‘Fatherhood’: Touching, Hilarious Film About a Single Dad

Two Kisses for Maddy fatherhood book“Fatherhood” is a heartwarming and humorous film about a single dad doing his best to be a good parent to his daughter. Between the laughs, there are nuggets of wisdom about the parenting journey and the irreplaceable love and care of a father.

Recently on a flight — my first flight with my baby son — I was able to catch the 2021 comedy-drama Fatherhood, starring the irrepressible Kevin Hart of Jumanji fame. The film centres on single dad Matt Logelin, left alone with his baby daughter Maddy after Matt’s wife Liz unexpectedly dies following childbirth. It is based on a true story by the real Matt Logelin, published under the title Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love.

Matt’s mother-in-law Marion hovers around after Liz’s funeral, not trusting that Matt can actually look after her granddaughter. “What would I look like goin’ home before I know that you are capable of taking care of my newborn grandchild?” she asks.

Exasperated, Matt retorts: “How are you ever gonna know if you don’t let me do it?”

Community is Key

The story unfolds with Matt succeeding against all odds at being a single dad as well as the sole breadwinner. His buddies rally around to support him, despite their own lack of childrearing experience, and provide the friendship (and levity) that he needs to get through as he tackles cot-building, nappy-changing, and baby-soothing.

Unable to get the baby to sleep, Matt barges in on a parents’ group full of mothers and begs for advice. Armed with new pearls of wisdom (white noise!), Matt finally manages a good night’s sleep with the aid of the vacuum cleaner. He brings the baby to work, and along comes the vacuum too…

A work presentation turns topsy-turvy when the baby started wailing in the distance, but the clients, who happen to be parents as well, all chime in with their parenting tips. His boss Howard contemplates firing him: “This is a place of business, right? It’s not a place of babies.” Thankfully, Matt manages to keep his job and impress the clients.

Dads are Vital

In a vulnerable moment, Matt sighs, “You know Maddy, if you could have only one parent, I wish you could’ve had your mom.” Indeed, childrearing often comes more easily to mothers, and fathers can feel like a spare tyre at times, particularly during the early years — especially if the child is mainly breastfed.

However, research shows that the more hands-on a father is during his child’s infancy, the higher the child’s IQ and eventual chance of success in life.

Lacking a dad of his own, Matt turns to his father-in-law, Mike, for parenting advice. “Welcome to not knowing the right thing to do. That’s a dad speciality,” quips Mike. He is a friendly mentor for Mike, encouraging him through the tough times.

Precious

Marion turns up uninvited for the baby’s first medical appointment, which the child thankfully passes with flying colours. “Matthew, today was a good day for you as a parent. You keep all these little victories like you had today in a little box inside you. They’ll be your most prized possessions,” she tells him.

The movie depicts how Matt and Maddy develop as a father and a daughter, through her first years in school, navigating dress codes and dealing with bullies. They also have to adjust to new dynamics when Matt’s colleague introduces him to a lady to whom he takes a fancy.

Parenting is a challenging journey. At the same time, it is very rewarding and full of fun. Fatherhood portrays this wonderful mix of emotions and the personal growth of the main characters, with the single dad learning how to tend to his daughter’s needs and realising that, although his parents-in-law may be able to provide a good home for his daughter, they can’t quite replace him.

The film is full of poignant moments and well-timed hilarity. Available on Netflix, it makes for a good show for parents to laugh over together. Unfortunately, with several instances of swearing and some politically correct plot points (Maddy’s Catholic school is portrayed as archaic for insisting that all girls dress in the appropriate attire, and Matt makes some passing comments supporting transgender ideology), it is probably not advisable for younger children to watch.

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First published at Dads4Kids.

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‘Top Gun – Maverick’ is Action-Based “Dad Cinema” At Its Very Best

‘Top Gun – Maverick’ is Action-Based “Dad Cinema” At Its Very Best

The moving story in “Top Gun: Maverick” of a fatherless son’s journey toward healing is proving popular with audiences worldwide. This is a film highlighting the importance of fatherhood, portraying a tale of reconciliation and redemption.

Top Gun: Maverick is smashing box offices, and it’s easy to understand why.

The film is spectacularly outpacing its weak-because-they’re-woke counterparts, because the film’s unapologetic dad themes resonate.

Alongside the gutsy F-18 camera shots, audiences are in love with the Tom Cruise/Joseph Kosinski sequel because its father-son backstory hits home.

Even the, “it’s all flag-waving, MAGA propagandist tripe” critics are applauding the sequel for keeping to the consistency of the first film’s deep relational backbone.

As The Atlantic’s David Sims explained, the film’s ‘emotional weight rests on Pete Mitchell (Maverick) fighting to earn the respect of Goose’s son (Rooster), who blames Maverick for the tragic loss of his father.’

Childhood Memory

For me, Top Gun: Maverick cut deeper.

My family and I recently saw the film for a birthday bash. The only thing missing was my dad.

Watching the first Top Gun at the cinema with my dad was to be one of the only long-lasting positive memories I would have of him.

