Family Movies for Black History Month

Posted on February 15, 2022 at 7:47 pm

Every family should observe Black History Month and movies like these are a good way to begin discussions and further study.

1. “Glory” The true story of the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices of their own Union army and battling the Confederates, with brilliant performances by Denzel Washington (who won an Oscar), Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick as the white officer who truly believed all men were equal.

2. “Something the Lord Made” The obstacles to education and professional advancement kept Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) from medical school, but he was a pioneer in heart surgery.vivien thomas

3. “Roots” Writer Alex Haley told the story of his own family going back to the capture of one of his ancestors from Africa to be sold into slavery in this historic miniseries.

4. “Amistad” A slave rebellion led to an historic Supreme Court case that addressed fundamental notions of personhood and inalienable rights.

5. “With All Deliberate Speed” This documentary about the Brown v. Board of Education case that transformed American schools and culture has interviews with lawyer Thurgood Marshall (who later became the first black Supreme Court justice) and others involved in the case.

6. “Malcolm X” Denzel Washington is mesmerizing in this story of the incendiary leader and his journey from complacency to activism to understanding.

7. “Eyes on the Prize” This PBS documentary covers the Civil Rights movement from the murder of Emmett Till to the march in Selma.  There is also an excellent sequel. Many feature films cover this history including “Selma” and “Boycott.”

8. “The Rosa Parks Story” Angela Bassett stars as the Civil Rights activist whose refusal to give up her seat on the bus electrified the nation.

9. “The Loving Story” The name of this history-making couple was really Loving.  Their inter-racial marriage led the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the laws against miscegenation in 1967. “Loving” is the superb feature film based on their story.

10. “A Great Day in Harlem” This documentary tells the story of photographer Art Kane’s 1958 iconic photograph of all of the great jazz musicians of the era.

great-day in harlem

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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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New Christmas Classics: Great Family Movies for Christmas

Posted on December 24, 2021 at 8:00 am

There are literally dozens of Christmas movies on television, not just on the Hallmark Channel, and I enjoy them. But I would not call them classics. Indeed, it’s hard to tell them apart. There have been some wonderful recent holiday films that deserve to be called classics.

“Jingle Jangle” is a delightful musical with an outstanding cast, including Forest Whitaker and Keegan-Michael Key in the story of a toymaker and his granddaughter. The joyous musical numbers are colorful and remarkably athletic.

“A Boy Called Christmas” is a fanciful origin story of Santa Claus as a boy in Finland who goes off in search of Elfhelm. The cast includes Dame Maggie Smith, Kristen Wiig, and Sally Hawkins, and Stephen Merchant provides the voice of a mouse sidekick.

“Klaus” is another Santa origin story with a stellar cast, this one featuring spectacular animation and voice talents of Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and Joan Cusack.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a different origin story — this one the story of how Charles Dickens came to write “A Christmas Carol,” with “Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens in the starring role.

Copyright 2017 Bleeker Street

The Star” is the story of the Nativity, through the eyes of a little donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun), and the friends he meets along the way as he helps Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) on the way to Bethlehem

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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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