Family Movies for the Homebound IV: Movies Based on Great Books
Posted on March 30, 2020 at 8:13 pm
More wonderful movies for families to share — these are all based on books that are all-time classics.
The Secret Garden: Agnieszka Holland’s 1993 version of the classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett is my favorite, but the others are good, too. When I first read the book, I loved the heroine because she was so cross, a delightful change from all of the earnest girls in other books. When he parents die in India, Mary must go to the creepy, mysterious home of her absent uncle. The secret garden she discovers there is not even the most remarkable surprise. Also see: A Little Princess (1995 version)
Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Stick with the first version of Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, about the poor boy who finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar and gets a tour of the candy factory, along with some other children who are spoiled and obnoxious. You will also enjoy some of the other movies basked on Dahl’s books, “James and the Giant Peach,” “The BFG,” and “Matilda.”
The Wizard of Oz: The most-loved family movie of all time is the Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, and Jack Haley version of the story of the Kansas girl who is whisked away to a magical land in a tornado, meets a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion, and a witch, and learns that there’s no place like home. Every time you watch it, you’ll marvel at something new. Also see: “The Wiz” a remix starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson
The Chronicles of Narnia: Four children entered a wardrobe and found themselves in a magic land, gorgeously brought to life in a series of films.
Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling’s saga about the boy wizard is one of the most successful book adaptations of all time. Read them all and then see the films.
All the President’s Minutes: Nell Minow Talks About All the President’s Men with Blake Howard
Posted on March 25, 2020 at 7:57 pm
All the President’s Men is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it was truly an honor and a thrill to be invited to talk about it with Blake Howard on his “All the President’s Minutes” podcast, which devotes an entire episode to each minute of the film. I got a great minute, the first meeting of Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bernstein interviewing a source on top of what was then the Hotel Washington. I was a summer intern on Capitol Hill the summer of the Watergate hearings and got to attend twice, and have been fascinated by Watergate ever since.
Be sure to tune in to hear our conversation and then watch the film again!
We all say we wish we had more quality family time. Well, here it is. Many parents will be looking for some good options for family viewing time, and here are some of our family’s favorites, all available on streaming services.
The Court Jester: This one has it all, action, comedy, romance, a brave heroine, and Danny Kaye singing. The “vessel with the pestle” scene is a comedy classic, but the semi-hypnotized sword fight (with Basil Rathbone!) is every bit as good.
The Dick van Dyke Show: When I was in 6th grade I was asked to write an essay about my favorite television show and I picked this one. Decades later, it’s still the top of my list. Inspired by Carl Reiner’s years as a writer on the popular variety series “Your Show of Shows,” it has one of the greatest ensembles in television history: Dick van Dyke as the head writer with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as his colleagues and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife. Reiner made occasional appearances as the egotistical star of the television show within a show. Start with these episodes: Coast to Coast Big Mouth, Never Bathe on Saturday, That’s My Boy, The Curious thing
Big Max Calvada, My Blonde-Haired Brunette, Buddy Can You Spare a Job, and — to see the cast in their own variety show, The Alan Brady Show Goes to Jail. For more: see “My Favorite Year” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” also inspired by the legendary writer’s room for “Your Show of Shows,” which included Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, and Larry Gelbart.
The Great Race: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Natalie Wood star in this wildly entertaining story of an early 20th century car race from New York to Paris. Director Blake Edwards dedicated it to “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy” and it has a delightfully old-school blend of adventure, romance, and slapstick, including the pie fight to end all pie fights and a Prisoner of Zenda-style dual role for Lemmon. The terrific supporting cast includes Peter Falk, Kennan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Ross Martin, and Dorothy Provine.
National Velvet: A young Elizabeth Taylor plays a girl who dreams of owning a horse she names Pie and entering him in England’s biggest race. Micky Rooney gives one of his best performances as the son of a family friend. My all-time favorite movie mother is Anne Revere, who tells her daughter that ” I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life.”