It was 1986, I was 9, and we’d turned up late to the cinema.

Missing the iconic afterburner intro of the first Top Gun, dad and I slid into our seats in rhythm with Tony Scott’s smooth golden orange sunset, shot high above a lone F-14 landing on the silhouette of the USS Enterprise.

It became a shared interest, a mutual pursuit, a common bond solely shared between father and son.

From the soundtrack, which always seemed to be on repeat in our broken-down housing commission home, to the old-school Amstrad computer game, the movie connected us.

This was true, right up until my dad’s final week, when, knowing he would never get a chance to wear it, I gifted him a T-shirt with the Top Gun logo on it.

Now covered in dust, I still hold onto the volumes of Warplane magazines he’d chosen to buy me, instead of paying “through the teeth” for participation in a weekend sport.

Healing

I related to the second film because of the first.

Similar to ‘Goose’s’ son in the film, I was confronted by what was lost, what might have been, and what my dad chose to abandon somewhere along the way.

The sequel made the memories all the more material when Val Kilmer (Iceman), tells Maverick — still haunted by the death of ‘Goose’ — “It’s time to let go.”

Seeing the first film at the cinema in 1986 with my dad was an oasis event, an anomaly of normalcy in a wasteland of ash.

This explains why, in almost every scene of Top Gun: Maverick, I heard, and felt my dad’s absence, and choked up at Hans Zimmer’s rendition of Faltermeyer’s iconic Top Gun anthem.

We’re taught in The Good Book to raise up thanksgiving in the face of suffering. Even the smallest object or event that is worthy of our gratitude puts points on the board when it comes to healing trauma.

In retrospect, watching Top Gun with my dad in ’86 was the first, and only time he offered me a healthy introduction to manhood.

His wasn’t perfect, but that was a perfect day. That day my dad did good, and for that I thank him.

For me, the only thing missing from Top Gun: Maverick was the man who took me to see the first one, sitting, at his best, beside me and my uber-impressed family.

Top Gun was, and is, about loss, grief, and recovery; fatherhood, and fatherlessness — as much as it is about courage, defiance, and the determination to overcome obstructions encountered along the way.

The sequel builds on its original father-son backstory. It is “dad cinema” at its very best.

To lean on Miles Surrey’s review in The Ringer,

‘Every single dad — past, present, and those who are expecting to be dads in the near future — should check out Maverick, if not for the sanctity of ensuring Dad Cinema doesn’t fade away, then for experiencing a blockbuster that surpasses its predecessor in every respect.’

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First published at Dads4Kids.

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The timeless mystery of Charlie Chaplin

The timeless mystery of Charlie Chaplin

Eleven years ago, I was summoned to the Manoir de Ban, a huge white house overlooking Lake Geneva, to meet Michael Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s oldest surviving son. Charlie Chaplin had lived here for the last 24 years of his life. Now the house was empty, and the family wanted to turn it into a museum. I doubted it would ever happen, but I was keen to look around the house and I was eager to meet Michael. Chaplin’s biographer, Simon Louvish, had called him ‘the family rebel’. Michael had written a frank teenage memoir called I Couldn’t Smoke the Grass on My Father’s Lawn.

The house was all shut up, but Chaplin’s looming presence was everywhere. ‘He was a little man, but he took up a lot of space,’ Michael told me, as we sat in the deserted dining room, looking out across the lake, towards the snowcapped Alps beyond. I warmed to Michael. He seemed wise and gentle, with an air of sadness about him. To grow up in a house like this, surrounded by woods and meadows, must have been wonderful, I ventured, naively. Sure, said Michael, but it wasn’t all fun and games.

‘We didn’t have television because he thought television was the enemy of cinema,’ he told me. ‘My father put a lot of importance on education, having not really gone to school himself. He used to tell us, “Your only defence in life is to be smart,” and I wasn’t smart. I ended up at 16 in a class of 13 year-olds. I couldn’t concentrate for more than five minutes. I was a total failure in my whole schooling, so I was always in conflict with him.’ Suddenly, this grand old house didn’t seem quite so happy. We said goodbye and I wished him well, but I thought a museum was a daft idea. Apart from old film buffs like me, who was interested in Chaplin nowadays?

Eleven years later I’m back again, and Chaplin’s World is up and running. It’s more than a museum – it’s a time tunnel, through Chaplin’s life and work. You walk through a modern building devoted to his most famous films, and end up in the house itself, reconstructed just as he left it. It all feels rather strange and spooky, but Chaplin’s life was strange and spooky – a dream come true, but also a kind of nightmare: the man with the Midas touch who transformed poverty into hilarity; the poor boy who came from nowhere to become the most famous man in the world.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chaplin’s World has proved to be very popular: visitors of all ages and nationalities, many of them not yet born when Chaplin died here in 1977, on Christmas Day (a day he’d always hated). In 1977, Chaplin seemed like old news, but today his art seems more contemporary: the tyranny of work, the pain of squalor, unemployment, immigration… Even The Great Dictator is horribly topical again. Chaplin’s life has become a kind of fable: the ragged waif who conquered Hollywood, the political controversies, the teenage brides… His time in Switzerland is usually written off as an inconsequential epilogue, yet he spent over a quarter of his life here. So what on earth went on?

