The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
SOFA CINEMA is enjoying kayaking the waterways of the beautiful Northwest during the month of August and is taking this wonderful opportunity to recommend a handful of memorable films you might have missed the first time around. Enjoy!
BACK TO SCHOOL
"Freedom Writers" Rated PG 13
There's nothing like a true story to make a point and filmmakers love to plaster "Based on a True Story" in their advertising or credits. The reality is that "Freedom Writers" is about an actual young woman who ventures into a teaching situation that is far from the likes of "Our Miss Brooks," "Room 222" or "Welcome Back, Kotter" (depending on your generational point of reference).
Maybe more apt comparisons to "Freedom Writers" would be "To Sir, With Love," "Up the Down Staircase," and "Dangerous Minds" since, in addition to a novice instructor, the movies depict students who are troubled. Do we really need another "troubled students confront naïve teacher" movie?
Two things make "Freedom Writers" worth viewing. One, the problems facing teenagers today are more dangerous than ever. With only the slightest trepidation of sounding like an old codger, I remember being "in trouble" in high school was when a girl got pregnant or when a boy got caught with a six-pack joy riding in his dad's car. Trouble in "Freedom Writers" is life and death, growing up faster than anyone ever should and wondering if you'll celebrate your 18th birthday.
The second reason to watch "Freedom Writers" is Hilary Swank. She's in line to be the Streep of her generation. She passed for a boy in "Boys Don't Cry," a fighting machine in "Million Dollar Baby" and now as all-too-white, middle-class teacher Erin Grunell relating to a mini-United Nations of underachieving, overburdened kids. Swank is not a classic beauty (although if you see her on the red carpet, she is as stunning as they come), yet she embodies whatever role she is portraying.
"Freedom Writers" and its star benefit from a strong supporting cast - a prissy Imelda Staunton, craggy Scott Glenn, endearing Pat Carroll and feisty newcomer April L. Hernandez.
Watch this one with your teenagers, talk about the movie and then buy them an old-fashioned composition book. While you're at it, buy one for yourself.
"The History Boys"
Oftentimes plays seem stiff and stodgy when adapted for the silver screen. Not so with "The History Boys." Based on a play by Alan Bennett (who also wrote the screenplay) and filmed on location at several schools in England, the intimacy of the movie works quite well in the DVD format.
Hector (Richard Griffiths) is an extraordinary teacher who inspires his impressionable male charges with the joy of learning. Liberal in his classroom approach and discretely scandalous outside of the classroom, Hector approaches teaching with a joy of life that escapes most educators overloaded with paperwork and required studies.
None of the boys comes from the gentried class, so scoring high on their final exams is essential if a top-notch tower of learning is in their future.
The headmaster hires a tutor far younger then Hector to teach the lads how to do well on a test, something Hector acknowledges has little to do with the joy of learning.
Except for a rather lengthy scene delivered in French (that may tax the memories of those who struggled through French II in high school), the dialogue is snappy, the situations - educational and sexual - believable. "The History Boys" is buoyed by the original stage cast (including a marvelously droll performance by Frances de la Tour).
"History. It's just one bloody thing after another."
A better review is hard to come by.
"Bridge to Terabithia"
Remember when kids played in the woods and built forts out of old lumber and needed to be reminded to come inside to drink Kool-Aid and eat a bologna sandwich before dashing outside again? Except for the bologna sandwich, that sounds a whole lot healthier than getting carpal tunnel syndrome as a preteen from playing video games while local playgrounds and open fields go unoccupied.
"Bridge to Terabithia" is an invitation to explore the outdoors and to reach out to new friends. Director Gabor Csupo (of "Rugrats" fame) blends fantasy and special effects with heartwarming reality.
Josh Hutcherson plays Jesse, a young boy who is not one of the cool kids at school; instead he creates his own world through his drawings. AnnaSophia Ross plays Leslie, the new girl in town who is quite content not to conform to the stereotypical adolescent games of taunting on the playground.
Together Jesse and Leslie explore the woods, creating their own world of adventure whenever they cross the bridge to Terabithia. Occasionally Jesse's little sister May Belle tags along. (Little Bailee Madison as May Belle nearly steals the movie - seems like little kids even have to be wary of other little kids stealing the limelight!)
"Bridge to Terabithia" confronts typical youthful dilemmas, but it also doesn't shy away from some serious life situations. It is not for very young children and, if possible, the movie should be watched with adults to ease some troubling scenes.
Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. A novelist and playwright, she has published in numerous magazines and newspapers in addition to teaching fiction. She is the Arts & Entertainment critic for the international entertainment Web site NotesFromHollywood.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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