Stand and Deliver (1988)

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Continuing with education movies theme, I chose to watch this classic.  I vaguely recalled seeing parts of it before, but was unsure.  I proved myself correct.  All I could remember clearly was the the scene where Escalante comes face-to-face with the ETS investigators and argued why his students should not need to retake the exam when there is no definitive evidence of cheating.

As with the other “based on a true story” teaching movies, it is very motivational and inspirational, but from the perspective of a viewer who wants to be entertained, it could have been significantly better.  The movie was good solely because the actual story was so inspirational.  However, this was another case where so many scenes and segments seemed disjointed.  Without a clear direction of how to tell the success story, many sub-plots and undertones were severely under-developed.  The movie may have tried too hard to focus on every student’s story; the result is that it became hard to empathize with any single student’s trials and tribulations.  I thought the director would’ve made it easier on himself by focusing on the story from the teacher’s perspective, but he did not, or at least did not do a good job of that either.

One pleasant change from the majority of teaching films was that this movie focused on a mathematics teacher rather than an English or music teacher.  Furthermore, unlike other stories where students were only shown to pass according to the teacher’s standards, this movie was able to give perspective on their actual level of achievement because the students had to take the AP examination which is well-known and recognized.  Comparatively, in films like Freedom Writers, I can accept that the students are learning and appreciating class, but I have no tangible sense of their English ability in comparison to a typical high school freshman or sophomore.

Indeed an inspirational story, but shame on the film-makers for not making it into a truly unforgettable movie.  In another ten years, I will probably have forgotten everything except the scene of Mr. Escalante arguing with the ETS investigators again.  A story like this had so much more potential, and it was, by no means, fully achieved.

The Killing Fields (1984)

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Inspired by my friend’s parents to watch this, I wanted to learn more about the history of Cambodia.  After watching it, I think I should have learned more about the history of Cambodia before watching the movie.  I don’t believe the filmmakers did a very good job of making the film fully intelligible to a broad audience.  For many like myself, the film merely evokes feelings similar to that of Schindler’s List, where without adequate historical background, you are merely baffled and confused by the horrors of war, while at the same time being inspired by the bravery of those who had to face it firsthand.  But the Holocaust is a much more well-known historical event, whereas the Killing Fields of Cambodia are far lesser-known.

Perhaps the goal of the film was not exactly to acquaint many people with the details of Cambodian history; perhaps it was filmed with the intention of evoking those feelings within a plight of confusion.  Watching the film, I felt that many of the people who lived through it may have felt the same way, without any understanding of what was really happening and why it was happening to them.  They only perceived that foreign countries were dropping bombs on them for unknown reasons, and a group of their own citizens was murdering their own kind in mass numbers, sometimes for being too intelligent, and other times just for speaking up.  Why this was happening seemed to be a big mystery.  It seem very possible that the ignorant viewer (like myself)  and the average Cambodian in 1975 shared similar feelings.  It is indeed troubling to find those nearest and dearest to you being killed without just cause or reason.

This is what happens in real life. I guess for most Cambodians there is no hope of a Rambo type character, or even a Sydney, to come and help them if they are doomed to the killing fields.  They can only bide their time and hope for an opportunity to escape.  A touching tale about Dith Pran, but I felt there was just too much jumping around from scene to scene, particularly in the beginning, without a relatively clear interpretation of what was happening.  Thus, the entire movie felt very rushed for the sake of fitting the entire story inside of a little over two hours.  I think the producers could have compiled this film in a more creative manner so that more audiences could gain insight into Cambodia’s situation during 1975-1979 as well as follow the inspirational journey of Dith Pran.

Freedom Writers (2007)

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I have been on this recent trend of craving education related movies since watching for Waiting for ‘Superman’ and have even recently forced my close friends to watch Dead Poet’s Society, which is one of my absolute favorites.  I wanted to see if this is one of those inspirational movies as well, and it indeed is.  But I must say that turning around “unteachable” kids would never be my ideal role as a teacher.  I still prefer the role of John Keating, who has a much less hostile setting and must only show his boys that they can think for their own and can reach great heights.