Ball of Fire: Inspired by “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” this sublimely witty romantic comedy has Barbara Stanwyck as a showgirl named Sugarpuss O’Shea hiding out with seven professors, played by six of the all-time great character actors plus Gary Cooper. The screenplay by the “Some Like it Hot” team is so clever you’ll have to watch it two or three times to get all the jokes and it has both a sensational drum solo by Gene Krupa and a swoon-worthy marriage proposal.
Galaxy Quest: Even if you are not a Star Trek fan, you will enjoy this hilarious love letter to television series about space explorers. An all-star cast including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, Tim Allen, and Tony Shaloub play actors from an old but beloved television series who discover that aliens have made their show a reality. If you are a Star Trek fan, you will fall in love with this film, and you should follow it up with the behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film, “Never Surrender” and the great documentary about Star Trek fans, “Trekkies.”
Yellow Submarine: The Beatles have to save the world from Blue Meanies in this trippy, stunningly animated film featuring songs like “All Together Now,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and the title tune.
What We Do in the Shadows: It isn’t easy being a vampire. Your familiar nags you about a promotion. You need tech support so you can’t bite the IT guy. You have to avoid sunlight. Those werewolves are so annoying. And then there is The Beast, who is sure to show up at the annual Unholy Masquerade, a sort of vampire prom. Writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi somehow keep the tone understated and savagely funny. Follow it up with the television series.
Sky High: This neglected gem is a smart, exciting, funny story about a high school for superhero teenagers, where the students are divided up into heroes and sidekicks. There are a lot of surprises in the story and is a lot of fun to see universal adolescent anxieties and experiences filtered through the superhero universe.
This is Spinal Tap: This mockumentary about a fading rock band brought us the classic “It goes to 11” and “There’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.” A comedy classic.
What a Way to Go! Shirley MacLaine stars as a young woman who longs for the simple life but keeps marrying men who become fabulously wealthy. Those husbands are played by an astonishing all-star cast: Dick van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin. Each marriage is portrayed as a different genre of movie, from silent to big-budget romance with over-the-top gowns and sets to fabulous musical (the dance number with Kelly is sensational).
Rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language, drug use and violence
Very strong and crude language
Drinking, smoking, drugs
Peril and violence, arson, murder
Date Released to Theaters:
March 6, 2020
Paintings and movies can both be art or trash, and, in a completely separate binary, they can both be worth millions or pennies. Both forms of expression struggle with the balance of culture and commerce. But in one very important way they are opposite, an element that is literally material. The value in movies is in the experience of watching them, whether on film or in a digital print. The audience is unaware of the particulars of the mechanism of delivery; indeed, one of the great pleasures of film is that it is immersive, designed to be seen on an enormous screen in a dark room so that the line between the art and the audience is nearly dissolved. But for a painting or drawing, the value, the monetary value anyway, is in the unique distinction of the object. Try asking the Metropolitan Museum of Art whether they would swap a Picasso for an exact digital replica of the original. For this reason, the premium attached to the physical object is more important, at least when it comes to price, than the aesthetic merits of the image. A movie is made by dozens, maybe hundreds of people, many of whom never see each other. A painting (except for the high-end conceptual variations) is made by one person whose individual touch contributes immeasurably to its authenticity and value.
Perhaps this is why some movies are so fascinated with gallery art like paintings. Danish actor Claes Bang is appearing in his second film in three years about the conundrums and hypocrisy of the art world (third if you count “The Last Vermeer”). In the trippy “The Square” he played a museum director. In “The Burnt Orange Heresy” he is James Figueras, an art critic working in Italy who might have preferred to be an artist himself, or a curator. And in his first scene, we see he is also a liar. Speaking to a group of American tourists, James describes the story behind the painting depicted on a slide showing on a screen in the front of the room. It was the last painting from a Holocaust survivor, and as he tells them the story of the artist and his sister, we and the audience he is speaking to look at the image of the painting with increased interest and respect. He asks who wants a print and hands go up. Then he tells them it is a lie. He did the painting himself. Lesson: beware of critics, especially when their comments determine the authenticity or value of a work of art.
