Celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday with Great Family Films

Posted on February 12, 2022 at 6:00 am

Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

lincoln photograph

Celebrate the birthday of our 16th President with some of the classic movies about his life. Reportedly, he has been portrayed more on screen than any other real-life character.  I was honored to be invited to participate in the 272-word project from the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois.  Each of us was asked to contribute an essay that was, like the Gettysburg Address, just 272 words.  Here’s mine:

Two score and six years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, he was first portrayed in the brand-new medium of film. 102 years and over 300 films later, Lincoln has appeared on screen more than any other historical figure and more than any other character except for Sherlock Holmes. In 2013 alone there were three feature films about Abraham Lincoln, one with an Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg. In another one, he was a vampire slayer. He has been portrayed by Henry Fonda (John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln,” Raymond Massey (“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”), Walter Huston (D.W. Griffith’s “Abraham Lincoln”), and Bing Crosby – in blackface (“Holiday Inn”). The movies have shown us Lincoln defending clients, mourning Ann Rutledge, courting Mary Todd, and serving as President. We have also seen him traveling through time with a couple of California teenagers in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and granting amnesty to Shirley Temple’s Confederate family in “The Littlest Rebel.”

Lincoln is appealingly iconic as a movie character, instantly recognizable as a symbol of America’s most cherished notion of ourselves: unpretentious but aspiring for a better world and able to find both the humor and integrity in troubled times. In every film appearance, even the silliest and most outlandish, he reminds us, as he did in The Gettysburg Address, of what is most essential in the American character: the search for justice.

PS My husband and I waited for two hours outdoors on a frozen January 1 to view the Emancipation Proclamation on its 150th anniversary. When I saw it, I wept. A security guard whispered, “I know how you feel.”

The Steven Spielberg epic, Lincoln is based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, with Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

Young Mr. Lincoln Directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda, this is an appealing look at Lincoln’s early law practice and his tragic romance with Ann Rutledge. Particularly exciting and moving are the scenes in the courtroom as Lincoln defends two brothers charged with murder. Both have refused to talk about what happened, each thinking he is protecting the other, and Lincoln has to find a way to prove their innocence.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois Raymond Massey in his signature role plays Lincoln from his days as a rail-splitter to his law practice and his debates with Stephen Douglas. Ruth Gordon plays his wife, Mary.

Gore Vidal’s Lincoln Sam Waterston and Mary Tyler Moore star in this miniseries that focuses on Lincoln’s political strategies and personal struggles.

Young_Mr_Lincoln_Henry_Fonda

Sandburg’s Lincoln Hal Holbrook plays Lincoln in this miniseries based on the biography by poet Carl Sandberg.

The History Channel has both a documentary and a miniseries about Lincoln.

I’m a huge fan of the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. So is Conan O’Brien.

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Twelve Great Christmas Movies for Families that Aren’t A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, or A Christmas Story

Posted on December 7, 2021 at 7:41 pm

I love the classic Christmas movies and watch as many as I can every year.  But there are many great Christmas films that don’t get mentioned as often and I like to remind families that these are worth making time for as well.

1.  The Nativity Story  This sincere and respectful story is a good way to remember that Christmas is about more than presents and parties.  “Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes has a shy but dignified and resolute air and she glows believably as the very young woman who is selected as the mother of Jesus. And “Star Wars” heart-throb Oliver Isaac effectively conveys tenderness, doubt, courage, and transcendence as Joseph.

2. A Christmas Memory Truman Capote’s bittersweet memory of his childhood Christmas making fruitcakes with his elderly cousin, the only relative who cared about him is beautifully filmed with the magnificent Geraldine Page and Capote himself reading the narration.

3. Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas The California Raisins guys put together this Christmas special, with the highlight the funniest-ever performance of “Carol of the Bells.”

4. Come to the Stable Loretta Young and Celeste Holm are French nuns trying to raise money to build a hospital.  Their faith and goodness transforms those they meet.

5. Little Women “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is the first line of this classic novel based on the loving if sometimes tumultuous family of author Louisa May Alcott.  The movie opens with an important Christmas lesson about the joy of giving. All three feature film versions are great family films.

6. Klaus A Christmas traditions origin story begins with a spoiled son of a wealthy family sent away to learn responsibility by delivering letters in a bitterly divided town. It is a beautifully animated Netflix film with voice talent that includes Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones.

7. This Christmas I love this movie about a family with five adult children who return home to celebrate Christmas with their mother and youngest brother.  The outstanding cast includes Regina King, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, and Chris Brown.  Be sure to watch through the credits to see a great dance number.

