Movies to lift the heart and possibly inspire some exercise! Some of my favorite movie dance numbers:
Bye Bye Birdie: When a pop idol is drafted, the teenagers go crazy in this classic musical starring Dick van Dyke and Ann-Margret. Two teenagers trying to make each other jealous make this dance number one of the all-time best.
The Step Up movies have some sensational dance numbers. Here’s one of my favorites from Step Up 3, to a song originally from a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Choreographer Michael Kidd was famous for his wildly energetic dances and this is one of the best. At a barn-raising the mountain Pontipee brothers compete with the men from the town for the hands of the ladies.
It’s Always Fair Weather: Kidd appeared on screen in this film, featuring the remarkable garbage can lid dance with Gene Kelly and Dan Dailey.
Kiss Me Kate: Speaking of choreographers on screen, Bob Fosse dances along with Tommy Rall, Bobby Van, Ann Miller, Carol Haney, and Jeanne Coyne (later Gene Kelly’s wife) in this merry musical based Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” with music by Cole Porter.
And here is Fosse with his wife, Gwen Verdon, in “Who’s Got the Pain” from “Damn Yankees.”
Every family is familiar with the Disney and Pixar classics, which are ideal for families who are looking for something to watch at home. Here are some outstanding animated films from other studios to add to your viewing list.
The Thief and the Cobbler There’s a bit of controversy about this wonderful movie due to creative clashes, which you can learn more about in the behind-the-scenes documentary and “recobbled” version. But the theatrical release, with voice talent by Jonathan Winters, Matthew Broderick, Vincent Price and Jennifer Beals is a visually dazzling fairy tale that is genuinely enchanting.
Kubo and the Two Strings I am the biggest fan of LAIKA Studios and their exquisite stop-motion films, and it is hard to pick a favorite. “Coraline,” “Paranorman,” “The Box Trolls,” and “The Missing Link” are all beautifully designed with wonderful stories that don’t shrink back from exploring the dark and scary. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is about the son of a depressed mother who sets off with Monkey (Charlize Theron) to find the three pieces of Hanzo’s armor that he will need to fight the evil sisters and their father, who wants Kubo’s eye. Along the way they meet a samurai who has been cursed and turned into a giant beetle (Matthew McConaughey). And they meet and fight three different monsters, a giant skeleton, an underwater garden of eyes, and an enormous, floating, reticulated moon serpent, each giving Kubo a chance to discover his courage and power.mThis is a gorgeous, epic adventure with grandeur, scope, and spectacular settings, every bit of it wonderfully imaginative.
Kung Fu Panda: Jack Black provides the voice for Po, a panda with an unlikely ambition — he wants to be a kung fu master. But he is rejected by the teacher, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), and the Furious Five; Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). Po is not a natural. He says dejectedly, “I probably sucked more than anyone in the history of kung fu…more than anyone in the history of sucking.” He admits to Shifu that he only stayed “because I thought if anyone could change me, make me not me, it was you.” But Po will learn that the source of his strength is what no one can teach him — his sincerity and humility. Po will find within himself the strength, focus, and resolve to face Tai Lung. Followed by two sequels.
Surf’s Up: This story about a penguin (think very cold weather) who wants to surf (think very warm weather) is beguiling, thanks to vibrant visuals, superb voice talent, wit without ironic air quotes or snark, a sweet storyline, and a brisk running time. Like the sport it salutes and the island where it takes place, the movie has a laid-back vibe, taking its story, its humor, and itself lightly.
Spirited Away: Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki makes wildly imaginative, almost dreamlike films. Do not try to find a linear narrative, just enjoy the magic. A girl named Chihiro is on her way to move to a new city with her parents when they take a detour to what seems to be an abandoned amusement park. However, the park is filled with magical creatures and her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro must grow up quickly in this exotic world not only to save her parents, but to survive. Other Studio Ghibli films to try: “Ponyo,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Princess Mononoke”
Wallace & Gromit Nick Parks’ stop-motion films are delightfully — and literally — hands-on. You can see fingerprints on the charming characters, the dim human Wallace and his ever-patient dog Gromit. All of their adventures are delightful in a slyly low-key manner, but I suggest starting with the first. Wallace is a fan of cheese, so why not go to the moon to find some?
