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Movie Review: (Real Short Take) Higher Ground

I saw “Higher Ground” at our local art house theater. It was based on a memoir of the same name. It was well directed and starred the director who was also in “Up in the Air” Vera Feragima (sp). I loved the film and since I have so many family that are BACs (born again Christians) I could relate to everything said. I think it is pretty popular around these parts because we are in the Bible belt.

I enjoyed it and the way that she finally saw the light about her religion and her own unmet desires will resonate with every woman. It is a film worth seeing especially if you have family who are BAC and you don’t understand where they are coming from. Higher Ground is spot on my take.

Reel Short Takes: Company Men

I did not see Company Men with Ben Afleck at the theaters but watched the DVD last night.  I liked it a lot for its direct and simple line drawn from the 2008 meltdown to the huge CEO salaries to the loss of millions of jobs.  The CEOs thought nothing of cutting out the heart of the company and downsizing with its employees.  No one is safe in this scenario including Ben.  It’s about how he gets his act together after losing everything but his family. He works in Boston at a huge shipping yard that builds ships, I think, not sure.  But it was shuddered when stocks tanked.

He lives in a fancy house and drives a Porche and must sell everything when his lifestyle is tied to his nearly 200K annual salary. While Wall street fat cats are off the hook, raking in millions in bonuses etc. while ordinary families suffer.  Too bad, so sad.  CEOs couldn’t care less about you and me.  But the feds seem to care about them. 

Reel Short Takes: “Something Borrowed”

A Man and a Woman

Image via Wikipedia

I could not get into Bridesmaids this weekend so we opted to see Something Borrowed that opened last week and was really popular then and now.  It is a real romance and not a fake one like Jumping the Broom AKA running out of the room.

It was based on a novel by the same name and the characters romanced each other, what’s so novel about that when it’s a romance? It seems that no one is doing the romance thing but either jumping around in the sack or just running for the altar two minutes into the film.

Don’t expect A Man and a Woman from the French or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, no it’s not all that, however, for an American film it is bearable and romantic. 

See it.  I give it 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

Review: Unstoppable–Unbelievable

First published at Blogcritics.org http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-unstoppable-unbelievable/

Denzel Washington delivers another pitch-perfect performance as Frank in Unstoppable. Denzel was on Good Morning America last week promoting his new film, and he said he did not mind being upstaged by a train known as Triple 7 because he got paid more. This film’s box office take will make everyone involved very happy; it’s a real crowd pleaser. Denzel also told GMA that he chose his co-star for the film—Chris Pine.  Move over Brad Pitt—Pine is a young, lean, mean acting machine.

This film is about two men sharing a really bad day at work; something they did not see coming. Like ebony and ivory on a keyboard: one black, one white; one young, one middle age; one new on the job, and the other given notice of forced early retirement. They are alike in that neither bucks at the chance of saving a town while risking their lives.

Unstoppable is based on real events in southern Pennsylvania when a runaway train barrels through the countryside without either conductor or air brakes. This film is also about the chemistry between a new conductor Will, his trainer Frank, and the physics of a runaway train under power reaching speeds in excess of 70 mph and weighing millions of pounds.

One can only marvel at 777’s power as it streaks across the silver screen. The executives charged with halting this runaway train must have been asleep during some physics classes because they vastly underestimate the momentum of the train and waste precious time and resources with an ugly scheme to derail it. Time is of the essence as Triple 7 is carrying explosive cargo and heading into a hairpin turn that runs through a metropolitan area. The executives don’t get it, but the men who move trains on a daily basis understand the force they are dealing with.  

The day in Pennsylvania begins innocently enough when one of the train engineers fails to engage the air brake and leaves the train in gear. Connie (Rosario Dawson) gets the news first and is left in the control room to pick up the pieces. She tells everyone on the rails that a train is cruising without a conductor, and when it is understood that the train is really “under power” it’s a meltdown moment.

Connie thinks fast and sends an experienced trouble shooter to follow alongside the train on the access road in his huge red pickup truck and blonde ponytail. He along with Frank and Will try to save the day by stopping the unstoppable.