More than anything else, this movie reminded me of Dangerous Minds, except based on a true story.  Movies based on true stories are always that much more inspirational because there is a sense of realism that just can’t fully be reproduced by fictional tales.  It was especially touching to see them come together with each other, then work together to bring over Miep Gies who housed Anne Frank during the Holocaust.  Her talk was inspiring for me as it was for the students in the movie.  Miep Gies was so firm in her belief that she was not a hero, but merely a person doing the right thing.  I think this resonated so deeply with me because it coincides with my extended infatuation with the idea of justice.

It was also interesting to see Imelda Staunton again; her role seemed almost exactly like the one she later portrayed in the Harry Potter movies.  I was afraid that she would turn this movie into another case where the system kept a good teacher from doing her job, but I was pleased to discover that one impediment along the chain of command does not mean that everyone else along the chain is also so obtuse.   But, it is sad and unfortunate that the teacher had to sacrifice so much of her own personal life to achieve success in the classroom.  Hopefully, it was worth it for her when all was said and done.

In the end, I do wonder if what she created can be reproduced again, in some form, in other classrooms.  And as much as I understand the bond between classmates, it may still be important for them to gain perspectives from other peers and other teachers.  From that point of view, I don’t know if I condone actions such as following the same class from their freshman year until high school graduation.  Of course, if the alternative is for them to return to the streets, then staying in the same class for four years isn’t so bad.  There are so many challenges to being a teacher, I can’t imagine how the good ones do so much.  I suppose some people just have a gift.

Little Black Book (2004)

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I had intended to watch this movie when it first came out, but I didn’t and completely forgot about it, until today.  Finally, after discussing some Brittany Murphy movies, and seeing this pop up on Netflix’s recommended movies, we decided to sit down and watch it.  I remember this was supposed be a romantic comedy, but in the end, I didn’t think it was really funny at all.

The entire film was just a series of stupid events stemming from people’s lack of faith in their partners.  Though I can understand the desire for one to know everything about their partner’s past, it usually seems unnecessary to delve deeply into their relationship history.  With no suspicion and no problems, why would one go out of their way to cause so much heartache to one another?  I don’t understand why they would go out of their way to destroy their happy lives.  Although it seems that she wasn’t truly happy to begin with, it seems so illogical and tedious to go to such great lengths just to be honest with oneself.  Perhaps I just think differently from the average person.

I am reminded of a line from Minority Report which cycled through my head as I watched.  “Dig up the past, all you get is dirty.”  Well, that’s exactly what happens in this movie.  An hour and fifteen minutes of digging and getting really dirty, then about a half hour of what turns out to be a kind of quality ending.  Despite the nice ending, it was not enough to save this movie.  Despite being watchable and not utterly horrible, I don’t believe this is a movie that I’ll ever revisit again for any reason.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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I saw pretty good reviews for this movie so I really made it a point to get around to seeing it in theaters eventually.  It indeed satisfied my expectations, and though it was fairly slow in its entirety, I think the film makers did an exceptional job of making Caesar very human-like.  The build-up from beginning to end fully lays a foundation for why one can empathize with all that Caesar experiences throughout the film.

Watching movies like this always makes me unsure of whether or not I could take the right side in such a fight.  Would I side with the humans?  Or would I be in support of the apes who were retaliating for their own mistreatment and abuse?  Many of the scenes from mid-movie made me contemplate about the problems of animal cruelty and animal captivity.  I must admit that I stare in awe at the awesomeness of nature whenever I set foot in a zoo as well, but I can’t help but think of how wrong the idea is.  Would it be acceptable if more intelligent lifeforms captured groups of homo sapiens and kept us on display and used us as test subjects without our consent?  Though apes and other animals may not have the same higher cognitive functions as humans, they are not without feelings and emotions.

In the end, I would say that most of the humans who suffered in the ape escape deserved it.  Caesar proved that he had a much better grasp of ethics, understanding the thin line separating right from wrong, refraining to kill the humans who did not demonstrate animosity towards the apes.  The ending of course left more to be desired, and I guess that’s why the movie was so slow.  It suffers from the unfortunate plague of merely building up to a sequel rather than being a complete movie on its own; a them common with box office hits these days.  My best guess is that it will end up a trilogy like almost all big Hollywood investments.