Yellow Submarine: The Beatles have to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies in this gorgeous musical adventure with some of the world’s best music (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Eleonor Rigby,” “Nowhere Man,” “All You Need is Love,” “When I’m 64”) and some of the world’s most glorious animation.
Turner Classic Movies has a great line-up today of movies about angels — and a few devils, too. If you miss them on the broadcast, you can watch them on the TCM app. Highlights:
Heaven Only Knows: Robert Cummings is an angel sent to save the soul of a saloon owner played by Brian Donlevy by bringing him together with a minister’s daughter. But the devil has other ideas.
A Guy Named Joe: Spencer Tracy is a fighter pilot killed in action. His spirit returns to help the girl he loved find happiness. (Remade by Stephen Spielberg as “Always”)
The Horn Blows at Midnight: A trumpet player (Jack Benny) dreams he is the angel Gabriel, sent to blow his horn to bring on the end of the world. But he finds earthly pleasures a distraction.
Angels in the Outfield: This is the original version with Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh, about a little girl who lives in an orphanage and sees angels when she goes to a baseball game. I know the remake with Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a lot of fans but I prefer this one, which is sweet but not syrupy.
Angel on My Shoulder: The devil (Claude Rains) sends the soul of a murdered gangster (Paul Muni) to to ruin the reputation of an honest judge.
The Devil and Daniel Webster: This is Stephen Vincent Benet’s classic story about a New Hampshire farmer who sells his soul to the devil (Walter Huston) and then is defended before a jury of villains by the legendary New England orator.
Family Movies for the Homebound VII: Kids and Music
Posted on April 20, 2020 at 8:00 am
Some of my favorite movies are about kids and teenagers making music. Maybe some of these will inspire you to make some of your own.
Bandslam: The focus is on the manager of the high school band here, named after a line from absurdist literary giant Samuel Beckett. An exceptionally smart script and some rocking songs plus a supporting cast that includes Lisa Kudrow and a surprise cameo from one of the biggest rock stars of all time make this one you’ll want to watch more than once.
A Joyful Noise: Pure cinematic sunshine with comedy, romance, drama, and gorgeous music featuring Queen Latifah and Doily Parton as competing singers in a gospel choir. Most of the members are adults, but the sweet relationship — and sweet duet — from teens played by Keke Palmer and Broadway star Jeremy Jordan is a highlight.
The Sound of Music: One of the most popular family films of all time is based on the story of the real-life von Trapp family, who escaped from Nazi-controlled Austria and performed as singers in the United States before they settled in Vermont.
Sing Street: This is the rare movie that not only recognizes and portrays the experience of finding music that introduces you to yourself; it goes farther than that. It is as close to re-creating the experience as it is possible for a movie to be. Watching this movie is not like remembering what it is like to be 14 and have your soul restored through rock and roll. It is like being there, but having it all work out the way better than you could have wished.
Selena: Jennifer Lopez is as vibrant as the star she plays in a biopic about the popular singer who was killed by her former assistant.
Almost Angels: Disney’s 1962 film is based on the real-life Vienna Boys Choir. They may sing like angels, but they get into mischief like kids.
Coco: A young boy loves music, but his family does not want him to play. He goes on a journey to the afterlife and learns important lessons about music, family, and he man he thought was his hero.
High School Musical: Even Disney was surprised by how popular this movie became. It deserved every bit of it; I love this sweet story and it was so much fun to see the cast reunited and singing with the kids from the DisneyPlus series sort of-sequel on the terrific Disney Family Sing-Along special. This is my favorite song from the original.
School of Rock: Just try to watch this movie without wanting to form you own rock band. Jack Black plays a substitute teacher who tells the students of a posh private school that all they need to learn is music that sticks it to the man.
The Rocker: This neglected gem features an astonishing cast of soon-to-be movie stars including Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Josh Gad (plus future hit-maker Teddy Geiger) in the story of a former rock drummer (Rainn Wilson) who joins a high school band. The cast also features comedy all-stars Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, Jane Lynch, and Jason Sudeikis.
