When there is a snowless snow day and you’re going a little stir crazy in your house, a family movie outing always tops my list of fun activities. So when we realized school was cancelled, I asked my kids if they would like to see Hidden Figures. My 11 year old daughter had seen the previews and was all in. My teen son, who has loved all things space since as long as I can remember, hesitated. While he loved the idea of a film about NASA, he was worried that a movie about three women would inevitably involve romance and “girly things.” I assured him that just because the movie had three female leads, it did not have to be all about hearts and flowers so off we went. While I had to later admit that there was a small side plot about a blooming romance and a couple of kisses here and there, this is thankfully not a love story.
Hidden Figures tells the true story of three talented African-American women who worked on NASA’s first missions to space. The story mainly focuses on Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a gifted math whiz whose skills propel her to work on calculating John Glenn’s launch into orbit. Katherine endures many struggles as the only black female working with all white men during the stressful time of the space race against Russia in the 1960’s segregated south. From having to walk long distances to find a colored restroom, to not being able to drink from the same pot of coffee, Katherine does not let anything stop her as she works tirelessly to put the first man into space. Helping her along the way is Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer in another terrific performance) who works as a supervisor to the black women at NASA even though she is repeatedly refused that title. Dorothy wisely realizes that her job as a “human computer” will become obsolete once the newly purchased IBM computers are up and running so she teaches herself how to program the computers to ensure job security. We also meet Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who has the talents of an engineer but is unable to be promoted as she lacks the course credits that are only offered at an all white school.
This movie is a terrific introduction to teaching kids the hardships that the African-American community has faced in our country. It’s one thing to read about these shameful parts of our history, but seeing it actually happen to these characters so blatantly on screen really resonated with my kids and facilitated a great conversation afterward. These three ladies show great courage and perseverance as they work to succeed. They don’t just complain about their situation—they improve it. That is definitely a great lesson for kids to hear!
So whether you want to enlighten your kids, or you just want to enjoy seeing some women kicking butt and taking names, Hidden Figures is a great opportunity to do so. Enjoy!
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is having great family holiday traditions. I think it’s so important for kids to have certain things to look forward to each year. Among our many traditions, we always make time to watch several Christmas movies together every year. You really can’t beat snuggling on the couch in your PJs with some popcorn, hot chocolate and a great holiday film. There are also some movies that I watch without the kids late at night while wrapping presents. I’m listing some of my favorites, I’d love to know what your family enjoys!
This film is always at the top of my Christmas list. Directed by the legendary Frank Capra, this is the quintessential Christmas classic. George Bailey (the flawless Jimmy Stewart) has an encounter with an angel who shows him what life would be like if he never existed. We have only started watching this as a family in the past few years and it was definitely a hit. There are a few scenes that are intense—Mr. Gower almost poisoning someone in grief and George almost doing himself in—but it really is a fantastic movie about gratitude, family and generosity.
You can’t not laugh at this ridiculous but fantastic and unique story. Buddy (Will Ferrell) lives with his elf family at the North Pole and doesn’t feel like he really fits in. He doesn’t fit in because it turns out he isn’t an elf at all. As a baby, Buddy the orphan crawled into Santa’s bag ended up in the North Pole. Buddy was then raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) and learned the ways of Santa’s helpers. When Buddy finds out the truth about his past, he sets off to reunite with his real father Walter in New York City (James Caan) who just happens to be on the naughty list. Buddy is so loving and endearing that you can’t help but root for him as he navigates the big city and works to win over his father. My kids love watching a grown man run around Manhattan in tights acting completely ludicrous. Plus Ed Asner’s Santa is flawless and I dare you not to sing when everyone breaks into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Read More →
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
I practically jumped out of my seat when I first saw the trailer for Allied. It’s rare these days for Hollywood to produce a mature romantic thriller. I’m also a huge fan of movies set in the 1940’s and especially World War II stories. Plus, whether you were team Jen or the now defunct team Angelina, Brad Pitt is still easy on the eyes so it sounded like a win-win situation!
The year is 1942, and Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) parachutes into French Morocco on a mission to kill a high-ranking German official. He enters the city of Casablanca to meet his new co-conspirator Marianne (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful French resistance fighter who has used her beguiling charm to befriend several prominent Nazi supporters. Marianne has fabricated a marriage to Max as cover for their secret mission and the two strangers gamely pose as lovers as they plot their assignment. Of course, when you look as beautiful as they do and you live together in close quarters, your emotions might get the best of you. If your mission is extremely dangerous (and you probably won’t survive through the night) you might do a little canoodling in a car during a sandstorm. No judgement! Read More →
Release Date: November 23
Run time: 113 minutes
Moana is Disney’s latest foray into the realm of princesses—although as a Polynesian Chief’s daughter she’s technically not a full-fledged princess but she’s pretty close. Moana lives with her family on a remote island and is raised to one day assume the role of the island’s chief. However, Moana is constantly drawn to the lure of the ocean and wishes to explore beyond the reef—which is strictly forbidden by her father. In an interesting twist for a Disney movie, Moana’s mother is still alive. Unfortunately, she barely registers as a character so I’m not sure that this actually counts as progress from usual dysfunctional Disney family dynamic. Moana seems resigned to live her life on land until a mysterious darkness creeps onto the island. Suddenly, coconuts begin turning black and vegetation starts dying. Moana’s grandmother explains on her deathbed the reason the island is in trouble. The legend states that demi-god Maui stole the jade stone heart of life-giving goddess Tehiti and the only way to stop the darkness is by bringing Maui back to Tehiti to replace the stone. Grandma knows that Moana is destined to be Maui’s guide as she witnessed the ocean delivering the heart stone to Moana as a baby. Read More →
I’ve got a secret that I haven’t shared with too many people until now—I might have a tiny little obsession with the Royal Family. It probably started when I woke up at the crack of dawn as a kid to watch the wedding of Charles and Diana. It continued as I joyfully celebrated the union of William and Kate and the arrival of their adorable babies.