The ending made me reminisce about Twelve Monkeys.  Is this really the way humanity will fall?  Perhaps so, because then the food chain would be complete, for humans to be trumped by the lifeforms that do not even meet traditional biologists’ qualifications for “life.”

The Iron Giant (1999)

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I remember hearing of this movie long ago, but finally someone forced me to watch it, strongly suggesting that I would enjoy it.  On this momentous day, I found a friend (in the movie) who also aspires like me to be just like Superman.  Who doesn’t want to be a hero?  I certainly do, although I’m not from Krypton nor am I made of iron with built-in weapons of mass destruction.

The Iron Giant is one of those friends that every dorky child, like myself and Hogarth, dreams of having.  Even if I could never be awesome and amazing, I might have a best friend who is all those things and more.  It’s not really that different from most people wanting to be like E from Entourage with Vinny Chase as the best friend, except that I guess most older people aspire to have famous millionaires as a best friend instead of a superhero.  The happy aspect of this movie was of course the blossoming friendship between a boy and his iron friend; the dark aspect though was the fears and insecurities of mankind desiring to own, control, or subdue all things that he does not comprehend.

I am always sad to see fellow humans act out in such rash ways without even an attempt to reach out in understanding.  I guess that’s why in movies we often hear them say “shoot first, ask questions later.”  Unfortunately that doesn’t work out so well when you are shooting at a killing machine which has been tamed.  Luckily, the giant has a better heart (mind?) than us, and becomes a true Superman by saving all the people of that little town in Maine from nuclear destruction.

But, poor Hogarth lost his only friend.  However, maybe the giant will be back someday?  Iron Giant 2?

Cafe Habana

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My friends had just come into New York from China, and after two days of 12 hour shopping, I met them at this popular little corner store down in NoLIta.  It was recommended to them by the shoppers and employees at a nearby Tory Burch store, and it looked quite promising with people lined up around the corner just waiting to get in.  We became increasingly eager to go inside.  This was a combination of the fact that it was beginning to rain harder and harder and that the two shoppers had merely eaten one hot dog so far today; that is, one hot dog between the two of them.

We eventually took over the corner of the bar, and sat down for some frozen margaritas and food.  The margaritas were not universally loved, in fact they weren’t really loved at all, but I suppose they weren’t the reason we were here anyways.  Our purpose for being here was some good Cuban food, and in pursuit of that, we started the meal off with two orders of the Grilled Corn Mexican Style.  Fantastic fantastic.  I’d never had corn of this style in the past.  I love cheese, and it was covered in it.  I love spice, and it was sprinkled with it.  The flavors blended together harmoniously in joyous revelry.  If I ever return, I will undoubtedly get this appetizer again.

For the main course, I ordered myself Camarones Al Ajillo, which is apparently shrimp in spicy garlic sauce with rice and beans.  I only chose this dish because I saw that the customer who was sitting at the bar before me ordered it, and he seemed like a frequent customer who knew what was good so I followed in his tracks.  I think I made the right decision.  The rice and beans were good, but the shrimp and the sauce they put it in really blew me away.  The rice and beans served its purpose of not overwhelming the senses, and was like an anchor to keeping my senses steady.  Perhaps it was the contrast that made the shrimp taste even better?  It’s quite possible, and I was very pleased with this dish.

My friends unfortunately came in and ordered some of the most American dishes possible, which denied me the possibility of sampling more Cuban cuisine. One went with the Grilled Steak & Corn Salad; the other got a Bacon Cheeseburger.  They both ordered their meat medium-well.  Maybe I don’t like my meat that well done, or maybe the restaurant just wasn’t so great at making these everyday dishes.  Either way, I was pretty unimpressed by it.  The salad underneath the steak was fairly palatable.  However, I was told it was far too filling, and this again reminded of the shear portion size in a typical US restaurant.

I an most assuredly very content with my order here as well as the appetizer.  I am willing to wager that if my friends had ordered better, I would’ve thought even more highly of this little joint.  Unfortunately, their meals were very unspectacular in my eyes.  But, I look forward to bringing others here to at least enjoy the Mexican style corn in the future.