Chaplin came to Switzerland in 1953, after the US authorities revoked his re-entry permit on account of his communist sympathies and ‘moral turpitude’ (despite living in the United States for nearly 40 years, he never became an American citizen). Today the political accusations seem trivial, the moral ones somewhat less so. He came here with his fourth wife, Oona, daughter of the American playwright Eugene O’Neill. She’d already borne him four children – she bore him four more here. Like her youthful predecessors, she was a teenage bride, but unlike those brief marriages, this one endured and prospered. They were devoted to each other, but not even Chaplin’s greatest fans could claim that he was an easy man to live with.

Chaplin made just two films while he was living here (A King in New York, co-starring his son, Michael, and A Countess from Hong Kong, starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren). More notably, this was where he wrote his autobiography, which stands as a solemn testament to the stifling effect of fame. The first half is a vivid evocation of his Dickensian childhood. The second half, about his golden years, is banal and bland.

Chaplin was a loving but controlling father. In his home movies he’s the life and soul of the party, but he’s always the centre of attention. There were various celebrity guests – Noel Coward, Yul Brynner, Truman Capote… When the circus came to town, the performers were invited back here after the show. However compared to lots of showbiz families, the daily routine chez Chaplin was actually relatively humdrum: set mealtimes, set bedtimes. The children went to local schools, where they made friends and learnt the language (despite his genius for mimicry, Charlie never mastered French).

After Charlie died, Oona lived here for 14 years until her death, from cancer, aged 66. Thereafter Michael and his younger brother Eugene raised their children here (ten kids between them – it sounds like fun). Eugene was back at the Manoir de Ban for the opening of a new exhibition (about The Kid, one of Chaplin’s finest movies) and we sat down for a coffee outside the stables to talk about his dad. ‘Everyone is the Little Tramp,’ says Eugene. ‘We all have a bit of the Little Tramp inside us.’ He grew up watching the later, longer films – City Lights, The Gold Rush, Modern Times – but lately he’s been watching the earlier, shorter ones. I think they’re just as good.’

Eugene’s childhood memories seem a lot warmer than Michael’s, but he’s seven years younger than Michael, which may have made things easier. By the time he came along, Charlie was in his mid-sixties. He still managed to sire three more children, but his wild days were behind him.

I see my father’s life in three chapters – the London years, the American years and then the Oona years. In the American years, my father was very focused, ambitious, you couldn’t deter him from what he wanted to do – he got himself into a lot of trouble, and suddenly he meets this very pretty girl who abandons the idea of wanting to be an actress, and devotes herself to my father, and my father devotes himself to her. And what is extraordinary is, the man who was so ambitious and self-driven before, when he meets my mum he changes completely and cannot do anything without her.

And yet he remained an imposing figure. ‘He was very strict on manners – he wanted us to be well-mannered,’ Eugene tells me. ‘He was very strict on education. He always wanted us to be good at school – I never liked school that much, I was a very shy person.’ From an early age, Eugene knew he’d never be an actor. ‘I don’t care what you’re going to do,’ his father used to tell him, ‘but I want to see you try. If you’re sweeping the streets, do it well and I’ll be happy. If I see you’re lazy, you’re in trouble.’

Chaplin’s death left a big hole in Oona’s life, a hole she never really filled. ‘For my mother, it was very difficult,’ says Eugene. ‘After so many years of marriage, she finds herself alone.’ Eugene became a recording engineer, working with stars like Queen and David Bowie. He brought Bowie to the Manoir de Ban to meet Oona. ‘It was fun for my mother,’ he says. ‘Everyone was expecting her to be a widow.’ She was only 52 when Charlie died. She’d been married to him since she was 18. She never remarried. ‘There were times when she was very depressed. She lived alone.’

For Chaplinophiles, there’s lots more to see here besides the Manoir de Ban. The adjacent village, Corsier, is quaint and picturesque, and the local market town, Vevey, is one of my favourite places in the whole of Switzerland. Despite its antique architecture and its lovely waterfront location, it’s a working town, not a holiday resort, and that’s what makes it so attractive. The ornate train station is crowded with schoolchildren and commuters. Fishermen still fish for perch in the clear waters of the vast lake.

I ticked off all the local Chaplin sites: Chez Francine in Corsier, where Charlie ate his filet de perche; l’Auberge de l’Onde in nearby Lutry, where he ate the local Coquelet. All very nice, but quite down-to-earth for a global superstar. He may have been a great dictator in his professional life, but in the autumn of his years his lifestyle was fairly modest. Even the palatial Hotel des Trois Couronnes, where he sometimes went for dinner, is pleasantly understated compared to most other grand hotels. Vevey is a town that minds its own business, and that’s why Chaplin liked it. He’d walk downtown to buy his newspaper. ‘In Switzerland, people are very shy, so they leave you alone,’ says Eugene. When he became too frail to walk, Oona would push him along the esplanade in his wheelchair, ignored by passers-by.