8. Desk Set Before Google, companies had human beings to track down information. Katherine Hepburn plays the head of the all-female research department for a television network and Spencer Tracy is the engineer who is installing the company’s first computer, which takes up a whole wall and uses punch cards and vacuum tubes. Sparks fly — and not just in the equipment.

9. Die Hard Bruce Willis plays a cop visiting his estranged wife at her office Christmas party when the building is taken over by bad guys led by Alan Rickman in this action-movie classic. And yes, it is a Christmas movie!

10. The Man Who Invented Christmas Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens who has just a few weeks to write a book in the midst of family conflict and financial pressures. It is a lot of fun to see the way he draws inspiration — and insight — from the people and problems he encounters and the end result is the ultimate classic, A Christmas Carol.

11. Home Alone This comedy smash hit stars Macauley Culkin as a little boy who is accidentally left home when his family goes away for the holidays and has to take care of himself and guard the house from a couple of inept thieves.  The slapstick is a bit over the top but the message of Christmas is surprisingly touching.

12. Annie The story of the plucky orphan from the comic pages became one of the biggest Broadway musicals of all time and one of its highlights is Christmas with Daddy Warbucks.

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Happy Thanksgiving! Family Movies About Thanksgiving Gatherings

Posted on November 21, 2021 at 10:42 pm

Copyright 1973 United Features Syndicate

There are some great Thanksgiving movies for adults. And here are some for the whole family to share.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving This is the one with the famous episode about Charlie Brown trying to kick the football Lucy keeps snatching away from him. And Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving and he is too kind-hearted to tell her that he won’t be there because his family is going to his grandmother’s. When the Peanuts gang comes over for a feast prepared by Charlie Brown himself, Patty gets angry at being served toast and jelly beans. But when she realizes how hard her friend tried to be hospitable, she learns what gratitude really means.

Dora’s Thanksgiving Parade Dora the Explorer has to save the day when the parade float gets away.

Squanto and the First Thanksgiving , Native American actor Graham Greene and musician Paul McCandless tell the story of Squanto’s extraordinary generosity and leadership in reaching out to the Pilgrims after he had been sold into slavery by earlier European arrivals in the New World.

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Jacqueline Bisset stars in this warm-hearted tale, based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women).

My favorite Thanksgiving movies are “What’s Cooking?” with four families preparing for the holiday and “Pieces of April,” about a family, including a terminally ill mother, driving to an estranged daughter for Thanksgiving. Both are funny, touching, and wise. Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude for being together, even the crazy parts. It’s good to be back together.

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Movies for Veterans Day 2021

Posted on November 11, 2021 at 6:00 am

Veterans Day is a time for us to pay our respects to those who have served.

Copyright 2019 Warner Brothers

This holiday started as a day to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in our country’s service and was originally called Armistice Day. It fell on Nov. 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” in order to account for all veterans in all wars.

We celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

This year, Midway is in theaters to remind us of the immeasurable dedication and courage of our WWII military.

Some movies for families to watch about real-life US military:

WWI

They Shall Not Grow Old On the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, Peter Jackson used 21st century technology to make archival footage and audio feel contemporary, to make the experience of these men seem as though it happened to people we know.

1917 Two young soldiers are sent on a very dangerous mission to deliver a vital message. Remarkably, this film seems like it was all one continuous shot, a breathtaking achievement.

WWII

Band of Brothers Historian Stephen Ambrose’s book was made into a stirring miniseries about “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, from jump training in the United States through its participation in major actions in Europe, up until the end of the war.

Korean War

M*A*S*H is a dark anti-war comedy based on the real-life experiences of an Army surgeon. It inspired the long-running television series.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War The documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tells the story.

Persian Gulf War/Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jarhead Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Sam Mendes’ film based on the memoir of Anthony Swofford’ about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I.

Restrepo is a documentary about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, serving in a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.

American Sniper Bradley Cooper stars as the late Chris Kyle, a top sniper who served four tours of duty in Iraq, and then was killed by a veteran he was trying to help after he got home.

The Messenger Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster play soldiers who have the hardest job of all, notifying families that someone they love has been killed.

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Halloween Movies for Families — 2021

Posted on October 26, 2021 at 8:00 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. Movies for families to share are especially important this year, as there won’t be much trick-or-treating or many Halloween parties.

Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Party, with 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 (now on Netflix), which 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 Halloween treat from Netflix, 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, fun, and, I hope, soon to be followed by Chapter 2. Over at DisneyPlus, “Muppets Haunted Mansion” combines all the Muppet favorites with one of the most popular attractions at the Disney theme parks.

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 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 Pocus, with children 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.   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.

LAIKA’s 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 in a story about a Halloween character who wonders what it would be like to be part of a happy holiday like Christmas. 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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