Posts published under “Movies That Matter”
In 1982 in a poor L.A. public school, a teacher arrives to make a difference. Along the way, he meets resistance from the faculty, the students, and the school board itself. In the end, through his own personal sacrifice and the students strong will, the teacher gets through to the students and has them reach their full potential in Math.
While, I even fell asleep while writing that synopsis, it does not give the film justice. When this film was released in 1988, the idea of failing public schools and disorder in them might have seemed like it was in a far off place like L.A. to most of America, but now that problem has become common place all over. Schools like this one, have become somewhat of the standard for most cities public schools.
So what is compelling about this story over other true stories that have been made into movies? Unlike movies like Dead Poets Society and Lean on Me, Stand and Deliver actually has the students go through what is the model even today, testing. Yes along the way they better themselves, but this movie is not about bringing a school and a community out of poverty (physically and psychologically), but rather about how one teacher can impact the lives of individual students. The students do not become model citizens in the end; but they are able to realize that they are not what their school, parents, and friends tell them who they are.
The movie has a brilliant performance by Edward James Olmos, and Lou Diamond Philips at the beginning of his heyday. Always a good somber movie to watch and with the new school year in full swing, a good one to revisit to see that not much has changed in over twenty years.
I am actually going to review a somewhat new movie. With the conclusion of the NASA Shuttle program, America is faced with a gap in its intrigue that has not been there since Yuri Gagarin. With no more launches of American manned craft for the foreseeable future, we have to look back to see the wonder and excitement of space travel. Along with The Wonder of It All, Shadow shows the story of the Apollo Space Program as told through the Apollo astronauts themselves. From great men like Buzz Aldrin a.k.a. Dr. Rendezvous, Gene Cernan, Michael Collins, Charles Duke, Jim Lovell; we see the guts that it took not only from them but from engineers and the American public to push ourselves beyond our planetary boundaries to send the only other humans to walk on another planetary body.
Where this documentary is better, than its contemporaries and predecessors, is that they got use of NASA archived footage and not just the stock footage that had been used in every space movie ever created before. From original camera footage from Apollo 8‘s first orbit of the moon, to the main rocket assembly floating in space and the footage of the capsule taking off and spinning back toward earth. Most of the shots are incredible, and the interviews are incredibly uplifting and inspiring. The fact that the captain of Apollo 17 and last man on the moon, Gene Cernan, says he was angry that he did not get to fly fighter jets in Vietnam but had to sit on top of a rocket that would be propelled faster than a bullet to the blackness of space, shows you the huevos that these men had to go where no man had gone before.
In recent days, this movie carries more weight of asking the question, when do we go back? With current politics and the constant struggle NASA for funding now that the Cold War is long over, for now we will not even being returning to orbit. Those stories are for Russia and China now, we will just be sending our astronauts out to their launch pads with thumbs held out looking to hitch a ride to outer space. In the Shadow of the Moon reminds us of when there was a time that dreams were not somethings we shrugged our shoulders at and moved on, however they were challenges to not just show up a rival but better ourselves in the process. In the meantime, us dorks will have to settle for Star Trek and Battlestar…what their all canceled, SON OF A…
THE TREE OF LIFE (2011/IN THEATERS)
If you have already seen the trailer for this film, you have probably experienced some of its most magical scenes (at least in my opinion)—these are the ones where a trio of young brothers in 1950s Texas (all with gorgeous and expressive faces) play in their yard, swing from their big tree, run after the DDT mosquito truck, dance with their beautiful and gentle mother (Jessica Chastain), and try to understand their stern and difficult father (Brad Pitt). The oldest of the boys is Jack, played as an adult by Sean Penn and as a young boy by a marvelous Hunter McCracken. Jack is often talking to “God” in the film in voice-over, asking questions about why bad things happen, for example, or how he can deal with the tug-of-war inside him (“mother, father, always you wrestle inside me, always you will”). The scenes of the young family are so true to that 1950s life and in amazing detail, with the exact china and glassware we remember ourselves (if we’re of a certain age!), as well as the familiar meatloaf and peas at dinner, the tight-waisted dresses Chastain’s character wears, and Pitt’s skinny suits and ties. This portion of the film occurs roughly in the middle—the first third of the movie bring us scenes of the news of the death of Jack’s brother and his mother’s grief interwoven with Jack in the present day thinking of the loss of his brother. From there we move to a lengthy sequence depicting the formation of Earth (Big Bang style) and the creation of life, complete with dinosaurs. The ending brings back more ethereal imagery involving death, forgiveness and letting go. Terrence Malick, the writer and filmmaker, truly wants us to see all of these scenes and life as connected. And he brings us a cinematically beautiful film. For me, the “sci-fi” style creation scenes were off-putting and I would have preferred more of the beautiful shots of those young boys growing up. But I am not complaining and I do intend to see the entire film again. Congratulations to Mr. Malick who has been working on this project in one way or another since he completed Days of Heaven (which remains my all-time favorite of his films). The Palme D’Or which this film won at Cannes just last month is surely well deserved.
