With museums and movie theaters and amusements parks out, we decided to lean into watching movies — a continuation of our mandatory Friday Lent movie party, but this time, anything is fair game. Damien and I pick something the kids at least might enjoy and appreciate, but that they probably wouldn’t pick on their own. Every few weeks, we let the kids pick what we watch. The idea is to expand their palates a bit and also to have some regular time together, which definitely doesn’t happen on its own.
Our definition of “family movies” may differ from yours! We have a lot of teens and older, so we tend to err on the side of movies that are a bit too old for the minority. We watched a few of these without the youngest kids. In this post, “little guys” refers to kids ages 8 and 5.
We streamed all of these movies, and paid a few dollars for most of them. The information about where to stream movies changes so often, so I just linked to their pages on ReelGood.com and it will show you where you can currently stream them.
I’m gonna cheat and include summaries stolen from various sources:
The Music Man
When Harold Hill (Robert Preston), a traveling con man, arrives in River City, he convinces the locals to start a band by purchasing the uniforms and instruments from him. His intention is to flee as soon as he receives the money. Librarian Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones) suspects Harold is a fraud, but holds her tongue since her moody brother, Winthrop (Ronny Howard), is excited about the band. As Harold begins to develop feelings for Marian, he faces a difficult decision about skipping town. (Wikipedia)
What a weird movie! Dancing great, music great, really funny stuff. It’s one of those movies you can just enjoy for the syncopation and the choreography and the spectacle, or you can think a bit about who these people are and how they got to be there. I’ve seen it before, but the line “I always think there’s a band, kid” made me cry this time. This was also the first time I thought, “Wait, is Winthrop actually Marion’s secret son?” He could be a change of life baby, but he could also be a secret grandson. Marion tells her mother that the problem isn’t that her standards are too high; it’s that she falls in love too easily, and what she really wants is for someone to stay. There is an awful lot of unacknowledged frenetic sexual energy in this town, as you can see by how easy it is to get everybody dancing like lunatics, but there’s also a heavy layer of refusal to acknowledge it, which amps up the tension.
Anyway, solid, entertaining movie. Some of the kids liked it; some acted like they hated it more than I think they actually did.
North By Northwest
North by Northwest is a tale of mistaken identity, with an innocent man pursued across the United States by agents of a mysterious organization trying to prevent him from blocking their plan to smuggle out microfilm which contains government secrets. (Wikipedia)
This is one of Damien’s favorites. I’ve definitely come to appreciate Cary Grant more over the years. I used to find him so slick and repellant, but he’s much more of a comic actor than I ever realized. This character a man whose life was in trouble long before he accidentally got caught up in foreign intrigue.
All ages, but younger kids will struggle to follow the plot.
Respected medical lecturer Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) learns that he has inherited his infamous grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. Arriving at the castle, Dr. Frankenstein soon begins to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of servants Igor (Marty Feldman), Inga (Teri Garr) and the fearsome Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). After he creates his own monster (Peter Boyle), new complications ensue with the arrival of the doctor’s fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn).(Wikipedia)
The most perfect movie ever made. About 40% of the things we say to each other in this house are quotes from Young Frankenstein. If you have seen this movie and didn’t think much of it, I don’t know what to say to you. If you’re one of those, “Oh, I love Mel Brooks! Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men In Tights are the best things I’ve ever seen!” people, you can just leave. The best Mel Brooks movies are the ones where he’s satirizing genres he knows intimately and loves ardently; the worst ones are the ones where he’s clearly just cashing in on a popular trend.
All ages, although it’s bit risqué for the younger kids, but I think most of the naughty stuff went over their heads. Younger kids may find it scary.
A parody of and homage to science-fiction films and series, especially Star Trek and its fandom, the film stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell. It depicts the cast of a fictional defunct cult television series, Galaxy Quest, who are visited by actual aliens who think the series is an accurate documentary, and become involved in a very real intergalactic conflict. (Wikipedia)
The kids chose this one. I’ve seen it a few too many times, but it’s entertaining and solid and ultimately very sweet. Great casting, and nice to see a movie where nerdy kids aren’t dunked on. Same plot as The Three Amigos, which I also wouldn’t mind re-watching.
