09 August 2011


Some inspirational movies about education:
  1. Stand and Deliver  —  A new math teacher at a poor public high school in LA encourages his AP Calculus class to study hard and score well on the exam.  It's an enjoyable film.  In reality the evidence suggests that the kids did cheat, but we can pretend otherwise so as to get a nice feeling from watching it. (3)
  2. October Sky  —  Several teenage boys from rural West Virginia experiment with rocket design, inspired by the launch of Sputnik.  The story is as much about the (real, human, colorful) people as it is about the rocket boys' goal of getting scholarships out of their small coal town.  Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Homer Hickham, Jr., the leader of the group.  (5)
  3. Finding Forrester — Smart black teen from the bronx is given a full ride to a NY prep school after his test scores reveal him to be very intelligent.  He plays basketball at the new school while clashing with an unpleasant english teacher.  Meanwhile he meets a reclusive writer (who, we can only assume, is supposed to be J.D. Salinger), and becomes his protege.  Jamal inspires everyone and overcomes every obstacle (apparently without any effort), becoming both the all-star athlete and the literary genius, but undergoes no personal development at all, except apparently in learning to use a typewriter.  Sean Connery is great as Salinger—that is, Forrester—, and we all enjoy fantasizing about being the main character and getting to have all these talents and experiences, but the movie is fundamentally ridiculous.  (2)
  4. The Emperor's Club  —  Kevin Kline stars in this rip-off of Dead Poets Society.  He teaches history at an elite New England prep school.  The plot is too tedious to merit a summary. (1)
  5. Goodbye, Mr. Chips  —  Classic with Robert Donat as the stiff classics teacher at an old English boarding school.  Mr. Chips sticks to the old traditions against all the innovators and troublemakers.  And, in the end, he triumphs. (4)
  6. Goodbye, Mr. Chips  —  Musical re-make with Peter O'Toole in Donat's role.  O'Toole is brilliant and if this weren't a musical, it would be just as good as the original. (4)
  7. Dead Poets Society  —  Robin Williams plays the antithesis of Mr. Chips, has his students mutilate their textbooks and do ridiculous free-spirited exercises, and tells them to call him "O Captain my captain".  He is shown here as a true educator among narrow, mean-spirited pedants with too many rules and too few thoughts.  The film concludes with the main character shooting himself in the head.  Really an abomination, both in the hackneyed plot, the absolutely awful ideology behind it, and the melodramatic earnestness with which all these petty prep school difficulties are treated.  (1)
  8. Mona Lisa Smile  —  Julia Roberts plays the female version of Robin Williams' character, a teacher at Wellesley who does her best to inspire freethinking and liberalism in her stiff, sometimes bitter, type-A students (many of whom want merely to be [gasp] housewives!).  Etc. (2)
  9. Mr. Holland's Opus  —  Richard Dreyfus lands a job at a public high school teaching music classes and constantly putting off work on his own musical compositions.  He gets absorbed in his work, and over the years invests a lot of personal energy in the students who are interested in going further with his subject.  It has a moving but slightly corny conclusion. (3)
  10. To Sir, With Love  —  Sidney Poitier plays a self-made man who takes a teaching job in London's East End with kids determined not to be taught.  After a few failed attempts he ditches the curriculum and teaches them etiquette and life-lessons instead.  This movie is half-brilliant in its recognition that some bureaucrat's idea of what standard education should include is frequently inadequate to match the real needs of students.  Some of what Poitier's character says is objectionable but on the whole it's a success. (3)
  11. Music of the Heart  —  Meryl Streep plays a Mr. Holland-type character.  Basically the same plot. (3)
  12. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit  —  Whoopie Goldberg is asked to return to the convent in order to help a dying Catholic high school.  Fun, harmless, pretty good.  (3)
  13. Good Will Hunting  —  Thoroughly enjoyable movie about a self-taught math genius with emotional problems living in Boston.  Matt Damon's first big role has him in therapy with Robin Williams, trying to deal with childhood trauma.  Both actors do fine work.  Damon and Afleck's script is excellent. (5)
  14. The King's Speech — Wonderful.  See it.  (5)
  15. Whale Rider  —  Young Kiwi girl teaches her grandfather the real meaning of tradition. (4)