These two for the railroad go rogue by disobeying the top brass and the operations manager in favor of their own plan. They take what they believe is the best shot at stopping Triple 7, which entails catching up to it, by driving in reverse, butting up the rear of 777, and then pulling it in reverse. Frank’s 2606 engine is sturdy but aging, and you get a sense something will go wrong. When it does both men must improvise with just seconds to save themselves and the town.

En route to their rendezvous with triple 7 the two men share stories about their lives. Frank’s wife has died of cancer and he is raising two teen age daughters who wait tables at Hooters, while his conductor is on the verge of separation or worse a divorce. Frank encourages him to just keep calling his wife.

I loved this action thriller from director Tony Scott who has teamed up with Washington before in Man on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.  Scott’s action brand rises and weaves the water like a surfer riding the biggest wave in Hawaii, and in this film he does it with genuine humor, pathos and a few surprises from real people—some who do their jobs, some who don’t, and some who are forced into unbelievable heroism simply because there is no other choice.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-unstoppable-unbelievable/#ixzz15Y9nbMzM

How Tyler Perry Handles For Colored Girls

article first published at Blogcritics.org

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf


A woman renamed Ntozake Shange wrote a shout-out from Berkeley to black women the world over, in 1974 for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow Is enuf was born. We bought it. We read it. We saw it. We lived it. We loved it. Tyler Perry  wrote, directed and produced this 1975 adapted stage play for the screen and shortened the title. It is an adaptation of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf where each woman portrayed represents a color of the rainbow.

As black women in Chicago we saw our lives mirrored in Shange’s thick prose poems but never thought we would see them on screen and given the Hollywood treatment by a black filmmaker. That is why many African Americans are both weary and leery of mostly white top critics trashing this latest attempt by Tyler Perry.

Admittedly I went with low expectations because I was not a fan of Perry’s filmmaking…until now. It is a movie I want to see again. In fact I will have to see it again because there was another soundtrack going on in the theater. You know what I’m talking about folks.  Maybe I should say I need to see it again. Watch again the beautiful cast of black women whose skin colors range from soft sand beach to ebony wood.  To hear again voices and phrasing of stunning poetry and pearly words that resonates and lingers for days. Yes, dialogue makes this movie. And the poetic deliveries are buzz-worthy.

In For Colored Girls’ opening scene we meet the building where most of the action takes place and where most of the rainbow lives. Tyler, for simplicity, shrinks Shange’s world where five of the film’s eight women live together and already know each other. By the end they are united by murder and an attempted suicide that they did not see coming.

Thandie Newton (Tangie) lives and loves in the building and never met a man good looking man she did not want to screw for one night. Her mother Alice (Whoopi Goldberg) belongs to a cult and lives in a closet, or at least it looks like one. She had two children by a white man whom she abuses. She is a neglectful mother who lives in her own world in a cluttered apartment where nothing has a place including her daughters; one of the few metaphors well employed by Perry. Despite the pain this family manages joyous moments but usually endure heartbreaking ones that go unshared.  Whoppi is delightful to watch when she enters the scene and inhabits her Alice that sometimes is, well, just plain Whoppi.

Alice (whose garb seems homage to Alice Coltrane) recounts how her father gives her to a white man and two mulatto babies are conceived. Her daughters are both bright by inheritance: Tania and Nyla.  Nyla (Tessa Thompson) studies dance and plans to attend college but those plans are threatened. She has unprotected sex and goes to big sis for help. They argue and Nyla denies there is an unwanted baby in her belly. Tania is torn about helping her. Vengefully, she sends Nyla to the rue of wolves alone. And when things go wrong Tania blames Alice for introducing her, as a young woman, to the proverbial back-alley abortionist.

Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) the nosey but concerned neighbor offers the balm and some one-line zingers that soothe the wounds of her dysfunctional neighbors. Juanita (Loretta Devine) is the community organizer who goes to the richest black woman in town Jo (Janet Jackson) for a donation to the cause. Jo shows her the door and pushes her out unceremoniously.  Wait a minute, we know this Jo. She does not live in the tenement but in a stylish condo with a husband who cheats on her with other men: the dreaded down-low lifestyle which she discovers at the end of the film along with the fact that she is cold and heartless too.

