Movies for New Year’s Eve

Posted on December 31, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Happy New Year! Wishing you and your families a happy and healthy 2020.

If you’re home tonight, try one of these:

Garry Marshall’s “New Year’s Eve” shows us a variety of happy, poignant, and romantic encounters on the night of December 31.

When Harry Met Sally” has a memorable New Year’s Eve dance.

In “Holiday,” Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn “step into a waltz as the old year dies” while the fancy society engagement party for him and her sister goes on downstairs.

Other movies with New Year’s Eve scenes: “About Time,” “The Holiday,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Rent,” and “The Apartment” — plus the completely bonkers Madam Satan. Here’s a glimpse:

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My Top Ten Films of 2019 — And My Worst

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 12:20 pm

My top ten list for 2019, in alphabetical order and with runners-up:

Copyright A24 2019

“1917”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“Amazing Grace”
“Bombshell”
“Booksmart”
“The Irishman”
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“The Peanut Butter Falcon”

Runners-up: “Apollo 11,” “Blinded by the Light,” “The Farewell,” “Hail Satan?,” “Honeyland,” “Motherless Brooklyn,” “The Parts You Lose,” “The Mustang,” and “The Laundromat”

And on television/streaming: Unbelievable, Russian Doll

My colleagues at rogerebert.com and I wrote about the best performances of 2019, too. I got to write about Jonathan Majors in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”

Any good actor can play characters who have great speeches and witty dialogue, who express extreme and expressive emotions like passion, fury, shock, and who determine the direction of the storyline. But Jonathan Majors had to find a way to play Mont, a character who is quiet, gentle, and observant, literally along for the ride—he and his best friend Jimmie Fails ride one skateboard, holding on to each other. Majors showed us who Mont was with the subtlest expressions and gestures, all within the context of the film’s delicate, poetic lyricism.

Co-writer/director Joe Talbot told me that Majors improvised one of the movie’s most striking scenes, when Mont approaches a group of men standing on a sidewalk taunting those who walk by. They are a sharp contrast to Jimmie and Mont, who may not be realistic in their plans but who are always focused and active. Their constant commentary also functions like a Greek chorus. In the initial script, Mont was supposed to distract the group with a magic trick. But Majors suggested that Mont surprise the group by critiquing them as though they were in an advanced acting seminar with a shared vocabulary of dramaturgy. This reveals a lot about what Mont has been thinking and the way he sees the world. And it beautifully sets up a climactic moment near the end of the film. Mont finally speaks up, fittingly, first through a play and then directly, with a message he knew would be devastating for Jimmie. Majors shows us that Mont knows he risks ending the most important relationship he had, but knows it is essential for Jimmie’s well-being. Majors made Mont more than a sidekick, a fully-realized character of his own, ultimately someone we care about and root for—and perhaps wish we could be lucky enough to have as a friend ourselves.

And the movies I really suffered through in 2019, including (inevitably) some that turned up on some top ten lists from other critics this year but really did not work for me:

Copyright 2019 Universal
Souvenir
Serenity
Dark Phoenix
Lucy in the Sky
Joker
The Goldfinch
Playing With Fire
Last Christmas
Cats

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Movies for Families to Share on Halloween

Posted on October 26, 2019 at 8:00 am

Copyright Warner Brothers 1966

 

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.

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 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 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 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 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 are still better than the new animated film.   Beetlejuice is a classic — with a nice 20th anniversary re-release DVD, and soon to be a Broadway musical.

LAIKA’s ParaNorman and Monster House, should become a  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 (a classic of horror/comedy) and the omnibus ghost story films Dead of Night and The House that Dripped Blood.

Happy Halloween!

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St. Patrick’s Day 2019 — Irish Movies for Families!

Posted on March 17, 2019 at 7:09 am

Copyright Republic Pictures 1952

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Here are some movies from or set in Ireland for families to enjoy.

1. The Quiet Man John Wayne plays American Sean Thornton (John Wayne), who returns to in Innisfree, the small, beautiful Irish village where he was born, to buy his family’s old home. He meets fiery Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), courts her, marries, her, and then really has to win her as both must learn some lessons about intimacy, pride, and trust. Yes, there are some moments that seem sexist but the underlying story is as glorious as the spectacular landscape and as touching as the endearing characters.

2. The Secret of Roan Inish A little Irish girl named Fiona goes to stay with her grandparents and becomes convinced that her baby brother, whose cradle was carried off to sea years before, is alive and being cared for by Selkies, seals who can transform themselves into humans. This is a quiet film, filled with lovely images that convey the magic surrounding anyone who believes in it. It explores themes of loyalty and commitment to family and following your heart.

3. The Commitments A group of hardscrabble Irish musicians come together to firm an American-style soul band and perform songs like “Mustang Sally” and “Try a Little Tenderness.” Look for future Frames and Once performer Glen Hansard in the group. (Mature material)

Copyright 2007 Summit Entertainment

4. Once The best song Oscar went to this bittersweet film about an Irish musician (Glen Hansard) who meets a pianist and singer (Markéta Irglová) from the Czech Republic.

5. Millions The Oscar-winning director of “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle, also shows his gift for working with children in “Millions,” the story of a young boy who finds a bag of money.

6. My Left Foot Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his portrayal of Christy Brown in this true story of a writer and painter who was paralyzed and could only use his left foot — and of his indomitable mother (Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker).

7. The Secret of Kells This quietly exquisite animated film was a surprise Oscar nominee. It is about an 11th century boy who lives in a monastery run by his stern uncle and the gorgeous illuminated manuscript that changes his life.

8. Circle of Friends Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell star in Maeve Binchy’s story of love and friendship in 1950’s Ireland.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV9sHAHGE5A

9. “Hear My Song” A fast-talking small-time promoter has to persuade a retired performer to sing again.

10. In the Name of the Father Day-Lewis again, in another true story, this time the story of a father and son who were imprisoned for an IRA bombing. Emma Thompson plays his dedicated lawyer and Pete Postlethwaite was nominated for an Oscar as the father who ends up in prison as well.

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EW Ranks the Best Fake Songs

Posted on March 15, 2019 at 8:00 am

I really enjoyed this Entertainment Weekly list of the best songs performed by musical groups on television and in films. Of course it includes the legendary Robin Sparkles “Let’s Go to the Mall” from “How I Met Your Mother” and he title song from “That Thing You Do” — though every song in that film should be included, especially “Mr. Downtown.” I was glad to see “Inside Llewyn Davis” included, “Sing Street’s””Drive it Like You Stole it”and two songs from the under-appreciated “Music and Lyrics” and thrilled to see “A Goofy Movie” on the list as well. And of course I have my own favorites that do not appear on the list. Where is Spinal Tap? “Waiting for Guffman?” “A Mighty Wind?” The also-underrated “Bandslam” has a great fictional group with a wonderful name: I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On and great songs, like “Someone to Fall Back On.” And the new “Documentary Now!” episode inspired by the D.A. Pennebaker film about the recording of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” cast album, “Co-Op,” has brilliant fake Sondheim songs like “I Gotta Go,” sung by Paula Pell, inspired by “Ladies Who Lunch,” and “Holiday Party,” echoing “Getting Married Today.” I’d buy that cast album.

I know it is unforgivably esoteric, but just once when I was a kid I saw a television show starring Ricky Nelson as a musician and there was a song in it I always remembered. Decades later, after the internet turned out to have the answer to almost everything, I was able to track it down and it turned out it was written by none other than Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Here’s the soundtrack.

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