Friday, October 8, 2010

“Movie review: 'Waiting for "Superman,"' an emotional education about schools - Washington Post” plus 2 more

“Movie review: 'Waiting for "Superman,"' an emotional education about schools - Washington Post” plus 2 more


Movie review: 'Waiting for "Superman,"' an emotional education about schools - Washington Post

Posted: 30 Sep 2010 09:56 PM PDT

Many documentaries make you cry. They often present seemingly insolvable problems. But "Waiting for 'Superman,' " filmmaker Davis Guggenheim's scathing, moving critique of American public education, makes you actually want to do something after you dry your eyes.

While there's little doubt that the controversial D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who appears prominently in the film, has at some point provoked tears -- or at least spitting anger -- there's nothing about her blunt commentary that would make anyone mist up, as sad as the state of the District's public schools is. As the film points out, Washington, D.C., has the lowest eighth-grade reading proficiency rate in the country.

In Guggenheim's movie, Rhee comes across as a heroic, if polarizing, reformer. There may be an unintentional layer of tragedy, given Rhee's recent characterization of the city's mayoral primary results as "devastating" for the children of Washington. Nevertheless, Rhee's appearance will leave most viewers dry-eyed, despite the widely held assumption that she will leave or be forced out of her post now that Vincent Gray -- who has been highly critical of her performance in the past -- has defeated D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

If there's a villain in the piece, it's Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Her union, and its historical institutional resistance to such things as teacher evaluations, merit pay and the elimination of automatic tenure, are here seen as self-serving at best, if not downright harmful to children.

But there are others in the film with greater emotional pull on the audience. One of them is Geoffrey Canada. The founder of the Harlem Success Academy, a much-sought-after charter school in New York City, gives the film its title when he tells the story of his childhood disappointment upon learning that TV's Superman wasn't real and would never be coming to save him. Canada is among the film's liveliest talking heads -- he seems to get more screen time than Rhee and Weingarten combined -- yet his sense of disillusionment with the U.S. public school system is palpable.

Disillusionment, in fact, pervades "Waiting for 'Superman.' "

Mostly, it's the result of Guggenheim's decision to structure his film around the stories of several children across the country who are participating in the highly competitive lotteries that take place every year in successful schools for a limited number of openings. An audible gasp was heard at a recent screening when the numbers flashed on screen about one such lottery: 792 kids fighting for 40 slots.

Harlem Success Academy is one of those schools; the SEED school, a public charter in the District, is another. Some the kids the film follows will get in. Most won't.

We get to know all of them: Emily in Redwood City, Calif.; Daisy in Los Angeles; Bianca in Harlem; Francisco in the Bronx; Anthony in Washington. Their hopeful faces -- and the looks of frustration when some of them don't make it -- are crushing.

But Guggenheim is no defeatist. The film ends with an inspirational litany with ways you can help. The director, who wrote the film with Billy Kimball, and who narrates it, passionately, as a kind of personal essay, wants to make a difference, in the same way he hoped to with his 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth."

As adults, he says, it sometimes feels easier to just throw up our hands and give up, rather than to take a good, hard look "at just one student."

"Waiting for 'Superman' " takes that good, hard look. And not just at one student, but a handful. They deliver the film's real message, though it's one echoed by Rhee, who laments that the fight for better schools inevitably becomes "about the adults." In the end, "Waiting for 'Superman' " argues, it isn't the people named Michelle, Randi and Geoffrey who matter in this fight, but the millions of Emilys, Daisys, Biancas, Franciscos and Anthonys.

*** 1/2 PG. At Landmark's Bethesda Row and Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains references to drug abuse and troubled families. 111 minutes.

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Spielberg Wants To Make Halo Movie from Novels - Tom's Guide

Posted: 08 Oct 2010 12:32 AM PDT

Spielberg and DreamWorks are attempting to obtain the rights for a Halo movie.

With Halo: Reach out in stores and racking in big bucks for Microsoft, news surrounding the stagnate movie project have begun to stir. The latest report is that Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Pictures is currently attempting to obtain the rights in order to revive the project. However Spielberg wants to draw the source material from the novels rather than rework Neil Blomkamp's previously unmade adaption.

Why? It's presumed that DreamWorks doesn't want to get caught up in the legal woes between 20th Century Fox and Universal, the two partners responsible for the original movie project. In a rather lengthy (yet enlightening) account of the ongoing Halo move saga, NYMag's Vulture reports that Fox eventually bailed out on Universal, refusing to share the costs and alleging mismanagement of the developmental process. Universal had already dumped $12 million into screenwriting and production fees prior to Fox's departure. In turn, Universal sued Fox, killing the Halo movie project.

Additional reports claim that Universal and Fox have settled their dispute out of court, however the former studio lost most of its $12 million investment. A new production studio taking on the current Universal-Fox project would mean that Universal legal hounds could go after the new studio to regain the lost production costs. By taking on a new Halo project using a different source material--namely the published novels--DreamWorks isn't obliged to re-pay Universal.