Because of the ubiquitous building two of the women’s lives are immediately linked by tragedy: Crystal and Gilda. Gilda watches Crystal’s beautiful children during the day while she works for Jo as her assistant at a faux fashion magazine. Gilda cares—but Jo wears the mask and does not give a damn about anybody but herself thus adding to her employee’s burden. Juanita’s call on Jo there and her employee Crystal eventually brings Jo into the orb of the other six less-wealthy sisters.

The intramural conflict is aided by the ugly building. It provides continuity and a familiar backdrop that Perry returns to. He overuses this strategy and potentially scares off the new Perry audience afraid that this is another rehash of his other soapy, scornful movies that were also box office gold including this one. Unfortunately he does not try hard enough to eschew

the soap. But the poems and cast of For Colored Girls saves Perry from himself. And as a new Perry fan I like this movie.

Long-suffering Crystal (Kimberly Elise) lives a life of quiet desperation at the hands of an extremely abusive returning war veteran (Carl) Omari Hardwick. Carl hams it up as we watch him lose his grip on sanity and the children. Social worker Kerry Washington (Kelly) has been called by Gilda to check out possible child abuse of Crystal’s children. Kelly’s social intervention is weak and instead of helping them she is run off by their rotten karma and Carl.   

The finest moments of the film, including the introduction, are Shange’s poems. And her words provide most of the dialogue. The gaps are filled in by Perry’s pen. His pacing and pavement are often uneven and dangerous. And I keep getting the feeling I am watching four movies that I’ve seen before all staged in the very same film! The cause: lack of transparency and smooth transitions. The film is not elegant and suffers from a Medea-like hunchback. Janet’s overblown role negatively adds to the dramatic load carried on the back of this film.

Perry dwells too long on the marriage of Janet Jackson whose devil-wears-Prada persona is both contrived and copied. She lives with her husband, not in the unpainted tenement, but in a fancy condo building with a doorman. She is a control freak at work and her life spirals out of control with a down-low husband. The men in this film behave badly, save one, but we don’t hear much from decent Donald (Hill Harper). His talent really wasted in the role as Kelly’s policeman husband. It’s unfortunate that Tyler puts the spotlight on one star (Jackson) at the utter expense of an assembled superb cast. I cannot forgive it, but I understand that it’s ratings-driven.

The good news—this film is extremely watchable. From the poems delivered by stellar performances to a beautiful score which simply lifts you out of your seat. The original poem has not lost its punch and proves a well-bred classic.  

Comparisons between Precious and For Colored Girls are inevitable. They are warranted because both works were adapted to the screen from books written by black women more than two decades ago. Both films set in New York, both about abused women and abusive black men. Both directed by black men. Precious, while not perfect, gave us sexual violence and archetypes that lend focus while its director, Lee Daniels, also managed masterful transitions and metaphors that Perry’s For Colored Girls simply lacks. Daniels won an Oscar for his screenplay and I predict that Tyler will gain some nods despite the mostly bad reviews.

The raw emotion of both films equally inescapable and many will find the scenes of a brutal date rape on the floor and an abortion done by a drunken woman in her kitchen over the top—making Tyler’s film deeply maudlin. During the rape scene there are cutaways to an opera that Jo sits silently watching.  Irony unleashed by those scenes actually works but is not worth the dignity lost that such a film should aspire.

Eight women are put through an emotional grinding throughout the film. And that may keep newcomers away. However, Tyler has placed some really clever cursing and one-liners that make the audience laugh out loud and comingle in agreement for seconds. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel which we know is not attractive—so where’s the redemption?

Redemption comes in the evening when all the women are gathered like a rainbow. They gather to sing the praises of being black and surviving life in Harlem long enough to feel the goddess spirit stirring within. They embrace it and each other saved by the light. 

