50/50 (2011)

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I put 50/50 on thinking it would be a good story-driven comedy; however, by the I found the movie barely comedic, but very moving.  It seems I am an advocate of the theory that the best dramatic movie scripts originate from real-life stories.  The ads I saw in addition to Seth Rogen as the supporting actor led me to believe 50/50 would be much funnier than it truly was.

Despite not getting what I expected, 50/50 was a very worthwhile watch.  I find myself liking Joseph Gordon-Levitt more and more in his recent roles, namely this and Inception.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same for Seth Rogen.  I’m not sure I’ve like any of his movies.  And it was nice to see Anna Kendrick get out of her Twilight roles, except this role wasn’t a great display of her talent either.  At least, I think she’s much much easier on the eyes than Kristen Stewart.

Watch this when you have the time, but expect a true, emotional story that helps you understand the pain of knowing your days are numbered because of a terminal illness.

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Moneyball (2011)

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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.