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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Movies we love

Movies we love

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I saw The Book of Eli recently. My husband told me it was going to be "an action film" which normally sends me fleeing for the hills. But the other films we wanted to see were sold out -- and it was either this, or blow off our long-overdue date night. I thought I'd hate it, but Book of Eli was actually really good. Mercifully, it wasn't an action movie; it was a quest. Set in the post-apocalyptic future, it imagines a world where people kill each other over things that we currently throw away. (chapstik, uneaten bagels, etc) But it wasn't heavy-handed or gratuitously violent. Denzel Washington plays a refreshingly nuanced and perceptive hero on a curious mission to deliver a book. The Book of Eli doesn't hit you over the head with Hollywood cliche, and it's so much more complex than so many films these days. I'm always impressed when a filmmaker struggles to tell a positive story without resorting to saccharine tactics. True, I do know that having low expectations can really improve your experience of a so-so movie. But I think this one was good! What are some of the movies that are rocking your world lately?

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Patricia Kokinos's picture
Patricia Kokinos
Author, speaker, former teacher/admin., school change activist

Movies are a great way of engaging kids in reading, since, once they see the concept, they are eager to read more for themselves. Back in the day, I used to have a great time showing Redford's The Natural along with current films of Arthurian legends to help kids figure out the long reach of mythology/symbolism. Or Woody Allen's Love and Death when we did Russian novels. And, of course, GOOD films of Shakespearean plays to help kids see that these are dramas, alive with human nature. But tying in to the movies on the screen NOW is the best way to intrigue visual minds.

In my current newsletter, I couldn't help bringing in the huge success of 'Avatar' as a bellwether of a new way of thinking and seeing on a global scale. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

"Something big is going on when a movie brings in $2.3 BILLION in its first month of worldwide release, as James Cameron's techno-extravaganza "Avatar" is showing us--a global something that is resonating out there in the ethers. We know it's not the slam-bang plot, because we've seen "Dances With Wolves," only this time the Indians win (and it's about their turn!). The special effects are WAY cool, but there are plenty of movies with big FX that blow us away. We've seen tons of sci-fi and future worlds, disasters and rescues, you name it. So, what's going on here that everyone from ten-year-old gamers to college professors to grandmothers who never go to movies are telling their friends "You must see this movie"?

While Cameron himself is calling that common bond the "green" thing and his plea to save the planet from exploitation and destruction, there's a whole lot more operating in this film, a deeper subtext that springs from the author's own subconscious and jumps directly into ours. "Avatar" brings us echoes from the entire range of mythologies that have motivated world civilization for millennia: The improbable hero, the princess who tames a dragon, the lush and seductive beauty of nature, the freedom of flight, the discovery of new worlds, the triumph of the exploited, the return to the garden, the mysteries of healing, the power of transformation, the deep desire for transfiguration. These are the weighty themes that underlie the film's spectacular visuals and technical virtuosity, and connect us to our own deepest drives: We want to save the world, too, and live in that Eden of our own imaginations. Only we want that better world to be right here on this planet . . .

If you'd like to read more, or find out how and why I tie this into school change, please, be my guest: http://tiny.cc/SpinningWebsofMeaning

I loved the movie for its message, its lavish techno-effects, and for the attack birds: I definitely want one of those, to fly freely through the air around the floating islands, wind whistling past my ears. A great big fun movie where we get to SEE what synergy might actually BE!
Patricia Kokinos, www.ChangeTheSchools.com

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

I've been attending Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the last 11 years. Like most festivals or conferences where you're doing something you positively adore with other really cool people, Sundance is one of those places that opens your mind and heart on a million levels.

The first film I saw was Space Tourist, a gorgeous and lyrical doc by Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei about the Russian space tourism industry that has sprung from the ashes of the once-glorious Soviet-era space program. Set in "Star City" the original research and training facility, and much of the gear they use to shoot rich tourists into space today was built 40something years ago!

We meet Anoush Ansari, the Iranian-American bazillionaire/engineer/entrepreneur who pays $20MM to visit the International Space Station. Meanwhile, vodka-soaked scavengers roam the wilderness around the area in search of discarded booster rockets - including titanium and festering with toxins - which they melt down and sell for scrap. Steve Reich does the music, and the sound design is positively mesmerizing. This is a must-see.

