My latest movie fix

It was one of those staying-in weekend nights and I was doing a Goldilocks-like search for something to watch, not too this, not too that--something new-to-me and a little different than the seasonal blockbusters and reruns--when I chanced upon a movie I think you might like: Before We Go.  Jake (a very likeable Chris Evans, who also directed the film) is a trumpet player playing in Grand Central Station at closing when Brooke (Alice Eve) dashes past him, dropping her phone. She has missed her train home to Boston and has lost her purse (these are all part of the set up details in the first few minutes) but she desperately needs to get home by 7 a.m. The movie follows the two characters through a night in NYC trying to get her back in Boston in time.

If I had to compare it to other films, I'd say it's kind of like Once or Begin Again (that kind of love story) + a little Before Sunrise (two new acquaintances walking around a city at night) + a dash of Roman Holiday (I don't know, it's just a sweet movie about two people roaming around a city) + a splash of Lost in Translation (it has that kind of sleepy insomnia middle of the night feel).  How's that for an odd and sundry list of movie ingredients?! 

I'm going to guess that this is one of those films that I like better than the critics will. Does it break new ground? No. Do you have to suspend belief a little with the plot? Sure. But I liked it--a lot. It's a different kind of love story and it's smart, lovely, funny, sweet. Maybe I just like sweet, relationshippy movies; if that's not your cup of tea, you might not like this one. But so far three generations in my family (me, my parents, my three kids and Greg) have seen it and genuinely liked it. So there you go.

Rated PG13 (I'd say this is right; I'm suggesting this as a movie for YOU but older teens will "get it" more than younger ones--there's some language and some discussions about fidelity/infidelity and other relationship talk).

It's available On Demand now so if you like to be an early adopter, you can download the movie NOW via iTunes  and others (though I have US iTunes so I'm not sure if it's available in other countries, sorry!)  Otherwise, it comes out in early September in the US and other places or put it on your list for your someday Netflix enjoyment. 

In the last couple of months I've also really liked Far from the Madding Crowd (I know, not a big surprise--I do love me a good period drama)  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (not for your young ones, though, I don't think), Inside Out (of course), and Tracks

p.s. Other Nest & Launch movie recommendations here.

Now it's your turn. What movies have you loved lately?

The Movie List: 100+ Movies for Mid-stage Families

We're always on the lookout for movies we can watch as a family of parents + teens + older kids, anything from feel-good happily-ever-afters to comedies to thought-provoking dramas that are more complex than a Disney movie but still geared for our ages and stages. Are you in the same boat? Well,  this is for you, fellow mid-stage families!

We've been haphazardly jotting down random movie suggestions for years--on an old envelope in my wallet, an index card in the kitchen, our Netflix queue online, and an electronic list on my phone. Lately several friends have asked for our movie list so last week I finally gathered the random jottings into one big list of 100+ movies we've either watched already or want to watch together.

A couple of notes: Keep in mind that my kids are in the older teen range so not every movie on our list will necessarily work for you. I've starred the ones that I think might warrant closer supervision or previewing by a parent. But starred or not, it's always good to take a look at a website like Common Sense Media or Kids in Mind (or even IMDB or Wikipedia) to see if a movie sounds right for you and your family.

You might notice that I've not listed superhero movies or Star Potters of the Lost Ark of the Ring or other blockbusters because, well, of course we're going to see those. These are more off-the-beaten-path selections or forgotten gems from other decades. If it contributes to our movie/cultural/historical literacy, all the better! 

The Funny & The Fun 
O Brother Where Art Thou*
The Philadelphia Story
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The Sandlot
His Girl Friday
You’ve Got Mail
That Thing You Do
Mrs. Doubtfire
Sleepless in Seattle
Groundhog Day
A Hard Day's Night
Princess Bride
Pink Panther movies*
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
Funny Girl
Raising Arizona*
The Fairy Tale Theatre series
Adam’s Rib
Bringing Up Baby
Better Off Dead*
The Brothers Bloom*
Robot & Frank
The Decoy Bride
Follow Me, Boys
Fly Away Home

. . .

