Many thanks to my childhood pal Bob Elisberg for this charming profile of my “bizarre” life in the Huffington Post.
Last year, I made lists of great movie college professors, and high school and grade school teachers. In honor of the first week of school, here are some of my other favorite and family-friendly classroom classics:
1. The Magic School Bus Oh, if only every school field trip could be as exciting and informative as the ones the indefatigable Miss Frizzle goes on with her students. From the farthest reaches of the solar system to the smallest cells of the human body, Miss Frizzle and her students take us with them.
2. Miss Nelson Has a Field Day Miss Nelson is a sweet-tempered soul, but when students do not behave, watch out! Miss Viola Swamp is the substitute teacher. Between them, they teach their students many very important lessons.
3. High School Musical Go Wildcats! Jocks and brainiacs find common ground in singing and dancing in these tuneful, irresistibly disarming instant classics from Disney.
4. Lucas Everyone — yes everyone — feels like an insecure outsider at some point in school. I like the way this film shows us from the beginning that while its main character may still be a caterpillar, we know he will be a butterfly long before he does. Great performances by all, including a young Charlie Sheen, and props to the film-makers for staying far away from easy stereotypes.
5. Mad Hot Ballroom A program to teach ballroom dancing to New York City 5th graders in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens sounds like the last thing in the world that would be interesting or relevant to today’s 5th graders. But the beauty of this movie is the way that it shows that grace, dignity, elegance, and pride in mastering a skill are important, thrilling, and transformational.
Q: A reader at a Intelligence hide out is sent out for lunch. When he returns everybody has been killed. Now the killers are after him. He carjacks a lady and hides out at her place…Movie title?
Answer: That is “Three Days of the Condor” with Robert Redford.
Q: In the movie Big, with Tom Hanks, before he get’s “big,” he is playing a computer game in his room. It is interactive, and he types in things like, “brake glass with hammer.” I have heard that this game is real, so do you know what it is called?
Answer: Some people believe that it is Colossal Cave Adventure, but others think that it was just inspired by that game but made up for the movie.
Q: The plot entails a kid who is plagued by 3 bullies – 2 boys and a girl. He enlists the help of a retired magician. In one scene, it is Halloween and the bullies are dressed up as a mummy, vampire etc and are chasing the kids. The magician’s dog steps on the “mummy”s bandage and he trips down some stairs. At the end, the bullies are arrested along with an old lady who was controlling them.
Answer: I think that’s “Spooky House” with Ben Kingsley. I hope that’s it!
Q: About 6-8 months ago I rented a movie with the description of a man who goes on the rampage after his entire family is killed at a waterfront family gathering. I didn’t know the actor playing the lead role, but loved the movie….it wasn’t until I took the movie back that I realized that the movie I had seen was in the wrong “rental envelope”. Does anyone out there recognize this scenario….I also remember that his wife and son died last, being run down on a pier/deck leading out into the water. Thanks.
Answer: That’s “The Punisher” with Thomas Jane.
Q: I watched a movie about 20 years ago about a sea creature that turned out to be an old rock quarry shovel/excavator. The excavator was sitting at the bottom of a water filled quarry. It was attached to a windmill on shore by chains and when the wind would blow the sea weed covered excavator would lift out of the water. In the movie the lake was drained and the true identity of the “monster” was discovered. Any help locating this movie would be greatly appreciated!
Answer: That movie is called “The Quest” (sometimes called “Frog Dreaming”) and stars Henry Thomas of “E.T.”
Q: The movie deals with a couple whose next door neighbor (a black policeman) harasses them.
Answer: That movie is “Lakeview Terrace” with Samuel L. Jackson.
Q: There is a movie that I cannot for the life of me remember the title to. I only remember bits and pieces about it. There is a house by a lake that the former owners are able to converse with the current owners only through the mailbox. They live in different times so they are unable to meet. I believe that it is a love story. I hope you can help me!
