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.
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).
Very sad death, references to other deaths including death of a baby
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
December 25, 2019
Date Released to DVD:
April 6, 2020
You need to know where I’m coming from on this one. There is no book more central to my life than Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. My mother, Josephine Baskin Minow, has been Jo since she first read Little Women when she was a child, And now our children call her Marmee. I loved it so much that I read all the other Alcott books on the library shelf (I especially recommend Eight Cousins and An Old Fashioned Girl). Little Women has been central to the lives of young women for more than 150 years, inspired by its heroine, who was inspired by Alcott herself. Jo March is fiercely loyal, impetuous, impatient, and a writer, both eager and reluctant to find her own voice. Authors who name the book as a major influence range from Cynthia Ozick, Simone de Beauvoir, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley, Anne Tyler, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ursula Le Guin and Nora Ephron to “Twilight”‘s Stephenie Meyer.
Alcott’s semi-autobiographical story of four sisters has been adapted many times, including a Broadway musical, a 48-chapter Japanese anime series, an opera, and films starring Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Winona Ryder. The most recent BBC version (of four) was shown in the United States on PBS. One of two major adaptations last year was a modern-day retelling with a quartet of appealing young actresses, adapted with skill and understanding by writer/director Clare Niederpruem.
So, my standards and expectations could not have been higher and it is my very great pleasure to tell you that this new film from writer/director Greta Gerwig exceeded them all. Writer/director Greta Gerwig not only loves and understands the book, she also appreciates that in 2019 we are only beginning to catch up to Alcott’s vision of what is possible for young women and for all of us. Those who do not know Alcott’s work or have only seen the early versions may think that Gerwig has “modernized” the story. But every part of it comes from Alcott (some from other writings) and every part of it is entirely consistent with her fierce, independent, and devoted spirit and rebellious energy. And Saoirse Ronan is the best Jo March yet, her long-limbed coltishness not so much “boyish” as vitally engaged in a world that cannot always keep up with her.
The book was originally written in two parts, but the second volume (called Good Wives) has been a part of what we know as Little Women for more than a century. Gerwig begins the story in the middle of the second book as the now-adult Jo (a teenager in the first volume) meets with a newspaper publisher (a charmingly crusty and wry performance from playwright Tracy Letts, last seen as Henry Ford II in “Ford v. Ferrari”). In case we are not as quick as he is to see through her claim to be bringing stories written by a “friend,” Gerwig lets us see the ink that still stains her fingers. When her story is accepted (with the moralizing parts cut out), she exuberantly races home.
Then, as we will throughout the film, we go back and forth between the two parts of the story, indicated by different color pallattes, the warmer hues for the earlier years, when the girls were all at home and their father (Bob Odenkirk) was a Union volunteer in the Civil War. There were struggles and growing pains, but there was also a sense of purpose and possibility that is not as clear in the cooler-hued older years, when Jo is in New York living in a boarding house, and Amy (Florence Pugh) is touring Europe and studying art. Pugh may be too old for Amy in the early scenes, but she and Gerwig give Amy far more depth than any previous portrayal (perhaps including Alcott’s). Emma Watson is lovely as oldest sister Meg (obligatory complaint about what was left out of this version — the scenes of Meg coming to John’s defense when Aunt March attacks him and the scene of her showing off her “new dress” to him). Gerwig’s script softens the professor’s critique of Jo’s more lurid stories-for-hire and his involvement in getting the book-within-a-book published, but the scene of his telling her that the melodramatic stories she is writing for money are not good is still an important turning point.
Laura Dern plays Marmee, a woman of character, courage, and intention. The private moment she takes in the foyer of the house to make sure she can greet her daughters with good cheer on Christmas morning after caring for the impoverished Hummels is a small master class of acting. When Marmee tells Jo that she still struggles with anger every day, we see where Jo got her inner fire and how inner fire can become the foundation for determination and principle.
And then there is Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, the sensitive boy whose temperament is protected from becoming headstrong and careless by the example of the March family, their attitude toward work and also their attitude toward fun. Like Laurie to Jo, Chalamet is a perfect match for his “Lady Bird” co-star Ronan, and we could happily watch a whole movie of them putting on plays, attending riotous meetings of the Pickwick Society, and skating on the pond.
It is still one of the all-time great coming-of-age stories of a family and an artist finding her voice. By putting making the early year portion of the film flashbacks that comment on, provide context for, and deepen the “present-day” storylines, Gerwig makes us ready for a perfect ending that brings Alcott, her fictional avatar, and the story of all of us who have tried to tell our stories together.
Parents should know that this film includes a sad death and reference to other deaths including the death of a baby, family stress and conflict, and brief smoking and drinking.
Family discussion: Which sister is most like you? Was the publisher right about the ending to the story? Why do so many women, especially writers, say that this story was their most important inspiration?
If you like this, try: the book by Louisa May Alcott and the other movie and miniseries versions of this story
Celebrating Cinderella — A Magical Night at the Library of Congress
Posted on June 21, 2019 at 8:45 am
Last night was truly magical, a celebration of one of Disney’s classic animated films, “Cinderella,” as it was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Cinderella was there in person, of course, introduced by a courtier and welcomed by Dr. Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress, who presented the film’s official certificate that inducted CINDERELLA into the National Film Registry to Mary Walsh, Managing Director of the Animation Research Library at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Attendees included members of Congress, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, and other notable D.C. area tastemakers and influencers. (That means me!) It was a thrill to see the film on a full-size screen, with an audience that included so many children and so many girls and women in ballgowns and tiaras. The Library of Congress had a spectacular array of their Cinderella-related treasures, from the original songs with hand-lettered lyrics that were submitted for copyright registration, including some that never made it into the film, to a fascinating collection of different versions of the Cinderella story going back literally thousands of years. They also had a set of the original lobby cards with pictures from the film and a flier with all of the products and tie-ins from the movie’s original release, with costumes, shoes, and even cleaning products. There were a number of photo opportunities and my favorite was a real-life Prince Charming in a booth filled with glass slippers, who was there to help the ladies and girls see if their feet would fit.
The new Signature series DVD/Blu-Ray release features a brand-new commentary track showing how Walt Disney and the filmmakers made comments and revisions as the film was being created. Stay tuned for my interview with Ms. Walsh about the film’s history, coming soon on thecredits.org.