One American tourist at James’ talk is Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki). She and James have sex and he impulsively invites her to come along on a visit to the opulent home of a wealthy art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger, brimming with wily charm). Cassidy has an irresistible offer for James, a chance at the biggest art story in years, which could bring him fame, fortune, and the credibility he had been seeking since he lost his job at a museum over a little bit of embezzlement. The world’s most famous art genius recluse, a sort of J.D, Salinger of oil painting, lives in a small house on Cassidy’s property. He has not given an interview or allowed anyone to see his work for decades. If James interviews him, it will make his career. But Cassidy wants something in return — a painting. And if James should say no, well Cassidy is not above some almost-genteel blackmail.
The artist is Dabney (Donald Sutherland, deliciously courtly and eloquent, if opaque). It becomes a cat and mouse game with many players, and some surprises about who is the cat and who is the mouse, right up to the final shot.
The various mysteries, especially Berenice’s under-written backstory, are not always satisfying, though Debicki, who was superb in “Widows” and “The Tale,” is always entrancing. The settings, from the fabulous estate to the museum gala and the overall setting of the glamorous world of art museums and collectors, the provocative questions it raises about the uncomfortable relationships of art, commerce, and celebrity, and sharp, witty performances from Sutherland and Jagger make it enticingly watchable.
Parents should know that this film has explicit sexual references and a situation with nudity, very strong and crude language, drinking, smoking, drugs, criminal fraud, peril and violence including murder.
Family discussion: How did James’ story change your ideas about the painting in the first scene?
If you like this, try: “The Square” and “Velvet Buzzsaw” If you like this, try: “The Square” and “Velvet Buzzsaw”
Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references, brief drug use, and violence
Constant very strong language used by adults and teens
Alcohol abuse, smoking
Some peril and violence, references to illness and tragic death of a chlld
Date Released to Theaters:
March 6, 2020
Director Gavin O’Connor makes movies with hard outer shells, about sports (“The Warrior”) and assassins (“The Accountant”). But they have sweet, gooey centers, because he has the softest heart in Hollywood. Which is a good thing. A lot of people stayed away from “Warriors” because the main characters are MMA fighters, but it is a tenderhearted story of family and redemption. “The Way Back” (original title, “The Has-Been,” probably considered too down-beat) is not as powerful a story, and is too close to better films like “Hoosiers,” but it is a solid drama with the additional interest factor of the parallels between the actor and the role.
Ben Affleck has been doing interviews about his struggles with substance abuse as he is promoting his new movie about a man who struggles with substance abuse. Even he is not clear whether this particular role was therapeutic or not. But he certainly inhabits the character with feeling.
Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a one-time high school basketball superstar who is now a construction worker who is alone, miserable, and alcoholic. He takes a swig in the car before going inside his sister’s house for Thanksgiving with her family. He pours booze into his coffee cup at work. In his dingy apartment, the refrigerator is filled with beer. He has a system. He takes a can out of the freezer to drink and brings one up from the lower compartment to freeze it so that it will be perfectly chilled as soon as he finished the first one. He spends every night at the local bar.
And then he gets a call from a priest at his old school. The basketball coach is ill and they want him to come back and take over. Everything Jack does has one goal — numbing him from any kind of feeling or connection or memory of what he lost. He practices over and over how to say no. But he says yes. And soon he is in the gym, looking at a bunch of teenagers who need training, discipline, pride, and, most of all, a role model.
It might be possible for Jack to provide some of those things, but beginning to care brings up all of the feelings he has put so much effort into suppressing.
The focus is on Jack here. This is not one of those movies where the new coach steps in to give each of them important life lessons. We don’t learn much about his fellow barflies or his family. We do learn about his relationship with his ex-wife, the tragic circumstance that drove them apart, and Jack’s history of bad choices, especially the choice to hurt others by hurting himself. It’s okay that Jack is still a work in progress. But movie hint at possible recuts, with some abruptness and imbalance in the storytelling, which makes the movie feel that way, too.
Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong language used by adults and teenagers, crude references, very sad (offscreen) death of one child and terminal illness of another, alcohol abuse, smoking, and drunk driving.
Family discussion: Why did Jack hurt himself to hurt his father? Why did Angie and Jack respond differently to a tragic loss? Why did he want to coach the team?
If you like this, try: “Warriors,” from the same director, and “Hoosiers”