloub play actors from an old but beloved television series who discover that aliens have made their show a reality. If you are a Star Trek fan, you will fall in love with this film, and you should follow it up with the behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film, “Never Surrender” and the great documentary about Star Trek fans, “Trekkies.”

Yellow Submarine: The Beatles have to save the world from Blue Meanies in this trippy, stunningly animated film featuring songs like “All Together Now,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and the title tune.

What We Do in the Shadows: It isn’t easy being a vampire. Your familiar nags you about a promotion. You need tech support so you can’t bite the IT guy. You have to avoid sunlight. Those werewolves are so annoying. And then there is The Beast, who is sure to show up at the annual Unholy Masquerade, a sort of vampire prom. Writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi somehow keep the tone understated and savagely funny. Follow it up with the television series.

Sky High: This neglected gem is a smart, exciting, funny story about a high school for superhero teenagers, where the students are divided up into heroes and sidekicks. There are a lot of surprises in the story and is a lot of fun to see universal adolescent anxieties and experiences filtered through the superhero universe.

This is Spinal Tap: This mockumentary about a fading rock band brought us the classic “It goes to 11” and “There’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.” A comedy classic.

What a Way to Go! Shirley MacLaine stars as a young woman who longs for the simple life but keeps marrying men who become fabulously wealthy. Those husbands are played by an astonishing all-star cast: Dick van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin. Each marriage is portrayed as a different genre of movie, from silent to big-budget romance with over-the-top gowns and sets to fabulous musical (the dance number with Kelly is sensational).

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Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy “What’s Cooking?” and “Pieces of April”

Posted on November 26, 2019 at 8:00 am

My favorite Thanksgiving movies are the delightful “What’s Cooking?” and “Pieces of April.”

What’s Cooking? is a peek at the Thanksgiving celebrations of four families celebrating Thanksgiving with all of the secrets, drama, longing for approval, and, yes, gratitude and love we all face at this time of year. The cast includes Julianna Margulies, Dennis Haysbert, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Mercedes Ruehl, and Joyce Chen.

Pieces of April  is also filled with all of the hopes and pressures of the holiday as an estranged daughter (Katie Holmes) struggles to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for her family, including her mother (Patricia Clarkson) who has terminal cancer.  The cast also includes Derek Luke, Alison Pill, Oliver Platt, and Sean Hayes.

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