Free Book on the Best Movie Mothers!

Posted on May 10, 2024 at 7:44 am

Happy Mother’s Day! My ebook, 50 Must-See Movie Mothers, is free May 10-14 on Amazon.

Copyright Miniver Press 2015

The movies have given us warm, loving, mothers (Marmee in “Little Women,” Sally Field in “Places in the Heart”), evil, abusive mothers (Gladys Cooper in “Now, Voyager,” Jackie Weaver in “Animal Kingdom,” Anjelica Huston in “The Grifters”), even alien mothers (“Alien,” “Enemy Mine”).  Some recent great movie mothers include Carrie Coon in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” Viola Davis in “Air,” and America Ferrara in “Barbie.”

Here are some of my favorites from classic films:

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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After You’ve Seen White Christmas, Elf, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, and It’s A Wonderful Life….

Posted on December 12, 2023 at 2:50 pm

I love the Christmas classic 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 “Drive’s” 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 play 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 versions of the story, with Katharine Hepburn, Winona Ryder, and Saoirse Ronin, are superb.

6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Based on the classic book, this stars Loretta Swit as the mother of six rambunctious kids who insist on playing roles in the church pageant.

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 the actors perform 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 Yes, it is a Christmas movie. 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.

10. The Polar Express Tom Hanks stars in this animated story based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg about a magical train ride to the North Pole.

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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Coming to Theaters in December 2023

Posted on December 1, 2023 at 1:00 am

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers

December is a time for families and celebrating and time off from school and work. It is also a time that the movie studios like to release films they hope will win Oscars and other awards. So there will be great movies in theaters and on streaming for families to share over the holidays. Here’s some of what they can look forward to.

Already in theaters: Disney’s “Wish” and Dreamworks’ “Trolls Band Together” are already in theaters and both are sure to delight children and their parents. And for mature teens and adults, “The Holdovers,” one of the best films of the year, is the story of the most disliked teacher at a posh boys’ boarding school in 1970, and the students he is stuck with over the Christmas holidays because they cannot go home. Watch for Paul Giamatti and Da-Vine Joy Randolph to get some awards in a few months. Every performance in this movie is a gem.

December 1

Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce — Queen Bey’s concert film.

Candy Cane Lane — A comedy/horror film with Eddie Murphy as a man who sells his soul to have the best decorated house in the neighborhood.

How the Gringo Stole Christmas — George Lopez stars in this “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”-style farce.

December 7

“Waitress” — The Broadway musical version of the beloved indie about the pregnant pie-maker will be in theaters for just five days.

December 8

The Boy and the Heron — The latest from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli is a dreamy and sometimes nightmarish story of a boy mourning the loss of his mother who travels to an enchanted land.

Leave the World Behind — Oscar-winners Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali star in a story about two couples stuck together as it seems the world may be ending.

December 15

Wonka — The people behind the “Paddington” films have made another endearing treat with this origin story of the world’s greatest candy-maker.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget — Finally, a sequel to the Aardman classic from the “Wallace & Gromit” studio.

American Fiction — Percival Everett’s satiric novel, Erasure, about a Black professor whose savage parody of “ghetto” literature, was written more than 20 years ago but this pointed, hilarious, and brilliantly acted film is sure to be one of the most talked-about of the year.

December 20

Maestro — Bradley Cooper wrote, directed, and stars as composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, one of the central cultural figures of the 20th century. This film focuses on his loving but often fraught relationship with his wife, played by Carey Mulligan.

Copyright Disney 2023

December 22

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom — Marvel’s underwater superhero is back.

Anyone But You — Two people smarting from recent break-ups pretend to be a couple to make their exes jealous. I can’t imagine what happens next. Festival audiences loved the chemistry between Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney.

All of Us Strangers — Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal are sizzling as a couple tentatively exploring a relationship as Scott’s character finds a way to return to the house he grew up in, where his parents, killed before he turned 12, seem to be still there waiting for him.

The Iron Claw — Zac Efron and “The Bear’s” Jeremy Allen White star in the story of one of professional wrestling’s most cherished and tragic families.

December 25

The Color Purple — The Alice Walker book and Stephen Spielberg movie turned Broadway musical is now a movie musical with knockout performances by Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, and American Idol’s Fantasia.

The Boys in the Boat — George Clooney directed this fact-based story of an American rowing team in the 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin as Hitler was trying to show the world the superiority of the German athletes.

Freud’s Last Session — Anthony Hopkins plays the pioneering psychoanalyst and atheist and Matthew Goode plays “Narnia” author and Christian C.S. Lewis.

Ferrarri — Our year of movies about the origin stories of consumer products (including Air Jordans, Blackberry, Beanie Babies, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos) concludes with Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari.

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Family Movies for Thanksgiving 2023

Posted on November 20, 2023 at 9:07 am

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.

Copyright 1947 20th Century Fox
Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas movie, but it begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it is a great family movie (for those who are comfortable with questions about Santa’s being real. The original is a classic with an adorable Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for playing Kris Kringle. But the remake is nice, too.

Dora’s Thanksgiving Parade Dora the Explorer has to save the day when the parade float gets lost.

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.

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