Chariots of Fire

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for adult situations and language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense moments of competition
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1981
Date Released to DVD: July 9, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B00284AVN

In honor of the 2012 Olympics in London, this 1981 classic and winner of the Oscar for Best Picture has been reissued.

This is the true story of two athletes who raced in the 1924 Olympics, one a privileged Jewish student at Cambridge (Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams), the other a missionary from Scotland (Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell). Wonderfully evocative of the time and place, with superb performances, the movie shows us the source of the runners’ determination, for one a need to prove his worth to himself and the society that discriminates against him, for the other, a way of connecting to God.

The movie begins with the memorial service for Harold Abrahams, and then goes back to his first day at Cambridge, just after World War I. A speaker reminds the entering class that they must achieve for themselves and for those who were lost in the war. Abrahams is a bit arrogant, but finds friends and impresses the whole university by being the first to meet a long-term challenge and race all the way around the quad within the twelve strokes of the clock at noon.

Liddell is deeply committed to missionary work. But when his sister asks him to give up running so that he can go with her, he explains that “I believe God made me for a purpose. He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Abrahams is devastated when he loses to Liddell, saying he won’t race unless he can win. But his girlfriend reminds him that he can’t win unless he races. Both Abrahams and Liddell make the Olympic team. There is a crisis when Liddell’s event is scheduled for a Sunday, because he will not run on the Sabbath. But Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) graciously allows Liddell his place in a different event, “just for the pleasure of seeing you run,” and both Liddell and Abrahams win.

Both of the athletes must make difficult choices with a great deal of opposition. One uses a coach (who isn’t even English), in defiance of tradition and expectations. The other resists the urging of his sister, the person he loves most, who wants him to quit racing and defies the Prince of Wales, who wants him to race on the Sabbath.

One of the themes of the movie is the problems that the Jewish athlete has dealing with the prejudice of society. The other athlete has to confront the conflict between the dictates of his religion and the requirements of the sport (including the entreaties of the heir to the throne) when he is asked to compete on the Sabbath.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Why was running so important to these men? Was it different for different athletes? Why does Harold Abrahams think of quitting when he loses to Liddell? Have you ever felt that way? What did you do? Why doesn’t Eric’s sister want him to race? Why does he race despite her objections? Why don’t the teachers at Harold Abraham’s school think it is appropriate to have a coach? Would anyone think that today?

This movie deservedly won the Oscars for best picture, screenplay, costume design, and music.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a two-part made for television miniseries called “The First Olympics — Athens 1896,” about the American team entering the first modern Olympics in 1896. It features Louis Jourdan (of “Gigi”), David Caruso (of the original cast of television’s “NYPD Blue”) and David Ogden Stiers (of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”). While it does not have the resonance and meaning (or the production values) of “Chariots of Fire,” it is heartwarming, funny, exciting, and a lovely period piece. Not currently available on video, it usually shows up on television around the time of Olympic competitions. An extremely silly movie about the first modern Olympics is “It Happened in Athens,” with Jayne Mansfield and real-life Olympic athlete Bob Mathias.

“Miracle on Ice,” another made for television movie, is the true story of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, which astonished the world at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Yet another Olympic made for television movie, “The Golden Moment,” is the story of a romance between a Soviet gymnast and an American athlete. Its primary charm is the fact that it takes place at an Olympics in which, in real life, the U.S. never competed — that was the year the U.S. protested the Soviet invasion of Afganistan by boycotting the Moscow Olympics.

See also “Cool Runnings” about the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, “The Bob Mathias Story,” with the real-life decathalon champion playing himself, “The Jesse Owens Story,” with Dorian Harewood as the legendary athlete, and “Babe” with Susan Clark as Babe Deidrickson Zaharias.

On the silly side, try “Animalympics,” an animated spoof of the Olympics with some comical moments, and the very funny “Million Dollar Legs,” with W.C. Fields as the President of Klopstockia, a country entering the Olympics.

And of course Bud Greenspan’s documentaries about the Olympics are always worth watching, for the stories and the personalities as much as for the athletic achievements.

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Holiday

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

After a whirlwind romance at a ski resort, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is on his way to meet his new fiancée, Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). Overwhelmed by the mansion at the address she gave him, he assumes she must be on the staff, and goes to the back door to ask about her. But she is the daughter of the wealthy and distinguished family that occupies the house. He is surprised and amused, and enjoys meeting Julia’s sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn) and brother Ned (Lew Ayres). They promise to help him win over their father, who is likely to object to the engagement, because Johnny is not from an upper-class wealthy family.