Imba Means Sing: The Grammy nominated African Children’s Choir is the subject of a documentary.
Boychoir: Dustin Hoffman and Eddie Izzard star in a film about a young boy who joins a choir.
Girl Crazy/Strike Up the Band/Babes in Arms: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made a series of “let’s put on a show” musicals that are still a lot of fun, especially Girl Crazy, with irresistible Gershwin songs like Embraceable You, Bidin’ My Time, But Not For Me, and Fascinating Rhythm.
Lemonade Mouth/Camp Rock/Cheetah Girls: Disney Channel’s movies about kids forming music groups are not great cinema but they are tuneful treats.
Family Movies for the Homebound VI: Kids Playing Sports
Posted on April 13, 2020 at 12:34 pm
It’s tough for kids to be unable to play their favorite sports due to the restrictions from social distancing. It might help to watch some classic and beloved films about kids and teenagers playing sports.
The Sandlot: In the 1960s, a boy whose mother has just remarried moves to a new town and begins to make friends when he joins in a sandlot baseball game. The boy’s challenges include developing some baseball skills, trying to achieve a comfortable relationship with his new stepfather (Denis Leary), and finding a way to triumph over “The Beast ” (a junkyard dog) and the bigger, tougher kids who challenge his friends to a game. All are well handled in this exceptionally perceptive story of growing up.
Rookie of the Year: In this fantasy film Thomas Ian Nicholas plays a so-so Little League player until he breaks his arm and finds that his “tendons have healed too tight” making him, suddenly, a Major League-level pitcher. As a hitter? Well, he benefits from a very small strike zone.
Like Mike: The script is right out of the Hollywood formula box, with everything from two different “shoes not there at the crucial moment” scenes and important lessons about teamwork to the winning shot going into the basket just as the buzzer goes off., but it is sweet and fun.
The Mighty Macs: This uplifting film is based on the real-life story of Cathy Rush, a powerhouse basketball coach at a tiny Catholic women’s college who took her team all the way to the top.
Coach Carter: We all love movies about underdog teams that come from behind because they (1) learn the importance of teamwork, (2) learn the importance of discipline and of respect for themselves and each other, (3) are galvanized by an inspiring leader, or, even better, (4) all of the above. This movie, based on a true story, takes it a step further, with an emphasis on schoolwork as well.
Pride: Like all sports stories, this is about teamwork, but the team that matters here is Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac who bring such conviction and authenticity to this story of an inner-city Pennsylvania 70’s swim team that you can smell the chlorine and half expect Fat Albert to wander in with Mushmouth.
Touch the Wall: The documentary about champion swimmer Missy Franklin is a candid portrayal of the hard work — and the conflicts of loyalty and friendship — that are a part of competitive sports.
Soul Surfer: AnnaSophia Robb stars as Bethany Hamilton, a competitive surfer who came back better than ever after a shark attack.
Believe: Brian Cox plays real-life superstar soccer (football) manager Sir Matt Busby, who survived the tragic plane crash when eight of his players did not. When he encounters a gifted young player from an unruly kids’ team, both he and the team have something to learn.
The Mighty Ducks: A slick lawyer is caught driving drunk and ordered by the court to coach a rag-tag kids’ hockey team in this beloved Disney film starring Emilio Estavez.
Three Ninjas: Three sons of an FBI agent are kidnapped and use their martial arts skills to defeat the bad guys.
The Karate Kid: The classic original and the 2010 remake are both terrific stories about boys who use the discipline and training of martial arts to triumph over an arrogant bully. Fans can also enjoy the sequels and the current Cobra Kai series.
Ice Princess: A straight-A student brings math to ice skating in this charming Disney film.
An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars: Real-life Olympics star Cathy Rigby stars as the coach in this heartwarming story about friendship, family, and gymnastics.
Stick It: This film about a girl forced to return to gymnastics after she gets into trouble is pure delight — smart, funny, gorgeously cinematic, and all about real girl power.