So I couldn’t contain my glee when I found out about the new Netflix series The Crown which debuts November 4th. The series begins in 1947, when young Elizabeth falls in love and marries Philip. Their life changes dramatically when she ascends to the throne at the age of 25, much earlier than expected. The story promises to bring us into the private struggles of the Queen’s amazing life. If that’s not enough to grab you, The Crown will be one of the most expensive TV series ever made ($110 million!) promising amazing costumes, locations, and set designs (which should cheer up those mourning the loss of Downton Abbey!) I cannot wait for this series to begin. So if, like me, you have a serious love of all things Royal, here are a few other terrific options for you to enjoy.
(2010, Rated R)
This brilliant Oscar winning film focuses on King George VI (father of the current Queen) the man who wasn’t supposed to reign. Raised as the “spare” second born son, Bertie (as he was nicknamed) happily lives in his older brother Edward’s shadow and supports Edward as he becomes King upon their father’s death in 1936. When Edward decides to give up the throne in order to marry his divorced lover Wallis Simpson, Bertie must take the throne. Unfortunately, Bertie has suffered his entire life with a stammer, making it incredibly difficult and embarrassing for him to give speeches—a crucial part of his new job. Bertie’s loving wife finds help for him with speech therapist Lionel Logue. Bertie and Logue’s time together creates a great friendship as Logue helps Bertie to find his voice. With a stellar cast including Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and my beloved Colin Firth (who won a well-deserved Oscar for best actor), this is a not-to-be missed gem of a film. Read More →
Based on the best selling 2015 novel, The Girl on the Train tells the sad tale of Rachel (Emily Blunt) a woman who has completely spiraled out of control since her divorce from husband Tom (Justin Theroux). Unable to move forward from her past life, Rachel drinks herself into oblivion as she rides the train past her old home during her daily commute to New York City. She is devastated that her house is now occupied by Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), the home wrecker who stole her husband and now proudly wears a ring on her finger as she cradles a beautiful baby in her arms. To dull the pain, Rachel focuses on an attractive couple that live a few houses down from her ex. Rachel projects all of her desires for a happy relationship onto this seemingly perfect couple she spies on every day imagining the wonderful life they share. Rachel’s fragile grip on sanity becomes untethered on the day she realizes the perfect couple she obsesses over is not so perfect after all. She sees the woman embracing another man and it rekindles all of the anger at the deception she faced in her own marriage. That evening, the inebriated Rachel gets off the train in a rage in her old neighborhood and heads down to the train tunnel. When we next see Rachel, she is bloodied and bruised in her apartment, and has no memory of the previous night. She quickly learns that the woman she has been spying on is named Megan (Haley Bennett), and her husband has reported her missing. What happened that night in the tunnel? Did Rachel have something to do with Megan’s disappearance? Read More →
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Run time: 2 hours 14 minutes
I had mixed feelings heading into the theater to see Snowden — the film based on infamous NSA hacker Edward Snowden. On the one hand, director Oliver Stone has created some pretty amazing films (Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, Platoon) but on the other hand, he can get overly political and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend two hours of my life getting screamed at about privacy rights trumping our safety in a post 9/11 world. Still, I didn’t feel like I knew as much about Edward Snowden as I should and I was curious to see what actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt could do with the role of the quiet, almost robotic man. I’m so glad I gave this film a chance.
Snowden opens in a Hong Kong hotel lobby where documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and reporter Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) have arranged to secretly meet and interview Snowden regarding illegal surveillance practices at the NSA. The paranoid Snowden then tells his story of how he has ended up the world’s number one fugitive in a series of flashbacks of his career and life. We first go back to 2004, where Snowden has enlisted in the Special Forces. He is ill-equipped for this grueling job and injures his legs to the point that he is medically discharged from the military. We then move to 2006, where Snowden trains for a job at the CIA, a position much better suited to his considerable talents. At this time he also meets love interest Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) a free-spirited liberal who quickly captures the buttoned up conservative’s heart. We then move forward through Snowden’s fast paced career as he and Lindsay travel from Geneva to Tokyo to Hawaii. The more he learns about the NSA’s practices, the more conflicted he becomes about the capturing of data from all citizens regardless of whether or not they are suspected of a link to terror. Snowden eventually reaches his breaking point and steals proof of the surveillance program while escaping to Hong Kong, leaving Lindsay behind. Read More →
Photo creds: Jamie Vinson Photography
I’m so excited to introduce you all to my friend, Jenny Jones. While we’ve been neighbors for several years, I only recently learned that she was a passenger on flight 1549 when we started discussing the movie Sully. I guess being in a plane crash isn’t something that normally comes up in casual conversation! While this event is a small part of Jenny’s life, I had to get the full details after seeing the terrific film based on the Miracle on the Hudson.