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf - Alfre Woodard, Lynn Whitfield (Broadway Theatre Archive)

Movie Review: Fair Game (3/5 stars)

First published at Blogcritics: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-fair-game-2010/

Imagine a glamorous spy comes to dinner to dish the latest clandestine struggle! Now you want to be a spy or at least play one in a good film.  If so, then Fair Game is for your eyes. It was screened as part of Fort Worth’s Modern Cinema; with a release date of November 2010, and it is a very good film about a strong woman, who just happens to be a real spy. 

We meet Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) in the exotic locale of Kuala Lumpur, a densely populated Muslim country. The story follows her from that task to her testimony before the House. In between Valerie and husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) take life as it comes juggling love, time, and money. The pursuit of wealth has to take a back seat for now. Mrs. Plame-Wilson is at the top of her game -nabbing Muslim players in mid-sentence without blowing cover. She lies for a living and cool is her stock in trade, a real-life Mrs. Smith who fools everyone but is no one’s fool – yet.  We are not privy to the actual catharsis of this CIA operative. It occurs off-screen and beyond the range of this excellent biopic. What are in range is the Robert Novak newspaper column of 2003 outting a covert CIA operative and its impact on Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson.

We know the subsequent history — Valerie Plame writes her own declaration of independence Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government, translated with precision by director Doug Liman (The Bourne Trilogy).

Fair Game picks up the pace during an official debriefing; Valerie blurts out that she knows the perfect person to fact-check the aluminum tubes story and purchase of yellow cake in Niger, Africa. This is Joe’s turf; he knows the people and the land. Thus Joe follows the yellow cake road to Niger, Africa, sent indirectly by his wife’s ‘innocent’ promotion.

Joe agrees reluctantly. He knows he won’t find a damn thing because there is nothing left in Niger and nowhere to hide nuclear weapons. He looks, sees only deforested roads. He returns without the “right” answer.

Sean Penn hides behind  “Joe’s” beard and long hair. He’s the pensive journalist, and plays a safe hide-and-seek act but manages to deliver a focused performance. He singlehandedly makes the Bush White House most unhappy and we buy it. The Niger 24/7 media spin locks Joe’s attention. He snaps out of his ennui when Condoleezza Rice loops: “I hope the smoking gun is not a mushroom cloud” – reaches critical mass. It’s a cloud he needs to catch. On the other hand Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and George Tenet, find consensus (recall the Italian letter and enriched uranium) for their plan to invade Iraq.

It is Scooter Libby’s job to deliver a scary-good performance within a film that I think will be queued for Oscar. The liberal crowd will love its bold revisit of hoary headlines. They will identify with the angry crowds Joe argues before and his growing disdain as he witnesses the media replay of the unthinkable — an Iraq invasion.

My strongest criticism of Fair Game is how it somehow manages to hide the real grit and grind of authentic spy life. Instead it feeds us a steady diet of “isn’t this glitter lovely?”  But those sparkles do not trash or overwhelm the experience. It is definitely worth meeting in a dark room, and make no mistake it is a strong experience; We care about Valerie and Joe. Because we know why they cannot balance the war effort equation that includes yellow cake squared, divided by Niger. Joe, then Valerie, knows these do not equal invasion of Iraq.

For all the drama, this is not the end of the story. It gets worse. Exactly six months after the invasion of Iraq, Joe begins typing his own declaration of independence that takes the form of: “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson’s written rant is within the scope of the film and pushes Liman’s taut dramatic accelerator so hard that it overheats (in a good way) with the rage of Plame and Wilson as their lives unravel before the world. It is all about Valerie Plame and the end of her government career. One can never step in the same river twice.

In the final third of the film we find melodrama. Crucified covert cries: “I was wrong; I do have a breaking point.”  She breaks and so does the marriage, precipitated by Joe’s suggestion that they hit back with a Vanity Fair spread. She blows and removes her feet from the fire, going home to mom and dad. While there, Valerie has an epiphany and decides not to sacrifice the marriage to the government. Naomi Watts’ Valerie is on fire as she fights finally to clear her name. 