"Another helpful side effect of using the books is that it appeases Microsoft, which authorizes them all; it shows them that DreamWorks takes the canon seriously (even if the process ends with a completely original script)," reads the report. "[Ex-Universal Pictures chairman Stacey] Snider, who declined to comment for this story, is now CEO of DreamWorks, and knows from her days ushering Halo through Universal the importance of keeping Microsoft happy."

So far a writer hasn't been hired, however Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean, G.I. Joe) wrote an adaption of Halo: The Fall of Reach back in 2007 and sent it to Microsoft. However the question now is whether a movie would be too late. While Halo: Reach is making millions, Bungie is no longer developing the games. There's also talk that Microsoft is worried about another form of media screwing up the multi-billion dollar Halo franchise. After all, if Spielberg screws it up, how will the company rebound from that?

Still, would Spielberg do a Halo movie justice? Perhaps so as long as it's not touchy-feely like E.T. Then again, the movie has racked in $792,910,554 worldwide since its release back in 1982.

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Secretariat's movie is at the post - San Diego Union-Tribune

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 07:04 PM PDT

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:06 p.m.

In this publicity image released by Disney, from second left, Diane Lane, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and John Malkovich are shown in a scene from,

/ AP

In this publicity image released by Disney, from second left, Diane Lane, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and John Malkovich are shown in a scene from, "Secretariat." (AP Photo/Disney, John Bramley)

Horse racing fans know well the story of Secretariat and how he capped his Triple Crown march with a record-setting romp and 31-length win in the Belmont Stakes.

It's still considered one of the greatest athletic performances in the history of sports. At 35th, Secretariat is the only non-human on ESPN's list of Top 100 athletes of the 20th Century.

Actress Diane Lane was 8 years old when Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. And although she never got into horse racing in real life, her recent association with the movie, "Secretariat," gave her a deep appreciation of what Big Red did in the Belmont Stakes. More importantly, it gave her an even greater respect for the people behind the superhorse.

"I had such a love for horses," said Lane, the actress who plays Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery (Penny Tweedy then), in the movie, set to be released Friday. "But I didn't understand the accomplishment that basically the earth stood still on its axis for a moment while Secretariat grew wings and expressed his joy for living at the Belmont Stakes.

"You can go on YouTube and press that postage-size icon of (Secretariat's Belmont Stakes win) , and it gives you goose bumps and brings tears to your eyes," Lane added. "But this way you have two hours of that feeling rather than two minutes. And you get the story behind it."

Lane said she received great support from Chenery in preparing for her role as a Denver housewife who decided to step up and take over her ill father's failing Virginia-based farm, Meadow Stables. As an actress, Lane has Oscar, Emmy and Old Globe nominations, but she said her role as Chenery was challenging. Known as "The First Lady of Racing," Chenery earned the Eclipse Award of Merit.

"Penny was gracious enough to accept me as a guest in Boulder, Colo.," Lane said. "She shared her experiences of life being a wife, and a daughter and mother who was thrust into the media with success and expectation and high stakes living."

Chenery said it was difficult at first seeing herself portrayed on screen by Lane. But she said she was very happy with the outcome of the movie. She felt it was an accurate portrayal of what she and veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (played by actor John Malkovich) went through. She said the use of a real jockey, Otto Thorwarth, as jockey Ron Turcotte, was a key to the film's authenticity.

"I'm very pleased with it overall," Chenery said. "Horsemen will nit-pick inconsistencies, but they don't hurt the flow of the movie. It's just a wonderful feel-good show, and I do hope that all of my horse-crazy teenage girls will really get into this film."

Disney director Randall Wallace said of the film: "The story is about heart -- Secretariat's and the heart of the woman who owned him. Both were greater than anyone imagined."

Lane said she learned quickly that horse racing is "an amazing arena of heart and families and dreams and great risk and excitement."

Producer Mark Ciardi said the film focuses on Chenery because her's was the story of the underdog behind Secretariat's great run. As a horse owner and breeder, Chenery's Riva Ridge and Secretariat won five of six Triple Crown races over a two-year span. Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1972. And Secretariat won the Triple Crown the following year. Chenery was disappointed Riva Ridge's accomplishments were omitted in the film, but Ciardi said the focus had to be Chenery with Secretariat.

"The horse was amazing, but we looked at Penny's story as the one that was really interesting, one that coincided with Secretariat's ascension," Ciardi said. "Penny came into a man's world and took over a farm for her ailing dad when she was much removed from that. It rekindled her love for horses. But she was in a man's world and had so many things to overcome. That was really the underdog story. It was a tough journey and very challenging for her."

The movie, "Seabiscuit" worked because the horse was such an undersized underdog and overachiever at a time when the country was going through hard times after the Great Depression. Secretariat is an oversized superhorse whose story happened at a critical time in America and whose film comes out at a time when the country once again is fighting, this time through the Great Recession.

"There we were with Watergate and the cynicism of the war of the era (Vietnam) and the generation gap that will never be as wide again," Lane said. "Women's lib was a term still holding water. I just think it was an amazing time for Penny's personal triumph and makes for a great release. And here we are again enjoying the benefit of the story."

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