All ages. There are some scary scenes of chasing and torture.
This classic film noir by John Huston stars Humphrey Bogart as World War II vet Frank McCloud. Visiting Key Largo to pay his respects to the family of his late war buddy, McCloud attempts to comfort his comrade’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), and father, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), who operate a hotel. But McCloud realizes that mobsters, led by the infamous Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), are staying in the hotel. When the criminals take over the establishment, conflict is inevitable. (Synopsis by Google)
This movie makes you feel like you’re going cuh-razy. Such fantastic tension and atmosphere and sense of place. Apparently Clare Trevor’s wretchedness and nervousness when she’s forced to sing for her drink were only partially her acting, because she wasn’t given the chance to practice beforehand, and they just filmed a raw take, which was mean but effective. It’s a noir film that shows gangsters as gross and pettily cruel rather than glamorous. It’s so unfair that Frank McCloud has to fight at home after he’s done fighting in the war, but evil be like that. Very satisfying ending.
All ages, but younger kids may be a bit bored. There is a lot of action, but much of the tension comes from characters having to face interior choices. The kids were, for some reason, fascinated at Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall essentially wearing matching outfits.
The best new movie I’ve seen in years. I had no idea what was going to happen, right down to the last drop, and it worked out so much better than I could have hoped. So funny and weird and exciting. Immensely satisfying and original. Everybody liked it. Totally earned all the accolades it got. It was very tense and fairly violent, so the little guys didn’t watch it, but its moral compass was right on.
This is a movie to own and re-watch.
Night of the Hunter
The Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is a religious fanatic and serial killer who targets women who use their sexuality to attract men. Serving time in prison for car theft, he meets condemned murderer Ben Harper (Peter Graves), who confesses to hiding $10,000 in stolen loot. Released from jail, Powell is obsessed with finding the money, and he tracks down Harper’s widow, Willa (Shelley Winters), and her two children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce). (Google synopsis)
Watch it just for the sheer beauty. If your kids are resistant to watching black and white movies, this might be a good intro. Unforgettable. We had some good conversations about the sort of surreal stylized aesthetic and how some of the characters delivered their lines. It occurs to me that one of the main themes is responsibility: What do you take on and what do you shuffle off on other people? Maybe the real villain is Ben Harper, hmmmm? The preacher, who thinks of himself as some kind of willing vessel of God’s will, is not entirely wrong about being just an agent. There are lots of villains of different degrees in this story.
All ages, but haunting and may be upsetting for youngest kids. It shows a drowned woman and includes an execution, and the whole movie centers on kids in terrible peril. Those child actors were SO GOOD.
Thirty years ago, aliens arrive on Earth — not to conquer or give aid, but to find refuge from their dying planet. Separated from humans in a South African area called District 9, the aliens are managed by Multi-National United, which is unconcerned with the aliens’ welfare but will do anything to master their advanced technology. When a company field agent (Sharlto Copley) contracts a mysterious virus that begins to alter his DNA, there is only one place he can hide: District 9. (Google synopsis. This isn’t a very good synopsis, fyi.)
Just for the high school kids. Quite violent and disgusting and upsetting, but also one of the most thoughtful science fiction movies I’ve seen. It really worked through how modern people might behave under the circumstances; and they did a wonderful job showing emotion on entirely alien faces, and showed a persuasive change of heart via ordeal. Also very funny. But, I must stress, disgusting.