Also on the documentary front, I had really hoped to see Waiting for Superman, directed by David Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). As I understand it, this film was financed in no small part by Bill Gates, who is a strong supporter of a more businesslike approach to public education. Alas, that movie was not only sold out, but the WAITLIST was sold out. Waiting for Superman got picked up by Paramount, however, so I'm sure we'll all get to see it. (And we all should!!)

Another doc on the must-see-when-it's-released list I am Pat ____ Tillman directed by Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That))

So, armed with a handful of tickets I'd procured at the last minute for films I knew nothing about, I landed into three wildly different stories about teenagers coming of age.

The first one - Animal Kingdom - is set in suburban Melbourne Australia, where a teenage boy lands in a tweaky family of gangsters and drug kingpins after his own mother dies of a heroin overdose. Watching this bright and sensitive kid navigate through the horrific violence and sociopathic ethos of his new family made my heart hurt, and I nearly walked out multiple times. But I'm glad I didn't. There's a reason it won the World Dramatic Grand Jury Prize.

Then there was Winter's Bone, a suspenseful masterpiece of a tale about a 17-year-old girl in the Ozarks where the family business is "cooking" crystal meth. With an AWOL father and not a single soul she can trust, Rhee takes care of her younger sister, brother, incapacitated mother and dilapidated house. (To wit: She shoots and skins squirrels for dinner and defends her family against incredibly hostile neighbors.) When she learns that she may lose their family's property, she goes on a mission that no kid - or adult - should ever have to endure. This is the well-deserved winner of the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize.

An for an utterly abrupt change of pace, we go to the garish wealth of Manhattan's Upper West Side for Twelve - a teen angst tale, with incomprehensibly mean girls and the doofus guys who will do anything for them. We also meet the urban underworld of dealers and thugs who supply these brats with limitless drugs. Director Joel Schumacher is going for a noir-ish thriller thing, but ultimately I left the theater feeling like my brain had been soaking in formaldehyde.

These films reminded me that adolescence is so very much harder in a world with drugs, gangs, and a hypersexualized mass media, and that this world is not the exclusive purview of the at-risk, urban population. As kids are learning who they are and how they work, it's incumbent upon us as role models to be there or be square.

KellyAnn Bonnell's picture
KellyAnn Bonnell
Education and Outreach - Arts for Social Change Director

We did an Avatar teacher guide when it came out in theatres and now that the new boxed set is going to be released its a perfect tool for classroom use. Its a free resource provided by ISP.


KellyAnn Bonnell's picture
KellyAnn Bonnell
Education and Outreach - Arts for Social Change Director

I know some movies aren't appropriate for classroom viewing but I recently saw Easy A and if your students are talking about it, its worth your time to see. It was well written and very relevant to the issues of today's student. I particularly loved the use of the Scarlet Letter as an integral part of the story.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Mao's Last Dancer Beautiful perfect for 7-12 with preteach
Neshoba Civil Right Mississippi 1962 with big pre teach
Heartbreaker great for adults, French and fun.

Waiting for Superman disgusting lie. Parents never mentioned as part of the problem and bully's in school as disruptive in the classroom.

Children shown very motivated with supportive parent. How wonderful. School all chose the child. WOW! Public school takes everyone....

Statistics never mentioned very crowded, cold, hot. Terrible food, parent who never shows up. Did anyone ever see PRECIOUS???!!!! She and her parent is a huge factor in public education. Where are the Social Workers in California? They do not hire any.

Michele Ree blamed the teacher and never discussed the parent/child. One group is never the problem. DC is really a tough area. NO ONE is 100% correct. However, she became a saint because she placed a nurse in every school. Why in the hell isn't there one in every school every day in every state? Teachers have complained about that for years, after all we have the sick children in the classroom and no one listens to us. We just get the blame.

Anyone remember Freedom Writers? Oops, forgot. That was written by a
teacher.......Bill Gates. Why aren't you funding Title I teachers and visiting us??? Superb bright motivated wonderful kids with teachers who work triple time!!

Please make a movie about the other 99%!!!!

KellyAnn Bonnell's picture
KellyAnn Bonnell
Education and Outreach - Arts for Social Change Director

Super 8 was a good film. Very much that old Spielberg. I felt like I was a kid again watching ET for the first time. It's also a pretty classic example of invasion literature. Could be a fun contemporary example when doing a unit on War of the Worlds. I just did an alignment for TNT's Falling Skies that ties to War of the Worlds.

Cal Joy's picture
Cal Joy
Former High School Art and Science Teacher in Queensland, Australia.

Thanks for the excellent movie analysis and ideas.

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