I finished my Chaplin pilgrimage at the graveyard in Corsier, where Charlie and Oona are buried, side by side. After he was buried here, thieves stole his coffin and tried to extort a ransom from his family. The family resisted, the graverobbers were caught, and the coffin was recovered and reburied. It was a bizarre, tragicomic coda to a bizarre, tragicomic life.

‘It’s the story of a genius,’ says Eugene. ‘He started with nothing.’ Yet the more I learn about him, the less I feel I really know. Michael and Eugene told me a few things, but I reckon the only person who really knew him was Oona, and she’s saying nothing. She kept a diary, but she had it destroyed when she died. The man she married remains unknowable, and maybe that’s how it ought to be. If we knew too much about Charlie Chaplin, we might not be able to enjoy his timeless movies anymore.

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King of Kings: Reflections of a 14-Year-Old Girl

King of Kings: Reflections of a 14-Year-Old Girl

Memories of a classic film on the life and death of Christ bring forth moving reflections on the wonderful gift of love and salvation which God has bestowed on us all. This Good Friday, let us contemplate the immeasurable love which God has for each of us, that He chose to die on the cross for our sins, that we may join Him in peace and joy forever.

The most influential movie regarding the Gospel, at least in my ‘B.C.’ (Before Christ) young life, was this:
Back in the 1960s, King of Kings came to the screen. Jeffrey Hunter, a dark-haired handsome young man with piercing blue eyes, played the role of Jesus Christ.

TormentKing of Kings blu-ray

I remember sitting in our house on one Good Friday. I had showered and washed my hair, mopping the water up with a turban twist towel. All I could do was cry and cry.

Being a teenager, I was a bit conscious of my blubbering and kept the noise level down. I was brokenhearted and deeply touched at the Gospel come to life.

My towel mopped up tears without ceasing.

Jesus was stoic and “opened not His mouth” through the cruel, inhumane punishment he was subject to. I, on the other hand, was screaming silently in abject terror and horror at what my Jesus suffered.

Unexpected Revelation

The Holy Spirit was revealing God to me.

Another layer of reaching out with such infinite love. Hollywood, the most self-indulgent bunch of people walking on the face of the earth, had put His story to film and brought it to life. Those were more tolerant times regarding Christianity, of course. Ask Mel Gibson what he faced when working toward and through The Passion of the Christ!

Redeemed

As I write this, it’s Palm Sunday 2022.

As I remember the impact King of Kings had upon me that afternoon, I remember being incensed at the thought that anyone could possibly call the day He died ‘Good Friday’.  How could they?

Now I know why. He took EVERYTHING that was bad and miserable about ME and made it Good. Only His Blood could forgive and take away my sins; there was no other way.

The Lamb of God, slain from the foundations of the world, was going to be enough to save me from hell, eternal separation from Him. Had you or I had taken His place, it would have been woefully inadequate, even though well-intentioned.

He was the ONLY spotless one. The ONLY sinless one. The only truly GOOD One.

From Sorrow to Joy

My old Pastor used to say to me, “Leonie, injustice is like waving a red flag in front of a bull to you.” And I still rage against the machine in this regard.

How was I to know that this injustice produced righteous justice? Salvation and restoration became available to mankind, once and for all.

Greater Love has no one than this: that a man should lay down his life for his friends.

Jeffrey Hunter died not long after the making of King of Kings. I pray He came to really know Jesus personally, and his biography signifies the chances of it being very likely.

Because his portrayal of my Saviour certainly impacted my life forever, I remember that Good Friday with bittersweet memories of a young girl crying her heart out in a towel. Tears of grief became tears of repentance, then tears of joy. How Great Thou Art!

CALVARY
Music: Ivan Robson, Lyrics: Leonie Robson. 1987

Calvary, on a dark April day
While the cold wind it blows,
Thunder roars, the sun holds back its rays.

See Him, hanging there on that tree,
By the palms of His hands,
And His feet, ripped with spikes of steel.

Tortured, by the lash, flaying skin
And His head crowned with thorns,
Inches long, His skull they gash and pierce.

Weeping, all His loved ones they grieve,
Watch as life slips away
From the Man they followed and believed.

In His dying moments, spoke this sinless Man
Prayed and asked His Father,
Forgive those killing Him!
Look at His face, His loving eyes
He saw the truth they all hid inside
He knew them all, their every sin
And so they sought to silence Him.

So, He was rejected, accused of blasphemy
By all those priests and rulers
Who claimed that they knew God!

And so He died, in anguished pain
His life of good seemed was lived in vain
God’s miracles, wrought by His hand
Now lost in hate, at a man’s command…

First flickers of sunlight, breaking through the trees,
A still and heavy calmness fills the air;
The tomb in which they laid Him stood open to the day,
But Jesus, no Jesus wasn’t there! He wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there…

He’s risen, He’s risen!
He defeated the powers of death and hell
He truly is the Son of God, why couldn’t they all tell?
They waited for His coming, and yet they didn’t know Him,
Or His love.