The Feel Goods & The Dramas
Mr. Holland’s Opus
An Affair to Remember
Rabbit-Proof Fence
Roman Holiday
The Red Shoes
Heaven Can Wait
The Fugitive*
The Bishop’s Wife
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
It’s a Wonderful Life
An American in Paris
Rear Window*
The Shop Around the Corner
12 Angry Men
Wait Until Dark*
The Shawshank Redemption
Ten Things I Hate About You
Not Without my Daughter
Get Low
Shall We Dance?
Storm Boy
The Help
The Secret Life of Bees

. . .

The Challenges & Triumphs
Field of Dreams
Apollo 13
The Dish
A League of Their Own*
Chariots of Fire
The Karate Kid (the 80s one)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
October Sky*
Pursuit of Happyness
Akeelah and the Bee
Brian's Song
Whale Rider*
Taking Chance
A Song For Marion
The Astronaut Farmer
Take Shelter
Walk the Line
Rebel Without a Cause
The Blindside*
Life of Pi

. . .

The Literary & The Historical
A Passage to India
All the President’s Men*
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Finding Neverland
Sense and Sensibility
Becoming Jane
The Lion in Winter
Henry V*
Ever After
Quiz Show
Thirteen Days*
Lawrence of Arabia
Young Mr. Lincoln
2000 Leagues Under the Sea
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Gone with the Wind
How Green was My Valley
Our Mutual Friend
Ben Hur
Wizard of Oz
Doctor Zhivago*
The Slipper and the Rose
Hans Christian Andersen
Carrie's War
The Robe
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid*
Empire of the Sun*
Out of Africa*
The Pride of the Yankees
Pride & Prejudice
The Glenn Miller Story
The Outsiders*
The Dead Poets Society*
Bright Star*
Young Victoria
Little Women (several versions)
To Kill a Mockingbird*
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
Miss Potter
East of Eden
Amazing Grace
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas*

. . .

The Musicals:
The King and I
My Fair Lady
Singing in the Rain
West Side Story
Meet Me in St. Louis
Les Mis
Sound of Music
One Night The Moon*

. . .

The Documentaries:
First Position
Being Elmo
Up documentary series*
Mad Hot Ballroom
Tim’s Vermeer*
The Pixar Story
Fame High
To Be and To Have (Etre et Avoir)
March of the Penguins
Winged Migration
Searching for Sugarman*
Hoop Dreams*
A State of Mind
Anything by Michael Mosley
Redesign My Brain

. . .

The Foreign Films:
Children of Heaven
Les Choristes

Opal Dream
The Red Balloon
Cinema Paradiso*
The Mission
Jean de Florette
Kiki's Delivery Service
My Neighbor Totoro
The Gilded Cage*
The Finishers
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*
Life is Beautiful*
The Intouchables
Monsoon Wedding

*= might need some closer supervision or pre-viewing by a parent

Okay, your turn! Any suggestions? Go ahead and add your picks in the comments and I'll add them (those additions to the list are in italics). Happy watching!


Don't you forget about me

Recently This American Life aired a segment featuring Molly Ringwald's experience watching The Breakfast Club with her daughter for the first time. It was an interesting and surprisingly poignant conversation with her daughter (and, later, with Ira Glass) about seeing things differently years later through mama eyes, subjective memory, expectations, and the sometimes surprising messages and moments that kids internalize.

A snippet from the interview: 

Ira Glass: So this is the first time that you saw the film as a parent. Did you see it differently?

Molly Ringwald: Absolutely. I really did. I really kind of felt for the parents.

Ira Glass: For people who haven't seen The Breakfast Club, a lot of it is about the kids being disappointed in the parents.

Molly Ringwald: Yeah. And how alone and isolated and frustrated you feel with your parents. And now I see the movie and I just think, oh, their poor parents. And I think that when it was pointed out to me that the movie just talks about how all parents suck, you know, then I thought in my mind, well, actually that might be kind of good because then she can see that she doesn't have parents like that. And then she can, you know, appreciate us. [Laughs.]