In the meantime, Joe is alone with the five o’clock news – where comforting talking heads recycle the “CIA leak” for which there is no undo button – and as quickly as the media turned on Plame they pivot facing Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, telling Chris Matthews gleefully “Valerie Plame is fair game.” Joe and Valerie are both stunned at this gospel since the end of their nightmare is in sight: A determined Valerie joins Joe the crusader. We watch the obligatory newsreel of the real Valerie Plame in sworn testimony before Congress. We applaud and wish it were a work of fiction. 

Running Time 106 minutes. 

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-fair-game-2010/page-3/#ixzz1456xGtVn

Movie Review: Hereafter

Hereafter DVD on Amazon when available

 
Article first published as Movie Review: Hereafter on Blogcritics.

The movie review that follows this new introduction took a lot of heat. People thought it was a bad review. Clint Eastwood is on CBS News Sunday Morning and when asked what happens after death he replied “I haven’t the foggiest idea.” That’s how his movie reads too.  But  I did not want to give it a bad review but a totally ambiguous review.

At The Trough the link “The Daily Lama” was inspired during my visit to New Mexico this summer (I have posted photos of the stupa with me standing in front) where I stayed with my elderly aunt. Well she is not elderly exactly, but 11 years older than myself. She was my bulwark growing up, my defender, my friend from many past lives.

We were Satsangis together for over 20 years, now she was a Buddhist which is not a far leap from Sant Mat. I asked her why she was so absorbed into Buddhism these days.  Her response ” I want to be ready for my death.”  That is what Buddhism is all about going to your next life after death. Is there an intermediate stage? Yes, it’s called the Bardo. But for the advanced the goal is to remain conscious from one death to the next body that Buddhists and myself KNOW is waiting.

There are reasons why some do not go directly to a new body but most do. I tracked down the laws that govern the soul’s journey from one body to the next in my book  Dinner With DaVinci, It represents over 30 years of study and journaling about my life which I was able to mine for divine knowledge about my past lives and how the laws are the real change agents. The laws take us from here to there.

The original review:

 You will meet a tall, dark psychic in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. He has done it again and adds to his film hit list by creating another gifted genre movie about uneasy psychic George Lonegan (Matt Damon).  Peter Morgan’s screenplay fares well under Eastwood’s direction.The film follows the lives of three individuals in different cities in different countries, seeking answers to life’s greatest paradox: is there life after death? The seekers have never met and on the face of it, not a part of the same equation.

George, the loner, worries about job security in San Francisco. In France Marie Lelay (Cecile De France), the journalist, fears the boot by France’s biggest publisher Didier (Thierry Neuvic) and worries about her job security. In London a mom worries about keeping her job as mother to identical twins Marcus/Jason (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren ). Clint’s job is to connect this people bazaar with karmic ties that land them in the same city meet-up at the end.

Death-and-loss themes run through this film but Eastwood keeps it at arm’s length. That’s a good thing because Clint is reassuring his audience while raising directly death at every age. He introduces the idea of reincarnation or rebirth.  Here Clint paints with flat finish rather than a shiny one that only a psychic can divine. Speaking of divine—God does not have a role in Hereafter. He is never mentioned nor is there love for Asia after the tsunami. No eating in George’s cooking class in Frisco and just a wisp of praying at a funeral in London.  

So how does Eastwood introduce reincarnation and life after death? One way is through George. He is obsessed with and falls asleep to the readings of Charles Dickens. That love changes his life in unexpected ways. And where does George get this ability in the first place? He explains it as an operation gone badly. Simultaneously, in France, there’s talk of a “silent conspiracy” against those who make clinical studies of the NDE or near-death experience.

The recreation of the December 26, 2004 tsunami is a heavy piece of history that most recall. The tsunami event, in an unnamed city, explores the NDE in beautiful sequences. Here Marie dies and recalls something while she is gone—a very hazy vision and feeling of floating.  Is that all? I did not get it. I found it to be no more than a mediator’s forgotten dream experience, unconvincing, nice try.

This film is set in the present and is more about how distraction or obsession with death is not a way to win friends or influence people. Life moves upside down for the three protagonists: a young twin will lose his brother, a French journalist will lose her job, and George’s dock job will dry up. He tries to take up a normal life and new line of work, but can’t escape his calling to talk to the dead.