He’s risen, He’s living
Died on earth but broke death’s chains
His purpose completed, victory form sin and pain!

Lamb of God,
Righteousness,
Holy One,
Saviour,
Son of God,
Prince of Peace,
King of Kings,
Jesus Our Lord!

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Image: Titian, Christ Carrying the Cross (c. 1565)

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Home is Where the Heart Is — Belfast, the Movie

The movie Belfast is a powerful family movie brimming with joy and hope in the middle of the most difficult and tenuous of situations. This indie film received seven nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, including Best Picture. This is a staggering achievement for an indie film.

I honestly thought it could win Best Picture. The bookies had it as the early favourite, but in the end it was pipped at the post for number two. Thankfully, Belfast at least received an award for Best Original Screenplay. It was named one of the best films of 2021 by the National Board of Review.

Belfast has won dozens of awards at film festivals around the globe and just as many nominations. But why are you so excited about this movie, Warwick?

Well firstly, it features the story of a family in a turbulent period of history through a child’s eyes. Children by nature are hopeful and inquisitive. It is something we forget as adults, but we do well to remember.

Perhaps it is best for you to see this movie through someone else’s eyes first. Wenlei Ma tells the story well in her article titled “Belfast: Kenneth Branagh’s deeply personal ode to a time, a place and a people.

“Even if no one told you Belfast is a personal story for filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, it would become patently obvious pretty fast.

There’s an air about it, an authenticity and poignancy that feels viscerally personal, as if it was plucked from the long-ago memories of someone with genuine affection and love for a certain time in their lives.

That someone is Branagh, and Belfast is the semi-autobiographical story of his childhood growing up in a city torn apart by sectarian violence as families struggle to make sense of their home and where they belong.

But even with that fractious backdrop of 1969, Belfast is a story with grace and humanity – and above all, it’s about family.

Branagh’s onscreen stand-in is Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill), a sweet and playful nine-year-old whose world turns when his street is besieged by a group of Protestant rioters targeting the Catholic side of the street.

Tanks and barricades litter the street as standover men pressure Buddy’s father Pa (Jamie Dornan) to join the cause. Pa has been working in England and the ongoing violence at home plus the family’s never-ending debt leads to him to think about migrating to Australia or Canada.

But Ma (Caitriona Balfe) isn’t into the idea, anchored by the overwhelming feeling that no matter what’s happening, Belfast is home.

Those ideas of home and family are so intricately linked in Belfast and it’s what fuels this captivating and emotionally resonant film that would speak to anyone who’s ever had to grapple with belonging.

Belfast is brimming with heart, tinted with this great love Branagh clearly has for his hometown and his early years. Maybe that means there’s a rose-coloured glasses effect over Belfast, but the film never declared itself as some warts-and-all exposé about the (political/religious) Troubles.

Those films already exist. Belfast is about how people can still experience beauty and love in the face of the chaos around them.”

This is what Don Shanahan, a respected Rotten Tomatoes film critic, had to say about the film:

“The movie warms you with mirth and destroys you with punch, just as a proper Irish creation should.”

Film critic Christy Lemire had this to say about the film,

“Belfast” is unquestionably Kenneth Branagh’s most personal film to date, but it’s also sure to have universal resonance. It depicts a violent, tumultuous time in Northern Ireland, but it does so through the innocent, exuberant eyes of a nine-year-old boy. And it’s shot in gentle black-and-white, with sporadic bursts of glorious colour.”

Another critic Steve Pond also said,

“Visually stunning, emotionally wrenching and gloriously human, “Belfast” takes one short period from Branagh’s life and finds in it a coming-of-age story… Plus it’s funny as hell – because if anybody knows how to laugh in the face of tragedy, it’s the Irish.”

So you can see, I am not alone in my enthusiastic recommendation of this film. As to the suitability of this film for children, you be the judge. It has an M Rating for Mature Themes & Coarse Language, but I have seen worse M films. If I was rating the film, I would give Belfast a PG rating, or in other words, Parental Guidance. It’s your call.

The reason I am so passionate about Belfast is that it is a celebration of family, motherhood and fatherhood. It is also a profound celebration of childhood. Belfast has an underlying redemptive theme — a moral tale, if you like. Yes, it has some gritty moments, but so does life.

Lovework

The good news is, Belfast is almost still in many cinemas across the country. Belfast is still in the top ten movies in Australia at number seven. Just like most of this year’s Academy Award nominees, Belfast is available to stream at home. You can currently rent the film online via Amazon PrimeApple TV+YouTubeRedbox or Vudu. You can also rent the movie via AMC On Demand or Alamo On Demand.

Yours for More Family-Friendly Movies,
Warwick Marsh

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First published at Dads4Kids.