Johnny is a poor boy who has worked hard and done very well. Julia likes him because she sees a similarity to her grandfather, who made a fortune. She wants him to do the same, and tells him, “There’s nothing more exciting than making money.” But Johnny, who has just taken the first vacation of his life, only wants to make enough so that he can take a “holiday,” to “find out why I’ve been working.” As the movie begins, he is about to achieve that goal.

Linda thinks this is a great idea. She is something of an outsider in the family, forsaking the huge formal rooms of the mansion for one cozy place upstairs, which she calls “the only home I’ve got.” She tries to persuade Julia and their father that Johnny is right. Even though he completes the deal that gives him enough for his holiday, Johnny gives in and promises Julia to try it her way, and go to work for her father for a while. As her father presents them with a honeymoon itinerary and explains he is arranging for a house and servants for them, Johnny balks. He knows that if he accepts all of this, he will never be able to walk away from it. Julia breaks the engagement, and Linda joins Johnny on his holiday.

Kids should talk about why it was so important to Linda that she be allowed to give the engagement party. Why did Johnny change his mind about trying it Julia’s way? If you were going to take a holiday, what would you do? Remember, this is more than a vacation, it is more like a journey of discovery. Where would you go? What would you hope to find? How do you think people decide what jobs they want to have? Ask your parents what they thought about in choosing their jobs, and whether they ever took (or wanted to take) a “holiday.” What do you think Johhny will do at the end of his holiday? If Linda thought making money was exciting, why didn’t she want to do it herself?

Many kids will identify with the feeling of wanting to take a holiday, to step back from daily life and study the larger picture. The idea that other things are more important than making money and living according to traditional standards of success may also have some appeal. This is a good opportunity to talk with them about what success really means, and about finding the definition within yourself instead of putting too much weight on the definitions of others. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a fortune, of course, just as there is nothing inherently wrThis movie has two exceptionally appealing characters in Johnny’s friends the Potters, played by Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton. Their kindness and wisdom contrasts with the superficial values of the Seton family.

Cary Grant began in show business as an acrobat, and you can see him show off some of that prowess in this movie. The same stars, director, author and scriptwriter worked on another classic, “The Philadelphia Story.”

 

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Lady and the Tramp

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1955
Date Released to DVD: February 6, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0061QD82E

Perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day, Disney’s romantic animated classic “Lady and the Tramp” is out this week for the first time in a Diamond DBD/Blu-Ray combo.

Lady is the pampered cocker spaniel of a couple she knows as “Jim Dear” and “Darling.” Her best friends are Jock (a Scottie) and Trusty (a basset hound who has no sense of smell). They ignore a stray named Tramp. When Darling has a baby, Lady is apprehensive, but Jim Dear and Darling assure her that she is still important to them. The couple has to go away, though, and Aunt Sarah arrives, with her nasty Siamese cats, to care for the baby. The cats make a mess of the living room and Lady gets the blame. Aunt Sarah puts Lady in a muzzle, and Lady, hurt and humiliated, runs away.

She meets Tramp, who finds a way to get the muzzle off with the help of an obliging beaver (Stan Freberg). Then Tramp takes Lady out on the town, ending with a romantic spaghetti dinner at Tony’s restaurant. The next morning, on her way home, she is captured by the dogcatcher. At the pound, she hears from Peg (Peggy Lee) that Tramp is a rogue with many lady friends, and she is disillusioned.

Aunt Sarah gets Lady and takes her home, banishing her to the doghouse. But with Tramp’s help Lady gets inside to save the baby from a rat. The crib is knocked over, and Aunt Sarah blames Tramp. She calls the dogcatcher to take him away. Just in time, Jim Dear and Darling return, and understand what has happened. With the help of Jock and Trusty, they get Tramp back. Trusty is hurt, but not badly, and he and Jock go to visit on Christmas to see Lady and Tramp and meet their new puppies.

This is one of Disney’s best animated films, with an appealing story and memorable music by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke. Kids with new (or expected) siblings may like to talk about Lady’s concerns about the new baby. The way the story is told from the dogs’ perspective may be of interest to younger kids, who are just learning that not everyone sees the same things exactly the same way. And many kids will identify with Lady’s sense of frustration when the adored Siamese cats frame her for destroying the living room.

Parents should know that there are some tense moments and mild peril.

