Friday, February 7, 2014

Our Mothers and The Movies, A Baby Boomer's Perspective - and The Week in Reviews

[I review movies "Labor Day," "Blue Caprice," "Last Vegas" and "Don Jon."]

But first

Our Mothers and the Movies:
A Baby Boomer's Perspective

Today is my mother's birthday.  She would have been 106.
Even at my age, it seems strange to have had a mother born in 1908. 
Her Dad was born in the 1800's. She was 40 when she had me and since I didn't start my family until I was 32 when I had my son, I figured we skipped a whole generation somewhere.

I recently reviewed a book for "Library Journal" called "Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a few you love to hate)" by Turner Classic Movies with critic Richard Corliss.

It's a coffee table book that movie fans will love, but I also couldn't help but think of how these movie Mom images affected me and my view of my own mother. 

Her parents were Swedish immigrants and she strived to better herself.  Though she couldn't go to college, she always revered education.  There was never any doubt in my mind that I would go to college.  She had strong opinions about pretty much everything (must be where I got it from!) and was horrified if someone who was educated used bad English.  She would correct them right to their face! 

As was typical of the times, when my parents had children, my mother stayed at home as a housewife.  Before that, she had been the secretary to the president of the local bank and we never heard the end of that.  Though she was a product of her times, this was a woman who would have had a successful career.

But failing that, she threw herself into being a good housewife.

Monday was washing day, Tuesday ironing day, etc. She hung the wash out on the line so we had fresh smelling sheets, she ironed her sheets and pillow cases, baked pies, produced delicious Sunday suppers, got up every morning to make my Dad's breakfast, was home when I came home from school, catered to my food dislikes, volunteered in the community and kept her house immaculate.

I certainly didn't appreciate her at the time.

I am horrified now at how my brother treated her and I wasn't much better.  My brother called her "Witch Hazel" to her face, "Haze," for short (I think from the Looney Tunes character).  As the younger sister, I thought that was hysterical.  Maybe he called her that because she would chase him with the broom when he was really outrageous. And we both liked to sneak up on her when she was ironing in the basement and scare her.  She would jump a mile and we would laugh hysterically.  It was your typical "wait until your Dad gets home" scenario, but unfortunately, my Dad didn't want to get involved.  Must have been hard for her.

She also personified the Swedish reserve and didn't ascribe to any modern psychological notions such as talking about "feelings."  I can remember saying to her, "Mom, I feel depressed," and she would answer, "What do you have to be depressed about?"  So much for wanting to help your young daughter work through her emotions.  But that was the way it was then.  You didn't complain.  And I learned that if you did, no one wanted to talk about it.

I watched a lot of TV and many movies.  There was June Cleaver, June Lockhart ("Lassie"), Jane Wyatt ("Father Knows Best") and Donna Reed, all understanding, perfect mothers.

No flesh and blood Mom could compete with the Moms and actresses on TV and in the movies. 

I once wrote a letter to Elizabeth Taylor and told her I wished she was my Mom. Not sure now why I equated her with "Mom-dom."  Maybe I just wanted to have a glamorous Hollywood mother I could hang out with.

She sent me this glamour shot.

All of that movie watching I did as a child must have really affected me and my views on motherhood.

Who could be as long suffering as Ma Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath,"

(She would silently put up with whatever I dished out)

or as gallant and "stiff upper lip-ish" as Greer Garson in "Mrs. Miniver
(she was so good she won an Oscar!)"

(Her strength and courage would protect me from everything).

or as comforting as Irene Dunne in "I Remember Mama," 

(I bet SHE would care about my feelings).

or as self-sacrificing as "Stella Dallas?"

(She would step aside so I could marry a rich guy and have everything I ever wanted).

Because of the movies, we expected our mothers to be stoic, gallant, comforting and self-sacrificing.  Our Moms never had a chance.

But on the other side of things,  I am sure our mothers had happy expectations of us, too, but instead sometimes got something quite different.

There might have been days when our mothers thought we were like

murderous Rhoda in "The Bad Seed"

or selfish Veda in "Mildred Pierce."

Or cute but deadly little Damien from "The Omen."

We might not have had a choice who our mothers were, but we also need to remember that they didn't have a choice on how we would turn out either!

"Mom in the Movies" makes the point that even though the financial constraints of the film business dictates a focus on a young male audience, "mother movies" will always be around. 

"Children must be shown where they came from, and from whom...  [Mothers] deserve the affirmation of popular culture for their important, impossible job.  All of us need images in films to reflect and enrich, challenge and validate, the ones in our hearts.  On that screen, we demand to see our better selves: our mothers."

And aging actresses need juicy parts!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

 Who was your favorite on-screen Mom?

The Week in Reviews

***In Theatres Now***
An escaped convict kidnaps a depressed woman and her son and love ensues (naturally).
I so, so wanted to love this movie. 

You know with my penchant for Lifetime Movies, I thought it would be a natural or at least so bad it was goodIt was neither. This was farfetched and laborious.  I mean, he forces the mother and son to take him to their house, and the next day he is changing her oil, scrubbing her floors and teaching them how to make peach pie. And that was just the first day! By the time the Labor Day weekend is over, Winslet and Brolin are in love and running off together.  I guess a lot can happen in a weekend!

Speaking of the pie, it seemed they were going for something like the pottery wheel scene in "Ghost," but if so...nope.
This is based on the book "Labor Day" by Joyce Maynard, who might be more famously known for her controversial 1998 "kiss and tell" book ("At Home in the World") about her love affair, at a young age with J.D. Salinger (he liked them young). Coincidentally, she was featured in the documentary on him "Salinger," which played recently on American Masters on PBS and is available on DVD.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I am a big Kate Winslet fan, but watching this movie, I felt like I was in labor.

You Might Have Missed
And Some You Should Be Glad You Did
(I see the bad ones so you don't have to)

Blue Caprice (2013)

Dramatization of the lives of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, also known as the Beltway Snipers (2002).

Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond do a good job with what they have to work with, but the film is ultimately disappointing because Muhammad's transition from hard-working, caring father figure to a cold-blooded killer is just not explained.  The title derives from the tricked-out car they used to carry out the attacks undetected for so long.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are expecting to understand these senseless killings, you won't find the answer here.

Last Vegas (2013)

Four childhood friends, now in their 70's, meet up in Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

You would think that with Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline we would be in for a treat. Doesn't always work like that. This is "The Hangover" for the geriatric set, and though there are some laughs to be had, it is ultimately disappointing.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Didn't pass the "Rosy Test."  I didn't laugh.

Don Jon (2013)

A New Jersey player only cares about his pad, his car, his church, his family and... porn.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (my how he has grown since "Third Rock from the Sun!") wrote and directed this film about a guy addicted to porn, to the point that he enjoys that more than sex with a real live girl.  Naturally, he realizes the error of his ways with the help of an older woman, Julianne Moore, in a not quite believable role.  The revelation here is Scarlett Johansson, who plays the gum-chewing love of his life Jersey girl.  Her characterization would do "New Jersey Shore" proud.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun 90 minutes, but remember it's about porn so there's lots of porn. So don't say I didn't warn you.

***Book of the Week***

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou (2013)

From the author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and countless other memoirs and books of poetry, Angelou tackles the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.

Her mother sent her brother and her away when her marriage fell apart, and when they were reunited, Maya was angry and bitter. But her mother patiently worked to win her love.  Angelou's prose is spare and tight, reminiscent of Hemingway.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a slim volume full of the redemptive power of love.  If you are an Angelou fan, this rounds out her story.  If not, it's time you discovered her!

That's it for this week. 
See you Tuesday.
Thanks for reading!
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