What conclusions does Clint profess? He presents nothing different from what most orthodox religions believe: that people go somewhere but can still be reached somehow by the right psychic. In this case, George needs only hold hands to make an instant connection to pivotal events in a person’s life. Some  unnerved while others beg for his touch.

I have to tell you that Matt’s George is a beautifully nuanced performance. He is an ordinary person with an extraordinary gift: connecting to the dearly departed. While there is nothing original about Eastwood’s premise that the dress rehearsals for death aka NDEs are new. I do not find much merit in the so-called NDE. So why dwell on it?  

On the other hand, in Clint’s film the NDE does not even make sense to this psychic. In fact while I know that the only way that people can have the type of karmic ties portrayed in Hereafter is if they were forged in former lives, That is my problem with this film from a spiritual point of view. I think Clint should have been a little bolder in addressing reincarnation and take a more critical look at the NDE instead of this uncertain approach to a certain event–death.

SPOILER ALERT

Matt Damon as George does not find love in this film, not even a kiss. What’s up with these movies? He does meet a woman at a cooking class where they DO NOT EAT  but taste foods and have to tell which is which. She begs him for a date. They go to his apt. in San Fran and when he touches her hand after she demands a reading, he reads that she has been molested by her father and that her mother is dead.

Interesting that is what happened to me also. I was molested and my mother died young. The woman freaks out and they never see each other again.

The other people in the story ARE in no way related to each other.  At the end they all meet up in London but it is a real stretch. He is after the women who, Belgian actress, who claims a NDE after drowning and being revived in a tsunami. She gets fired from her job because she can no longer concentrate and writes a book about her NDE instead of a book about politician Francois Mitterrand. They are mad but she writes a book that does get published and goes to the book fair in London.

Here’s where they all meet. Matt tracks her down to her hotel room and leaves her a 3 page letter. He waits for her in an outside coffee house. Again, that is part of my story because I met a man in India with whom I had a lot of  karma and stayed with him in Paris the next summer. But nothing came of it.

So, in this story, Matt sees them kissing in a vision as she approaches. He stands up and they meet outside and  that’s the end. No kissing, no sex, no conclusions at all about life after death. Clint you need  me.

A Teacher Watches “Waiting For Superman”

http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-waiting-for-superman3/  first published at Blogcritics.org October 12, 2010

Waiting for “Superman” takes a page from the catechism of Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. He stars in this over-the-top look at public education in America. Canada knows the public schools of America well, growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s and attending a “failure factory.” The only difference is that these days there are many more from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles.

Waiting For “Superman” is a sharply focused, well-done documentary about three students who pin their hopes on gaining entrance by lottery into a public charter school. (The Harlem Children’s Zone is a boarding public charter school.) The applicants face tall odds with at best a 1:5 chance of acceptance. It ends with the lottery choices revealed. And it is no secret that the families followed did not win.

This somber film opens with a young black boy sitting on his bed recounting the little time he spent with his dad. When asked, “Where’s your father?” The young man stares, “He just died. He did drugs.”  Young Anthony’s life mirrors the current crop of students who don’t live in single-parent household, but often one headed by a single grandmother, sister, cousin or aunt who gives them shelter because biological parents are either in prison, on drugs or dead.

This film depicts hard choices facing one black, one brown and one white student from east to west. Davis Guggenheim, director producer and co-writer (Lesley Chilcott co-writer), fills in the blanks with narration. He talks about the stark difference between classes: abundant choice for the affluent and luck for the less fortunate.

Michelle Rhee is profiled in a good light in the film. She does not have a Ph.D., taught for only three years, no administrative experience but appointed chancellor of DC public schools by Mayor Fenty. Her presence and her mission were not appreciated by the teachers whom she knows are dishing “crappy education.” They hate her. Why? Because she is brought in to fix by firing bad teachers in the nation’s capital. Their schools report some of the lowest scores in math and reading in the country. Randi Weingarten is cast in poor light and portrayed as the woman working for the system and against Rhee. High drama happens when Rhee sits in the audience and discovers that her plan on the teacher’s union table, with offer to increase pay to six figures, fire unproductive teachers, and tenure thrown out is met with a wall of silence.  Rhee is crushed.