We all have a superhero inside of us — it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson’s case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam. Still a kid at heart, Shazam revels in the new version of himself by doing what any other teen would do — have fun while testing out his newfound powers. But he’ll need to master them quickly before the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana can get his hands on Shazam’s magical abilities. (Google synopsis)
This movie was a little messy, but we all really liked it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie focused on the foster care system before. As such, it was a bit precious, but it is also a kid superhero movie, so I think they earned some wiggle room to portray people in a somewhat cartoonish way, though the lens of an immature person (and in this, they achieved what I think Jojo Rabbit tried and failed to do, and it definitely nailed the way two teenage boys would explore the sudden acquisition of superpowers. The opening scene is pretty violent and shocking, but the rest is scary and tense but not inappropriate for younger kids. We all agreed that, while the seven deadly sins were neat, most of them were just portrayed as generically creepy, when they could have been vividly individual. We loved the scenes where the two boys are testing out the limits of the superpowers, and we liked the very realistic crisis of conscience Billy faces. The kids picked up on how his memory of his mother differs subtly from her own memory, and we talked about people doing their best when their best just isn’t very good. Not a perfect movie, but thought-provoking and entertaining. Definitely worth a re-watch.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are high school buddies starting a band. However, they are about to fail their history class, which means Ted would be sent to military school. They receive help from Rufus (George Carlin), a traveler from a future where their band is the foundation for a perfect society. With the use of Rufus’ time machine, Bill and Ted travel to various points in history, returning with important figures to help them complete their final history presentation. (Google synopsis)
Although I was 14 when this movie came out, I have somehow never seen it. Unexpectedly sweet and funny stuff, and I know it’s not just the nostalgia factor that made me laugh out loud. Some mildly naughty humor, and of course the heroes are not exactly role models, but they kinda are. Really cute.
A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master (Toshirô Mifune), enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival businessmen are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both silk merchant Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara) and sake merchant Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) to hire him as a personal bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two ambitious and unscrupulous men. (Google synopsis)
This is another one of those movies that makes you feel like you’re going crazy when you watch it, in a good way. You feel like you have grit in your clothes and you feel like a murderous wind is blowing on your sunburned cheeks. Also, I could stare at Toshirô Mifune all day and I don’t care who knows it. Anyone who wants to make a “complicated hero for complicated times” movie should watch this first. Just watch the way he’s always scratching himself, and his posture.
I kind of wish I could re-score it, though. The music is so dated, it became intrusive after a while.
All ages. Some of the kids found it just too foreign – not just because it had subtitles, but that is one heckin different culture. I think most of the kids found it at least interesting.
Obsessively punctual FedEx executive Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is en route to an assignment in Malaysia when his plane crashes over the Pacific Ocean during a storm. The sole survivor of the flight, Chuck washes ashore on a deserted island. When his efforts to sail away and contact help fail, Chuck learns how to survive on the island, where he remains for years, accompanied by only his handmade volleyball friend, Wilson. Will Chuck ever return to civilization and reunite with his loved ones? (Google synopsis)
This is another movie that had more on its mind than I remember from last time I watched it. Rare to see a movie where there aren’t any bad guys, just reasonably decent people who could be better, and decent people in bad situations. The island is his ordeal, but his main struggle is, of course, actually with himself . . . or, you know, with life itself; and the same is true of his wife. Really interesting stuff.
We watched this with kids age 9 and up, and they found some scenes terrifying, but not unmanageable. Some left the room during the tooth scene, but everyone liked the movie overall.
After an outlaw named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) murders her father, feisty 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a boozy, trigger-happy lawman, to help her find Chaney and avenge her father. The bickering duo are not alone in their quest, for a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also tracking Chaney for reasons of his own. Together the unlikely trio ventures into hostile territory to dispense some Old West justice. (Google synopsis)
Well, this movie is just heartbreakingly good. Maybe the Cohen brothers’ best. So many appealing and appalling characters, such gorgeous camera work, such impeccable pacing. GOR-GE-OUS.Thrilling and funny and unforgettable. Fairly violent, so probably for middle schoolers and up.
It was . . . good. We let all the kids watch it, despite the cussing and the plot that includes adultery and whatnot. I thought it was good, really. Well, probably I should write up a separate review just for Hamilton.
Okay, that’s it! I know I’m missing some, so maybe I can do a part 2 by the end of the summer. I feel better about the c r a p the kids often watch when I know they’re also watching things I think are worthwhile.
How about you? Seen anything remarkable lately?