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Will Smith Only Stalled The Oscars’ Descent Into Obscurity

Will Smith Only Stalled The Oscars’ Descent Into Obscurity

Bona fide movie stars saved the Oscars—and they weren’t working off a script either. When he slapped Chris Rock live on stage, Will Smith produced a genuine, Kanye-at-the-VMAs water cooler moment. But, of course, our water coolers are now Slack chats and most people saw the moment on social media.

Think about this: The infamous 2009 Video Music Awards drew about 9 million viewers. That’s roughly the same as last year’s Oscars, meaning the country was almost certainly pretty tuned out when Smith’s hand came down on Rock’s cheek. From the live broadcast, bleeps made the moment hard to discern anyway, leaving people to wonder if it had been scripted. Immediately, however, uncensored footage and reports from backstage trickled onto social media, clearly showing otherwise.

Just as the country began debating whether Smith acted virtuously or petulantly in defense of his wife, the star of “King Richard” was crowned Best Actor. It was surreal television, watching an icon process an iconic mistake on an iconic platform. Smith should have taken the joke like Rock took the slap—it was nothing worse than your average Joan Rivers quip—but his acceptance speech framed the masculine outburst poignantly as the unfortunate consequence of a husband’s unrestrained protective impulse.

If anything, masculine mistakes in Hollywood are most often borne of disloyalty and unfaithfulness, going without apology or remorse. Smith’s rapid correction served in real time as a difficult display of healthy masculinity, and at the Oscars of all places. He gave our pop culture some life.

As is the case every year now, the Academy sought haplessly to make its three-hour back pat more palatable. The hosts fumbled their punchlines and fought the teleprompter. As a trio, Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, and Amy Schumer managed to land a few good jokes between cringe-inducing political potshots. (Schumer handled the Smith moment deftly.) They showed clips of Marvel movies and celebrated Hollywood classics.

The broadcast still dragged. As a production, it was at least high-energy and colorful, marking a small step in the right direction for an Academy that wants to keep bringing in ad money. But the reason Smith captivated the country is also the reason awards shows are in trouble.

Movie stars on average are dimmer than they used to be because we have more choice. On screen, our raw emotions are filtered through unimaginative ideological lenses. Of course, anyone slapping anyone live on stage at the Oscars is a big deal, but an A-List actor slapping another A-List actor then picking up the top award in his field is on another level.

Award shows are like reality television. The public watches celebrities react in high drama moments, waiting for glimpses of their humanity. That’s less powerful when there are fewer Will Smiths, true kings of popular culture, and when social media sucks the mystique out of celebrity, for better or worse.

There are fewer Will Smiths and Chris Rocks because Hollywood’s business model is adapting to the splintered streaming landscape, which is also why the Oscars have recently celebrated fewer blockbusters. Niche movies create niche celebrities, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of siloed culture: How can you create unifying art if you’re unfamiliar with what would actually unify audiences? We’re spiraling quickly down that route.

So should the Oscars just do everything to ensure every film and fashion buff tunes in, assuming the show may never do much better than 10 million viewers again? Or should they try to recover their place in pop culture as one of the few truly massive television events Americans watch together? You could lose a lot of money trying to do the latter.

For the Academy, the lesson of 2022 is that Will Smith is an American icon. Their show shaped our culture because of his star power. His star power exists because people of all different backgrounds like his work. If the Oscars and the industry they honor don’t heed that lesson, in 2032 we’ll be watching five-hour foreign films win every award while ephemeral YouTube influencers kick each other in the shins to sell more FitTea.

Judging by the rest of the show, we might as well get ready to drink a lot of FitTea.


Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. She previously covered politics as a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner. Prior to joining the Examiner, Emily was the spokeswoman for Young America’s Foundation. She’s interviewed leading politicians and entertainers and appeared regularly as a guest on major television news programs, including “Fox News Sunday,” “Media Buzz,” and “The McLaughlin Group.” Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Real Clear Politics, and more. Emily also serves as director of the National Journalism Center and a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a graduate of George Washington University.

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Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures Focuses On Apologizing For Films Rather Than Celebrating Them

Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures Focuses On Apologizing For Films Rather Than Celebrating Them

For such a self-absorbed company town, Los Angeles is surprisingly sparse on organized tributes to its raison d’etre: Besides the Hollywood Museum and the Walk of Fame stars scattered around the sidewalks, there are few places dedicated to promoting and preserving the history of the film industry.

So when the long-anticipated, then long-delayed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (a venture of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sponsors The Oscars) finally opened on Wilshire Boulevard in late September, it filled a gap, if perhaps not a burning need.

The $25 tickets, purchased online in advance, secured a timed reservation. Masks were required (this is Los Angeles, after all). A sign seen nearby offered this depressing anti-science language: “Wearing a face mask over nose and mouth is encouraged in outdoor spaces.”

Some say the museum resembles the Death Star from the outside, which pains the architect Renzo Piano, who insists it’s more of a soap bubble. Inside, the proceedings are dark, rather like a movie theatre (remember those?) Maybe too dark; twice I was directed to continue the tour when I prematurely exited an exhibit.

Since this is the Academy Museum, there is a focus on the annual Oscars ceremony. We skipped paying an extra $15 for the Oscar Experience, when you can deliver your own videotaped Oscar acceptance speech while holding a genuine gold statue.