Family Discussion:  Why does Lady think her owners’ names are “Jim Dear” and “Darling?”  Why was Lady worried about what would happen when the baby came?  How did Lady feel when Aunt Sarah blamed her for what the cats did? Why didn’t Lady like Tramp at first? What made her change her mind?

Activities: Make up a story about what might happen with the puppies after the movie ends. And have a spaghetti dinner!

If you like this, try: other Disney animated classics like “Pinocchio” and “101 Dalmatians”

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Singin’ in the Rain

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1952
Date Released to DVD: July 16, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0087YYHZU

The 60th anniversary of one of the best-loved movies of all time is being celebrated with gorgeous new DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

Silent movie star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is paired on screen with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan), who would like to be paired with him offscreen as well. But Lina’s personality is as grating as her squeaky, nasal voice. She is mean, selfish, arrogant, and stupid. Chased by fans following the opening of their latest movie, Don jumps into the car of Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), who tells him she is a serious actress, and not at all interested in the movies. But later, at a party celebrating the new movie, Kathy appears again, jumping out of a cake. Don teases her about her “art” and she throws a pie at him, getting Lina right in the face by mistake. Lina, furious, has Kathy fired.

At the party, the guests are treated to an exhibition of the latest technology, “talking pictures.” Everyone present dismisses it as a novelty. But when “The Jazz Singer” becomes a hit, everyone in Hollywood begins to make talkies. Production is halted on the latest Lockwood/Lamont movie, “The Dueling Cavalier,” while the stars are coached in vocal technique (with a delightful song mocking the exercises, “Moses Supposes”). But the movie is a disaster. Test audiences jeer and laugh.

Meanwhile, Don and Kathy have fallen in love. After an all-night session, Don, Kathy, and Don’s best friend, Cosmo (Donald O’Connor), come up with an idea. They can make it into a musical, “The Dancing Cavalier,” dubbing Kathy’s voice for Lina’s. Don resists at first, because it is unfair to Kathy. But they persuade him that it will just be this one time, and he goes along.

With Kathy’s voice and some musical numbers, the movie is a success. Lina insists that Kathy continue to dub all her movies, and, when the audience insists on hearing her sing, Lina forces Kathy to stand back stage so she can perform. But Don, Cosmo, and the beleagered studio head reveal the secret, and Don introduces Kathy to the audience as the real star of the movie.

Discussion: This is often considered the finest musical of all time. Certainly it has it all, classic musical numbers and a witty script, unusually sharp and satiric for a musical comedy, especially one making fun of the industry that produced it. Asked to name the top ten moments in the history of movies, most people would include the title number from this movie, in which Gene Kelly splashes and sings the rain with what Roger Ebert called “saturated ecstasy.” When he swings the umbrella around and around and dances on and off the curb, his “glorious feeling” is contagious. Only in a movie containing that sequence would Donald O’Connor’s sensational “Make ‘Em Laugh” number be mentioned second. It is a wildly funny pastiche of every possible slapstick gag, done with energy and skill so meticulous that it appears it is entirely spontaneous.

Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adoph Green, asked to use some of the classic songs by Arthur Freed (later producer of most of the great MGM musicals) and Nacio Herb Brown, decided to set the movie in the era in which they first appeared, the early talkies. This gave them a chance to use some of the Hollywood folklore of that era, when careers like John Gilbert’s were destroyed overnight, as audiences found out that their voices didn’t match their faces. One especially funny scene has the technicians trying to find a way to record Lina’s dialogue. When they put the microphone on her dress, all you hear is the sound of her pearls as she rubs them. When they put it lower down, you hear her heartbeat. When they put it near her, her voice fades in and out as she tosses her head. Note that the cameras are put inside huge boxes — that is authentic, as the cameras of that era were so loud that they had to be encased to prevent their own whirring from being recorded.

Don and Cosmo are consummate adaptors. As we see in flashback, they have already switched from vaudeville to movies, and then Cosmo from performer to accompanist (to musical director) and Don from stunt man to leading man. Lina resists change and tries to bully her way out of it, but Don, Cosmo, and Kathy all demonstrate resilience and openness to new ideas, and a willingness to be creative in solving problems.

Questions for Kids:

· Why does Kathy at first lie about liking the movies?

· Why does Don lie about his background? How is that different from the way that Lina behaves?

· Have there been any new inventions that you have seen that have changed people’s jobs a lot?

· What inventions do you use that your parents didn’t have when they were children? Your grandparents?