. . .

What actually happens when she discusses the movie with her daughter unfolds both in the way she wanted and in a way she didn't expect. You can read the full This American Life transcript here, in segment three. Or have a listen (starting at 38:48):

Alternative cinema for big kids: The Shop Around the Corner

Oh, have I got a gem for you today. Have you seen it? The Shop Around the Corner is a terrific 1940 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Maureen Sullavan.  Directed by Hungarian Ernst Lubitch while he was in exile from his country, it feels like a sweet tribute to the ordinary life whose loss he must have been mourning. I can't help imagining what an enjoyable oasis of a movie it was, there in the dark days of WWII.  It was based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie and in turn inspired the movies In the Good Old Summertime (a 1949 musical starring Judy Garland) and the 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail (in fact, remember how Meg Ryan's book store was even called The Shop Around the Corner?) as well as the musical She Loves Me

Budapest store clerk Alfred and newly hired shopgirl Clara despise each other almost at first sight, not realizing they are secretly falling in love with each other as mysterious penpals. That's not a spoiler; it's pretty obvious from the start (and if you've already seen You've Got Mail you know that part already anyway) but the sweet story and its multiple subplots and characters in the little universe of the Hungarian shop keep the film moving along in an engaging way. And its themes of loneliness and heartache are lightened by many doses of comic relief. Maddy and I watched it together a few weekends ago when the boys were both gone and we both loved it (but I think the boys would enjoyed it, too).

shop around the corner 6.jpg

Admittedly, we're not the first ones to love it. It's listed on Time's list of all-time top 100 movies among many more favorites lists. Film critic Pauline Kael said that The Shop Around the Corner is "as close to perfection as a movie made by mortals is ever likely to be" and called it "an airy wonder with steel underpinnings" (via this essay).

The Shop Around the Corner is not rated but I'm fairly certain it would get a PG. (See the parent guide here.)

  • Received 100% on Rotten Tomatoes
  • Available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.
  • Probably for ages 10 and up (but check the parent guide, above)
  • If you loved You've Got Mail or It's a Wonderful Life, this one's for you
  • Fun fact: "To make sure his film was stripped of the glamor usually associated with him, Lubitsch went to such lengths as ordering that a dress Sullavan had purchased off the rack for $1.98 be left in the sun to bleach and altered to fit poorly" (via IMBD)
  • And, hey, if you have a nice stretch of time, why not turn it into a marathon of all three movies--The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and You've Got Mail

Alternative cinema for big kids: Wadjda

Meet Wadjda. 

She's a spunky, smart, enterprising 10-year-old Saudi Arabian girl living in Riyadh who has her eye on a green bicycle at the shop. 


Much to her dismay, she can't convince her mother or father to purchase it; bicycles are considered unseemly, a bit scandalous, and even damaging for a girl ("you won't be able to have children if you ride a bike!" she's told). So she decides to take fate into her own hands and enter the Koran recitation contest at school that offers a cash prize with enough to get the bike.

Wadjda delighted me. If you haven't seen it yet, you are in for a treat. The Guardian called it "a rebel yell with a spoonful of sugar" and that's about right. It has a sweetness to it while gently pushing the envelope for opportunities for girls in Saudi Arabia. And I was fascinated by the window into daily life in Riyadh. Wadjda deftly navigated the themes of cultural beliefs & practices, family relationships, faith, and social change, reflecting some of the nuance and complexity of these issues rather than going for a heavy-handed approach.

It's also a movie of firsts: the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia and the first film ever made by a Saudi female filmmaker. In fact, since it is illegal there for men and women to work in public together, director Haifaa al Mansour had to communicate with the crew through phones and radio from inside a van.  (For more about Haifaa al Mansour's experience directing the movie and her approach to gradual change within Saudi Arabia, listen to this interview with the Guardian and this one with NPR.)

Wadjda (rated PG)  is available on iTunes and Netflix. 