The museum’s core exhibit is spread across three floors under the rubric “Stories of Cinema.” The “Significant Movies and Moviemakers” gallery contained, along with “Citizen Kane” (of course) and Bruce Lee (sure) an exploration of the 2002 film “Real Women Have Curves,” which I don’t remember as particularly influential. Then again, all aesthetic judgments are judgment calls.

Other details weren’t judgment calls, but panicky attempts to stay abreast of the current unforgiving political environment. The map guide included a “Land Acknowledgement” in which the museum “acknowledged the Tongva people as the traditional caretakers of the water and land on which we program, curate, educate, and discuss.”

The museum certainly reached beyond the white male Jewish origins of Hollywood. A voluminous temporary gallery devoted to renowned Asian anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki was initially puzzling but ultimately enchanting in its quirkiness, including a fake tuft of grass where visitors could absorb video of passing clouds.

Also charming was The Pixar Toy Story 3D Zoetrope, a carousel of characters from the “Toy Story” movies that worked like a 3-D flipbook under the flickering light.

But Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “North by Northwest” was used seemingly as a pretext to apologize on behalf of the U.S. government of 130 years ago for offending the Lakota Tribe by using Mount Rushmore with its “a controversial and painful history” as a backdrop — a controversy that barely anteceded the invention of celluloid.

In the gallery ostensibly devoted to the monumental backdrop of Mount Rushmore (Hitchcock didn’t film any action scenes on the monument itself), the designs were given short shrift in favor of handwringing inside the gallery’s wordy wall captions. One read in part: “…Indigenous communities consider the monument itself a desecration of sacred land taken from the Oglala Lakota in 1877. Ownership of the land is contested to this day.” Given the museum’s long gestation, one suspects an ideologically motivated change in emphasis midstream after liberals suddenly remembered during the Trump administration that Mount Rushmore was racially problematic.

The sometimes-dogmatic filmmaker Spike Lee has his own suite within the museum’s sprawling three-floor core exhibition “Stories of Cinema,” with a surprising emphasis on Lee’s personal items such as autographs and notes from celebrities. Of course, the left-wing filmmaker is in no danger of having his exhibit canceled for his attempt to spread 9-11 inside job conspiracies in his 2021 HBO special.

More dire were the embedded slide presentations under the rubric, “Complicated Histories Of Animation.” The introduction contains this amazing passage: “….the slapstick nature of cartoons, in which an exploding stick of dynamite has no lasting consequences, readily makes way for casual depictions of violence against minorities and women.”

The subject “Women In U.S. Animation” was introduced with a warning: “This media contains sexist content that may be disturbing to individuals.” Even a seemingly innocent childhood memory like “Sleeping Beauty” is problematic: “The depiction of an unconscious woman being saved by a kiss suggests that physical affection without express consent is justified. Such messaging about consent can be especially influential on young viewers, animation’s primary audience.”

Pepe le Pew is of course a serial sexual offender: “Throughout the history of animation, male characters have pursued female characters through predatory behavior…” Dan Quayle’s 1992 “Murphy Brown” controversy, in which the Republican vice president was mercilessly mocked for criticizing a fictional mother for having a child out of wedlock, seems positively quaint now.

Thankfully, the hysterical politics can be skipped by avoiding the wall captions and video displays. When it’s not trying too hard to impress, the museum recaptures the serendipitous magic of the movies.

Give yourself two hours and you’ll see something you didn’t know you wanted to see. Dorothy’s ruby slippers are here, but there is also “Wizard of Oz” ephemera like wardrobe test shots from actress Gale Sondergaard in costume as the Wicked Witch, before leaving the project when the filmmakers decided to ugly up the character.

Alongside the lens and scripts used on “Citizen Kane” is a lame early poster for the now-classic movie featuring the pleading tagline “It’s Terrific,” leading one to suspect the studio didn’t know what to do with the masterpiece. A full-scale model of the shark from “Jaws” dangles over the atrium. There’s an interesting segment on how the layering of sound effects makes the rollicking opening scene of “The Raiders of the Lost Ark” so memorable.

My favorite artifact was a skull from “Alien.” I foolishly rushed through the costume gallery and missed the crazed, colorful “May Queen” dress from “Midsommar,” composed of 10,000 silk flowers. There’s much more in that vein, including one of the three original animatronic E.T.’s.

Overall, the exhibits successfully balance unexamined celebration and knee-jerk condemnation. And if it’s all too much dazzle, you can step away and enjoy the panoramic views via sky bridge from the rooftop deck, from which one can see the famous Hollywood sign.

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Leave Sam Elliott The Heck Alone

Leave Sam Elliott The Heck Alone

Sam Elliott, who knows a thing or two about Westerns, is enduring a wave of bad press for making a perfectly reasonable point about “Power of the Dog.” If a person can’t debate art on a podcast without becoming a news cycle that threatens his career, we’re in trouble. But, of course, that much is perfectly clear.