Answer: Hi, Kimberly! That is “The Lake House” with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
Q: Hi I’m looking for a movie based at a high school and this guy who raced for money and at the end he had to race against time in a 57 Chevy as a bet to get the money to save his school. Can you help me?
Answer: That movie is “Catch Me if You Can” with Matt Lattanzi. Thanks for writing!
Q: I’m looking for a movie that came out I think in the past 15 years or so. The scene I remember best was a group of people in a restaurant, and when the girl realized they were going to EAT the lobsters, she “liberated” them and it was hilarious. She asked someone later, “Why would you want to eat someone’s pet?” I think she was mentally challenged or had some social adjustment issue, and she had been in a school, but the school closed and she was sent to live with her (reluctant) brother. She learned to get along in society, got a crush on her brother, found out that wasn’t appropriate, and starting liking another man, if I remember rightly. I think she had an obsession with things being in a particular order.
Answer: You are thinking of “Molly” with Elisabeth Shue. Thanks for writing!
Q: I saw a movie in this time frame of a gal that was a stewardess, she was dating 3 guys and they all happened to be named Mike. That is all I remember. thanks
Answer: You remembered the important part! That movie is called “Three Guys Named Mike,” with Jane Wyman and Van Johnson.
Q: Does anyone know the name of a film (70’s-80′) Its about two super powers USA v Russia. Where they no longer fight normal battles, they fight each other in 2 giant mech type robots. With super fit guys controlling them.
Answer: That movie is “Robot Jox.”
Q: There is this children’s movie that I absolutely LOVED when I was little, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of it. It was about this little boy who finds this big present with a red bow has floated into his living room. He opens it and it’s a car of some sort, I think? He gets in and is transported to a cartoon-like setting….There is a dog with a giant clock in his chest and two kings (one of numbers and one of letters) who can never agree with one another. Thanks a million!
Answer: A great movie based on one of my favorite books! “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Enjoy!
Q: What is the name of the movie that was produced 15 or so years ago about a woman music professor who goes to Appalachia in the early 1900’s to record the folk music of the locals before it became lost forever? Thank you.
Answer: I love that film. It is “Songcatcher” with Emmy Rossum and Janet McTeer.
Q: Looking for movie title about several French nuns visiting and raising funds in(New York State I think) for a hospital (maybe a children’s hosp.) Post WWI or WWII, nuns are hosted by a man who does a little singing, may play a singer in the movie or composes jingles but doesn’t play a big part, may be a singer in real life. I think this movie was made in the 40’s. Saw it on TCM.
Answer: That lovely movie is “Come to the Stable” with Loretta Young and Celeste Holm.
As I describe in an exclusive story today’s Chicago Sun-Times, The Motion Picture Association of America’s Ratings Board made an unannounced change in April of this year that eliminated almost all restrictions on the content of movie trailers, the brief previews of upcoming films that appear before the feature in theaters and in promotional websites. This was done so quietly that my article is the first public notice of the change.
Whether a film is rated G (general audiences), PG (parental guidance suggested), PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned), and R (restricted to ages 17 and up), the “green screen” trailers shown in theaters and online were always preceded by a notice on a green background noting that “the following preview has been approved for all audiences.” A movie could have violence, strong language, nudity, drug use, or other mature content was included in the movie, but the trailer would at most imply it.
That is, until April, when the green screen trailer language quietly switched from “approved for all audiences” to “approved for appropriate audiences.”
“Appropriate?” Even with context, that word has almost no content. Without any context, it is positively Orwellian.
This comes as the MPAA has included increasingly more specific descriptors since 1990 to explain the basis for its movie ratings, after pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, public interest groups, and even the movie-makers like the Directors Guild.
The MPAA does not reveal much about its ratings board, even the names of its members. And its processes and the ratings themselves are still often confusing and inconsistent as demonstrated in the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” Material that would get an R in a drama gets a PG-13 in a comedy. The F-word can be used twice in a PG-13 as long as it does not refer to sex. The MPAA has improved its descriptors, especially for tobacco and substance abuse. The raunchy comedy “Land of the Lost” was based on a family-friendly 1970’s television show but it was rated “PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference.” “Shorts,” a family film about a wishing stone from Robert Rodriguez is “Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.”