Connections: The transition from silent movies to talkies was also lampooned in the first play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, “Once in a Lifetime.” A silent star who has become deranged is the centerpiece of “Sunset Boulevard.” When told “You used to be big in pictures,” she says, “I’m still big — it’s the pictures that got small.” She also says, memorably, that in her day stars didn’t need to talk: “We had faces then!”

Activities: Children might like to see some of the early silent movies to get an idea of what Hollywood was like in the days depicted in this movie. The films of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are still wonderful, and kids will enjoy learning that a story can be told without words.

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The Best Years of Our Lives

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Three men are returning home from service during WWII. Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a bombardier, Al Stephenson (Frederic March), a middle- aged footsoldier, and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), a sailor who has lost both hands, fly back to their home town of Boone City, excited, but a little apprehensive about beginning their post-war lives. Fred is returning to a beautiful wife, Marie (Virginia Mayo), whom he barely knows. Al is coming back to his wife, Milly (Myrna Loy), and their two children, who have grown up while he was gone. And Homer is coming back to face his family and his fiancée, Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell), with hooks replacing his hands.

Each of them has a lot of adjusting to do. Al is awkward with his wife at first, and insists that they go out to a bar owned by Homer’s uncle Butch (Hoagy Carmichael), where they meet Homer and Fred, who has not been able to find his wife. Al and Fred get very drunk, and Al and Milly take Fred home with them. Al’s daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) comforts Fred when he has a nightmare about the war, and the next morning makes breakfast for him, and drops him off at his apartment. After everyone leaves the apartment, Al and Milly reconnect to their feelings for one another. Fred finally finds Marie, who is delighted to have him home. But Homer barely speaks to Wilma.bestyears.jpg

Al returns to his job at the bank, but when he approves loans to ex-servicemen who don’t meet the bank’s requirements for collateral, his boss is concerned. At a banquet, Al gets drunk and explains movingly that he learned in the war that you have to trust people, and give them a chance, and that the rules must be changed.

Homer is still uncommunicative and withdrawn until Wilma comes to his house late one night to talk to him. He is finally able to show her the extent of his injuries, and is relieved that it makes no difference to her. They set a date for the wedding.

Fred, who was a soda jerk before the war, says that is the one job he will never do again. But he finds himself back serving ice cream, when he can’t find anything else, until he punches a customer who insults Homer and the other ex-servicemen. Marie, who cares about nothing but fun and money, is quickly bored with him, and starts seeing other men.

Fred falls in love with Peggy, but when Al asks him not to see Peggy any more, he decides to leave town. At the airport, he climbs into the cockpit of one of the old bomber planes, destined to be turned into scrap metal. He meets a man who is using the metal for building and asks for a job, explaining that he knows nothing about it, but knows that he knows how to learn. He is hired.

Fred is Homer’s best man. At the wedding, Fred sees Peggy, and the words of the wedding service seem to bring them together.

Though today’s families will have a hard time relating to the specifics of the post-war era, the theme of adaptation to changing circumstances and the need for genuine closeness is a timeless one. The most important scene in the movie is the one in which Fred realizes that he can use the same skills he used in the war — especially his ability to learn — to bring him what he is looking for. Fred and Homer both have a hard time believing that they deserve love, because each feels helpless and inadequate. Homer is afraid to risk rejection by Wilma, so he brusquely ignores her. Fred plans to leave town and never see Peggy again. But both ultimately take the risk and find the love they hoped for.

Al is also brusque and awkward with Milly at first, but by their first morning together he is ready to return to the relationship they had. Milly’s description of marriage to Peggy is particularly important in this context, making it clear that “living happily ever after” requires commitment, courage, and work.

Questions for Kids:

· What were the challenges faced by each of the servicemen in adjusting to life after the war?

· Would it have been easier for Homer if his family and Wilma talked to him about his injuries when he first came home?

· Why was it easier for Homer to talk to Fred and Al about them than it was to talk to his family?

· Why was Al so awkward with Milly at first?

· What did he mean when he talked about collateral at the banquet? Why was it important for Fred to realize that he knew how to learn? How did that change the way he thought about himself?

Connections: Harold Russell, who lost his hands in a grenade accident in training, received both a special Oscar and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Homer. He did not make another movie until “Inside Moves” in 1980. He also served as the Chairman of President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on Hiring the Handicapped. The movie also won Oscars for Best Picture, Actor, Director, Musical Score, and Writer. Butch is played by Hoagy Charmichael, composer of “Stardust.” A movie with similar themes is “Til the End of Time” with Robert Mitchum and Guy Madison.

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