  • I loved it. Highly recommended and one of my favorite recent film finds.
  • Recommended for: ages 10 and up, especially those who are curious about other cultures and about children around the world--and those who don't mind reading captions to keep up with the story.
  • You should know: You may have to explain a bit about Muslim culture and, specifically, why Wadjda's father is considering marrying another woman. There's also some very mild innuendo that will go right over most kids' heads. (As always, if you have any reservations or questions, see it first before showing your kids.)

Cinema for big kids: Holiday edition

By the time this posts, I'll (hopefully) be in the air on the lonnnnng but happy flight home for the holidays. But before I go, a quick post to celebrate holiday movies, second only to music in setting my Christmas barometer to "festive." Here's a list of holiday films (and some tv episodes)--obvious and maybe not-so-obvious--to consider for your holiday viewing this year:

  • Elf. (2003) Of course.
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Of course. Every single year. Buffalo girls won't you come out tonight?
  • John Denver and The Muppets--A Christmas Together (1979): A must-see Muppet Christmas tv episode. Classic--we also love the soundtrack from this one.
  • Little Women (any version but I like the 1994 one with Claire Danes and Wynona Ryder and Christian Bale(!) for its winter scenes). Sure, it's not a Christmas movie per se but the holiday scenes are so evocative! 
  • The Bishop's Wife (1947): A Bishop prays for guidance and Cary Grant appears as the Angel Dudley. Trailer here
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): How can you resist Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" 
  • A Christmas Story (1983): Ralphie's Christmas quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, his dad's leg lamp, the tongue on the icy flagpole. (Some language; we learned through experience this one isn't really for the younger end of the spectrum.)
  • The Bells of St. Mary's (1945): Not technically a Christmas movie but it contains one of my all-time favorite Christmas nativity scenes:
  • Holiday Inn (1942): Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire. Need I say more?
  • White Christmas (1954): Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney come together to save a Vermont Inn with music. 
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993): Not a Christmas movie either but some of the crucial scenes happen on Christmas Eve and can you really go wrong with Nora Ephron?
  • Home Alone (1990): Christmas overload! 
  • Little House on the Prairie (1974): What better way to catch the Christmas spirit than joining the Ingalls in their Christmas at Plum Creek episode (even if you're a little distracted by all the leaves on the trees and bushes in December in  "Minnesota")
  • The Waltons original tv pilot movie (1971): The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. This one's for you, Sarah:

Enjoy! Now, what am I missing? What are your holiday movie favorites?

Alt cinema for big kids: Opal Dream


In Opal Dream, Kellyanne Williamson is a young girl with a vivid imagination living with her family in an opal mining town in South Australia. When her two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan, go missing, the mysterious sickness that she soon suffers has her older brother Ashmol on a search to find the invisible pair for her.

At the same time, Kellyanne and Ashmol's dad is chasing dreams of hitting it big in the opal mines. He is caught accidentally straying onto another miner's turf and assumed to be "ratting," looking for opals on another's territory.  Thereafter the family faces harassment over it in their small town.  

Based on the Ben Rice novella Pobby and Dingan, this bittersweet family film has a simple fable-like quality, the story an allegory for the loss of childhood. It also grants an interesting view of Australian life in the mining region. Might be a bit too sweet for some (as in more jaded older teens?). Good for 10+ or so. 

. . . 

opal dream cover.jpg

Rating: PG (some occasional language and tense moments of bullying.) 
Themes: siblings, bullying, imagination, compassion, faith, family loyalty, other cultures
Year: 2006
Rotten Tomatoes score: 70%
 Available on iTunes to rent or buy 

Interesting tidbit: the original movie had a different ending; a last-minute cut was made against the wishes of the director because the financiers thought it would have better success at the box office with a different ending. 

(Thanks to my aunt Susie, who mentioned this film recently. It was a good find!)

Looking for some more off-the-beaten-path options? Here are our other Nest & Launch alternative cinema titles so far: 
 Children of Heaven
Les Choristes