Elliott was asked about “Power of the Dog” on Marc Maron’s podcast this week. “You want to talk about that piece of sh-t?” he responded, launching into an extended criticism of the film’s authenticity and director Jane Campion:

That’s what all these f-cking cowboys in that movie looked like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts, there’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the movie. … She’s a brilliant director, I love her previous work, but what the f-ck does this woman from down there, New Zealand, know about the American West? And why the f-ck did she shoot this movie in New Zealand and call it Montana and say ‘This is the way it was?’ That f-cking rubbed me the wrong way, pal. …Where are we in this world today? It’s not the biggest issue at hand, but for me it was the only issue because there was so much of it. I mean, Cumberbatch never got out of his f-cking chaps. … He had two pairs of chaps, a wooly pair and a leather pair. Every time he’d walk in from somewhere, he never was on a horse, maybe once, he’d walk into the f-cking house, storm up the f-cking stairs, go lay on his bed in his chaps and play his banjo. It was like, what the f-ck? Where’s the Western in this Western?

The West, Elliott contended, was about “multi-generational families that made their living, and their lives were all about being cowboys.” This is a serious and reasonable argument against an Oscar-nominated film but because Elliott questioned the authenticity of its gay “allusions,” the clip went viral on Twitter, blue checks jumped on him, and the entertainment media picked it up.

What most of the coverage about Elliott’s comments left out, however, is how he started the critique. At Maron’s prompting, Elliott first recalled seeing something in the Los Angeles Times about how “Power of the Dog” amounted an “an evisceration of the American myth.” More likely, he was referring to this review in The New York Times that called the film “a great American story and a dazzling evisceration of one of the country’s foundational myths.” With this crucial context, his comments make even more sense: Elliott was “rubbed … the wrong way” by a foreign director shooting a movie about his country on foreign soil in a way that criticizes a genre he loves and in a way he felt was unfair.

Elliott is a rich and famous guy who can defend himself and needs no sympathy, but the rest of us need to stop treating artists like politicians who are expected to make every point with focus-grouped precision and sensitivity.

What about Spaghetti Westerns and “Brokeback Mountain”? his critics asked. Great question! Let’s not pretend one of the greatest Western actors ever is unaware of the genre’s basic history. A quick search would have brought them straight to Elliott’s praise of “Brokeback Mountain,” which he called a “beautiful film.” It wasn’t “anti-cowboy,” said Elliott, who also argued the movie didn’t qualify as a Western because it was “about sheepherders, not cattlemen.”

“I’m a purist when it comes to the Western,” Elliott explained earlier in the same interview, which was published in 2006.

Which brings us back to 2021. On the day of the State of the Union, amidst the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Elliott was the third most popular trend on Twitter as of Tuesday afternoon. I took screenshots of the headlines related to his interview with Maron from Google News, which you can see below.

This is a case study in how Twitter and the entertainment news media perpetuate cancel culture. Journalist groupthink coalesces on Twitter and publications know they can mine the controversy for clicks, even if most readers disagree with their framing of the story as an issue over “homophobia” or Elliott’s comments on sexuality at all.

Clearly he saw Campion’s treatment of sexuality as one part of its broader problems with authenticity. Clearly the guy who just did “Grace and Frankie” is not anti-gay. Clearly the legendary actor knows about Spaghetti Westerns. But, hey, he didn’t spell all of that out in his conversation with Maron, so it makes for easy clickbait.

I think Elliott’s gripe with a major film in a genre he practically owns is newsworthy and fair game for entertainment outlets. I also think his passion for purity is commendable and correct. There’s a distinct American culture that good Westerns tap into. The genre is one of our greatest cultural exports. (The left, of course, is very concerned about purity and authenticity when it comes to “culture appropriation” but only when the “oppressed” culture is being appropriated.) As Lee Van Cleef told Variety in 1967, Sergio Leone’s films “were authentic and heavily researched, saying that on the set the filmmaker ‘carried a small library of well-illustrated American books devoted to American history of those times.’”

Elliott wants to hold Western filmmakers to those standards. He wants to defend the purity of a great tradition. That’s it. It’s harsh but hardly controversial or unreasonable. If the journalists and publications who jumped on this story to frame it with an identity politics lens (Entertainment Weekly’s story invokes Campion’s gender) actually wanted to have that conversation, the coverage would be fine.

The effect of their cynical clickbait, however, is to create a personal and professional headache for Sam Elliott over his comments in a heated podcast discussion. Which, by the way, is why people listen to podcasts, to hear people speak with more depth than they get from cheap clickbait. Unjust punishments for reasonable speech just create less reasonable speech.


Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. She previously covered politics as a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner. Prior to joining the Examiner, Emily was the spokeswoman for Young America’s Foundation. She’s interviewed leading politicians and entertainers and appeared regularly as a guest on major television news programs, including “Fox News Sunday,” “Media Buzz,” and “The McLaughlin Group.” Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Real Clear Politics, and more. Emily also serves as director of the National Journalism Center and a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a graduate of George Washington University.

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