But those descriptors can often be Delphic. You would need a PhD in semiotics to figure out what the often-used “mild thematic elements” is supposed to mean. Last year’s PG-rated “Marley & Me” was marketed to kids as a cute puppy movie, but its “thematic material” included postpartum depression and the very sad death of the dog in the title. A much more kid-friendly pooch movie, “Hotel for Dogs,” is also rated PG for “brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor.” “Brief mild thematic elements” in that film presumably refers to the mean foster parents of the orphan characters and some law-breaking by the children.
It used to be that trailers were all essentially rated G. Until this year, there have been basically two categories of MPAA-approved trailers. The “green band” trailers, with the MPAA’s approval on a green background, were approved for audiences of all ages. “Red band” trailers, to be shown in theaters only before R-rated movies, included R-rated material, thus ensuring, the theory went, that they would be seen only by adults who were by definition interested in movies with mature content.
Since the internet has become a key element of movie marketing, however, it has been impossible to limit red band trailers to adult audiences. On the contrary — teenagers are naturally very interested in seeing red band trailers and very good at using the internet to find them. They are also very good at getting around the wispy “restrictions” that at most ask for a name and birth date in order to be able to access the mature material.
“Green band” trailers disclose what the movie’s rating was, but before April of this year, the clips from the movie in the trailer itself would in theory not include anything inappropriate for general audiences. This has had some absurd, even misleading results. The trailer for the raunchy 2001 comedy “Saving Silverman” (“Rated R for sexual content and language”) put CGI underpants on actor Steve Zahn; in the movie itself, he was nude. Despite the “green band” assurance, the trailers often include material that is hardly G-rated. The trailer for the upcoming comedy “Extract” (“Rated R for language, sexual references and some drug use”), which for some inexplicable and inexcusable reason still carries the original green band “approved for all audiences” language, includes references to a part of the male anatomy and marital sexual frustration, and it depicts the main character smoking marijuana.
Now MPAA will make some effort to ensure “appropriate” audiences by matching the content of the trailer to the film it precedes in the theater. However, a trailer for a film rated PG-13 for violence may appear before a movie rated PG-13 for language, so that might not be an “appropriate” audience. And since most young people watch trailers online, there will be no controls whatsoever.
I asked the MPAA about this change. Elizabeth Kaltman, Vice President for
Corporate Communications, acknowledged in an email that they had not made any public announcement of the change, which was “intended to allow motion picture distributors and exhibitors greater freedom to accurately promote motion pictures to appropriate audiences while honoring our pledge to American parents that stronger advertising material will not reach inappropriate younger audiences. Whether a movie is rated G or PG, the appropriate audience tag still maintains that the trailer is appropriate for the viewing audience.”
There are still some glitches in the system. In addition to the PG-13 “Extract,” the trailer for the R-rated horror film “Sorority Girls” mistakenly has the “all audiences” green band but includes some material that is highly inappropriate for children. And it is available to anyone online.
I understand the frustration of the movie studios in trying to convey an accurate and appealing sense of a PG-13 or R-rated movie within the confines of an essentially G-rated trailer. And I recognize the way that the prevalence of almost-universally available red band trailers online has opened the door for previews that provide a more accurate sense of what is in the film. But it is absurd for the MPAA Ratings Board advertising rules to be so obfuscatory and coy with the “appropriate audiences” language. If the material in the trailer is judged to be at the same level of the feature it precedes, there is no reason not to assign a rating and descriptors to the trailer. The “Extract” trailer should begin with a caution that it is rated PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references, and drug use. That is my definition of appropriate.
To express your concerns about this change and ask that trailers reveal their rating, contact Chairman/CEO Dan Glickman:
1600 Eye St., NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 293-1966 (main)
(202) 296-7410 (fax)