Married to: Tray 7 years (We got married May 30th after the January 15th crash)
Children: Annie almost 5, Lucy 2.5 and Maggie 1
Years in Charlotte: Born and raised in Charlotte
Alma Mater: Appalachian State
Occupation: Previously a Risk Manager until Annie was born in 2011. Now I am the president of crumbs, diapers, boo boos and snuggles!
I was excited and anxious about the movie. When I heard they were going to do a movie on Sully, I was excited for him. He is a very humble person who did an amazing thing, he should be given praise! With so much negativity around us in the media, it’s always nice to see something positive (or at least a happy ending). I planned to see the movie with Tray first but ended up asking my mom, brother, sister-in-law, sister and brother-in-law. They all came with me. Watching the movie was more intense than I anticipated; I shed quite a few tears. But overall I enjoyed watching the story unfold. Many of the images shown in the movie from video clips off of the piers to pictures taken of the plane floating were ones I’ve seen a million times yet never get old. The idea of a plane floating down the Hudson River is still one that baffles me. Read More →
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
The “Miracle on the Hudson” flight ranks right up there with historic moments that you will never forget. Who would believe that a damaged plane carrying 150 passengers en route to Charlotte would safely land on the Hudson river and everyone would survive? It seems like it would be a stunt in a Mission Impossible movie, so it’s no wonder the event became a film. Having seen the extensive news coverage of the gripping story and later finding out that my own neighbor was on that flight, I was more than eager to see the movie.
To add to the excitement, I love Tom Hanks — I really do. This is a man who can completely disappear into each character he portrays. Once he gets going, you just forget that you are watching an actor at work and you just believe wholeheartedly he is either Captain Sully Sullenberger, he is Captain Phillips, or even Forrest Gump. I really can’t think of another actor who is so adept at his craft. Add to that director Clint Eastwood who blew me away with his directing of American Sniper and it’s a pretty irresistible combination in a film.
The question is, how do you turn a six minute flight with an ending everybody already knows into a feature length film? It’s especially hard when the main character is such a beloved hero whose character is beyond reproach and the villain in the story is a flock of geese in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luckily, the screenwriters worked the NTSB safety hearings into the storyline to create the added tension of questioning Sully’s unprecedented decision. Could the plane have safely made it to another airport instead of the making the more difficult forced water landing? The hearings really highlight how quickly and calmly Sully reacted, using his years of experience to make a brilliant decision. He proves the computer simulations were wrong, showing there really is no match for an experienced and tested pilot. The stress of instant celebrity status is also explored, where the once unknown pilot is launched into a media frenzy with countless interviews and tv appearances. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a man who just lived through a plane crash! These story elements combine to make the film so much more than the crash and water rescue. Read More →
Directed By: David Lowery
Run Time: 103 minutes
Having seen the 1977 musical version of Pete’s Dragon, I wasn’t too sure that a remake was wanted or needed. The sad tale of orphan Pete who escapes his alcoholic and abusive adoptive parents with the help of a green and purple cartoon dragon didn’t seem like a top contender for a makeover from Disney. Luckily, this new version ditches most of the original story and only keeps the main characters of orphan Pete and his best friend, magical dragon Elliot in a completely reimagined story that is a welcome respite from all of those big loud summer blockbusters.
Pete is only about five years old when his family adventure in the woods turns tragic. A car accident kills Pete’s parents, leaving the helpless little boy all alone in the woods with only a picture book and the clothes on his back. When wolves descend on the terrified child, he is saved by a giant green dragon who Pete decides to name Elliot. Pete and Elliot become the best of friends, and live happily together in the deepest parts of the forest. The CGI created Elliot looks fantastic, from his friendly gaze to his furry body to his playful smile. Elliot and Pete are inseparable, and their bond is displayed in several playful sequences as the two run and frolic and live together all alone in the woods.
Fast forward six years, and the forest is much smaller thanks to the logging industry. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is discovered by forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), as she argues with logger Gavin (Karl Urban) over how far into the forest he and his team can cut trees. She brings the scared and confused Pete to the hospital, separating him from Elliot. Grace doesn’t understand where Pete came from and how he has survived in the wild for so long all alone. Pete tries to explain Elliot to Grace, but the only person who believes him is Grace’s father Mr. Meacham (the always welcome Robert Redford). It turns out that Mr. Meacham had an encounter with Elliot once himself, and knows that a magical dragon lives in their woods. Of course the secret of Elliot doesn’t last long as mean old Gavin heads back to the woods and finds Elliot, who is frantically searching for his beloved Pete. Gavin traps Elliot, and then it is up to Pete and Grace to save Elliot from a life in captivity. Read More →