Timeline and storyline sifts in Waiting For “Superman” between real B/W footage from school days in the 1950s and 1960s; the three students who enter a lottery, and what’s wrong with education today bringing the audience up to date on the problems.

We know what works: more time on task, emphasis on math and science, competent teachers. We also know that fifth grade is the great divide. Canada emphases that students enter school with bright shiny faces, eager to learn but by fourth or fifth grade the score slide begins. And it is not just poor urban schools that are facing decline in performance.

There are great teachers out there, but in this film they do not make the cut. Teachers acknowledged are from KIPP (knowledge is power) or inside Canada’s charter.  He likens a great teacher to “a work of art.”  Canada also drives home the not-so-glamorous too; that teachers are just janitors, hired to take out the trash–low scores, low self-esteem, low IQ, and low achievement. Instead after “tenure” the status quo becomes checking the inbox and collecting a check. He pidgeon holes all unions (and principals) as protectors of the right of teachers not to teach. What about the rest of the teachers in this country?

An interactive, animated map of the USA tells us how the rest of the country is faring with facts and figures. We watch, not one single state on the map that can tout high scores in math and reading. Ouch. The old saw that failing neighborhoods produce failing schools is turned on its head by research according to this film. It is failing schools that produce failing neighborhoods. This part of the documentary nails the heart of the problem: what does this society value most? Prisons  filled with the unschooled or fixing America’s public schools?

The prison industrial complex has no trouble filling seats. Numbers don’t lie and one swallows hard when confronted: it costs $132,000 for prisoner/year, compared to the cost of a private school at $107,000 per annum/student. As pointed out in the film, money goes only one way when schools become dropout factories and prison-feeder institutions. But wealth is created and recycled when schools work.  

How this country relies on imported brain power is touched and juxtaposed with how students in this country rank with countries in the rest of the world.  For me, I am not buying it because one only has to ask one simple question: how many countries offer public education from K-12 to 100% of its population without charge? How Asian countries manage to include far more math and science classes? And what countries have tiered systems that track and move the best and brightest to higher education? How many children are simply left behind? That’s more than one simple question but you begin to grasp the complexity.

One thing is sad and inexcusable: ninth grade students entering high school with reading levels as low as first grade. Again, I have trouble believing such figures about mainstream students without seeing the research for myself. It is explained by “social promotions” and tracking. How tracking works is shown, but there is no discussion about the role of special education and how their scores are treated. So we do find many gaps in this documentary but no outright lies.

The final question in this exam over failed schools: can we trust Guggenheim and Canada’s assessment of public schools? If not, can we afford to doubt the urgency of this film’s message: if one student fails in a silent school system will anyone hear the sound?

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-waiting-for-superman3/page-3/#ixzz12C4ddBQb

Movie Review: “A Prophet” delivers

On DVD I recently got A Prophet from Netflix.  I did not catch it when it was in the theatres here briefly. The French do it again! Damn they got it when it comes to story, twists and turns and pandering to the dark side of human nature.

The hero, if you can call him that, is a young Arab with no protection in prison, what else is new? And he goes to the dark side in the form of befriending the Corsican cronies who find him in prison. What do they ask him? To kill an informant who is arriving and will only be vulnerable for a few days.

He is “innocent” by prison standards so that’s where the punch of this pic comes in. Will he do it? And how will it change him?

SPOILER Alert

The man he kills become some sort of all-knowing informing ghost and he sees this Arab gay guy everywhere thus he becomes the prophet by virtue of his changed insider status.

Movie Review: The Lovely (Piece Of Crap) Bones

The Lovely Bones is a very long piece of shit. It is 2 hours and 15 minutes and I fast forwarded most of it. And it was still tooo long. How can people get shit like this made into a film. Yeah the pervert bad guy was good but is it worth watching his performance to sit through this crappy flick? Hell no. It ain’t worth the time. Zero stars for this crap.

They tried to get cute and do all kinds of special stuff. It was a piece of crap period. I am so glad I did not waste a penny or time going to the movies to see this.