My Ebook on the Best Movie Fathers Free for Father’s Day

Posted on June 17, 2020 at 5:00 am

In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE today through Father’s Day, this weekend, June 17-21, 2020.

What do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.

Copyright 20th Century Fox 1977

In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.

The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”

These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal. There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father’s loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles he cast himself.

Director John Huston deserves some sort of “Father’s Day” award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”

There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy,” “Call Me By Your Name”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Spectacular Now,” “The Barretts of Wimpole Street”). There are fathers who take care of us, as well as they can (“John Q,” “Toni Erdnmann,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Leave No Trace,” “The Road,” “Extraordinary Measures”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father,” “Nothing in Common”). All of these stories are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.

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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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Free For Mother’s Day! My Book About the Best Movie Mothers

Posted on May 9, 2020 at 12:01 am

In honor of Mother’s Day, my ebook 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers will be free on Amazon May 9-12, 2020.

No relationship is more primal, more fraught, more influential, more worried over, more nurturing when good and more devastating when bad than our connection to our mothers. The first eyes to look at us with love, the first arms to hold us, Mom is the one who first keeps us fed and warm, who applauds our initial steps, kisses our scrapes, and takes our temperature by kissing our forehead. She’s also the one who keeps people in endless years of psychoanalysis. Mothers inspire movies in every category, from comedy to romance to drama to crime to animation to horror, from the lowest-budget indie to the biggest-budget prestige film.

There are innumerable ways of mothering, and all of them show up in the movies. There are cookie-baking, apron-wearing mothers who always know just the right thing to say. There are stylish, sophisticated, wealthy mothers and mothers who do not have enough money to feed their children. There are mothers with PhDs and mothers who cannot read. There are mothers of every race and religion and many species on earth and in outer space (remember Alien).

There are terrifying mothers who abuse or abandon their children. There are mothers who give good advice and endless support and mothers who push their children to take the wrong jobs or marry the wrong people. There are super-strict mothers and super-lax mothers, mothers who want to know every detail of their children’s lives and mothers who barely remember that they have children at all. There are mothers of children with special needs who fight to make sure they have the fullest and most independent lives they can. There are children who love and support their mothers and children who break their mothers’ hearts.

And there are those very special souls who remind us that motherhood doesn’t require a biological connection. Stepmothers and adoptive mothers are as vitally important on screen as they are in the lives of those lucky enough to be raised by them.

“A boy’s best friend is his mother,” says a character whose mother is central to the story even though she never appears in the film. (Spoiler alert: The quote comes from Norman Bates in “Psycho.”) In “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,” tough guy Sylvester Stallone plays a cop who mother comes along on his investigation whether he wants her to or not. In “Oedipus Wrecks,” one of three short films that make up the compilation New York Stories, Woody Allen plays a lawyer whose mother finds the ultimate way to embarrass him. And don’t get me started on Jason’s mother in the Friday the 13th movies.

I have selected 50 of my favorite movie mothers, from films as varied as The Sound of Music and Little Women along with forgotten or overlooked films like Stella Dallas, Claudia and David, and Dear Frankie. Actresses like Anne Revere and Spring Byington made careers out of wonderful performances as mothers, and I have included some of their best. I have a special affection for films and performances based on real-life mothers, especially those based on the mothers of the writers who told their stories, like Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance in Places in the Heart. But each of the mothers in these movies is inspired by the unique joys and frustrations of the woman we love first.

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” and Mrs. Brown in “National Velvet” to mean moms in “Now Voyager” and “Mommie Dearest.”  Oscar-winnng classics and neglected gems, based on real-life like Sally Fields in “Places in the Heart” or fantasy like Dumbo’s lullabye-singing elephant mom, biological mothers like Irene Dunne in “I Remember Mama” or step-mothers like Maria in “The Sound of Music,” these are all must-see movies.

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Batman’s Nemesis Joker — Who Played Him Best?

Posted on October 2, 2019 at 8:10 am

As Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” comes to the screen this week, we take a look at previous incarnations of Batman’s most popular villain:

Copyright DC Comics 1940

1. The Joker made his debut as a serial killer whose poison left victims with a gruesome rictus “grin” in the very first Batman comic, created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. He was originally intended to be killed off, but the editor at DC liked him and he appeared in nine of the first twelve Batman issues.

2. Cesar Romero played Joker in the campy 1960’s television series.

3. My personal favorite — Jack Nicholson played Joker in the Tim Burton “Batman” movie opposite Michael Keaton.

4. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his Joker, in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movie with Christian Bale.

5. I’m not a fan of Jared Leto’s Joker in “Suicide Squad,” but you have to admire his commitment.

6. The great Mark Hamill provides the creepy laugh and voice of the Joker in the animated series.

7. And now Joaquin Phoenix takes over in the first film to make Joker the lead character (we only glimpse future Batman Bruce Wayne as a young boy).

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July Character Actor Blogathon: “Always a Bridesmaid”

Posted on June 30, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Copyright 2019 Hollywood Genes

This is a great idea for a blogathon! A month-long tribute to the often-neglected character actors, orchestrated by Zoe Krainik of Hollywood Genes. She writes:

While, of course, we love the main characters of our favorite films, often truly great characters and performances end up unnoticed, unremembered, or under appreciated simply because the characters were supporting, relegated to the background, or deemed less than perfect per society’s norms of the time.

With this concurrent Twitter challenge and blogathon, we hope to celebrate the bridesmaids instead of the brides, small parts with big heart, and the characters who are way too familiar with the background and the friend zone.

Follow along on Twitter or Instagram! #BridesmaidChallenge2019

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