For Malick fans, particularly those who liked The New World which has a similar flow and feel. All others beware—this film is beautiful but has even less narrative.
BTW: Malick famously has only made five features: Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005) and this year’s The Tree of Life.
READ MORE: A wonderful interview with Jack’s younger brothers can be found here.
You may be asking, how in the world does a cult horror movie matter at all? Well, we will get to that in a bit. It is true that An American Werewolf in London is not one of the best horror movies of all time, and being directed by John Landis, it has a very tongue in cheek quality to it that lessens the suspense and gore. The plot, by today’s standards, is nothing special. Two friends backpacking through the English countryside are attacked by a werewolf. One friend is killed, the other is transformed into a werewolf. As you can see nothing special. However, its campy humor and gore make this enjoyable to watch anytime of the year.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988/DVD)
For the Easter season, I thought it would be good to touch on this now rather than later in the year. This one of Martin Scorsese‘s least celebrated films due to the politics surrounding it, but they are not a reflection upon the movie itself. The movie is based upon the novel of the same name by, Nikos Kazantzakis. The book is credited as a work of fiction and the movie specifically states that they novel is the source material for the movie and not the Gospels from the New Testament. That being said, the film is centrally based around the story of Jesus’ journey mentally and physically towards Jerusalem and his destiny. The role of Jesus is played by Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel as Judas, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, Harry Dean Stanton as Saul/Paul, and a nice cameo by the late Irvin Kershner as Zebedee. The screenplay was written by Paul Schrader.
Much like the book, the movie faced harsh criticism from Christian groups seeking to prevent it from being made let alone being shown in theaters. While there are many controversial issues within both the novel and the film, such as the use of sex and nudity specifically with the role of Jesus. There are two main issues that stem from both that caused for the controversy surrounding them. The lesser of the two issues is the portrayal of Judas. In the film, Judas is portrayed as the most trusted of all of Jesus’ companions. This results in Jesus asking Judas to perform the most important task in the entire story, being the betrayal of Jesus. This runs opposite of most interpretations of the New Testament, and sparked interest in what other elements were not true to the Bible. This results in the most controversial of all of the elements of the movie, the Temptations. If it were a R&B group, there would probably be another musical on Broadway right now, but these represented something far larger than just entertainment. The element of the Temptations show the humanity of the character of Jesus. The novel and the film echo many elements of the Gnostic Gospels, creating much of the animosity for each. This culminates, in both, with the final sequence depicting Jesus married to Mary Magdalene with a family and the creation of that family. While the final temptation is rejected by Jesus, to some groups this was stepping way over their line. Read more »
This new feature explores the realm of movies that actually mean something. Or in short, these are movies that almost everyone should take the time regularly to watch. These films run the gamut of compelling stories to important cinematic achievements. Today we will look at the former.
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (1993/DVD) This HBO movie chronicles the early events of the AIDS epidemic in the United States based on the book by Randy Shilts and directed by Roger Spottiswoode. The movie is primarily set in San Francisco where the story centers around the politics of the AIDS virus. The movie follows the work of a group of doctors working with the CDC to isolate and stop a virus that is killing large numbers of homosexual men. This involves not only the investigation, but the turmoil around the emerging crisis. At the center of most of the stories is Dr. Don Francis (played by Matthew Modine). Dr. Francis is at the center of the political struggle of providing public health measures to protect the citizens of San Francisco. Another storyline follows the investigation of several AIDS cases and how they link to one individual, a flight attendant (played by Jeffery Nording). The doctors investigating are played by Glenne Headly and Richard Massur. The final storyline is that of a competition between a group of French doctors (Patrick Bauchau, Nathalie Baye, Ronald Guttman, and Tcheky Karyo) and an American, Dr. Gallow (played by Alan Alda). The film is rounded out by major roles and cameos by: Ian McKellen, Richard Gere, Swoozie Kurtz, Richard Jenkins, Bud Cort, Steve Martin, Anjelica Houston, Donald Logue, Saul Rubinek, Lily Tomlin, B.D. Wong, Ken Jenkins, and Phil Collins. Read more »