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New From Audible: X-Files Cold Cases

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Copyright Audible 2017
Copyright Audible 2017

Scully creates a diversion and uncovers some frightening clues in this excerpt from “The X-Files: Cold Cases” — a new, full-cast Audible Original drama starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The truth is out there. You just have to listen: audible.com/xfiles

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Free for Father’s Day: My Ebook about the Greatest Movie Dads

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In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE through Father’s Day, June 19, 2016.

50 must-see fathers smallWhat do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.

In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.

The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”

These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal. There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father’s loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles he cast himself.

Director John Huston deserves some sort of “Father’s Day” award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V74rUwMYHE

There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining”). There are fathers who take care of us (“John Q”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father”). All of them are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.

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The American Writers Museum

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I got a chance to preview the new American Writers Museum in Chicago before it opened on May 16, 2017. It is enchanting, inspiring, genuinely magical. There is a special room about children’s literature, with a glorious full-wall mural by my friend, Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky. There are some artifacts, including the legendary original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

And there are fascinating, interactive displays to tell you more about writers you love, introduce you to writers you will love, and maybe inspire you to write your own story.

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Laura Shumaker: One of the Sisterwritereaters

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I am so proud to have an essay (about cookies) in Sisterwritereaters, the marvelous new book of essays about women and food, and so lucky to be a part of the extraordinary group of wise, funny, and smart group of contributors. Laura Shumaker, who also wrote about cookies (really, the topic is endlessly interesting), has another story about cookies on her blog, and kindly allowed me to share it.

When I was in the 4th grade, I took a cooking class with my friend Linda, which was dangerous because whenever we were together we giggled uncontrollably with little provocation. Linda and I both had serious face altering braces and wore our hair in pigtails tied with fluorescent yarn.

The first assignment was baking chocolate chip cookies. The ingredients– butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips– were lined up on the formica counter of the kitchen of our school cafeteria in the order they were to be used.

Linda and I worked the assignment together, giggling like always as we scooped the flour and sugar from one gallon bins with metal measuring cups, leveling them off with a knife for precision.

“No licking,” said the instructor sternly as we scooped the batter on to the cookie sheets. We baked the cookies as instructed for 8 minutes. I remember thinking that they looked perfect, but didn’t smell like the cookies that I baked at home with my mom.

After the prescribed 5 minuted cooling time, Linda and I sampled the cookies simultaneously–then spit-sprayed them out. They were not just salty, they were salt cookies.

We had confused the sugar bin with the salt bin.

“What a waste,” I heard the instructor say under her breath. “Spoiled brats.” Did she think we did it on purpose?

I felt terrible, but I couldn’t stop laughing, and neither could Linda. It can really hurt when you can’t stop laughing when you know you need to.

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I started to cry when I told my mom the story, and was relieved to see her stifling laughter. She told me I’d feel much better if I wrote the cooking instructor a note of apology, that it was also the right thing to do and that of course I should always be respectful. Even when cooking instructor makes the obvious mistake of putting salt in a one gallon bin right next to the sugar.

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Happy Mothers Day! FREE Copy of My Book About Movie Mothers

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In honor of Mother’s Day, my ebook 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers will be free on Amazon through Monday, May 11-15, 2017.Image

No relationship is more primal, more fraught, more influential, more worried over, more nurturing when good and more devastating when bad than our connection to our mothers. The first eyes to look at us with love, the first arms to hold us, Mom is the one who first keeps us fed and warm, who applauds our initial steps, kisses our scrapes, and takes our temperature by kissing our forehead. She’s also the one who keeps people in endless years of psychoanalysis. Mothers inspire movies in every category, from comedy to romance to drama to crime to animation to horror, from the lowest-budget indie to the biggest-budget prestige film.

There are innumerable ways of mothering, and all of them show up in the movies. There are cookie-baking, apron-wearing mothers who always know just the right thing to say. There are stylish, sophisticated, wealthy mothers and mothers who do not have enough money to feed their children. There are mothers with PhDs and mothers who cannot read. There are mothers of every race and religion and many species on earth and in outer space (remember Alien).
There are terrifying mothers who abuse or abandon their children. There are mothers who give good advice and endless support and mothers who push their children to take the wrong jobs or marry the wrong people. There are super-strict mothers and super-lax mothers, mothers who want to know every detail of their children’s lives and mothers who barely remember that they have children at all. There are mothers of children with special needs who fight to make sure they have the fullest and most independent lives they can. There are children who love and support their mothers and children who break their mothers’ hearts.

And there are those very special souls who remind us that motherhood doesn’t require a biological connection. Stepmothers and adoptive mothers are as vitally important on screen as they are in the lives of those lucky enough to be raised by them.

“A boy’s best friend is his mother,” says a character whose mother is central to the story even though she never appears in the film. (Spoiler alert: The quote comes from Norman Bates in “Psycho.”) In “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,” tough guy Sylvester Stallone plays a cop who mother comes along on his investigation whether he wants her to or not. In “Oedipus Wrecks,” one of three short films that make up the compilation New York Stories, Woody Allen plays a lawyer whose mother finds the ultimate way to embarrass him. And don’t get me started on Jason’s mother in the Friday the 13th movies.

I have selected 50 of my favorite movie mothers, from films as varied as The Sound of Music and Little Women along with forgotten or overlooked films like Stella Dallas, Claudia and David, and Dear Frankie. Actresses like Anne Revere and Spring Byington made careers out of wonderful performances as mothers, and I have included some of their best. I have a special affection for films and performances based on real-life mothers, especially those based on the mothers of the writers who told their stories, like Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance in Places in the Heart. But each of the mothers in these movies is inspired by the unique joys and frustrations of the woman we love first.

A lot of women have been nominated for Oscars for playing mothers and just about every actress over age 20 has appeared as a mother in at least one movie. From beloved Marmee in “Little Women” and Mrs. Brown in “National Velvet” to mean moms in “Now Voyager” and “Mommie Dearest.”  Oscar-winnng classics and neglected gems, based on real-life like Sally Fields in “Places in the Heart” or fantasy like Dumbo’s lullabye-singing elephant mom, biological mothers like Irene Dunne in “I Remember Mama” or step-mothers like Maria in “The Sound of Music,” these are all must-see movies.

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